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Grand Valley State Researcher Gets $1M Grant to Study Climate Change

By Monica Scott, reprinted with permission, MLive/The Grand Rapids Press

A Grand Valley State University researcher is getting $1 million from the National Science Foundation to work with students to study the impact climate change has on vegetation in the Arctic tundra, officials say.  The team, headed by biology professor Robert Hollister, will specifically explore how climate change impacts vegetation in the regions of Utqiagvik, Atqasuk and Toolik Lake. One of the main aspects of the vegetation that Hollister and his team will continue to monitor is energy balance, which effects how certain plants grow depending on the season.  Another area of study is carbon balance and how fast or slow carbon metabolizes in the soil of the region.

"There is more carbon in the soils of the tundra than there is in the trees of the Rainforest, so people talk about deforestation as being a big contributor to climate change, and that's true, but the soil in cold regions contains a huge amount of carbon," said Hollister, in a statement.

The funding will support the next five years of research by Hollister and his team of five Grand Valley undergraduate and graduate students in northern Alaska. To monitor the vegetation over time, Hollister and his team will continue conducting a variety of experiments. Students monitor plants each summer by estimating the quantity of different species, measuring when plants flower and produce seeds and when they go dormant, among other measurements.

"Everyone is talking about climate change, and the implications it has for our future are worrisome," said graduate student Katlyn Betway, who has been working with Hollister for three years.

"We are attempting to understand how it is affecting plant life which will then fuel further research on how ecosystems as a whole might respond to a warming climate. Ecosystems are very complex, so we are focusing on just one piece of the puzzle."

Betway said the research is important because it connects to the larger climate change conversation.

Dr. Robert Hollister

Dr. Robert Hollister, GVSU Biology department


Hana Christoffersen, former GVSU student making recordings of plant phenology in Utqiaġvik, Alaska.

Another main objective of the research is to make the data understandable for the general public, according to Hollister.

Hollister established the Arctic Ecology Program at Grand Valley in 2007, and the project is funded as part of the Arctic Observatory Network (AON). A total of $3 million was also awarded to researchers at three other universities as part of the AON project: Florida International University, University of Alaska, Anchorage, and the University of Texas, El Paso.

GVSU's Artic Ecology Program is housed in the Biology Department. The focus is to examine the effects of global change on Arctic ecosystems. The two primary sources of global change examined are human disturbance and climate warming. The program does research in northern Alaska and extensive outreach activities and students are encouraged to get involved and do research. The team's research sites for the grant were originally established as part of the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) in which Hollister is the co-chair.

ITEX is a collective of researchers conducting similar warming experiments in the tundra since the early 1990s.

Reproduced with permission. Original publication date October 12, 2018.


Michaela Clingaman, former GVSU student, downing readings from a Mobile Instrumented Sensor Platform in Atqasuk, Alaska.


Jeremy May, former GVSU student, sampling plant cover in Utqiaġvik, Alaska

Page last modified May 13, 2019