The Edge of all Life: Join the Nat Geo Expedition Documenting Earth’s Northernmost Lands

Have you ever wondered what the northernmost terrestrial life on Earth is? 

This summer, a team of National Geographic scientists and storytellers will head to the northernmost land on Earth (the far north coast of Greenland) to document terrestrial life and set up base-line transects to monitor the impact of climate change over the next 100 years. 

Dr. Brian Buma, the expedition leader, is an ecologist from the University of Colorado. Brian previously discovered the Southernmost tree on Earth and is excited to continue his work investigating species edge ranges in the far North. Dr. Jeff Kerby, an ecologist and photographer from Aarhus University, is an expert in drone photography/mapping and science storytelling. Rounding out the team is geologist Dr. Aka Simonsen from Greenland, an archaeologist with UNESCO. Educator Kim Young is facilitating expedition outreach efforts. 

The coast of northern Greenland is known as the “Last Ice Area” in the Arctic because it’s the final spot where sea ice still dominates in summer. This landscape and icescape contain a series of small islets embedded in the sea ice which are currently considered the furthest north land on Earth. The intersection between the retreating ice and newly-emerging land and life is a key boundary in our shifting world. Documenting and measuring life as it exists now is critical to get ahead of the ongoing changes in Earth’s climate. By creating permanent field plots and high-resolution 3D drone-based maps of the northernmost islands, the team will establish a baseline for long-term data collection by future teams. They will also spend time looking for archaeological sites left by different Greenlandic peoples, the northernmost cultures on earth—today’s Greenlanders  don’t live in these far north locations, but perhaps their predecessors did long ago. The team will try and find out.

It is our hope that learners from across the world will join us before, during, and after the expedition. Check out the following citizen science initiatives connected to the expedition:

  1. Got 5 minutes? Vote in our Northernmost Life poll. What is the northernmost terrestrial life YOU think the team will find? Find out more about each species’ resiliency and possible reasons for being the top contender in this slideshow or at the bottom of the poll.
  1. Got one class period? Have students select one contender to research in more depth. Students then pitch their reasons to support that contender and vote
  1. Want to get outside? Why aren’t there elephants in Denmark? Muskoxen in Kansas? Pine trees in South Africa? Join the team’s mission in your own community by helping record edges of species ranges using iNaturalist. Introduce students to Species Ranges and the importance of Global BioDiversity.  Then download the iNaturalist app (free!) to your phone or tablet. Next, find your location on this ESRI story map (Records Near You, use zoom icons).  Identify a northern or southernmost species near you and start looking!

Want to follow along? We will be posting updates from the field @edgeof_all_life and . The team will be traveling with a flag created by students and taking pictures with it at key discoveries, including with the northernmost terrestrial life!

More resources:

  1. Expedition Curriculum Guide
  2. Explorer Classroom Recording (Grade K-2)
  3. Explorer Classroom Recording (Grade 3-8)

Brian Buma is an environmental scientist, academic, and NGS Explorer based in Colorado. He has led expeditions and research from Cape Horn to Alaska to Nepal focused on climate and telling the story of global change. Brian recently published a book on mapping climate change and science world-wide.

Jeff Kerby is a photographer, ecologist, and NGS grantee based in Aarhus, Denmark. For the past decade, his work has explored climate change impacts on plants, animals, and society in the Arctic.

Kim Young is a long-time social studies teacher in Boston, Massachusetts. As a 2020 National Geographic Society Education Fellow, she worked to connect students and Explorers through collaborative citizen-science projects