Report by Sara Guiher, TMACOG Water Quality Planner

My recent trip to Alaska was a life-changing experience. I spent the week learning about local and global issues related to climate change while attending the Climate Change and My Community Course – an opportunity sponsored by NASA through the Arctic and Earth SIGNs (Stem Integrating GLOBE & NASA) program. The course was based at the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

First things first: mid-June in Fairbanks means 24 hours of daylight! From the time I woke up the morning I left until I was back at home over a week later, I did not experience what we in the Midwest consider “night.” An eye mask was necessary to sleep, and there were times I felt a bit delirious from nearly constant sunshine. There were also enormous mountains on the horizon, naturally meandering braided rivers, arctic species of plants and animals, and indigenous Alaskan cultures. It was a lot to take in during one week!

This course applies directly to my work with the Student Watershed Watch (SWW). Five days of classes were packed with climate change knowledge and GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) protocols. As a trained GLOBE educator, I can now help educators in the SWW to begin implementing specific sampling protocols as part of our program. Using specific protocols for parameters we already sample (such as nutrient levels or dissolved oxygen) means that we can submit our data to GLOBE and become part of a global scientific database. Standardized methods ensure that our water quality testing can have an impact locally and around the world.

Aside from the technical skills I gained, each day I got to hear from a different Alaskan elder. These community members served as eyewitnesses to the stark effects of climate change in the Arctic. Rivers that once served as reliable roads during the winter are thawing earlier and claiming human and animal lives. Many native communities still live off the land following seasonal patterns, and climate change is affecting their livelihood. Fish and birds don’t follow the same migration routes. Permafrost thaws and ruins houses or drains lakes. Our goal during these sessions was to tie their narratives back to our local community. I could not help but think about the increased spring precipitation and more frequent heavy rainfall events back home that affect farmers and add to our water quality issues.

Interacting with elders had another outcome: my work with communities in the TMACOG planning area will improve as a result. Whether it is collecting seeds with local elementary students, talking with residents about stormwater, or discussing watershed planning with the agricultural community, I have learned to be more sensitive to the culture of those around me. We all have a story and it stays with us as we move through life. I am thankful to TMACOG, NASA, GLOBE, SWW, and others for the chance to add to my story in such a memorable and inspiring place.

Sara Guiher was part of a team from northwest Ohio. Her partners included Laura Kubiak and Rob Smith, teachers with Toledo Public Schools. Ms. Kubiak has been part of the Student Watershed Watch for several years. Learn more about Sara’s training here: https://uaf-iarc.org/engagement/k12-education/arctic-and-earth-signs/

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