Toolik Field Station names 2024 early career research awardees

The Institute of Arctic Biology’s Toolik Field Station has selected four recipients for their student and early career research Tundra Award in 2024. The donation-based award provides awardees with 10 days each to conduct an independent research project at the world’s largest Arctic research station, located on Alaska’s North Slope. 

“Toolik Field Station is proud to offer the Tundra Award to this year’s cohort of early career researchers as we work to support their cutting-edge projects and promote the next generation of Arctic scientists,” said Syndonia Bret-Harte, the station’s science director and professor at the Institute of Arctic Biology. “It’s through the generosity of our donors that allows us to open our station’s doors to these researchers who otherwise would not be able to fund a visit to Toolik.”

This year’s awardees are:

  • Rain Blankenship, a Ph.D. student from the University of Southern California,
  • Dr. Cansu Culha, a postdoctoral scholar from the University of British Columbia, 
  • Dr. Jacqueline Gerson, an assistant professor from Michigan State University,
  • Austin Routt, a Ph.D. student in the Geoscience program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

Routt’s Tundra Award is supported by the William S. and Carelyn Y. Reeburgh Fieldwork Endowment for UAF graduate students.

Learn more about the awardees and their projects below or on the Toolik Field Station website. This will be each awardee’s first time at Toolik Field Station.

Rain Blankenship headshot
Courtesy of Rain Blankenship

Rain Blankenship | Investigating Climate Change Impacts on Permafrost Watershed Dynamics: A Multi-Isotopic Investigation in Alaska's North Slope

Blankenship is using isotopic tools to investigate the Earth’s processes, particularly those of erosion, sediment provenance, and trace metal transport in riverine systems. The Tundra Award will enable Blankenship’s research at Toolik Field Station to measure stable isotopic ratios of water and uranium to characterize hydrology, water-rock interaction time, and trace metal release to assess the impact of climate change on groundwater discharge and transport in permafrost-dominated watersheds in the North Slope. This research will expand our understanding of the utility of uranium as a geochemical tracer, which directly reflects the extent of active layer deepening at the watershed scale.


Cansu Culha headshot
Courtesy of Cansu Culha

Cansu Culha | Measuring land stability and erosive power that set retrogressive thaw slumps and thermoerosional gullies

Culha is a computational modeler interested in the physics of natural hazards. She is currently a National Science Foundation postdoctoral scholar at the University of British Columbia, using granular mechanics computational models to understand erosional features in permafrost soils. Both retrogressive thaw slumps and thermoerosional gullies can mobilize significant amounts of carbon into downstream ecosystems and threaten the stability of infrastructures like roads. Given the unique morphology and growth of each feature type, she is curious as to why one forms over the other and what sets their cadence. With her Tundra Award, Culha will model these thermokarst features and provide a process-based understanding of carbon mobilization at Toolik.


Jacqueline Gerson headshot
Courtesy of Jacqueline Gerson

Jacqueline Gerson | The impact of fire on mercury storage and transformation in the Arctic tundra

Gerson is an assistant professor in Earth and Environmental Science and Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University. She is a watershed biogeochemist interested in the impact of human activity on the cycling of elements. Her research focuses on contaminants and trace elements like mercury, examining the fate, transport, and transformation of these chemicals within and between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Gerson’s findings help evaluate the implications these chemicals have on the people and animals that live in these landscapes. Through the Tundra Award, Gerson will be studying the impact of wildfires and climate change on the biogeochemical cycling of mercury in the Arctic.



Austin Routt headshot
Courtesy of Austin Routt

Austin Routt | Rock Glaciers in a Changing Arctic

Routt researches the formation and evolution of periglacial landforms. He studies the internal structure, morphology, and dynamics of rock glaciers and pingos using geophysical techniques like ground-penetrating radar and frequency domain electromagnetics. The Tundra Award will support the investigation of a rock glacier in the Brooks Range using photogrammetry and geophysical techniques. Rock glaciers in the Brooks Range have rarely been studied but are unique in their environmental context. Routt hopes to fit this work into a larger story of rock glacier change and climate impacts in the Arctic.