Other National EPSCoR Awards


In addition to the Fire and Ice project, Alaskan researchers also receive support from the national NSF EPSCoR organization through a variety of other awards.

Track-2 awards fund researchers to undertake collaborative projects with scientists in other EPSCoR states and territories. Recent Track-2 awards to Alaska scientists are listed below.

Hyunju Connor, an Assistant Professor with the UAF College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Geophysical Institute, received $1.94 million for her proposal, “Collaborative Research: Harnessing Big Data to Improve Understanding and Predictions of Geomagnetically Induced Currents.

The four-year award (2019-23) funds Connor to collaborate with researchers at the University of New Hampshire to study geomagnetically induced currents, which are caused by geomagnetic disturbances during space weather events and which can produce power outages, train system failures, and pipeline corrosion. The research team will apply machine learning techniques to over two decades of space- and ground-based observations and develop two prediction models for geomagnetic disturbances and risk of geomagnetically induced currents, which will be provided to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center. The project will also incorporate data from the Space Weather Underground (SWUG) program, in which high school and undergraduate students build and deploy magnetometers, measure geomagnetic disturbances, and analyze the data.

Track-4 Awards fund individual scientists to further their research by collaborating with agencies, laboratories and universities across the nation. The awards run for two years. Recent Track-4 awards to Alaska scientists are listed below.

Kristen Gorman, a Research Assistant Professor with the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, received $162,010 for her project, “Using Otolith Geochemistry to Understand the Ocean Ecology of a Changing Alaskan Salmon System.” Gorman was funded to work with researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, Washington) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to study variability in oxygen and carbon isotope values in the ear bones, or otoliths, of adult sockeye salmon returning to the Copper River from 2004-2018. These values serve as natural markers of water temperature, metabolic activity, and diet, and will enable the research team to examine the relationships between environmental drivers and responses by Copper River sockeye, and to advance the general knowledge of high-latitude marine ecosystem responses to environmental change.

Tamara Harms, an Assistant Professor of Ecology with the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, received $126, 218 for her project, “Arctic Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Training and Technical Advances to Quantify Emission of a Powerful Greenhouse Gas." Harms was funded to work with researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York to study the production in soils of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Large releases of nitrous oxide have been documented in high-latitude areas subject to permafrost thaw or wildfires, but it remains unclear how this nitrous oxide is produced and how long disturbed soils might generate emissions. This project examines these processes with a goal of contributing to an improved ability to forecast potential N2O emissions under the warmer, more nutrient-rich, and more fire-prone conditions predicted for high-latitude ecosystems.

Ben Jones, a Research Assistant Professor with the Water and Environmental Research Center at the UAF Institute of Northern Engineering, received $295,256 for his project, “PermaSense: Investigating Permafrost Landscapes in Transition Using Multidimensional Remote Sensing, Data Fusion, and Machine Learning Techniques.” Jones and a postdoctoral researcher were funded to train and collaborate with researchers at the University of Connecticut to acquire new data fusion and machine learning techniques. These will increase the capacity of “Permasense,” a project to gather and analyze multidimensional remote sensing data on permafrost degradation.

Patrick Tomco, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the UAA Department of Chemistry, received $165,406 for his project, “Formation, Photolysis, and Bioaccumulation of Dissolved Hydrocarbons from Chemically-Herded and Burned Crude Oil at High Latitudes.” Tomco and a graduate student were funded to use specialized equipment at the University of New Orleans and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida to analyze samples of Alaska North Slope crude oil; surface collection agents used to thicken oil spills in order to burn them off; and mussels collected from Resurrection Bay. These experiments will lead to a better understanding of how dissolved residues may form as a result of this type of oil spill remediation, how sunlight may transform these residues, and what impacts they might have on susceptible marine organisms.

Jeff Benowitz, a Research Assistant Professor with the UAF Geophysical Institute, received $220,043 for his proposal “Why are Young Volcanic Rocks Undateable: Chemistry, Environment, or Instrumentation?” The funding supports Benowitz and a graduate student to collaborate with researchers at Oregon State University to determine the age of young volcanic rocks from Alaska’s Aleutian and Wrangell arcs. The project will investigate how the chemistry and environments of samples and the sensitivity and precision of instruments contribute to uncertainties in determining the age of young volcanic rocks. This will enable the development of new methods to more accurately date the rocks.

