BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Taking science not only out of the classroom, but a couple thousand miles out, a research project recently sent local students from the Park School of Baltimore to the Canadian community of Churchill.
Churchill is in northern Manitoba, and is the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world. It sits south of the Arctic Circle, at the edge of Hudson Bay.
It’s where a joint Canadian-American research project is studying climate change’s impact on the area, enlisting the aid of scientists and college and high school students.
“I didn’t think I could be out in the middle of nowhere with no service and no connection to the outside world,” says Park School student Mahey Gheis. “But it was actually amazing.”
So is what’s happening to the Arctic. Warming water is impacting the ice, which animals like polar bears depend on for survival. Each summer, more melts away and takes longer to re-freeze in winter.
The November trip placed students in large tundra buggies to keep them safe from the bears, while they photographed close-ups of the animals’ faces. From the photos, whisker prints are developed.
Like human fingerprints, no two polar bears have the same whiskers, making it possible for researchers to identify and follow them over time, tracking their size and weight.
“Just trying to tackle that and not knowing what you’re going to get out of it, and just learning that that’s science,” said Ian Zumpano, another student.
The research project will take 30 years to complete, and the teens are literally just passing through it, contributing what they can.
The students say it’s humbling to participate in something bigger than themselves.
“Actually being with the real data and contributing to a study that’s much larger, that will outlast us,” says Gheis.
“Just being able to work on a project that’s so much bigger than all of us,” adds student Christopher Westbrook.
The polar bear trip isn’t the only one students make to Manitoba. A second group goes to Churchill in the summer to collect data on thawing permafrost.