Summer 2019 Field Course: Permafrost, reindeer, and learning about landfills… OH MY!

While we’ve said goodbye to summer (kind of, #95degreesinOctoberinDC), we’ve also had time to reflect on the field course in Alaska and Canada. The Arctic PIRE team, made up of students and faculty, had the opportunity to travel to the North American Arctic to learn and collaborate on northern issues. The team included both natural and social scientists. They looked at issues surrounding food, energy, waste management, and permafrost. All the while, they learned a lot along the way, and had tons of fun too! Hear from a few students on their reflections of the trip.

And check out this awesome montage Claire Franco put together!

Anna Zhu, George Washington University

In July and August this summer, many of my colleagues and I from The George Washington University, Moscow State University, The University of Virginia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of Alaska, and Michigan State University travelled to Alaska for an international collaboration on Arctic issues, permafrost, and sustainability.  We gathered in Anchorage, Alaska before making the scenic drive to Fairbanks, Alaska, passing by Denali National Park and other natural landmarks. In Fairbanks, we explored the city and its plan for sustainability and resilience through examining community gardens, municipal landfills, recycling plants, museums, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and energy production plants.  We also had the opportunity to visit the CRREL Permafrost Research Tunnel and Creamer’s Field to learn about the history and future of permafrost as well as appreciate the stunning natural beauty of Alaska at Dr. Kenji Yoshikawa’s Reindeer Farm and Dacha. After Fairbanks, the physical science and social science groups parted ways, heading to Toolik Field Station in the North Slope and Whitehorse, Canada respectively.  I headed up to Toolik with the physical science group. After a grueling drive on the Dalton Highway through beautiful natural scenery of the Brooks Range, as well as rain, fog, and wildfire smoke, we arrived at Toolik, a University of Alaska field station for scientists and researchers. At Toolik, we truly witnessed the beauty of the science and academic community, ranging from the long hours of research in a variety of fields to fun group activities like Christmas in July and swimming in Toolik Lake.  We learned about the necessary tools and skills to conduct field work on permafrost and active layer monitoring. We learned how to probe the tundra, measure the thaw depth, install temperature loggers, sketch landscape features, and how to correctly record and interpret data. Equipped with our new knowledge and data, we headed back to Anchorage, driving another 10 grueling hours on the Dalton Highway. We compiled our data and made presentations on vegetation, active layer depth, the Dalton Highway and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and patterned ground.  After the social science group returned from Whitehorse, we all gave our presentations on what we learned, allowing all of us to experience and gain knowledge about the other group’s adventures. With all of our academic and field work completed, we visited glaciers and explored Anchorage with our new friends who now felt like old friends, before all parting ways and returning to our respective homes. This Alaska trip allowed people to come together from all over the world and a range of disciplines and learn about the importance of Arctic issues, no matter what stance, social or physical.  

Jane Lee, University of Virginia

As a student of landscape architecture, it was an amazing experience to spend time in Fairbanks, Whitehorse, and Anchorage, and to talk to so many knowledgeable people who explained the more hidden aspects of how a northern city works–everything from different needs for building houses to the way power is generated. Top of mind for many civic leaders was the issue of what to do with waste. Our visit to the Fairbanks landfill left a particularly strong impression on me–the cycle of how goods from all over the world make their way to Fairbanks, are brought into homes and businesses, and then end up in permanent hills within the city limits was such a clear example of the relationship humans have to waste that gets obscured in the lower 48 where it is easier to make trash “disappear” from public sight. In my education as a landscape architect, I not only learn how to design outdoor spaces, but also how to work with the landscapes that are generated by our global patterns of extraction, consumption, and disposal. This trip was a timely reminder that in many places, the feedback loop between human actions and the condition of the land and environment is fragile and has high and urgent stakes. I look forward to learning more about design within the context of Arctic communities in the remainder of my time in graduate school.


Tara McAllister, The George Washington University 

Over the our 18 days in Alaska, we were able to travel a north-south transect of the entire state; starting in Anchorage and driving all the way north to Deadhorse. Each day provided new immersive learning opportunities. Our trip was launched with a nearly 400 mile through Denali National Park and Preserve, from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Our group was lucky to see the peak of Denali, which is often obscured by clouds. Each day in Fairbanks brought a new adventure, including a trip to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility. Our time in Fairbanks was concluded with an evening spent at Dr. Kenji Yoshikawa’s reindeer farm. From Fairbanks, our group crossed over the Arctic Circle and drove north to Toolik Field Station. As part of the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) project, while at Toolik, we collected active layer measurements through mechanical probing. Collecting data and the opportunity to do real field work was an incredible experience. While in the field, we learned about different cryogenic processes, arctic vegetation and landscapes. For our last day at Toolik, we drove north to Prudhoe Bay, where most the state’s oil production occurs. On our drive back to Toolik Lake that evening, we passed a herd of wild Musk Ox!


