Dr. Heidi Steltzer
Associate Professor of Biology
- Environmental Science
- Science and Society
- Climate Change Impacts
- Ecosystem Ecology
- Environmental Health
- Ph.D., Ecosystem Ecology, University of Colorado, 1999
- B.S., Biology, Duke University, 1993
About Dr. Heidi Steltzer
Heidi Steltzer, PhD, mountain and Arctic scientist, explorer, science storyteller. Heidi studies how environmental changes affect mountain watersheds and Arctic ecosystems and their link to our well-being. She earned her BS in Biology at Duke University and a PhD in Ecosystem Ecology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Heidi is an Associate Professor in Biology and teaches in the new Environmental Science Degree program at Fort Lewis College. Heidi has spent 24 years conducting field studies on mountain hillslopes in Colorado, and in tundra and treeline watersheds in Greenland and Alaska. She's studied how earlier snowmelt due to desert dust deposition, warmer temperatures, elevated carbon dioxide, and increased nitrogen deposition affect key plant functions that protect human well-being. Her research takes her where others don’t go, and through teaching and science engagement, Heidi shares science stories. She is a Voice for Science with the American Geophysical Union. Find her on social media @heidimountains.
Dr. Steltzer's Field Science Blog
The five-week start to our 2016 summer field season in Colorado’s Elk Mountains did not go as planned. Field science is the art of intense planning followed by straying. Field time leads to new insights that inform the research, while other times straying from the plan is due to mistakes or chance events. Both are a huge part of scientific discovery.
Dr. Steltzer was awarded $73,989 over three years from the National Science Foundation Polar Projects for “APPLES: Arctic Plant Phenology Learning through Engaged Science” a research subaward through Penn State University.
Dr. Steltzer Named Visiting Faculty Program Fellow by U.S. Department of Energy
Dr. Steltzer has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy as a member of the Visiting Faculty Program, which seeks to increase the research competitiveness of faculty members and their students at institutions historically underrepresented in the research community. Read more
In The Media
- How Networking In Antarctica Could Give Women In STEM Fields The Ultimate Advantage, Bustle, March 28, 2017
- FLC Researcher Takes Off to Antarctica, Dr. Steltzer is embarking on an expedition to Antarctica as a part of a women's leadership and research project called Homeward Bound, 2016
- Elevated co2 and warming stretch prairie growing season on both ends, Eco Press, 2015
- Science AMA Series: I am Dr. Heidi Steltzer, and my study found elevated CO2 lengthens growing seasons. But will this apparent benefit of climate change really be all that beneficial?, The New Reddit Journal of Science, May 15, 2014
- CO2 Makes Growing Seasons Longer, Scientific American, April 24, 2014
- Springing Forward, and Its Consequences, The New York Times, April 23, 2014
- Early snowmelt, unhappy plants, The Durango Herald, December 18, 2012
- AGU 2012 Fall Meeting: Winter is coming, but what happens when it leaves early? Press Conference, American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2012
- Longer growth season poses problems, The Denver Post, September 11, 2009
- Desert Dust Alters Ecology of Colorado Alpine Meadows,National Science Foundation, June 29, 2009
- Snowmelt's timing being thrown off by dust; Global warming, human activity worsen pattern, study finds, Climate Change on NBC News, June, 29, 2009
In 2014 Dr. Heidi Steltzer co-authored Predicted Responses of Arctic and Alpine Ecosystems to Altered Seasonality Under Climate Change, published in Global Change Biology, 20 (10), 3256–3269
Global climate change is already having significant impacts on arctic and alpine ecosystems, and ongoing increases in temperature and altered precipitation patterns will affect the strong seasonal patterns that characterize these temperature-limited systems. The length of the potential growing season in these tundra environments is increasing due to warmer temperatures and earlier spring snow melt. Here, we compare current and projected climate and ecological data from 20 Northern Hemisphere sites to identify how seasonal changes in the physical environment due to climate change will alter the seasonality of arctic and alpine ecosystems.
Global climate change is already having significant impacts on arctic and alpine ecosystems, and ongoing increases in temperature and altered precipitation patterns will affect the strong seasonal patterns that characterize these temperature-limited systems. The length of the potential growing season in these tundra environments is increasing due to warmer temperatures and earlier spring snow melt. Here, we compare current and projected climate and ecological data from 20 Northern Hemisphere sites to identify how seasonal changes in the physical environment due to climate change will alter the seasonality of arctic and alpine ecosystems. We find that although arctic and alpine ecosystems appear similar under historical climate conditions, climate change will lead to divergent responses, particularly in the spring and fall shoulder seasons. As seasonality changes in the Arctic, plants will advance the timing of spring phenological events, which could increase plant nutrient uptake, production, and ecosystem carbon (C) gain. In alpine regions, photoperiod will constrain spring plant phenology, limiting the extent to which the growing season can lengthen, especially if decreased water availability from earlier snow melt and warmer summer temperatures lead to earlier senescence. The result could be a shorter growing season with decreased production and increased nutrient loss. These contrasting alpine and arctic ecosystem responses will have cascading effects on ecosystems, affecting community structure, biotic interactions, and biogeochemistry.
Dr. Steltzer Explains the Project
"Alpine and Arctic tundra are cold regions of the earth where trees do not grow. Often, for simplicity, these regions are lumped together as the ‘tundra biome’, which distinguishes them from deserts, forests, and grasslands. However, they are more different than many realize and our recent publication describes why these differences are important to how the ecosystems will respond to climate change."