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14 April, 2003

A Day With the Dateliners

Today Lee and I joined the middle school students (2) and the high school students (8) to make brief presentations about the project that we are working on here and talk a little science.

Our presentation was centered on demonstrating the relationship between the Arctic Environmental Observatory and the residents of Diomede Village and to answer any questions regarding the project or science in general.

The people of Diomede Village live subsistence lives, meaning that they rely on the ocean for a good portion of their livelihood. Seal, walrus, whale and polar bear are all food and material resources for the villagers whose rich hunting traditions are centuries old.

We explained how the data collected through the Arctic Environmental Observatory project is directly correlated to the health and quality of the ecosystem and animals within it. The data collected on the nutrient levels within the water provides information at the beginning levels of the food chain. The nutrients are consumed by the phytoplankton, which is eaten by zooplankton, which is consumed by larger organisms on up to crab, seals, walrus and whales, which form a good portion of the villagers diet.

We also explained why it was important that the oceans and seas do not freeze completely solid and why they do not (another journal arcticle topic). We demonstrated how the salinity level changes as sea ice melts by using a salinity and temperature sensor.

And finally, we discussed the contrasting examples of seawater habitats around Diomede with the freshwater habitats of my home state Illinois. A quick trip to the science shack gave the students a glimpse of the instruments in action as the water was flowing through them and data being collected.

An elder of the village, serving as a teacherís aide, concluded the presentation by giving a brief history of hunting on the island and present day experiences. He spoke of fading traditions and the future bringing full circle the interrelationships between the people and the environment. And in his own soft-spoken subtle way he challenged each student to keep alive his or her family traditions and village heritage, remembering the past so that they can proudly progress into the future.

I almost forgot, the name Dateliners refers to the school nickname. It is named after the International Date Line that separates the islands of Big and Little Diomede a little more than a mile from shore.


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