Questions for ‘Here’s why scientists have been fertilizing the Arctic’


Laura Gough counts the number and type of plants living in a section of tundra near the Toolik research station in Alaska. Her work is exploring how climate change may change the nutrients available to Arctic plants.

B. Brookshire/SNS

To accompany feature “Here’s why scientists have been fertilizing the Arctic”


Before Reading

1.     What are at least two reasons why plants don’t grow very large in the Arctic?

2.     Why does adding fertilizer to plants help them grow?

During Reading

1.     What are two nutrients that plants need to grow? Where in the Arctic are these nutrients normally found?

2.     What is permafrost? Where would you find it?

3.     How do Laura Gough’s fertilized plots of land look different from the surrounding tundra?

4.     How might adding fertilizer to the soil there help scientists study the effects of climate change?

5.     How can thawing permafrost affect plants?

6.     What is eutrophication? Why is it occurring in the Arctic?

7.     Why do fertilizers affect lakes and streams differently?

8.     What nutrient has Linda Deegan and her colleagues been adding to Arctic streams? What resulting pattern of changes have they been seeing?

9.     What is the “active layer” of the Arctic soil?

10.   Why is Laura Gough interested in small, non-hibernating mammals such as voles?

After Reading:

1.     How might human activities in distant areas, such as the continental United States, affect plant and animal communities in the Arctic?

2.     Why is it important for researchers to study changes over long periods of time?

3.     Think about the changes the scientists made to one of the ecosystems described in the story. How did their tinkering with the environment change the ecosystem? How well did it mimic the type of impacts of climate change? In what ways, if any, did it not mimic those changes well?

4.      The tundra and permafrost ecosystem occurs across the high Arctic, not just in Alaska. Pick another region where you would like to see a similar, related study. Where is it? What plants and animals are found there? Which of these might be most vulnerable to permafrost melting?