by Elise Gallois, a final-year PhD researcher at the University of Aberdeen
I was supported by ScAN to attend the UK Arctic Science Conference in Cambridge. I am a final-year PhD researcher based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, which is part of the Scottish Arctic Network. I study tundra ecology using observations at a variety of spatial scales, from in-situ soil cores collected over the course of one summer, through to satellite observations spanning multiple decades. As I come to the end of my PhD, I am always looking out for conference and seminar opportunities to present the research that has come out of my degree, and to gain valuable feedback from experts prior to the submission of my dissertation. As such, the UK Arctic Conference (hosted by the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge), struck me as a fantastic opportunity to present my findings, expand my network, and meet other polar scientists from a range of difference disciplines.
At the conference, I presented a talk about tundra phenology and the varying drivers of the above- and below-ground tundra growing seasons. Using time-lapse cameras and climate loggers, I have observed a clear sensitivity of growing season timings to surface microclimate and snowmelt timings in Alpine and Arctic tundra landscape. I used a unique in-growth soil core field experiment to determine the length of the belowground growing season (in other words, the timing of root growth). I expected to see a similar microclimate sensitivity amongst the roots, but found that the timing of root growth was relatively unresponsive to climate drivers, and instead showed very different dynamics between plant community types. I found it to be a very valuable experience to present these new findings to a diverse array of researchers, and the talk prompted interesting questions.
I enjoyed listening to the other talks over the three days, and in particular I was enthused by George Kodl’s (University of St Andrews) talk on snow cover impacts on vegetation stress and soil erosion and Amy Solman’s (Natural History Museum) talk on cryoconite holes and microbial communities living inside these unique features in the ice. The conference provided a fantastic opportunity to learn about available research resources, emerging tools for fieldwork and analysis, and future opportunities for research collaboration. I will definitely spend a lot of time in the near future searching around in the UK Polar Data Centre’s Antarctic Plant Database! And I also have a newfound appreciation for the logistical challenges that come with polar oceanographic campaigns. I greatly enjoyed reading the posters, and my phone’s photo album is full of poster photos and email addresses from folks who I am sure I will catch up with online and at other conferences.
In addition to the programmed talks and posters, I enjoyed many other additional activities throughout the conference. The UK Polar Network organised a fantastic a session for Early Career Researchers about networking and leadership. In addition, I went on a tour of the BAS Herbarium, which was a clear highlight for both myself and the other tundra ecologists in attendance. BAS themselves were wonderful hosts, and it was fascinating to hear more about the research organised by the institute. There were also some excellent panel discussions throughout the conference, including a very engaging discussion about net-zero Arctic research (and whether this is even possible given how urgent and remote some field research can be). I really appreciated the panel discussion about safety, welfare, equity and diversity in Arctic research. I find that often these discussions can be very circular and offer no meaningful solutions to pressing issues that disproportionately affect researchers and community members from minority groups. However, this panel was very well conducted, and the Q&A filled me with hope that there are many researchers out there actively working on making Arctic research more equitable, safe, and inclusive.
Thank you again to the Scottish Arctic Network for the travel grant which allowed me to attend this conference. It was a very valuable (and fun!) experience.