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Nancy Maynard - Racing With the Reindeer
08.15.12
 
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Senior Research Scientist Nancy Maynard spent a week with indigenous reindeer herders in the tundra of northern Norway studying climate change and its effects on reindeer spring migration.


Name: Nancy Maynard
Title: Senior Research Scientist
Formal Job Classification: Same
Organization: Code 615, Cryospheric Sciences Branch, Office of Earth Science
Years at Goddard: 15
Years in Current Position: 12

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?


Until recently, I have been doing four jobs but am now down to just three. I am a Senior Research Scientist and co-investigator of EALAT; a Norwegian, Russian, and United States study of the effects of climate change on Arctic reindeer and the indigenous reindeer herder communities. I am a
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Nancy Maynard near her office at Goddard. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss
lead author on the “Polar Regions” chapter of “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC)” to be published in 2014, and the “Impacts of Climate Change on Tribal, Indigenous, and Native Lands and Resources” chapter of “The U.S. National Climate Assessment” to be published in 2013. Also, I just completed six years as Project Manager of NASA’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Project.

A scene taking in the herd and the snowmobiles.
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On the tundra, herding the reindeer. Credit: N. Maynard

Although I’ve done both science and policy work, my heart is in research, especially when we can apply NASA’s satellite assets to improve societal issues. Our team is currently using Landsat images and observations by the reindeer herders to illustrate the impacts of oil and gas development on the pasturelands and migration routes of reindeer in Norway and northern Russia. We hope to ensure open pathways for their seasonal migrations to and from summer pastures. What makes this project unique is that our indigenous partners lead this initiative and are providing NASA with invaluable on-the-ground, local observations.

I started with a doctorate in marine biology and then alternated between research and policy several times, including two stints at the White House’s Office of Science Technology Policy developing science and climate policy. I am now working on polar climate issues with Native tribes and indigenous reindeer herders in Northern Norway and Siberia.

What have you learned from the reindeer herders?


Indigenous reindeer herders possess a great store of cultural “traditional knowledge” so they are able to make observations that we cannot make using our remote sensing satellites or even with our field studies. They are exceptionally keen observers of changes to the snow including formations of ice crusts. There are over 300 words in their native language for “snow,” each with a distinct meaning about that type of snow and how the reindeer may interact with it. For example, one word might describe the thickness of an ice crust layer that the reindeer will have to paw through to find food or how much difficulty the reindeer will have walking in it.

Herd of reindeer Nancy Maynard on a snowmobile during the herding
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A herd of reindeer in Norway. Credit: N. Maynard
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Nancy Maynard on her snowmobile assisting with the herding. Credit: N. Maynard

Observing the reindeer interacting with the changing snow conditions was especially useful to our studies, showing clear examples of the effects of different snow types on the reindeers’ mobility as well as ability to forage under the snow for their critical daily food intake.

What is the coolest thing you've ever done at Goddard?


In April of 2011, I was invited to accompany indigenous reindeer herders move hundreds of reindeer on part of their spring migration from the winter pastures in northern Norway out to the coast. It happened that their migration path was within our study area. It was generally 10 to 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and frequently snowing and windy. We traveled by snowmobile across the tundra, camping each night in one tent housing about eight people and two herding dogs.

One of the herding dogs in the tent› Larger image
One of the herding dogs sharing the tent with the herders. Credit: N. Maynard
From 2000–2008, I mentored over 35 summer interns, primarily from tribal colleges and universities. As a lead for NASA’s Tribal College Project, I also created an “externship” program that takes NASA out to a tribal college on a reservation to make our science education available for students who are not able to leave their families. Each summer, we worked with over 30 interns and six instructors. (For these efforts, Maynard received NASA’s 2008 Robert H. Goddard Award for Exceptional Achievement in Mentoring.)

What do you enjoy most about being on the tundra?


I love the quiet. The wind patterns on the snow are exquisite. I love watching the changing environment. One moment it can be clear, blue skies with white, sparkling snow and within minutes it can change to a wild wind blowing blinding snow. Watching the reindeer interacting with the different snow conditions was really interesting. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie working with my collaborators out in the field.

When we finally stopped for the day, we had to set up the tent, gather inside, cook, and talk – a really pleasant part of the day. My birthday fell during that trip and the herders surprised me with a birthday cake made of angel food cake, a can of mixed fruit, and two full cans of whipped cream. We pulled our food on sleds behind the snowmobiles and it often took hours for the food to defrost which made their efforts in giving me a birthday cake all the more touching and delicious.

The tundra is one of my favorite places in the world. Another favorite place is our summer cabin in Maine on a lake surrounded by mountains. It is beautiful, offers great kayaking, and includes resident loons.
Camp set up during the reindeer herding.› Larger image
Camp set up for the herders on the tundra. Credit: N. Maynard


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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.