INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER — UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

People of IARC

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Yongwon Kim

Research Associate Professor Yongwon Kim works to establish new and important research on the topics of carbon and nitrogen cycling, particularly in the terrestrial ecosystems in the Arctic. Kim has published extensively in this field, and he continues to promote awareness amongst general and scientific communities about the important dynamics of terrestrial carbon and methane.

Contact Dr. Kim

Have you always been interested in studying the characteristics of the earth and its atmosphere?

For my Bachelor’s degree in Korea, I was studying environmental engineering, which I enjoyed. However, because some of this work involved the introduction of diffusion testing agents into portions of the local freshwater, it made me uneasy that, as a young researcher, I was not aware of the precise effects these chemicals might have beyond the aims of the study.

For these reasons, after I completed my undergraduate degree, I sought a degree in chemical oceanography, a field in which I could more acutely define marine chemical interactions, especially those resulting from the introduction of industrial pollutants. And from there, I became more focused, along with a colleague of mine in my Ph.D. program at Hokkaido University in Japan, upon terrestrial and atmospheric chemistry. I have always sought to observe and explore the environment around me in different ways.

How did these circumstances lead you to Alaska and IARC?

When I began working in 1999 with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), an IARC partner, one of my first projects involved field research here in Alaska, measuring gas exchange at a single plot of land and determining the differences at this plot before and after it had experienced traumatic wildfire.

Perhaps more importantly for me, I found Alaska very appealing and began looking for other opportunities to continue research here. Since then, throughout my time with IARC, I have formed a strong connection to the unique life and work of the Interior; I very much enjoy and feel at home here.

What might interest people about your current work?

Since 2005, I have engaged in ongoing work at interior Alaska sites such as Caribou Poker Creek, Poker Flat, and along the Haul Road to Prudhoe Bay to measure terrestrial/atmospheric gas exchange using automatic gas chamber systems.

In particular, this research seeks to define the emission of CO2 and CH4 (methane) from the ground, especially across the extreme seasonal changes in the Arctic. This has yielded a number of interesting results already, including the varying winter season gas release processes between CO2, which experiences slow and gradual emission throughout the season, and CH4, which builds up to extreme captive pressures under deep frozen soil until it is forced to the surface in a single, potent release or “burp.”

Further, these projects have demonstrated the wide-ranging, strong effects of seasonal shifts in the air pressure gradient upon terrestrial emissions in general.

Also worth noting about this work are the singular and profound difficulties of performing science during the winter season in interior Alaska. Much of the equipment and techniques available for these types of investigation are simply not designed for such extreme conditions as those experienced here, and this often makes it difficult to keep things working properly.

Because of these challenges, however, scientific examination of these extreme conditions is made all the more uncommon and valuable.

Temporal variations of CO2 and CH4 concentrations in snowpack above the surface (a and b) and in soil (c and d). Colors indicate level of concentration (highest level, red; lowest, pink). Vertically empty column indicates no observation, due to severe conditions; horizontally empty row denotes no data owing to the frozen soil, which has no pore space.
Temporal variations of CO2 and CH4 concentrations in snowpack above the surface (a and b) and in soil (c and d). Colors indicate level of concentration (highest level, red; lowest, pink). Vertically empty column indicates no observation, due to severe conditions; horizontally empty row denotes no data owing to the frozen soil, which has no pore space.
Measuring spring CO2 emission in the northern Brooks Range, May, 2011. (Photo by T. Nakai)
Measuring spring CO2 emission in the northern Brooks Range, May, 2011. (Photo by T. Nakai)
Schematic drawing of soil-originated CH4 flow through soil cover, measured between October 2005 (left) and January 2006 (right). Curves in the moss layer denote frozen depth below surface; pressure is applied downward through cold atmospheric temperatures and upward by permafrost. Pore space in dead moss became narrower and ¬¬soil air was pressured steadily with time, causing CH4 emission through vascular plants into the snowpack and atmosphere. Stars denote frozen soil with time.
Schematic drawing of soil-originated CH4 flow through soil cover, measured between October 2005 (left) and January 2006 (right). Curves in the moss layer denote frozen depth below surface; pressure is applied downward through cold atmospheric temperatures and upward by permafrost. Pore space in dead moss became narrower and ¬¬soil air was pressured steadily with time, causing CH4 emission through vascular plants into the snowpack and atmosphere. Stars denote frozen soil with time.