Students head for Siberia with international Polaris Project team

July 2, 2010
For the third year, Clark students have earned a spot on the 'Rising Stars' arctic research field course.

Two Clark University undergraduates are on their way to Siberia with a team of scientists from the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. The group departed July 2 for a four-week field course in the Russian Arctic with The Polaris Project: Rising Stars in the Arctic, which is training future leaders in arctic research and education, and informing the public about the impacts of climate change—essential goals given the rapid and profound transformations underway in the Arctic in response to global warming.

Clark students are among only 14 in the world to earn slots for the 2010 Polaris Project field course, now in its third year. Clark has participated since the first of these expeditions to the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy, Siberia (north of the Arctic Circle on the Kolyma River). The location is described as one of the most remote and beautiful places on the planet. The Polaris Project is led by top scientists in Arctic Systems, including Clark Graduate School of Geography assistant professor Karen Frey, who has been a primary investigator on the project since its inception in 2008. Project research focuses on forests, tundra, lakes, rivers, estuaries, and the coastal Arctic Ocean, with particular focus is on the transport and transformations of carbon and nutrients as they move with water from terrestrial uplands to the Arctic Ocean.

** The Polaris Project team keeps a lively online site with frequent blog dispatches and great photographs, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can learn more and follow their progress at

Clark's 2010 Polaris Project student participants: Blaize Denfeld '10 was a 2009 participant of the Polaris Project and is returning this summer to work on a project that combines field measurements with remote sensing and geographic information science (GIS) to understand carbon outgassing and carbon transport changes as it travels from land to river to ocean.

Denfeld, from Connecticut, majored in environmental science with a minor in geography, and is entering the Geographic Information Science Master's program at Clark. She has presented her research at such academic conference as the State of the Arctic in Miami and the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

"Last summer, I didn't know what to expect from the research experience," Denfield said. "I was traveling to a foreign place, far away from home, to live on barge for a month … The experience is hard to sum up in a few words but if I had to I would say the experience was exhilarating, inspirational and unique. Although I think I know what to expect this time around, I am sure to be surprised again, as there are new additions to the research team and I am staying for an additional 20 days."

Cassandra Volatile-Wood '12, from Vermont, is entering her junior year at Clark. She is majoring in environmental science, and said she is "eagerly anticipating being involved in such a unique research experience in an area of the world that I have yet to visit."

Professor Frey is not able to join her students in Siberia this summer. Instead, she and two of her Clark Ph.D. students are with the NASA ICESCAPE research team, spending two months aboard an icebreaker studying sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, north of Alaska. Frey is the lead principal investigator (PI) on an ICESCAPE project grant that totals $735,192 over the next four years.

"From its start, the Polaris Project has tried to make substantial contributions to research and education," says Dr. R. Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and director of the Polaris Project. "As the project matures, I'm particularly pleased that have we are maintaining that balance, even as productivity in both research and education are rapidly accelerating."

In addition to the field course, The Polaris Project includes research experience for undergraduate students in the Siberian Arctic, several new arctic-focused undergraduate courses taught by project co-primary investigators at their home institutions, the opportunity for those co-PIs to initiate research programs in the Siberian Arctic, and a wide range of outreach activities.

All project participants, both students and faculty, will visit kindergarten through Grade 12 classrooms to convey the excitement of polar research. This work is being supported by a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation.