new paper.

A new paper I co-authored with my masters supervisor Juha Alatalo is out in Scientific Reports (he’s the first author, but my day is coming soon! stay tuned in the next few months!). It’s called “Vascular plant abundance and diversity in an alpine heath under observed and simulated global change.” Because SR is open access, you can read it! Click here for the PDF.

It’s based on an old dataset from Latnjajaure, Sweden, which I analyzed as part of a 15-credit “research training” course in my masters. I only later had the chance to spend a few weeks at the Latnja field station, and it was absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ll ever have the chance to do fieldwork. Getting this email that the paper was published made me think back on my summer experience there! Here’s a few photos to get you in the mood.

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paper!

I’m excited to announce that I have a new paper in print! It is about the cushion plant Silene acaulis and responses to simulated climate change in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. My supervisor, Juha Alatalo, is the first author and organized the experiments, and I had the opportunity this winter to do the data analysis and help with the paper writing. I also went through the process of responding to the reviewer comments and fixing up the paper for final publication. Now it’s out! At SpringerPlus, which is an open-access journal so everyone can read it for free.

Check it out here or download a PDF!

It is funny because I didn’t help with the fieldwork at all on this paper. BUT…. my housemate Quim from the summer in Davos was working on Silene and I helped him for a day in the field. So I do actually know what the plant looks like at least and a little bit about it! Working on Silene can take you to places like this:

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Where you are out in the big open but staring at little tiny things (Quim on the right, my Switzerland supervisor Christian Rixen on the left):

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I will see some Silene acaulis in my own fieldwork coming up this summer.

And as it happens, Quim is visiting Uppsala right now for a meeting about his work! So I’m off to meet him now for a tour of the botanical gardens and a nice fika. It’s great to see old friends!

What is climate science, after all?

So I am done with the conference in Seattle, and it left me thinking about climate science. What are people really doing when they study climate change? What is useful for people who are not scientists – that is, managers, policy-makers, and voters?

There was a lot of great stuff at the conference, but there were also quite a few presentations that were just not my cup of tea. I had predicted that the conference would be a 50/50 mix of on-the-ground science and modeling. Well, I’d say that only about 15 percent of the presentations included actual empirical data that the researchers had collected themselves. Bummer.

It’s not just that I felt out of place in a sea of modelers, but worse than that, I wasn’t entirely sure that I supported so much money and effort being devoted to making computer models. I think there is a place for them, definitely; it is amazingly helpful to be able to predict what will happen in the future, and without models, we would have no way of communicating to the public why, exactly, climate change is going to be bad.

But listening to presenters stand up and present slightly different models of the same thing, using the same data, made me wonder if this was really helping. Instead of competing to see who could make the best model and endlessly tweaking it, couldn’t all these modelers work together, make one good model, revisit it periodically, and devote the rest of the resources to observing what is actually happening.

I discussed this with both Laurel, the postdoc who is my boss, and Scott, the professor who is her boss.

“Modeling is what helps managers,” Scott said  (or something like that). “You show them our data, and they go, well what am I supposed to do with that?”

But in my mind, the response shouldn’t be to show them some computer-generated numbers instead. What was a little disappointing about the conference was that the modelers and the ecologists didn’t seem to have come together in a lot of cases. The models were of temperature and water flow, and were being used to predict, well, weather and flooding, for the most part. But you would think that those climate models could dovetail with on-the-ground science to give us a better clue about how to care for our ecosystems.

There were a couple presentations which were spot on. Dr. Kevin McKelvey of the Rocky Mountain Research Station talked about his work on wolverines. McKelvey and his colleagues had noticed that the wolverines only denned in places where there was year-round snowpack, and hypothesized that the animals also only traveled through these corridors. They did some modeling and some work with radio transmitters, and found that this was true. Then, they thought, how is this going to affect the wolverines when the climate changes? So they found a modeler, made a map of the places where wolverine habitat would be in the future, and bingo, you have data that can help manage wolverine populations.

That’s the kind of work I want to do! Maybe. I’m not sure. But if I keep doing ecology, I want to see more projects like this. It just makes sense – and shouldn’t be limited to wolverines. (Although they are certainly interesting: here’s an article about McKelvey’s work in High Country News.)

Another really interesting presentation, I thought, was by Tobias Kock of the U.S. Geological Survey. Kock studies salmon, and talked about how the downstream migration of salmon through dams will be affected by climate change. In the river where he was doing his research, there is one of the tallest dams in the country, and salmon can’t get around it; if they go through the turbines of the upstream dam, they end up as landlocked salmon in a large reservoir above the tall one, stuck forever. Amazingly, the dam operators have installed a fish catchment system below the upstream dam, and they drive the fish they have caught to below the downstream dam where they can then swim their way out to the sea.