New case study article on Vorkuta, Russia




Faculty members from GW including, Nikolay Shiklomanov, Dmitry Streletskiy, and Robert Orttung, and Luis Suter, a graduate of Geography from GW, as well as Nadezhda Zamyatina from Moscow State University recently published a case study analysis of the Russian arctic city Vorkuta. Dealing with the bust in Vorkuta, Russia, which can be found in the September 2019 issue of Land Use Policy, examines the governance path affecting the boom-bust cycle in this city. Check out the abstract below!



This article traces the governance path affecting the boom-bust cycle in the Russian Arctic city of Vorkuta as a case study examining the role of institutional capacity and informality in mitigating the consequences of the cycle. The analysis examines the usefulness of various tools, including planning, policy, and informality. It also investigates the role of different actors, including the national and local components of the state and private corporations. The conclusion provides a typology of formal and informal land use tools. Soviet planners failed to foresee the bust and did not make provisions for it. Subsequently, the failure of national and local state policies to provide full solutions, combined with the absence of sufficient investment from private sector corporations, opened the door to a broad-ranging informality that encompasses policy-making, individual entrepreneurship, and associated conceptions of individual actions in society. The Soviet/Russian experience differs from that of other countries because in the last 100 years it has run the full gamut from a planned economy to unbridled capitalism. In cross-national comparison, it demonstrates the potential value of informal practices in situations where there is weak formal institutional capacity.


2018 Alaska Field Trip: Learning about the Environmental Issues Facing the Arctic

In June 2018, three educational researchers, Beth Short, Binyu Yang, and Mary Ellen Wolfinger from the George Washington University’s Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy traveled to the Anchorage and Fairbanks, AK to meet with community members about involving urban Alaskan youth in the digital environmental storytelling project #60above60

During the site visit to AK, GW-based researchers met with a range of educators and leaders from several community organizations to discuss some of the Arctic’s most pressing environmental issues and the ways in which education is seeking to address these issues. According to Allison Barnwell, the Program Coordinator for the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA), the teens she works with have identified single-use plastics as a leading concern for Alaskans and the Alaskan ecosystem.

During the meeting with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), GW researchers learned that Arctic communities are disproportionately impacted by chemical contamination due to ocean and wind currents. According to the ACAT and the World Wildlife Foundation, when pollutants reach the Arctic, polar ice traps contaminants, they are then gradually released into the environment during melting periods. In the current era of a warming Arctic, this process has resulted in the Arctic becoming a global chemical sink. Please click here for more publications and works of the ACAT. 

Also in Anchorage, the GW team met with staff of the organization Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP). The #60above60 and the ANSEP are developing a partnership to elevate students’ voices and to empower the youth to further develop a desire for action in their local communities.

In addition to meeting with several community organizations and schools in Anchorage, AK, GW educational researchers met with faculty and staff at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks (UAF).  Those meetings included an interview with atmospheric chemistry researcher, Dr. Jingqiu Mao, to learn about UAF’s recent study of how air pollution acts in cold, dark atmospheric conditions. Fairbanks’ winter air quality is of significant national concern, as it is the worst air quality in the United States. However, according to Dr. Mao, the chemical processes which make winter air so poor are yet unknown, and the subject of their ongoing research. Please click here for more information about Dr. Jingqiu Mao’s Alaskan Pollution and Chemical Analysis (ALPACA) Project.

Additionally, the #60above60 team met with UAF ecologist and educational researcher Dr. Katie Spellman to learn about her ongoing work studying Arctic berries. According to Dr. Spellman, berries play a vital role in sustaining Arctic human and animal populations during the North’s long, cold winters. However, over the past decade, plant life cycles are changing in response to the warming Arctic. Dr. Spellman’ Winterberry Project researching the impact those changes may have on berries in the far North. Please watch Dr. Spellman’ Digital Environmental Video in her Fairbanks research site to learn more about her amazing works and projects! 