Eric Collins, an Assistant Professor with the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, received $187,301 for his proposal, “Advancing Machine Learning in Biological Oceanography through Interdisciplinary Collaborations.” Collins and a graduate student were funded to travel to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts to learn the theory and concepts of machine learning, then apply the process to predict distributions of Arctic marine microbes and their use and transformations of metals. They’ll then use this knowledge to design methods for adaptive biological sampling using flow-through systems and ocean profilers. One outcome will be a new UAF course on Machine Learning in the Environmental Sciences.

Ken Tape, an Assistant Professor with the UAF Water and Environmental Research Center at the Institute of Northern Engineering, received $200,382 for his proposal, “Predicting Beaver Colonization of the Arctic and Creation of Tundra Stream Oases.” The award funded Tape and a postdoctoral researcher to spend six months at Northern Arizona University working with experts in satellite image analysis to further his research into the expansion of beaver habitat into arctic tundra. They’ll use satellite imagery from the last half-century to detect the formation of beaver ponds and their subsequent impacts to the tundra environment, as well as to map the current habitat of beavers, moose, and snowshoe hares in the arctic tundra. They’ll combine these with climate and vegetation models to predict the future distribution of beavers and their impacts, as well as moose and snowshoe hares.

Georgina Gibson, a Research Assistant Professor with the International Arctic Research Center (IARC), received $221,867 for her proposal, “Modeling Dissolved Organic Matter at the Arctic Land/ocean Interface.” The award funded Gibson and a graduate student to collaborate with Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to improve modelling of dissolved organic matter from Arctic rivers in mathematical models of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem.

Teaching Through Technologies was an NSF-funded effort to use novel technologies to excite high-school students about STEM fields.

The Teaching Through Technologies (T3) Alliance (external website) was an effort to engage low-income and first-generation-to-college high school students in science, technology engineering and math (STEM) fields. The nationwide project was run by the Alaska Upward Bound program and funded by a 3-year (2017-20), $2.1 million NSF EPSCoR award.

Upward Bound was a nationwide program that used after-school and summer instruction to encourage at-risk students to continue to higher education. T3 attracted Upward Bound students to STEM fields through instruction in three novel technologies: unmanned autonomous systems (UAS), 3-D printers, and codeable digital devices. In addition to learning about the technologies, students were instructed in STEM communication and leadership, and undertook community service projects using the technologies. By the second year of the program (2018-19), T3 had provided instructor training based on the three technologies to 67 Upward Bound programs based at 38 institutions across the country. The ultimate goal of the program was to develop a curriculum and support structure that can be widely adopted to increase students’ interest in STEM.

T3 built on “The Modern Blanket Toss,” a successful Alaska Upward Bound program (also funded by NSF EPSCoR) that used UAS to build interest in STEM fields in rural Alaskan high schools. In addition to Upward Bound and EPSCoR jurisdictions, other partners in the T3 alliance included the nationwide Council for Opportunity in Education and Alaskan firms Educating4Leadership and Thrive Design Enterprises, as well as the Alaska EPSCoR Vis Space.

Through a process called co-funding, the national NSF EPSCoR organization provides funds to other NSF departments so they can help support worthy research projects located in EPSCoR jurisdictions. As of October 2020, NSF EPSCoR was co-funding 5 awards in Alaska for a total of $960,000.

$198,051 for Collaborative Research: Physiological and Genetic Correlates of Reproductive Success in High- versus Low-Quality Weddell seals. Principal Investigator Brandon Briggs, UAA.

$187,257 for Estimating the Earth's Dayside Exospheric Neutral Density Using XMM-Newton Soft X-ray Data. Principal Investigator Hyunju Connor, UAF.

$74,074 for RUI: Bridging the Spatial Gap in Local Seyfert Galaxies: Characterizing Active Galactic Nuclei Feeding and Feedback on Scales of Tens to Hundreds of Parsecs. Principal Investigator Erin Hicks, UAA.

$125,000 for NNA Track-2: Unangam Ulaa Project: Culturally-informed adaptation of the ancient Aleutian semi-subterranean dwelling for sustainable and resilient Arctic housing. Principal Investigator Michael Livingston, Aleutian Pribilof Island Association.

$376,311 for CAREER: Building research and decision making capacity in the Arctic through deciphering storm-induced sediment dynamics and synergistic Alaska Native coastal science education. Principal Investigator Christopher Maio, UAF.