Chris Linder Photography

Multimedia » The Polaris Project: Rivers

Blaize Denfeld from Clark University describes her work characterizing the chemistry of several different Siberian streams and rivers including the main stem of the Kolyma River.

"Water from uplands, streams, and rivers in the Kolyma River basin ultimately flows into the Arctic Ocean. The path that the water takes is important. For instance, water that travels through a small meandering stream will take longer to get to the ocean compared to a large river. In addition, the composition of the water, such as the amount of organic matter it is carrying, varies depending on the length and type of the path.

I am studying the origin and change in carbon as it follows these pathways to the ocean. Living tissue is made up mainly of carbon. For example, a leaf from a tree falls into the water. When the leaf enters the water, bacteria and other small bugs begin to eat the carbon to get energy. The carbon can be exhaled as gas (carbon dioxide) or degraded into a different form of carbon that is harder for other organisms to eat. By the time carbon reaches the ocean, it is usually in a different form than when it first entered the water. The amount and type of carbon entering the ocean is important because it affects life from microscopic plants to bowhead whales.

To understand the path of carbon as it travels to the ocean, I am collecting water samples from the soil, streams, rivers, and lakes in the Kolyma watershed, from the southern forest to the northern tundra. In each location I test the waters for the amount and quality of the carbon in order to link it back to its origin." -Blaize Denfeld

More Polaris Project multimedia

  • Overview: why study climate change in Siberia?
  • Student Impact: testimonials from four students
  • Permafrost: frozen soil and a source of carbon
  • Lakes: thermokarst and floodplain lakes
  • Streams: linking the boreal forest to lakes and rivers
  • Bugs: collecting benthic macroinvertebrates

Learn more