Mother-daughter duo sleuth the slough in Salcha

Editor’s note: This week, scientists from the International Arctic Research Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks are presenting their work alongside thousands of colleagues from around the world at the 2022 American Geophysical Union fall meeting. This week we’ll share some of their discoveries. You can also find out more about UAF at AGU by searching for #UAFxAGU on social media.

In kindergarten, Teslin Brannan began studying the effects of a new levee that cut off the upper end of a Tanana River slough. Today, she is a 16-year-old aspiring climate scientist who wants to energize those around her to take better care of the environment.

Teslin’s journey began in kindergarten when her mom and teacher, Tori Brannan, engaged her elementary school class in studying Piledriver Slough, located about 25 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

In partnership with the Tanana Valley Watershed Association, the Salcha Elementary School participated in a 10-year study of the new levee’s environmental impact. The 6- to 11-year-old citizen scientists started by catching fish fry and sampling water three times a year. That evolved into an in-depth study with strong scientific protocols, technical equipment and a deeper understanding among participants.

As Teslin grew, she became the project’s champion, and the association eventually hired her as a summer intern to collect data at other sites. 

“Because of this study, I want to become a climate scientist and major in it in college,” said Teslin. “We only have one Earth, and we have to take care of it. … I just love nature and science and learning. So I want to take care of what we have and educate others about it.”

Teslin and her classmates documented an increase in water temperature of greater than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, changes to fish distribution and other impacts. Now she and her mom are working with University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center scientists to understand their findings. They’ve also linked up with the Alaska Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program to make their data available worldwide. 

This week, both mother and daughter are presenting at the American Geophysical Union conference. While Teslin is sharing about the big changes she tracked in the slough, Tori is sharing her experience engaging an entire school in long-term research

“I want to help others see that, yes, you can do this with your schools. You can do real science that students become interested in and stewards of,” said Tori, who moved from kindergarten teacher to school principal during the decade-long project. “Start small. Look out your back door. Do something that you can easily fit into your lesson plans.”