Released May 28, 2003


STENNIS SPACE CENTER - Dr. Alan Shiller, professor of marine science for The University of Southern Mississippi, will return to the Yukon River in Alaska next week to determine how climate changes are affecting the river's relatively pristine environment.

Shiller, a marine chemist and director of the Center for Trace Analysis at Southern Miss, last visited the wilderness landscape of Alaska in September 2002. He will again team with a group of scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to take water samples for trace analysis. Completed over the course of five years, this process will tell the scientists about the overall health of the river system and how climate changes will affect that condition.

"Because large-scale, integrated studies of river basins are so uncommon, the USGS program provides a rare and valuable opportunity to conduct a trace element study in a broader hydrological and hydrochemical context," Shiller said.

On June 1, Shiller will board an airplane bound for Fairbanks, Alaska, where he will drive roughly 100 miles to "the bridge" at a section of the Dalton Highway - the only span to cross the Yukon River in Alaska. There Shiller and the USGS team will take on the substantial task of sampling water in the lower 1,000 miles of the Yukon and its major tributaries.

"Success will be getting all, or at least most, of the water samples and discharge measurements at the 17 sampling locations we've identified," Shiller said. Last year, the scientists sampled the middle third of the river and they expect to sample the upper part of the river next summer. Shiller said that during the September trip to the Yukon he enjoyed the beautiful colors of fall in Alaska. This time, he expects to be greeted by more fauna than flora.

"We'll be there at the height of mosquito season," he said. To meet this challenge, Shiller will take with him a lightweight but densely woven "bug shirt" that is reputed to deflect all manner of biting insects.

Aside from successful scientific exploration, Shiller says he will judge his time well spent in Alaska if he accomplishes three things: "Survival, limited mosquito bites and bears not stealing our food."



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July 15, 2003 2:29 PM