Arctic Research

Researchers with UAF's International Arctic Research Center measure Arctic Ocean ice coverage.

White House Releases National Strategy for the Arctic Region Report

Photos courtesy UAF International Arctic Research Center.

University of Alaska has Big Role in Arctic Research

The White House released its National Strategy for the Arctic Region last month. President Barack Obama made a statement about the pivotal role Alaskans will play in the implementation of this national strategy.

“Through the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, we articulate our strategic priorities to position the United States to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We will seek to prioritize and effectively integrate the work of federal departments and agencies with activities that are already under way in the State of Alaska and at the international level. And we will partner with the State of Alaska and Alaska Natives, as well as the international community and the private sector, to develop innovative solutions and new ways of operating. The Arctic is changing. We must proceed, cognizant of what we must do now, and consistent with our principles and goals for the future,” said President Obama.

On June 14, a roundtable forum sponsored by the White House was held at Gorsuch Commons on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. Roundtable participants discussed how best to move forward with the implementation of the concepts laid out in the national strategy.

Brendan P. Kelly, Assistant Director for Polar Science, Executive Office of the United States, was on hand to listen to the roundtable discussions. Kelly is one of the leads in the White House’s Arctic Region initiative. He has very strong ties to the University of Alaska. Kelly served as the Associate Vice President for Research and Associate Professor of Marine Biology with UA.

A key part of the White House’s National Strategy for the Arctic Region deals specifically with pursuance of responsible Arctic Region stewardship by increasing understanding of the Arctic through scientific research and traditional knowledge.

The report went on to acknowledge that: “Proper stewardship of the Arctic requires understanding of how the environment is changing, and such understanding will be based on a holistic Earth system approach. Vast areas of the Arctic Ocean are unexplored, and we lack much of the basic knowledge necessary to understand and address Arctic issues. The changes in the Arctic cannot be understood in isolation and must be viewed in a global context. As we learn more about the region, we have identified several key subcomponents of the Arctic that require urgent attention: land ice and its role in changing sea level; sea-ice and its role in global climate, fostering biodiversity and supporting Arctic peoples; and  the warming permafrost and its effects on infrastructure and climate. Better Earth system-level knowledge will also help us meet operational needs such as weather and ice forecasting. We can make faster progress through a well-coordinated and transparent national and international exploration and research agenda that reduces the potential for duplication of effort and leads to better leveraging of resources.”

Before the roundtable began, Kelly spent a few minutes talking about the importance of having a national strategy that addresses the real sense of urgency that exists in the Arctic today.

“We have already lost 80 percent of the volume of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean over the past few decades. This is a massive scale change with huge implications economically, socially and environmentally. It’s very hard to overstate what an impact it’s having and it’s unprecedented in the history of human civilization, ” said Kelly.

Kelly said he was familiar with UA’s Strategic Direction Initiative, citing a recent meeting he had with university leadership. When asked about the University of Alaska’s relevance, with regard to the SDI theme "Research and Development to Sustain Alaska’s Communities and Economic Growth," Kelly said, “when you consider the University of Alaska’s size, it has a very disproportionate amount of clout, in that it has world-class researchers, particularly in Arctic research issues. So the University of Alaska’s importance (in terms of Arctic research) is greater than ever.”

Please click here to read the entire National Strategy for the Arctic Region report.

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