The biggest takeaway from this recent trip to Alaska: Anthropogenic activity is having a direct and immediate impact on Arctic communities, both urban and rural. In rural Alaska, the sea-ice loss is making survival increasingly dangerous and difficult for Northern communities that rely on subsistence hunting, and shrinking islands are disappearing as sea levels rise. In urban Alaska, residents are experiencing heightened health risks and asthma rates in Fairbanks due to poor air quality and across the Arctic residents are exposed to pollutants and toxins from around the globe. The Arctic is our canary in the coal mine, and this trip has made clear the tremendous stress the Arctic environments are facing. Providing opportunities to create and exchange digital stories on the most crucial environmental problems of our time both above and below the 60th degree parallel is critical to helping young people better understand those problems and propose solutions.

Our belief is that having students participate in an authentic inquiry endeavor will boost their interest in STEM learning and careers. For more information about the #60above60 project, or to become involvedin our 2018-2019 school year’s project, please feel free to contact Beth Short at, follow @60above60 on Twitter, look through #60above60 Inquiry Letter, or visit the project website to learn more!

New Book Revives Urban Design with Focus on Pluralism

Brent D. Ryan, The Largest Art: A Measured Manifesto for a Plural Urbanism, Cambridge: MIT University Press, 2017.


Book Review

By Robert Orttung

In addition to being a member of the PIRE family, Brent Ryan recently published a spellbinding book that seeks to set a new direction for urban design after it fell into a dead end more than a decade ago. Urban design needed Brent’s intervention because it no longer was able to reconcile theoretical debates with the human needs of cities and citizens, according to architecture critic Michael Sorkin, who published an influential essay making this point in 2006.

The Largest Art: A Measured Manifesto for a Plural Urbanism will reshape the conversation about cities and how they grow. The book is extremely ambitious in its aims and largely successful in its execution. This work of one person opens the doors for all of us to engage – or, really, re-engage with greater vigor – in the life and design of the cities we inhabit.

The purpose of the book is a “declaration of independence” for urban design from other building arts such as architecture, landscape, sculpture and land art. The book provides “a descriptive theory explaining the many qualities that distinguish urban design (urbanism)” and make it an art unto itself with its own characteristics.

The subtitle of the book describes the book as a “measured manifesto” and I wondered what that term meant as I was reading. I speculated that Brent was saying that he was too polite to savage the works of other authors whose ideas he rejected. Rather, on page 309 he finally explained that “measured” means this tome is not a declaration of independence after all but a call for a recognition of urban design’s independence that has always existed.

Well, although the book is a collection of ideas plucked from various sources, it presents a new and original stew, so I would have gone with a straight up manifesto! One gets the impression that architects are a rather autocratic bunch and it is much more pleasant to spend time with the democratic Dr. Ryan.

Brent distinguishes plural urbanism from unitary urbanism and this is the key innovation of the text. The author notes that the term pluralism is “widespread in studies of politics and society” and he “borrowed it for its broad meaning of multiplicity or manyness (p. xi).” In this conception urban design is a “building art” that “accepts those elements of cities that are beyond designers’ direct control – other buildings, other owners, other actors – and that then incorporates them into urban design.” Urban design thus becomes more powerful, wide-ranging, influential, and beneficial than something done by a single designer. It is “more democratic, participatory, open-ended, and infinite (p. 2).” It is not utopian, but practical.

Five key features define the idea of plural urbanism (Chapter 2):

  1. Scale – plural urbanism ranges from a pocket park on a city street to a metropolitan region
  2. Time – building a small ensemble can take 40 years whereas elements in cities like Barcelona can span hundreds of years
  3. Property – each bit of land in a city is owned by someone and urban design must work across these numerous owners
  4. Agency – cities are inhabited by people who participate in its constuction, and
  5. Form – any urban design could have 2-3 constitutive elements or dozens and the urban design concept can be diffuse, scattered or fragmented without losing its coherence.

The conclusion lays out three additional concepts that define plural urbanism: change, incompleteness, and flexible fidelity. In other words, cities are always changing and urban designers need to accept this reality. Cities are by their nature incomplete and even many projects developed by architects remain unfinished. Finally, it is not necessary for the designer to impose his or her vision on the city. Rather, the many actors who live in a city will inevitably put their stamp on it, though a good plural designer can nudge the results in aesthetically pleasing and more effective directions.

One problem with plural urbanism is that it is hard to picture. It is easy to conjure up figures of unitary urbanism, which is simply architecture on a larger scale. But how do you show a city that is changing over time and scale thanks to the contributions of many hands? Presumably, 3D graphics and virtual reality will lead the way, but this technology is only beginning to emerge.

