Description of our research project

Humans are changing earth's climate by burning fossil fuels (like oil, coal, and gas) and by clearing forests. Both of these actions release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and can increase earth's temperature. Scientists predict that in the next 100 years global temperatures could rise by as much as 3.5 ºC. In northern places like Alaska, the increase in temperature could be much greater. If the Alaskan climate warms, ecological changes of all kinds are likely. For example, animals and plants might migrate into areas that are currently too cold for them. We are especially interested in understanding how warmer temperatures might affect the spruce forests of Alaska. Will spruce trees start growing in places that are now too cold for them? If so, how fast can spruce move into new areas? We are trying to answer these questions by studying spruce trees growing right at treeline, which is the boundary between forests and tundra.


About this web site

This web site will give you an introduction to our research: what questions we are asking, how we are trying to answer them, and what we have learned so far. It will also give you some general background information about climate change and the natural history of the boreal forest. We have created this web site for two reasons. First, we hope to introduce a variety of people, but especially those people who live in and around the areas in which we do our research, to our research project and more generally to the issues surrounding climate change and ecology in Alaska. Second, we hope to use it as a way to collect observations from people living in and around the areas in which we do our research. We welcome your feedback on the site, and hope you enjoy what you find here. We want to thank the support of the National Science Foundation for helping to fund our community outreach efforts.

How to use this site (a suggestion)

The navigation bar at the bottom of the pages gives you quick access to all parts of the site. Basically, the site is broadly divided into two sections: Reaseach - which outlines our work and findings in the Alaskan Boreal forest - and Educational dialogue - which puts you in close touch with our data and enables you to report any good observations that would be useful to the research community at large. Feel free to visit the various parts in whatever order seems best for you! (We recommend that you use a 600x400 color monitor to get the best use of this site.)

  • Natural history will give some basic background about the boreal forest and climate change (as well as lots of links to other sites with information on those subjects).
  • Virtual tour will introduce you (with lots of photos and audio clips) to the whats, wheres, and hows of our research.
  • Latest results will provide periodic updates about what we've learned (so you might want to check back every other month or so).
  • Community visits describes our visits to communities on the Seward Peninsula in 1998, in which we presented an overview of our research similar to the one you'll find on this site. These community visits are the other part of our outreach program, and give us a great chance to converse with people face-to-face about our research and their experiences observing ecological changes around their homes.
  • Your observations is your chance, if you happen to live near the areas in which we work (central Alaska and the Seward Peninsula), to make your own observations. We will post your observations on the web site, and eventually you will be able to search everyone's observations to find out what other people in your community or neighboring communities have seen.
  • Resources contains a list of references, for both scientists and general readers, about climate change, treeline, and the boreal forest. It will also contain some hints for other scientists interested in developing outreach projects in the communities in which they work.
  • Who we are will tell you more about us.
  • Get in touch tells you how to contact us if you have questions or feedback about this site.

Using Audio on this site

Listening to our audio clips requires the Real Player, which can be downloaded from this site (click on the button above). Because these files are large, it may take several minutes for them to load. There are two versions of the audio-- one is a larger and better sounding file, the other a smaller one of lesser quality. You may want to try each version depending on your connection. (We recommend 28.8 kps or greater). Let us know if you have any other ideas for audio clips and how it sounds!

Click here for a directory to all audio files and text.


All Rights Reserved (R) Middlebury College Biology, 1999, 2000