Polaris Project Heads North

“This is our biggest yet. Thirty-three people are participating in what is almost certainly the largest international expedition to the Siberian Arctic.”

Surrounded by some of the paraphernalia needed for a safe and productive research expedition to the Arctic, Woods Hole Research Center Senior Scientist Max Holmes speaks with contagious enthusiasm for both the Arctic and the Polaris Project. Scattered about his WHRC office are satellite phones, safety whistles, lifejackets and a range of scientific field-measurement devices that tell a story of preparation, skill and science.

Dr. Holmes’ vision for an innovative international collaboration among students, teachers, scientists, and communications professionals is now in its fifth year, thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation. Since 2008, the Polaris Project has trained future leaders in arctic research and informed the public about the Arctic and global climate change. During an annual summer field expedition to the Siberian Arctic, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and scientists conduct cutting-edge investigations that advance scientific understanding of the high north. As the saying goes, “The Arctic is at the epicenter of climate change.”

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Members of the Polaris Project team gather for a photo at a recent Arctic survival training course.

Vasya Lebedev, a Russian master’s student from Moscow State University, is taking part in this year’s expedition. His field of research focuses on photocatalytic processes and he is a member of an electron microscopy group at the university, where he studies the structure and properties of organic particles. “I am interested in research of dissolved and immobilized natural organic matter,” says Vasya. The signature properties of chemical components in the water and permafrost of the Arctic provide important information about the global climate system. “It will be interesting to work as part of an international group,” he adds.

Polaris alums go on to do great things. St. Olaf College student Sarah Ludwig took part in the 2011 Polaris expedition and will again head for the Kolyma River this year. She was also chosen from a field of 1,123 applicants to receive a Goldwater Scholarship worth up to $7,500. The Goldwater Scholarships are awarded each year to undergraduate students who have shown significant achievement and potential in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. While on the Polaris Project, Sarah, a chemistry and biology major, has been researching the impact of carbon and nutrient transports on global climate change.

The Polaris Project expedition is a month-long component of the Woods Hole Research Center’s work in the Arctic.

For more information about the Polaris Project and related work please visit: http://www.thepolarisproject.org.

Read student and faculty blogs: http://www.thepolarisproject.org/journals/blog