In the spirit of the ideas developed here, it is no criticism to say that the book itself is incomplete. The text is meant to start a conversation about the future of cities. As a political scientist, what struck me most was that the text does not really interrogate the idea of pluralism in all its forms. For students of politics, pluralism is an idea associated with Robert Dahl, the political theorist whose works included Who Governs? (1961) about pluralist politics in the city of New Haven and Polyarchy (1971), one of the seminal contributions to democratic theory.

In this sense, plural urbanism draws our attention to some tensions, but then papers over them. A case in point is this passage describing how the inhabitants of an island try to get a grip on a crisis of overdevelopment that is destroying what everyone loves about the place they live by setting up a committee to address the issue:


The committee’s membership spans the range of constituencies concerned with the island’s future. Each municipality is represented, together with representatives of the state’s environmental, housing, and transportation departments, the island’s open space and heritage nonprofits, a few concerned citizens, and an urban design firm hired from outside the state. The risk of design by committee is avoided from the outset: the committee’s recommendations will be strictly advisory, and final recommendations will come from the design firm. Even in this democratic, actively participatory context, the committee recognizes that action is more important than discussion. (p. 226)


Of course, that is not how things work in the real world. My neighborhood in Northern Virginia is currently debating how to build a new school and some of the authorities are pushing an option that is unpopular with most of the neighborhood stakeholders, creating howls of protest. Simply having a discussion and then taking a decision everyone has to accept is the definition of “democratic centralism” which was practiced by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until its demise in 1991. While the problem of moving from words to construction is real, painful, and time-consuming, plural urbanism needs to take these social processes more into account. In fact, is there much future for a plural urbanism in a society that is becoming increasingly polarized and even less able to agree on anything?

Rhetorical questions aside, The Largest Art presents plenty of ways for urbanism to be plural. Its various chapters provide concrete examples of urban pluralism in locations ranging from Romania, New York City, and Ljubljana, interprets the works of twentieth century urban designers who developed bits and pieces of the ideas incorporated into this manifesto, and even lays out how the ideas developed here can be applied in the future. The most interesting idea for me was David Crane’s concept of a capital web. In shaping the nature of new development, the urban designer could build out a spine of infrastructure which would define the shape of future growth, but allow others to develop the actual buildings and spaces in between that make up the ever-changing fabric of the city.

Although this book does not address the Arctic specifically, it lays out lots of ideas, like the capital web, that could be relevant there. Like any good book, and urban pluralism itself, this one launches a new conversation that will inform how we think about cities and act to improve their design for many years to come.


Arctic PIRE participates in Science Night at a public elementary school

On the evening of February 23, a team representing Arctic PIRE traveled to Cora Kelly Elementary School in Alexandria, VA to share topics of Arctic life and climate with local students.


Photographer: Binyu Yang

Graduate research assistant Beth Short from the #60Above60 initiative shares student stories from schools around the Arctic, including Alaska and Scandinavia. Learn more about this environmental storytelling project here.


Photographer: Claire Franco

A student tests different ways to build a house in frozen sand to demonstrate the challenges of infrastructure in permafrost regions. Over the evening, the ground material reached various stages of thawing out, which demonstrated the variables of climate fluctuation and human influence on permafrost integrity.


Photographer: Beth Short

Greg Colletti from the Educational Outreach component of the #60Above60 project facilitates a review of polar geography

Photographer: Beth Short


Photographer: Beth Short

Undergraduate research assistant Claire Franco helps students identify animals of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding terrestrial biomes.


Photographer: Beth Short

In an experiment to demonstrate the natural insulation of Arctic animals, students  cover their hands with blubber-like vegetable shortening and plunge them into a tub of ice water. Graduate research assistant Nina Feldman explains more about animal adaptations in the region.


Photographer: Beth Short

In our small puddle of Arctic Ocean, the students are protected from the sharp iciness.

Contributing to Urban Sustainability in Russia’s Arctic Cities

By Marya Rozanova

Social scientists Marya Rozanova and Andrey Gretsov, representing a collaboration between the GW Arctic team and the Russian State Hydrometeorological University, visited three Russian Arctic cities – Naryan-Mar, Salekhard, and Novy Urengoy from January 25 to February 24, 2018. The purpose of the trip was to meet with local stake-holders dealing with ongoing climate change and its impact on Arctic urban communities and the labor market, as well as to launch educational programs to mitigate upcoming challenges and minimize possible side-effects on people’s lives.

