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Last modified: Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer in Siberia: Indiana University students assess the impact of climate change

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University professor has led a team of students to one of the earth's most isolated areas to study global environmental problems and solutions.

The students were in Siberia for about three weeks this summer, studying alongside Russian students and witnessing the impact of climate change. Under the direction of Vicky Meretsky from the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the students toured and conducted experiments at a biological station on Lake Kuchak, at laboratories in Tyumen, in the oil producing region of Khanty-Mansiysk and at the Lake Baikal World Heritage Site.

The IU students observed research at an agricultural institute where they could see how crops survive a Siberian climate that veers from June snows to mid-summer temperatures in the 90s.

They also worked with students from Tyumen State University to extract peat soil samples for later study. Peat soil is used for farming in that region, and scientists have worked for years to learn how to both drain peat bogs for crops while still conserving them for future generations. Peat is also vulnerable to fire during droughts brought on by high temperatures that scientists link to climate change.

"For the students, this was a wonderful chance to see applied ecology in action and an important example of how global warming can change the way we balance conservation and the use of natural resources," Meretsky said.

While the trip gave the IU students the chance to study the science of Siberia, there were also opportunities for cultural exchanges. At Lake Kuchak, the American and Russian students worked, ate, talked and swam together.

"They overcame the language divide to talk late into the night about politics, economics, university life and the state of the world," Meretsky said. "This is a perfect example of why we develop study abroad programs."

IU student Kimberly Madsen has warm memories of her interaction with Russian students at Lake Kuchak. One evening began with card games as the Hoosiers taught the Russians how to play euchre, an Indiana pastime. A wide-ranging discussion followed.

"They were asking me questions about our culture, our educational system and even our political system, and then I would ask them questions, and we would talk about the similarities and differences," Madsen recalled.

"It was amazing to get to know the students better, and to hear their impressions of us, and to share all of the things that we have enjoyed about being in Russia. The relationships that have been built reaffirm to me the importance of cultural exchange, study abroad and language learning."

This is the fourth year of the Russian-U.S. collaboration that is directed and funded by Russia's Ministry of Education and Science and the U.S. Department of Education. It is also part of SPEA's Scholars of Global Citizenship program that promotes undergraduate awareness of international issues through study abroad