Program will explore Arctic systems

by Jisu Song | 10/26/14 6:14pm

A new program led by Dartmouth environmental studies professor Ross Virginia and University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Michael Sfraga will allow researchers to study the Arctic, potentially exploring topics like energy, water, health and climate change. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative was created to foster collaboration among Arctic Council member countries on interdisciplinary, policy-related research.

Approximately 16 participants, who will be selected before April, will look at protecting ecosystems, biodiversity and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic while combating climate change.

“There are traditions and societies and ways of life that need to be protected, and the Fulbright gives us an opportunity to do that,” said U.S. ambassador to Sweden Mark Brzezinski ’87, who announced the program on behalf of the State Department earlier this month.

The Arctic Council oversees collaboration between Arctic nations and indigenous communities and looks at environmental protection. The program accepts applications from all eight Arctic Council member nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.

Sfraga said scholars can pick their area of interest within the four topics and write a funding proposal to the board. Then Virginia, Sfraga and Fulbright staff will work to weave the selected proposals together.

In addition to research, Virginia said the initiative aims to communicate with the public about their findings, using social media to share information about climate change.

Brzezinski, who has made numerous visits to the Arctic, said he can attest to the importance of such a program. He noted that global warming has hurt indigenous groups like the Sami people in northern Sweden, explaining how freezing rain has taken a toll on herders, whose reindeer face difficulty finding food.

Classics and linguistics professor Lindsay Whaley said the program could raise awareness of Arctic issues. Whaley sits on the Board of Governors at the University of the Arctic.

“The Arctic is one of the special places on Earth where international collaboration is absolutely essential,” Whaley said.

The initiative builds on Dartmouth’s strength in Arctic scholarship, he said.

Virginia directs the Dickey Center’s Institute of Arctic Studies and serves as co-director of the University of the Arctic Institute for Arctic Policy, a collaboration between Dartmouth, University of Alaska at Fairbanks and the University of the Arctic.

The 18-month research program, from 2015-2017, will coincide with the U.S.’s tenure as chair of the Arctic Council.