ArcticNet Conference 2012
December 10 and 11 (Sofie Rudin)
For the two classes I went to on Monday, I could think of nothing but the Arctic, our research, and this crazy mystery adventure of a conference on which we were about to embark. I tried to use multiple regression statistical analysis as a metaphor during a meeting of Broadening the Conversation about Race. Sadly, p-value is just an obtuse way of describing race relations, but I had data-on-the-brain. (For the record, the end of this is not yet in sight.) Finally, we left school with our bags of hastily packed bags of profession clothing.
We spent the seven hours of our back-to-back flight passing a laptop back and forth across the aisle, perfecting our script and powerpoint. Just when we thought we were on the verge of perfecting our graphs, there was plenty of work left to do. It was hard to tell whether the people seated in front of us thought we were crazy because of the intensity in our voices as we debated how much we could postulate about causation of active layer thickness variation, or because of the violent hilarity of our laugher. An entire row of people fiery-eyed about permafrost is rather rare.
We arrived in Seattle groggy and delirious. Our dear friend Renee, a teacher at the Northwest School, and the lovely Hector, her seeing-eye dog in training, met us with hugs at the airport. From there, a tireless round of the question game between Adam and myself--broken by unintelligible references to Gray's Anatomy by Johanna--carried us to Mike McGill's house. There we met up with Maya, a NWS student and trip goer from this past summer. After delicious midnight scrambled eggs made by her mom and a run through of our presentation, the weary crew collapsed. We were already a continent away from where we'd started.
The following morning we dashed off to visit NWS, and present our research to two eight grade Earth Sciences classes. More importantly, we hugged our other old friend, Sam, and confirmed that Mike's new office has a cookie jar, filled with cookies baked in their own cafeteria. The presentations were a lot of fun. Many of the topics that they had recently studied were brought together in our presentation, and they asked wonderful questions.
We spent the rest of the day living the life of the Northwest School. We visited Renee's chemistry class, where they were discussing oxidation and reduction, and where Adam received some chuckles when he--correctly--answered a question posed to the class. Renee was doing fascinating demonstrations, including putting a gummy bear in potassium permanganate and dying yarn with indigo. We also visited a calculus class--Johanna and I had the thrilling experience of dredging the chain rule from the recesses of our minds--and a French class. I'm not sure if people there are generally cheery and excited, or if visiting classes which are not your own is just more fun. It was absolutely wonderful to be in school for a day, listening and learning, with none of the pressure of future assessment.
Aside from the sunny disposition of the Northwest School population and the engaging energy of every class I visited, Northwest has something right. Namely, the food situation on campus. Lunch is included in the price of tuition, and they take lunch seriously. As someone who thoroughly enjoys and takes pride in bringing my own lunch to school, I had my doubts. But the three-block walk and the menu won me over. Every day, Northwest students walk--outside, I know, it's radical--to the cafeteria located a couple blocks away, thereby separating themselves from the rest of their crazy school lives to enjoy a meal. Lunch while we were there was pasta with peas and ham, and it was gourmet. Other days they are treated to Indian food, Thai food, and, Sam's favorite, toasted cheese and tomato soup. In this way, every student eats a warm, delicious lunch, daily. Even more wonderfully, they eat it together.
At Park I often find myself eating as I rush from commitment to commitment. Sure, these commitments are really important to me and to my education. But I think there is a lot to be said in terms of personal mental health and communal health for deliberately setting aside time to eat good food together.
Northwest also has several cafes and little restaurants just 30 seconds walk from the main building. To say I am jealous is insufficient.
On the drive up to Vancouver we quizzed each other on terminology, making sure we understood the layers of material supporting the actual content of our presentation. This is actually the most interesting part of the data analysis, but it takes a healthy dose of masochism to enjoy. Let's just say, the proper-ness of statistical words directly correlates with increased headaches. Or something.
Fortunately, we had delicious dinner--I'm telling you, food is important--which we declared strictly-fun.
And even better, we ended the day with a dress-rehearsal of our presentation. I am unbelievably excited.
December 12, 2012 (12/12/12)
1st Day of ArcticNet
It's hard to believe that we've only been at the ArcticNet Scientific Meeting for one day. We woke up early (still tired from practicing our presentation into the night). After breakfast, we jumped right in. I took more notes in the opening plenary session than I often do in a week of school. Speakers discussed everything from how researchers can involve First Nations people in their research to the hydrogeological impacts of climate change on Arctic rivers. The initial discomfort I felt about being the only group of high schoolers immediately faded into the background as we learned about the incredible work that is going on in the Arctic.
After the plenary, we rushed up to our rooms to squeeze in another runthrough of our presentation before splitting up for topical sessions. We split up among several of these sessions, which allow four to five speakers to give fifteen minute presentations around a similar topic. I went to the Arctic Marine Mammal room where speakers discussed their research into polar bear metric monitoring, orca whale feeding patterns, and the effect of global warming on the underwater soundscape. When this session ended early, I snuck into the back of the Arctic Contaminants session and heard a presentation on elevated mercury and lead levels observed in First Nations people. Needless to say, our group rejoined at lunch with lots of dropped jaws and new information to discuss.
