SitS NSF-UKRI: Collaborative Research: Sensors UNder snow Seasonal Processes in the Evolution of ARctic Soils (SUN SPEARS)

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Geological Survey
Department Name: Engineering Geology


Melting ice sheets and glaciers are exposing vast ethereal landscapes dominated by seemingly barren post-glaciation soils. These new habitats support specialized and resilient microorganisms, and after many years, even lichens and plants. However, access to and measurements of these remote sites are typically restricted to the summer-and thus seasonal effects, including prolonged cold, dark winters, are under-studied. This collaborative effort between U.S. (University of Utah; University of Colorado, Boulder) and U.K. (Queen Mary University of London; British Geological Survey) researchers will measure biological, hydrologic, and chemical activity under the winter and spring snowpack, in soils near a retreating glacier in Svalbard, Norway, via continuously operated sensors and repeated field measurements. This will enable scientists to understand how under-snow processes contribute to the functioning and development of these unique soil ecosystems now and into the future. Additionally, project researchers will bring interactive lessons to classrooms in underserved areas in rural Colorado and Utah, remotely reach classrooms and podcast audiences around the world, provide research training for high school students from rural Colorado, and training for two university students and three postdoctoral researchers.

Planned Impact

The proposed research will extend human understanding of how seasonal processes contribute to long-term evolution of Arctic soils, which are of increasing global importance as a climate mediator and provider of ecosystem services. Data and modelling code will be shared via web-based archives, and findings will be disseminated to the scientific community through publications and conferences as well as communicated more broadly through public engagement by experienced members of the team via a number of channels. In partnership with the Pinhead Institute, the investigators will bring interactive workshops to classrooms in rural, under-served areas of Colorado and Utah. They will follow that up with a four day summer workshop for high school students in that region to conduct their own research, which they will present to the community in a symposium. Finally, the Pinhead Institute will place two high school interns for the summer in our lab groups at UU and CU. The proposed research will engage with young people and teachers more broadly geographically via video conferencing with classrooms from the field station in the Arctic. Finally, they will also reach a diverse adult population with a special edition podcast on the vulnerability of the Arctic. Two students and three postdoctoral researchers will receive training through this project, equipping the next generation of Arctic soil researchers to address growing challenges in this field.


10 25 50