Because catching the fish is a pain in the butt and driving them around is expensive, the fish-catching system isn’t operated year-round, but rather only when the yearling salmon are migrating for a few months in the summer. Kock looked at how many smaller fish get washed through the dam in high-flow situations in the winter (hint: it can be a lot) and suggested that managers in the future might switch priorities and use the catchment system in the winter as more and more extreme weather events come to the northwest. He also suggested adjusting the system so it could catch the smaller fish, which it currently doesn’t do well at.

Again: pretty cool stuff, and useful for wildlife managers!

I found some of the pure modeling/statistics talks interesting, too – for instance, one mapping household water use in Portland by neighborhood – but overall, there were just too many of them. I wanted to see more presentations like these two, or the ones that Scott and Laurel gave about our project.

Overall, I was really glad I went to the conference – besides seeing some interesting science, I got a reality check about what climate science really is these days, and where all of the research money is going. As an ecologist, that’s a little sobering, but it’s good to know.

The best part of the trip? Having dinner and ice cream with my old housemate Liz Embick! It was so fun to see her, so exciting, and I didn’t want to say goodbye. Hopefully we’ll see each other again soon!

Because while we know that climate change is taking place – quickly – we still don’t know, necessarily, how the world is going to change in response. We have theories, some of them supported by data and others less so. But it’s really hard to convince people to

Ski Incline!

Ida and I on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

For the last ten days, the Craftsbury Green Racing Project has been holding a training camp at Lake Tahoe. Why? People keep asking me if we’re chasing snow. Nope. The main goal of the camp is to get some altitude training in – ideally, we’d be skiing at altitude, but doing dryland at altitude is the next best thing. Tickets were cheap and we have a free place to stay in Incline Village, so things are working out well.

We’ve had many beautiful, sunny, warm workouts – exactly what one would expect in California. This makes it all the more surprising when things turn nasty.

Last night, Hannah and I sat in the hot tub as tiny snowflakes fell all around us. It had been cold all day, but at least sunny, and we merrily imagined snow piling up on the neighboring golf course. After all, there had to be some place we could dig up skis, even if they were kind of clunky.

In the morning, we faced reality. Not much snow had accumulated on the ground, but the roads were covered in a layer of black ice and snow had piled up on the shoulders, swept there by the passing cars. Motivation for our two-hour rollerski was low. Perhaps nonexistent. I crawled back into bed after breakfast, and thought over and over about how tired I was. Maybe I should just take a day off…

But no. I correctly recognized that while I was tired – the last week has been big on volume – I mostly was just being a wuss. I strapped on my skate boots, my warmest spandex, several layers on top, and actual ski gloves. We hit the streets.

I almost immediately found that I couldn’t skate on large sections of the road. My skis slipped out as I kicked, leaving me unbalanced and, mostly, frustrated. We double-poled the iciest sections, and even then, it took concentration to keep our skis upright and moving in a straight line. The challenge did have its benefits: before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed. I didn’t have time to complain about the sub-freezing temperatures or how tired I had been. I was just out there, skiing.

We tried to ski up the pass, but after half an hour, gave up. It was just too icy. Instead, we skied through residential neighborhoods along the lake. Adapt and overcome, as Ruff would say….

The tabs open in my browser are getting quite numerous, so here’s a link dump of, as Ollie says (hi Ollie) “things Chelsea has read and wants you to read.”

– One of my cabinmates from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, when I was working on my thesis, is headed to Copehagen for the climate negotiations! Here’s a little bit about what she has to say. Go Ellie!!

– On energy: Obama can give a darn good speech. But, as climate legislation keeps getting bumped back and as Copenhagen looms, what’s his vision? Come on, buddy…

– On the other hand, apparently doing simple things like changing lightbulbs could actually make a big difference. So everyone, do the 17 things this Science article suggests.

– Closer to home, a Vermont program offering incentives for sustainable energy installments is inundated with applications. Hope all those things get built!

– I suspect that Meatless Mondays would have a similar reception on our team as it did in the Baltimore School System. We may try to sneak it past the boys somehow anyway.

– And finally: “Why Sleepyheads Forget.” We are definitely sleepyheads. Except Ida and Lauren, who wake up early.

This article is about some really cool research calculating Amazonian forest biomass from planes. Sign me up!

“Green” and 350

Today we hiked/ran from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass. Beautiful!

Today we hiked/ran from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass. Beautiful!

When people ask me what it means to be a green ski team, I sometimes struggle to answer. We haven’t changed the world (yet). But we’ve done a few things, we’ve tried to do a few more things, and we organized the Team 350 Challenge.

The idea of the challenge was to get people to think. Our earth’s atmosphere currently has 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide floating around in it. In order to avoid catastrophic environmental effects – which, more than just wrecking the “environment”, which a lot of people don’t really care about, would wreck people’s lives – this level should drop below 350 parts per million. One of these catastrophes is that there would be no snow, and we’d be out of luck for skiing.

