Fort Lewis College professor to visit Greenland, Antarctica


Fort Lewis College professor to visit Greenland, Antarctica

Steltzer’s research

“I’ve researched how environmental change affects plants, ecosystems and human well-being in Alaska, Greenland and here in Colorado,” Fort Lewis College associate professor Heidi Steltzer said.
The results of one study she was involved with, looking at the effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and longer growing seasons because of climate change on alpine plants, were published in Scientific American, Nature and The New York Times.
This year, for the second time, Steltzer is a visiting program faculty fellow with the Department of Energy, working with Kenneth Williams, an Earth-system scientist from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the Rocky Mountain Bio Lab. Their project is measuring how plants influence the timing and amount of water in mountain streams that flow into the Colorado River.
A paper published in 2009 recounted her study of how desert dust speeds up the snowpack melt.
“An early snowmelt puts a lot of stress on our watershed, and I think a lot about the system on which our community depends,” Steltzer said. “It’s under multiple stresses, between climate change, mining discharge and the dust.”
It’s important to control the factors we can, she said, because, some, like climate change, are a problem beyond local control.
“Most of the dust is local, it comes from the Colorado Plateau,” she said. “But if the biological crusts on desert lands stay intact, we’ll have less dust, so if people are careful when they’re in the desert, they can make a difference.”
Her project in Greenland later this summer is under a grant through the National Science Foundation, working with a scientist from Pennsylvania State University who has been doing a 20-year field study on climate change in the bellwether country. Steltzer will investigate the impact herbivores, such as the musk ox and caribou, have on the plant life in the fragile environment above the Arctic Circle.
When they return to the United States, the two will create a teacher workshop using films and stories to help middle and high school teachers include climate change and its impacts into their classrooms.
“It’s not part of their curriculum in training as teachers,” Steltzer said, “and many of them don’t know where to start. We’ll have a website with all our resources, so teachers across the country will have a place to go.”
Ann Butler

To learn more

To follow Heidi Steltzer’s adventures, visit her blog on the Mountain Research Institute website at
Visit to read The New York Times article about Steltzer’s research into lengthening growing seasons.

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Steltzer research: dust/snow
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