The Arctic Destabilization Lab
Over Spring Break, 12 STIA students headed to the Arctic to conduct their own personal research as coursework for STIA 481: Centennial Lab: Destabilized Arctic. STIA 481 is a new course in the STIA Department, pioneered and co-instructed by STIA Professors Jeremy Mathis and Mark Giordano in order to allow its students to gain experience looking at policymaking to try to solve the problems in a region. Students were able to observe firsthand the growing concerns of the people in the Arctic region -such as glaciers melting, coastal erosion, and devastation of ecosystems – caused by climate change.
Students, prior to the Spring 2020 semester, had to apply in order to enroll in this Centennial Lab and further prepare for their trip to the Arctic by analyzing prior research conducted in the area. Brian Britt (SFS ‘21), a student who applied and was selected for the course, describes that his motivations for joining the course were due to a desire to see the effects of climate change in an area that has been most impacted in the world today.
“I am originally from Alaska so I thought that a STIA class that offered to take students to the Arctic to learn about climate change where it’s impacting the world the most would be an incredible opportunity” – Brian Britt
Even though precautions had to be taken on their trip due to the Coronavirus and local weather conditions restricting access to certain opportunities, the students found the experience to be helpful in understanding and attempting to think through some of the issues within the Arctic. One of the enrolled students, Ania Zolyniak (SFS ‘21) in particular found the trip helpful in learning about the policymaking process.
“We have been emailing and calling experts in order to better understand the particulars of key issues; local residents in order to create a policy framework that would have real impact in communities; and local officials in order to understand power and financing structures. It is truly an incredible exposure to the policymaking process.” – Ania Zolyniak
Students in the course were assigned to conduct research on a condition in the Arctic that has been affected due to climate change and review governmental policy addressing these questions to evaluate better efforts that can be taken in order to help resolve any negative effects of the rising temperatures in the Arctic. “I chose to do my research on climate change’s impact on the subsistence whaling industry in Alaska. Alaskan natives are unique where they have a special permit from the government for the practice of subsistence whaling.” Brian has been conducting his research on how climate change is impacting whale migration in the Arctic and how this affects Alaskan natives who depend on whaling as their primary subsistence practice. He uses his research to analyze and critique existing governmental policy on addressing concerns of this community that is being greatly impacted by these temperature changes.
Ania has been conducting her research on food insecurity in Kotzebue, Alaska. She has found that “since over 95% of all food in Alaska is shipped into the state and since a lot of Arctic communities are isolated, the transport costs associated with getting food to shelves in Arctic grocery stores result in food items that are disproportionately expensive to the average incomes of these communities.” She is working on creating policy recommendations to help adapt to these expensive costs by potentially introducing a mixed cash-subsistence economy.
Both students agree that they have gained a lot from the experiences provided in this course and recognize how being able to conduct on-the-ground research and think through policy reform has impacted their abilities to help them in the future. Looking at policy concerns with extensive knowledge on the science it involves provides a better framework for assisting the communities most impacted by climate change.
“I recognize the immense value in science education, especially in policy work. Scientific literacy is an extremely necessary skill in policy and legal work: how can you create regulations or enact and uphold laws about the environment, cybersecurity, nuclear energy, you name it, without a basic understanding of the things such policies are about?” – Ania Zolyniak