Park School students bound for Arctic to conduct more climate change research

When Anna Connors hears politicians cast doubt on climate change, it frustrates her. The 16-year-old Park School student has seen it up close — at the edge of the Arctic.

“It’s upsetting because we have the data to prove it does exist,” she said. “I guess that lights a fire under me to continue this work.”

“This work” is a research project Park students have been conducting for a decade — , investigating the melting of permafrost and possible corresponding changes to the lichens, moss and shrubs that cover the tundra of northern Canada.

On Sunday, Connors and classmates leave for another round of data gathering. They will spend nearly two weeks visiting research sites along the western shore of the Hudson Bay, measuring how deep the annual summer thaw goes and recording the variety and abundance of vegetation on the surface.

Baltimore students have been embarking on similar trips for a decade, and even more of them could join in the research in the coming years. The school won a $156,000 grant for the project from the Canadian government earlier this year, slightly more than an initial award it landed three years ago, and Park science teacher Julie Rogers said she hopes to convince U.S. government research agencies to chip in, too.

It’s a rare chance for the teenagers to conduct science, rather than read about it in a textbook. That, plus the culture shock of being thrown into remote Manitoba, make it a special experience, said Connors, who will be leading the students’ data collection in her second time on the trip.

“Nothing can really prepare you for what’s going to be up there,” she said. “We say the Arctic ‘F’ word is ‘flexibility.’”

The project, dubbed International Student-Led Arctic Monitoring and Research, or ISAMR, partners students from Park as well as the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute with students at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg and from remote parts of Canada participating in the Junior Canadian Rangers program.

Rogers co-founded ISAMR with Canadian colleagues in 2007, and while it takes up a significant time commitment even during the school year, the students involved number almost three dozen.

“The notion of climate change really motivates kids to work together,” she said.

This year, six Park students are making the 1,500-mile trip. It usually involves flights to Winnipeg and a 36-hour train ride toward the Arctic, but flooding that followed unusually heavy winter snows washed out parts of the tracks — so this year’s trip will be entirely by air. Once the group reaches the northern Manitoba town of Churchill, helicopters will ferry the students to different areas of Wapusk National Park and other wilderness.

They sleep on camping mats on gym floors and inside a fort that dates to the 1600s, and their wardrobe consists of hiking boots and pants, plus plenty of rain gear. Some years, it has…

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