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Documenting the effects of climate change in Siberia

A. Kahl (right), X. Buchwalder (center), F. Gerber (right), A. Riedhauser (left). © J.Caillet/EPFL

A. Kahl (right), X. Buchwalder (center), F. Gerber (right), A. Riedhauser (left). © J.Caillet/EPFL

Annelen Kahl, a post-doc in environmental sciences and engineering at EPFL, will oversee a group of four EPFL students during a three-week stint at a high-tech research station on a Siberian island. She will post updates on the EPFL Out There blog.

In northeastern Russia, the Lena River forms a delta with some 1,500 islands, the vast majority of which are uninhabited. Among them is Samoylov Island, a five-kilometer-square patch of land that is home to a highly sophisticated Russian research base – which looks like something out of a James Bond movie.

It’s in this forsaken corner of the Siberian Arctic that a team of six EPFL researchers will set foot on 19 August. The research station was built in 2010 to foster joint international research into the Arctic environment. Russian scientists work there year-round, teaming up with researchers from all over the world. Their projects draw on various fields of research.

Samoylov station is an ideal location from which to study the melting permafrost. And that’s exactly what drew the Swiss team. Working with the Russian researchers, four EPFL Master’s students – Nicolas Jullien and Xavier Buchwalder (environmental sciences and engineering), and Annina Riedhauser and Flore Chappuis (physics) – will study the impact of climate change on permafrost and the snowpack.

The student researchers will be supervised throughout the project by Franziska Gerber and Annelen Kahl, both post-doctoral researchers in EPFL’s Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences (CRYOS). Kahl will recount their experience on the EPFL Out There blog, which was created to highlight EPFL’s scientific ventures abroad.

Check out the first post from the mission

#SiberianSnowpack : http://epfloutthere.tumblr.com/.

Digital models and weather data

The team will use Alpine 3D, a spatial, three-dimensional snow cover and earth surface model developed in the group of Michael Lehning at the WSL Institute for snow and avalanche research (SLF), to profile the thickness and structure of the snow. Their aim is to forecast how the snowpack will be affected by climate change. The researchers will also collect reams of meteorological data using equipment that they will take with them. This includes two disdrometers equipped with lasers to measure the size and speed of snowflakes and raindrops; three SensorScope weather stations to gather data, including air and ground temperature and humidity, and wind speed and direction; and three metal cylinders to measure the infiltration of water in the ground.

Seasoned blogger and adventurer

Annelen Kahl completed a Bachelor’s in physics in Göttingen, Germany, a Master’s in materials science in Pasadena, California, and a PhD in snow hydrology in Santa Barbara, California. She is currently studying the impact of snow on the performance of solar panels in EPFL’s CRYOS lab, directed by Michael Lehning. A fervent mountain climber and runner, Kahl has already blogged about her personal adventures.

Samoylov Island sits in the Lena River delta in northeastern Russia. © Google maps

Second edition
The idea for a scientific expedition to Samoylov Island originated with the Geneva Global area studies program. Since 2016, Geneva Global has been working to encourage cross-disciplinary research involving the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne and EPFL. It offers Master’s students the chance to engage in a multi-faceted experience abroad during their studies, in part by teaching them about the culture of their host country. Geneva Global’s courses emphasize cross-disciplinarity, fieldwork and otherness, and students come away with a career-enhancing experience. The study program’s pilot project focuses on Russia and is being run in partnership with the Northern Federal University, Arkhangelsk (NArFU) and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in Saint Petersburg. This is the second Geneva Global expedition to include EPFL students (see EPFL news on 2 October 2017).

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