A pair of Winnipeg students had an outstanding research opportunity earlier this winter.
Elmwood High School Grade 10 student Bayley Bird and Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student Angela Concepcion went way up north to participate in the inaugural Schools on Tundra program at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in February.
The program is an initiative of The Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources at the University of Manitoba as part of ArcticNet.
Ten students from across Canada were a part of the program, which gave them the chance to do climate-change research by doing such things as taking sediment and snow core samples, counting tree seeds, and setting up wolverine wires to collect hair samples.
Bird said the students also got the chance to analyze tree branches, categorizing them as either live, dead, or stressed, noting the health of a tree can vary in the ecotone (transition areas between different biomes) environments near Churchill.
"If (trees) are more in the ecotones, you get the one-sided trees," she said. "That’s because the snow is being pushed along by the wind at high speeds, it’s like a sandblaster on the trees. They’re completely stripped on the windward side."
Concepcion said climate change is a major concern for her, and she was encouraged to learn there are plenty of ways that she can learn to help fight against it.
"There’s an opportunity for research up there, and I wasn’t really informed about that before," said Concepcion. "In our society, we don’t realize what we’re doing has an impact over a long, long time, and it’s hard to reverse that change."
Researchers travelled to different sites by snowshoe, snowmobile, and dog sled, which was an eye-opener for Bird.
"I didn’t know research like that was so physically demanding. I didn’t know they went out and took that many samples a day," she said. "I thought it was sitting at a desk doing research on the samples."
In addition to doing research, students were given a daily 60-to-90-minute presentation from the scientists.
DMCI science teacher Max Hegel, formerly of Elmwood High, was also on the trip. It was his second time making the sojourn north, as he participated in the Schools on Board program two years ago. Schools on Board brought students onto the CCGS Amundsen icebreaker to do research at sea, but the ship was undergoing repairs this winter.
He enjoyed seeing the students gain plenty of field experience, while it was also a great chance for him to learn as well, since he didn’t have a science research background.
"It gives them a chance to learn, work with science not just in a lab, where it’s very controlled," he said. "They made mistakes, they damaged some areas. They see what happens when you have to adjust the way you do things."
Concepcion said she’s interested in a science career path, but hasn’t decided exactly what journey she might take when she begins study at the University of Winnipeg. Bird, meanwhile, entered the program as an animal-lover considering a zoology path, and was further encouraged when she met one researcher with that background who is a polar bear expert.