Hiking 650 miles in three months is a feat in of itself.
But when that hiking is done for impactful research, aiming to combat one of the largest environmental issues our world is facing today, it becomes even more admirable.
Jackson Bates spent his summer conducting research at Denali National Park in Alaska for a graduate student at the University of Montana. Bates, a senior at Doane studying Environmental Science and Biology, was conducting research to understand how five alpine animal species in the park are responding to climate change.
Those species -- the ptarmigan (a type of bird), arctic ground squirrel, collared pika, marmot, and dall sheep -- are rare species found at Denali National Park. Hiking approximately 15 miles each day, Bates was collecting data about the species to see where they live and how (or if) they are migrating. This research will help us understand if the species are moving up the mountain to higher altitudes to keep cool, as the planet warms from climate change. Bates says a study like this had never been done at the park and that they wanted baseline data.
"I'm really interested in climate change and want to help solve the problem,” Bates said. “That is why I originally came to Doane, to study environmental science and learn more about mitigating climate change. At Doane I have been able to really understand what role biology and biodiversity play in climate change."
As someone who would like to look into ways to preserve biodiversity, or the variety of life on Earth, and work in a conservation biology-related position, the internship at Denali National Park seemed to be a perfect fit for Bates. Over 200 people applied for the internship opportunity in Alaska and Bates was the lone undergraduate student selected. "I was honored to be chosen," he said.
It reaffirmed for me that Doane was a great choice. I've been able to do a lot of undergraduate research which helped prepare me for this."
Jackson Bates '20
Dr. Ramesh Laungani, associate professor of Biology at Doane, recommended Bates for the position.
“When the graduate student called me to talk about Jackson, my first words were, ‘Hire him,” Laungani said. “I’ve had Jackson in my upper-level climate change biology class and as a freshman who designed experiments about invasive species. I could speak to his ability to think like a climate change biologist and his ability to think like an ecologist.
“Why did an undergraduate student from Wilber, Nebraska beat out 200 other students? Because he had the skills needed. Courses he’s taken, like climate change biology, are preparing students for the future -- especially students who are wanting to go into environmental fields.”
Now, Laungani is working with Bates on his senior research project, in which he is studying how to fight climate change using a substance called biochar. Additionally, he is examining how biochar can help maintain groundwater quality, tackling multiple environmental challenges at once. Bates says he is excited to use some of the knowledge and experience he gained in Alaska and apply it to his coursework at Doane this year.
“I learned how to manage and organize a lot of data that will help me with my senior research project,” Bates said. “I learned at Doane that there are a lot of perspectives on climate change and I saw that firsthand in Alaska.
“Alaskans realize the importance of climate change because it’s punching them in the face right now. There are animals dying quickly -- polar bears, walrus, and narwhals, to name a few. There are landslides from melting permafrost and too much rain… The weather isn’t what we consider it to be normal anymore. I would say climate change probably has something to do with that.”
Dr. Russ Souchek, professor of Environmental Science at Doane, has also worked closely with Bates and is excited to see what holds next for him.
“Jackson is an outstanding student who brings energy and independent thinking to the classroom,” he said. “His experience this summer has allowed him to apply what he is doing in the classroom, experiencing the impacts of climate change in the real world and its impact on habitats, wildlife, and the citizens of Alaska.”
“This experience has plugged him into a network of researchers and a science network that he wouldn’t have been able to get if not for his Doane experience,” Laungani adds.
Bates knows one person cannot fix climate change and save the world, but he says he will do everything he can to make a difference.
“Together we can make a difference,” he said. “After being in Alaska, it’s scary to see what climate change is doing to the world.
I'm thankful Doane helped put me in a position to get this opportunity. Had I gone to a different school, I don’t know that I would have been selected.