We challenged our community, along with the rowing community, to cumulatively train 350 million meters over the course of a month. While our goal was to get as many people signed on as possible, and to log as many meters as we could, I imagined that if 1,000 people each logged 350 thousand meters (350 kilometers), we’d reach our goal. That’s not much more than 10 kilometers per day. There is quite a large number of athletes out there who train that much or more.

While the Team 350 Challenge doesn’t include any specific action to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, each person that signs onto the challenge is aware of the issue. If we could get athletes to think about climate change as they logged their meters online, surely we could make a difference, or at least a statement.

As I write this, nearly 1,500 people have taken up the challenge. Among the names on the honor boards are Green Mountain Valley School coach Justin Beckwith and his team; NCAA All-Americans Rosie Brennan, Susan Dunklee, and Caitlin Patterson; and, of course, all the members of our team. Nearly 100 athletes have completed 350 kilometers of training.

Regardless of the fact that we will not reach our goal, we have reached out to a significant number of people. And this ties back into our goal, into my answer to the first question, into what makes us a “green” racing team. Although acting is undeniably better than thinking, at the very least, our goal is to raise awareness about sustainability issues.

Tim sometimes refers to “the hypocrisy of being a green ski racer.” We will never be a zero-waste, zero-emissions team. It’s not possible. You can’t walk to every race on your own two feet. You can’t train at altitude in Vermont – hence we’re in Lake Tahoe right now.

But we can do as much as we can make sure we are not wasting resources unnecessarily, and to make sure that our competitors are aware of their own effect on the environment. We can do our workouts from our house whenever possible instead of driving somewhere. We can eat as much local food as possible. We can write letters to our legislators and politicians and try to make sure that the Copenhagen negotiations are fruitful.

There is a lot of buzz around 350 right now. We hope that you’re paying attention to what so many people are saying – thanks Andrew Gardner, thanks Steinbock, thanks Sara Renner, thanks to so many others – and we hope you continue to think about it for the rest of the year, too.

Training notes: Autumn in Vermont

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Pepa has been in Bulgaria for the last two weeks. Ida, Hannah, Tim, and Lauren have been in Lake Placid for the last week. The rest of us have just tried to hold down the fort.

Training without Pepa is bizarre – I never thought I would say that, because I am proud of the fact that for the last three summers I trained almost entirely by myself. I also just enjoy being alone – there are training days where I like to ski along chatting, but there are also days when it is a relief to be able to use that time to think your own thoughts and be inside your own head. When some of my teammates expressed dismay that we would have to train without Pepa, I basically told them to grow up.

But, really, I miss Pepa. Now there’s nobody to tell us “Good morning, my sleeping beauties,” and nobody to make sure my technique is good when I’m skiing. Some days it was hard to motivate ourselves to go train. It’s especially hard when it’s gray, rainy, and less than 50 degrees out. Those days are toughness training. On one such day, I decided to run our negative-split workout instead of rollerskiing. Ollie decided he was sick, and Matt didn’t decide anything. Instead, he sat around in his training clothes in a perpetual state of indecision about whether to go rollerski, and at the end of the day said, “I blew it. I really need Pepa to come back”.

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One of the amazing things about Vermont is that each town seems to have its own weather system. This morning, we started rollerskiing in sunny East Craftsbury. By the time we got over Johnson’s Hill, it was hailing, which wasn’t so bad since it didn’t get us wet. In Greensboro the hail turned to a cold rain. Ida and I, soaked and freezing, turned around to go get jackets and gloves; coming back over Johnson’s Hill it was snowing, but in East Craftsbury it was still sunny. We put our jackets on anyway.

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On a less cheerful note, I have developed tendonitis in my elbow. It’s from rollerskiing. It first appeared after our 5-hour classic ski a few weeks ago. I’ve been liberally applying some Bulgarian anti-inflammatory gel, and I thought it was getting better; this turned out to be because I took a break from training, and now that I have skied four days in a row, it’s back with a vengeance. It’s in my left elbow, and Lauren’s theory is that the roads are crowned so the inside pole is planted slightly above the outside pole every time you stride. I am hoping I can make it to ski season without it getting much worse, and that snow will provide a nice low-impact cushion. Until then, I hope to avoid 5-hour rollerskis…

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Yesterday morning’s rollerski also left me pretty wet. My boots were literally full of water, to the extent that I could pour it out of them (note: I need to make fenders for my rollerskis). Then in the afternoon, when it was beautiful and sunny, we had BKL practice. I really didn’t want to put my feet back into my soaking-wet boots, so instead I broke out my brand-new pair of Salomon S-Labs, which I had been saving up for when we got on snow. When I went to put them on, I looked in the left boot and saw…. fluff. A mouse house. Apparently nothing is safe from the mice. Luckily, they hadn’t chewed up the boot at all, and also luckily, there weren’t any actual mice in the boot. I was still bitter though.