Plant Functional Trait Train Course 4!

Ice fishing for Tomcod off of Wales, Alaska, on the Bering Strait

PFTC4 Blog Post 1 from Polly Bass

A. What is your background? Where are you from? What do you study? What are you most

interested in, scientifically?

My background is in plant geography and geomorphology. I study alpine plants,

substrate preferences among plants, and island biogeography in its application to isolated

plant communities. I am interested in the species assemblages of rock glaciers and learning

more about the application of functional traits and the potential for molecular ecology to

elucidate long-standing questions and mysteries of these remarkably resilient species.

B. What are your goals for the upcoming course on Svalbard? How will you know if you’ve met

these goals?

My goals for the upcoming course include working with experts in the field and

learning new analyses techniques. I will know these goals have been met if the course is

completed with enthusiasm and forward thinking collaborative approaches to continue the

work in the coming years.

C. What are you most excited about, with respect to the upcoming course and trip?

I am most excited about visiting the high arctic environment and learning more about

the use of functional traits. The international community of scientists will provide a broad and

multidisciplinary perspective on the most innovative techniques available.

D. What do you anticipate people will think about climate change on Svalbard? Do you think

most people will accept that the planet is warming and that this is largely being caused by

human activities? Or will this topic be controversial?

I anticipate that people on Svalbard are aware of and concerned about climate

change. Polar latitudes are experiencing global climate change at a rate faster than the rest of

the planet. Coastal communities are also more in tune with the symptoms of climate change,

due to sea level changes and storm impacts, among other issues. It is likely that people in

Svalbard have experienced these effects; and that transportation, infrastructure, and local

food sources (animals (fish) and plants) have been impacted. Svalbard is a community with

links to mining and fossil fuel extraction. With this in mind, it is possible that some individuals

closely aligned to these industries and with a livelihood tied to these industries might be

slower to accept the data and evidence linking human activities to climate change. On the

other hand, European culture tends to be more in tune with science than cultures in many

other parts of the world.

E. What do you know about public perceptions of climate change in your home country? What, if

anything, have you experienced related to public perceptions of climate change?

In my home country, the overall perception of climate change has gone through a complicated

evolution. The perception in coastal localities is often different from the perception in more inland

locations. Coastal communities feel the impacts of increased storm surges, sea level rise, loss of

sea ice, coastal erosion, permafrost loss, and changes in subsistence food sources. Living in the

path of these perturbations makes it hard to argue with the scientific evidence indicating global

temperature increase. An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the climate is changing

at a rate not experienced by the earth before. Isotopic signatures in the CO2 in the atmosphere

suggests that the majority of the carbon in this gas, as well as the carbon in CH4, has entered the

atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, as a result of human activities (mainly the combustion

of fossil fuels).

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