After eating and practicing our presentation one final time, we went to the second plenary session. Speakers discussed large scale monitoring of large carnivores and offshore marine fishes, the tracking of ice islands, and the need for international cooperation with regards to Arctic research. My pen could not move fast enough to keep track of all of the interesting trends, observations, and conclusions. The amount of time, passion, and dedication these researchers put into their work was incredible.
We left the plenary and walked with purpose upstairs to the Education and Outreach topical session that we were to present in. After weeks of late nights spent analyzing data, comparing graphs, and making our powerpoint, it was finally time for us to share our conclusions. Even though we'd practiced an insane amount and I probably thought more about the five graphs we were presenting than any other figures I've ever seen, I was still nervous. We were the only high school students presenting at this conference. No one expected much from us, and we needed to show them that we knew what we were doing.
However, standing at the podium in front of that room, I felt an incredible sense of purpose. Looking up at our graphs, I remembered all the way back to our trip this summer. I remembered punching through rocks with probes, falling into fens, and all of the incredible laughs that we had as we tried to eat licorice while gathering data. It's incredible to me that the impersonal graphs that we were presenting actually had all of this life behind them. Though we weren't directly presenting the awe that we felt as a rainbow peeked through the clouds over the tundra or our sense of accomplishment at correctly naming a species of lichen, our enthusiasm was there. The numbers and graphs were our way of describing the amazingly complex environment that we study.
Before going on the Arctic trip last year, I had never really considered where scientific data comes from. I had seen neat numbers on a graph and hadn't realized how much work went into them. Looking at our own graphs and those of other presenters, I now see how much messier it is. Even one of the best speakers in the plenary session admitted that his initial plan for using a remote submarine to take measurements on an ice island failed. A creative solution had to be found in the field, just as we had when collecting our own data. All of this has led me to realize how flexible research is. Data is not simply taken and easily analyzed as in a lab at school. There are any number of complications at all stages from planning to data collection to analysis. Even when researchers present at this conference, it doesn't mean that they are done. Rather, there data seems to have led them to want to question more and go deeper.
As I stood behind that podium presenting, I remembered this. Our study is constantly shifting, changing, and refining. This is one of the factors that makes science so exciting. Having the opportunity to share our results with such an educated audience was a a great step forward in this continuing process. I can't wait to see what will come next!
December 13 and 14
(Final Day of Arctic Net, and Heading Back Home)
It’s hard to believe that the conference is already over, what an amazing experience! Having never been to the Arctic before, I was a little nervous about attending the conference. I wasn’t sure what I would take from it, with my limited background, but it was incredible, and I learned so much!
In the plenary session at the beginning of the second day in Vancouver, Tom Sheldon spoke about building sustainable communities in the costal subarctic, more specifically, Nunavutsiavut. He found that 46% of people could not use typical hunting or travel routes, with much sea ice either being completely melted, or unsafe to travel on. This ice was significantly thin during the winter of 2009-10, making it challenging for people to heat their homes, as the routes they took to collect firewood were now impossible to traverse. Tom’s main focuses were infrastructure, food security, energy security, valued spaces and places, transportation and emergency services, and safe communities. Frequent power outages are especially significant; in fact, many residents throughout Nunavutsiavut spend their Christmases in the dark, as there is not enough capacity to handle all the extra holiday lights. Aside from Mr. Sheldon, Sara Statham went into more depth about food insecurity, which affects 69% of Inuit adults, 6 times higher than the Canadian average, and Don Forbes discussed how social, demographic, and environmental factors were driving change in Nunavut communities.
Later, each of us had the opportunity to go to different speeches on our own. I headed to the Indigenous Knowledge session, where Vincent L’ Hérault shared with us a social network program he was working on, ARCTIConnexion, where he hoped to connect the local Inuits with arctic researchers. An interesting feature of this network was an interactive map, so locals could grab information about research going on in their region. The overall goals of this project were to raise awareness and build capacity. Michel Allard, another speaker, talked about permafrost and social sciences. His main points were the issues permafrost created for infrastructure, the intertwinement of local knowledge, permafrost, and pedagogy, as well as stressing the importance of working closely with locals. Other speakers shared with us how Inuit knowledge has been consulted, involved, and incorporated into development of policies, and linking Inuvialuit and ecological knowledge. The information presented in these speeches was incredible, and eye-opening to me. The researchers cared for the people as much as they cared for their projects, which I found very admirable.
After packing our bags and eating lunch, we decided to venture into Vancouver and visit the aquarium. Though it was a chilly and rainy that day, the city felt incredibly vibrant, as people biked and jogged along the seawall, cars zipped in between the gigantic glass high rises of Vancouver, and boats and seaplanes buzzed around the harbor. Soon the hustle and bustle of downtown drifted into the tranquil Stanley Park, where the aquarium was located. Inside the aquarium, we were able to visit belugas, one of which came from the Churchill River! Other highlights were a fantastic otter exhibit, and lights that were controlled by pulses of energy the electric eels produced. Afterwards, we hopped back over to our hotel to listen to a few more talks, grabbed dinner at Granville Island, and headed back to Seattle. Recalling this trip on the plane back home, I’m saddened that it all had to come to an end, though I’m certain that I will never forget the incredible experience I had at ArcticNet.
ArcticNet Conference 2012, Decemeber 10-14.