BP and Alaska Sea Grant boost Arctic science

Challenge Grant helps UAF scientists reclaim abandoned gravel sites on North Slope



NR: SG-2007/NR259

Fairbanks, Alaska—As Alaska's North Slope oil fields age, gravel pads built to support drill rigs and other infrastructure are removed, leaving nature to reclaim the land. But natural reclamation in the cold, windswept Arctic can take a very long time.

To speed things along, scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences hope to lend nature a hand.

As part of a new research collaboration, BP Alaska and Alaska Sea Grant recently awarded UAF scientists a two-year $100,000 Challenge Grant to study reclamation techniques using two tundra sedge species (Carex aquatilis and Eriophorum angustifolium) native to the Arctic coast. The scientists seek to understand the germination and growth needs of the sedges as part of a longer-term BP effort to reclaim abandoned gravel sites.

"The goal of this study is to efficiently, inexpensively, and quickly revegetate sites where the gravel has been removed, and return the land to a more natural state," said study leader Stephen Sparrow, professor of agronomy and associate dean of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

UAF master's degree student Sean Willison has traveled to the North Slope frequently throughout the summer to collect seeds and set up trial growth plots on several former gravel sites. Experiments to find ways to speed seed germination and growth are being conducted in a greenhouse on the UAF campus.

"This summer we've been collecting seeds from the area in a preliminary effort to learn as much as we can about what the seeds and plants need for optimum germination and growth," said Willison.

Until recently, abandoned gravel sites were reclaimed using native plant species not typical of tundra communities, said Bill Streever, Environmental Studies Program leader for BP Alaska.

"Ideally, our goal is learn to use common species of tundra sedges that typically dominate the coastal margin," Streever said.

The two-year Challenge Grant provides UAF graduate and undergraduate fellowships to address research needs identified by BP Alaska's Environmental Studies Program. Alaska Sea Grant and BP are sharing the roughly $100,000 cost of the grant. BP will provide approximately $60,000 in support, with Alaska Sea Grant contributing about $40,000.

Alaska Sea Grant director Brian Allee said he hopes the sedge research project will lead to additional research jointly funded by the state-federal coastal and marine research program and BP Alaska, the state's largest oil producer.

"Alaska Sea Grant and BP Alaska have many of the same concerns for the environment," said Allee. "These challenge grants offer a way to enlist the help of University of Alaska scientists and students in addressing these concerns."