CASNR professor completes documentary about Alaskan climate change
By: Hannah Fields
With its beautiful exotic landscape, Alaska still remains an undiscovered destination to many Americans. While the awe-inspiring scenery is captivating, it's the Alaskan soil that tells a much broader story and two members of Texas Tech University have worked together to bring that story to life.
David Weindorf, professor, associate dean for research for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and BL Allen Endowed Chair of Pedology in the Department of Plant and Soil Science and Texas Tech Public Television General Manager Paul Allen Hunton joined forces to create the documentary "Between Earth and Sky—Climate Change on the Last Frontier".
The idea for "Between Earth and Sky" came from Weindorf's desire to honor University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Chien Lu Ping, who has been leading a renowned arctic soil field tour for the past 20 years. The tour, which began in interior Alaska in the eighties, soon expanded to southeastern Alaska and eventually into the permafrost regions. Through these tours, and his own research, Ping has helped to define the different features and variabilities of arctic soils. Not only that, Ping has influenced and inspired young scientists to pursue research of arctic soil, teaching over 500 during his time conducting his arctic soil field tour.
Weindorf began taking students on Ping's tour 10 years ago and was made a co-instructor after five years. After Ping announced his desire to retire in 2014, Weindorf was moved to capture Ping's last tour on film as a way to preserve Ping's dedication to arctic soils and the number of students and scientists in his field.
"I thought, for his last Arctic Soil Field Tour, wouldn't it be cool if we could somehow videotape it? I thought if we could videotape it, maybe we can get him to wear a microphone so we could really capture that audio. If we could do that, maybe we could get some lights out there. Before long, this idea of doing a documentary film was born," Weindorf said.
Soon after, Weindorf was introduced to Hunton to help get his idea off the ground. With their combined expertise, the two decided to add a climate change element to "Between Earth and Sky", not only to captivate audiences, but to explain the importance of the Alaskan arctic soil and how the changes being experienced in Alaska could soon move across the globe.
Previews of the documentary explain that these changes have caused Alaska to experience the largest regional warming of any US state, its temperature increasing by 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1949. The warming trend has also caused much of Alaska's permafrost (permanently frozen ground), which holds 40 percent of the earth's carbon, to begin thawing. As the permafrost thaws, carbon contained therein is lost to the atmosphere. One form of carbon release is methane gas, which is liberated into the atmosphere as the permafrost thaws. Methane released into the atmosphere captures solar radiation, which adds to the warming of the climate, which, in turn, creates a repeating cycle of permafrost thaw and methane release.
"Arctic soils play such an important role in global climate dynamics because of the carbon that's stored in those soils—it's an incredible amount. So, with this triangle idea of having soils, climate change and arctic ecosystems we created the three pillars that hold up the stool and that's really how the project kind of developed," Weindorf said.
Since completion of filming, "Between Earth and Sky" has already begun receiving positive feedback. After seeing clips from the documentary, U.S. Department of Agriculture Climate Science Center director Bill Hohenstein suggested clips be presented at the COP-22 international climate talks. This suggestion led Weindorf and Hunton to go through the state department and receive an invitation to present outtakes at the US Pavilion in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016.
Additional praise has come from the documentary's partners and funding sources, such as the USDA and Soil Science Society of America, with the president of the Soil Science Society of America calling the project both "cinematic" and "beautiful". Another source of positive praise has centered on the strong female voices within the documentary.
The world premiere for "Between Earth and Sky" happened in March at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. as part of the Environmental Film Festival, which draws a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000 people each year. The documentary is also scheduled to be shown at more than a dozen universities such as Virginia Tech, Oregon State University and Utah State University. Program leaders will also be taking the documentary abroad, screening it at the European Geophysical Union's GeoCinema in Vienna, at Cambridge University (UK) and in Ancona, Italy. They also hope to have the documentary aired on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and iTunes. The Texas Tech premiere of "Between Earth and Sky" is scheduled for the fall of 2017.
CONTACT: David Weindorf, Associate Dean for Research, College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2808 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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