Arctic ecology field course a memorable experience for students

Physical and Biological Sciences News

They got cold and wet, slogged through mud and muck, were eaten alive by mosquitoes, and they all agreed it was one of the best experiences of their lives. Thirteen UC Santa Cruz undergraduates led by Beth Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, traveled 2,800 miles through Alaska and the Yukon territory this summer, doing field work at research sites and studying the effects of climate change in the far north.”Hands down the best experience I’ve had to date,” said Molly Cassatt-Johnstone. “We’d been learning about all these things in the classroom, and then we actually got to go and see how climate change is affecting the land and people in the Arctic.”
“It’s one thing to read about climate change and how the ice is melting in the Arctic, but it’s another thing to go out and see it,” said Christopher Garrison. “You see how real it is when the roads are buckling and full of cracks and dips because the permafrost is melting under the road.”
Offered for the first time this year, Shapiro’s course on Arctic Ecology and Environmental Change started in the classroom in spring 2018. The course covered the region’s ecology, geology, geography, ice ages, animal migrations, human history, science communication, and more. Two teaching assistants and a course assistant helped with teaching and logistics, and a series of guest lecturers shared their expertise in various subjects. Each student investigated a specific topic related to environmental change in the Arctic and wrote and produced a podcast on it.
In June, they gathered in Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon territory, to start the field component. The three-week camping and road trip took the class to remote research stations, gold mining sites where the bones of woolly mammoths and other ice age animals are being uncovered, the historic mining town of Dawson City, and up the …

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