Senior Colleen Donoghue recently presented about her unique experience during All School Meeting. Her research contributed to an ongoing 30-year study of climate change in the subarctic and arctic regions, where the effects of climate change are felt every day.
Over the course of Colleen’s eleven-day adventure in Churchill, she participated in the collection of data in a pond region. She and a team collected water samples and tracked the temperature, percent oxygen, and conductivity of the water. The team also studied the creatures in the ponds, some of which included water beetles, dragonfly larvae, and Colleen’s personal favorite, fairy shrimp; “they float around on their backs swimming backward.” She and the team also conducted field work for a graduate student's research project, studying the metamorphosis and growth of tadpoles in different water temperatures.
Colleen’s experience was very similar to what a professional research scientist would have had in the area. Since Churchill is home to more polar bears than people, she and the team members had to sign a polar bear release form: “Essentially, the form was to say that it was not the organization’s fault if we were eaten by a polar bear.” In addition, the team was brutally attacked by mosquitos on a daily basis; “They always found a way to get inside our bug jackets or snack on our hands.”
The trip wasn’t around-the-clock grueling work, however. Colleen and the other researchers were given the opportunity to get into town and experience some other aspects of life in Churchill, Manitoba. They went on a beluga whale expedition, where they were “able to see hundreds of belugas and were close enough to touch them at some points.” The team was also taken on a tour of some recently-painted murals as part of the “Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans” project. This project, in collaboration with over 200 artists, has helped create over 300 murals in 12 countries since its founding in 2014. The murals depict different aspects of sea life to raise awareness about the message of sea conservation.
Colleen’s experience helped her understand “how field data is used to put together a story of what is actually happening in the Arctic region.” The people of Churchill and the wildlife around the town have been feeling the effects of climate change in multiple aspects of their lives:
“The sea ice is receding farther and farther north, making it much harder for the polar bears to find food because they depend so much on the sea ice for hunting grounds. Bears are dying and resorting to finding other means of food. In March, there was a giant late snowstorm in Churchill. It destroyed the train tracks that were essential to get food, materials, and people into Churchill. Essential construction vehicles and other necessities can’t be brought to Churchill. Food prices have skyrocketed. A box of Capri Sun costs $50. These people are being stranded and the decline of Churchill continues to accelerate.”
The devastation that is being felt in places like Churchill, Manitoba, and the research that Colleen and other scientists have been conducting, will hopefully bring to light the real and scary problem of climate change. With the help of the Cullman Scholars program, Colleen was able to use her passion to contribute to this real cause.
“The Cullman Scholarship is a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue your passion. I owe a huge thank you to the Cullman family for making this journey possible. I am so thankful for your generosity. I also want to thank my family for supporting me on this trip. It not only reaffirmed my passion for research on climate change, but also allowed me to truly see its effects firsthand.”