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Canadian youth join NASA flight surveying climate change effects: ‘It was really cool’

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Two Northwest Territories youth joined NASA researchers aboard a Gulfstream III jet earlier this month as it soared above Great Slave Lake and parts of Nunavut and Alberta.

“It was really cool learning about what they do — like what each person and each instrument does,” said Jacki Moore-Tsetta, a 22-year-old environmental technician with the North Slave Metis Alliance.

“It was amazing. They were so eager to show me the ropes,” added Ryan Walsh, also 22 and a summer student with the N.W.T. Centre for Geomatics.

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The flight was part of NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment, known as ABoVE, a field campaign in Alaska and Western Canada that began in 2015. The project aims to help scientists and decision makers gain a better understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of Arctic and boreal ecosystems to climate change.

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NASA scientist Peter Griffith, project manager for ABoVE, said the region is “changing first and fastest as the planet heats up.”

A study by Finnish researchers published in the journal Nature earlier this month found the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the world over the past four decades.

“NASA’s job from the beginning has been to provide sound scientific information about the Earth as a planetary system to decision makers of all sorts,” Griffith said. “We care a lot that people in general _ not just in Canada and not just in the U.S. but around the world _ have good information about a changing planet.”

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Carrie Worth, a research pilot with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, said the project studies Earth “from leaf to space” using data collected from the ground, flights and satellites.

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Work in the N.W.T. this summer included tracking changes in areas affected by wildfires in 2014, the territory’s worst season on record.

Moore-Tsetta, who is a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, said she remembers 2014 as a “terrible year” because she has asthma and the sky was red for most of the summer.

In addition to taking part in the flight, she recently joined a team of NASA researchers in the field examining vegetation disturbances and changes to the permafrost and soil moisture.

“I think it’s good that they started this project,” she said. “It’s really helpful to know what’s going on with the world, especially with all the fires because there is CO2 and methane getting released in the air.”

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Walsh, who is from Yellowknife and studying math at the University of Lethbridge, said he plans to take an extra minor in geography after his experience this summer.

“It broadened my horizons so much. I’ve been introduced to a world that I never knew existed before,” he said.

“I’ve really fallen in love with this field, even in the past four months.”

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While working in the territory, NASA co-ordinated with the German Aerospace Centre’s CoMet 2.0 Arctic mission. Over six weeks in August and September, the project is using aircraft-based instruments to measure carbon dioxide and methane emissions in the North.

Some Yellowknife residents were able to speak to NASA and German Aerospace Centre personnel, as well as tour the aircraft, during an open house earlier this month.

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