As the school year comes to an end, Port Republic School teacher Jason Clarkson is preparing to set off on an expedition next month to study caterpillars and climate change in Tuscon, Ariz.

Clarkson, 32, of Beesleys Point, has taught science for the past six years to students in grades 5 through 8 at the Port Republic School.

On July 28, he will leave for an 11-day expedition with Earthwatch to study climate change and caterpillars in a program that is being funded by a grant through the Grousbeck Foundation.

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“I learned about the expedition through a grant program and some other teachers who were part of it. They told me it would be a great opportunity, so I applied and I got it,” Clarkson said.

Clarkson will search for and collect caterpillars and their host plants in Arizona’s riparian forest during the expedition and assist scientists at the Southwest Research Station to determine what types of caterpillars he found. The research will include determining whether the caterpillars have been attacked by parasites, and to which plants they are attracted.

Research similar to this on caterpillars and vegetation is taking place around the world, Clarkson said.

Since Earthwatch was founded in 1971, its programs have supported nearly 100,000 volunteers who have contributed 10 million hours of data collection for scientific fieldwork.

“We’re basically going to be working in the field 70 percent of the time, collecting samples of caterpillars and the majority of the research will be on the parasites that can infect the caterpillars. The rest of the time will be spent working in the lab on research,” Clarkson said.

During the expedition, researchers will attempt to find out how the global climate change is changing the breathing cycles of the caterpillars and the parasites and how those changes are affecting the ecosystems as a whole, he said.

A requirement of the program is to return home and implement a community project influenced by the expedition.

Clarkson said he plans to speak with other teachers on the expedition about a project he plans to create once returning.

“A few students know I am going and told them, and I think some of them are pretty excited about what I’ll have to say when I come back,” he said.

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