UAF-led group gets $13.9 million to aid coastal climate resilience

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Fairbanks, Alaska (KINY) – The National Science Foundation is funding a $13.9 million program led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks to help multiple communities respond to coastal erosion, flooding, permafrost thaw, and other hazards attributed to climate change.

The four years of funding is part of the foundation’s Navigating the New Arctic program.
The funding supports AC³TION, a project led by the Alaska Coastal Cooperative at UAF in collaboration with the rural coastal communities, Arizona State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Texas El Paso.

The group’s acronym stands for Alaska Coastal Cooperative for Co-producing Transformative Ideas and Opportunities in the North.

“This award is a culmination of years of hard work and effort by many people at UAF and beyond, including our community and institution partners,” Alaska Coastal Cooperative Director Chris Maio said. “It really is an amazing group of experts that we’ve brought together to contribute toward resilient coastal communities in the Arctic.”
Maio is also director of the UAF Geophysical Institute’s Arctic Coastal Geoscience Lab. He is also affiliated with the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

“To effectively respond to a rapidly changing Arctic, this project will develop and implement an innovative approach to resilience action that identifies community priorities, advances applied convergence science and improves communication and synergy across multiple stakeholder groups,” Maio said.

The participating communities are on Alaska’s west and southwest coasts, on the Aleutian Islands, in the Bering Sea and on the Beaufort Sea coast of Canada’s Northwest Territories: Point Lay, Gambell, Hooper Bay, St. Paul Island, Nelson Lagoon, Atka and the Chignik Intertribal Coalition, which includes Chignik Lake, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Bay, Ivanof Bay and Perryville. The project also includes the community of Tuktoyaktuk in Canada.

Among the project’s tasks:

  • Identify community priorities for projecting coastal hazard risks.
  • Identify community needs to adapt infrastructure, including communication systems.
  • Integrate local knowledge with multi-level governance processes to allow for an effective response to a rapidly changing Arctic.
  • Deploy a series of ocean moorings, wave buoys and water-level gauges across western Alaska to provide critical data for the modeling and assessment of current and projected coastal hazards and impacts.
  • Document household-level impacts of multifaceted change on health and wellbeing.
  • Increase knowledge exchange among communities and among scientists and community residents through various efforts.

The project will also include two science cruises aboard the research vessel Sikuliaq, owned by the National Science Foundation but operated by the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. The ship’s homeport is Seward, Alaska.

Lucy Apatiki, president of the Native Village of Gambell, said her community on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea appreciates being involved as a co-producer in the groundbreaking research.

“The data collected will be beneficial to address some of the impacts of the ever-changing climate we face,” she said. “And the early warning system in place will alert us, saving lives and property.”

Associate professor Shauna BurnSilver of Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change said the project’s backbone is its commitment to knowledge cogeneration.

“Well-resourced community partners, a network of community research leads, coastal monitoring, multilevel governance, it’s all there,” she said. “But what will make AC³TION truly powerful is following a process for cogeneration of knowledge that is thoughtful, grounded in relationships and equity and learns from all the work that has come before.”

The collaborators held many in-person meetings and had three years of back-and-forth discussions to develop the project’s research questions, objectives and activities. The collaborative relationships with communities existed from other work, so the relationships are strong at the outset of this project.

“This is an amazing opportunity for Western science and Indigenous knowledge bearers to exchange knowledge, create relationships and work toward a healthier future for all the lands, waters and personnel involved,” said Casey Ferguson, the Alaska Coastal Cooperative’s Indigenous community coordinator.

Andrey Petrov, director of the Arctic, Remote and Cold Territories Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Northern Iowa, said the project’s structure will ensure that “results are well-attuned to the most urgent needs of Arctic residents.”

Matthew Balazs, Alaska Coastal Cooperative deputy director, said the relationships among those involved are key.
“The existing relationships and trust that have been built up between the communities and research groups over the years are the cornerstones on which this project was built and are essential components needed for our long-term success,” he said.

“AC³TION embodies the spirit of the Alaska Coastal Cooperative’s mission and goals. While the project will run for four years, our intent is to leverage the successes and lessons learned to ensure the ACC will continue this critical work well into the future.”

Research assistant professor Katie Spellman of the UAF International Arctic Research Center and research assistant professor Tobias Schwoerer of the University of Alaska Anchorage are also involved in the project.