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Alaskan Adventure for Kruger Scientist

Date: 2007-09-27

by Michele Hofmeyr
Scientific Services – Skukuza

“The Alaskan wilderness is nothing like our wilderness here in Kruger” says Judith Kruger from Scientific Services, Skukuza, Kruger National Park. “There are thousands of green alpine trees and large flowing rivers with huge amounts of floating ice, even in Summer”. This is a far cry of the heat and yellow-brown hues of Kruger at the end of Winter. Judith, who is responsible for science support and data management in Kruger, recently took the long trip to Alaska to join a group of specialist software engineers and programme developers from NCEAS (National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis).

Under the leadership of Matt Jones who is based in Juneau, Alaska, the purpose of their workshop was to develop and prototype an automated system for the Thresholds of Potential Concern (TPC’s) which are used to detect changes in the ecosystem. These TPC’s form part of the current management system for monitoring biodiversity in our National parks, as they provide the upper and lower limits of acceptable change in an ecosystem and provide a warning should some aspect of an ecosystem begin to change over time. During the workshop decisions were made to include all of SANParks data into the current KNP data repository.

The group also worked on improving the functioning of the data access system and also to deploy the available data to the SAEON (South African Environmental Observation network) nodes in South Africa. The value of the data access system is that it will be possible to query Kruger data from overseas sites together with access to other long term data sets from around the world, although SANParks will still restrict access to data that is not yet published or not yet available for public use.

“It is important for Scientific Services here in Kruger to remain at the forefront of these developments as this type of technology will only help us improve our monitoring and management of all our parks” explained Judith. The workshop was funded by the US based AW Mellon Foundation who have shown a strong commitment to developing user friendly data transfer and monitoring methods for Kruger.

While Judith was there she took the opportunity to enjoy some of the grandeur that Alaska is famous for . This included a hike on Mount Roberts, where the local wildlife was out taking advantage of the summer weather, like the hoary marmoth. This furry creature is large relative of the squirrel who makes its home at the base of mountain slopes where rocks protect it from predators and also provide good lookout points. Near the top of the mountain, there were spectacular views of the sea channel between Juneau and nearby Admiralty Island. Juneau is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to the rest of Alaska.

Judith did not have to travel far to see the legendary ice glaciers that move slowly down the river courses, creating deep valleys as they move. Close to Juneau is the Mendenhall glacier, where the sheets of ice break off and float down the river. Glaciers around the world are slowly disappearing as global climate change is increasing temperatures and unnaturally increasing the rate at which the glaciers melt. “The effects of Global climate change are very apparent in a cold country like Alaska” says Judith, “but there are still amazingly remote areas and a limited road network so you have a sense of true wilderness”.