Key activities included discussing the establishment of new educational programs, reaching out to regional government officials to get a better understanding of their positions, as well as meeting with indigenous community leaders and experts in the Arctic regions of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO) and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YaNAO).

Marya Rozanova reaches out to Russian students in the Arctic. Photo: Andrey Gretsov


The educational outreach component included three modules for over 400 teachers and students in local schools and vocational colleagues:

  • A series of seminars and workshops entitled “New Technologies for Career Guidance in the Arctic” for specialists in the sphere of education and employment services.
  • A series of seminars called “Strategies to Build Your Career in the Arctic” for vocational college students.
  • A series of seminars “Your Career Choice” for high school students, including indigenous students whose families pursue traditional nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyles in the Arctic.  


The TV Channel “Rossia 1. Naryan-Mar” broadcast a report about the education programs in Naryan-Mar (in Russian). In Novyi Urengoy, the city’s Department of Education prepared a blog posting on the educational programs in the city (in Russian), as did Salekhard School #3.


Meetings and networking with high-ranking Arctic officials, experts, and practitioners to gain an understanding of local concerns and encourage engagement with our research activities in developing an Arctic Urban Sustainability Index (AUSI).


In Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, we met with representatives of the:

  • Department of International and External Economic Relations,
  • Department of Population Social Protection,
  • Department on Indigenous Affairs,
  • Novy Urengoy Mayor
  • Department of the Population Employment Services,
  • Department of Culture,
  • YaNAO Department of Education,  
  • Novy Urengoy Department of Education,
  • Arctic Research Center,
  • Salekhard schools administration.  


In Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO):

  • Department of Education, Culture, and Sports,
  • Department on Indigenous Affairs and Ethnic Policy,
  • Ethno-Cultural Center,
  • Center for Business Development,
  • Administration of schools in Naryan-Mar.


In St. Petersburg:

  • State Commission for Arctic Development of the Russian Federation.


Rozanova also met with leaders of the indigenous communities, including representatives of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) in Moscow, representatives from “Yasavei” in Naryan-Mar (NAO), as well as meeting in Salekhard (YaNAO) with Eduard H. Yaungad–the “Yamal–potomkam” association’s leader and member of the YaNAO Parliament. RAIPON prepared a blog on the educational programs for indigenous youth.

In the context of ongoing climate change resulting in a new epoch of Arctic exploration for economic purposes, the emergence of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) for international shipping, and the intensification of migration inflows, the task of training specialists in the Arctic regions for the needs of the Arctic labor market is key to strengthening sustainable socio-economic development in Arctic urban areas. Nowadays young people in these regions have little understanding about future changes in the North, and how these changes will affect labor market needs for specialists with knowledge of the port and shipping industry, the oil and gas sector, water resources management, climatology, and many other fields. Many local school students are inclined to obtain degrees in law, economics, and business and will likely experience difficulties in finding positions on the changing Arctic labor market in the near future. Ultimately, they contribute to the migration outflows from the North, further labor market imbalances, and residential instability of the urban social environment.


Special attention should be paid to local nomadic and semi-nomadic indigenous communities – especially young people – in the remote Arctic areas who are particularly at risk and will inevitably become involved in the process of transition from their traditional way of living to the urban lifestyle of the Arctic cities. In this process, the preservation and development of the human and cultural capital of the indigenous peoples of the Russian North will largely depend on the quality of the education and vocational training they receive in order to provide their successful integration into the Arctic labor market.


Developing Anew versus Maintaining the Old: Infrastructure Projects in Canada’s Arctic

This week marks the opening of Canada’s first permanent road to the Arctic coast, linking the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk and the town of Inuvik (Figure 1). This road represents decades of planning, years of construction, and significant financial investment by the Canadian government.

Figure 1: Construction on the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk highway in an undated photo.

Meanwhile, several thousand kilometres away on Hudson Bay, Canada’s only Arctic port in Churchill, Manitoba, is dormant (Figure 2). The railway which served the important port has been inaccessible since May 2017. Many scientists blame regionally accelerated climate-change for exacerbating the damage, and this sort of problem is common throughout the Arctic.

Figure 2: The Port of Churchill is Canada’s only rail-accessible deepwater port in the Arctic.
Source: CBC

Transport infrastructure is important to Arctic communities, with a single line often being the only connection between isolated communities, and providing a route for vital supplies and imports. The closure of these routes can have far-reaching consequences on residents. In Churchill where the port closed in 2016 and the rail-line stopped functioning in 2017, food prices have skyrocketed, the tourist crowds have disappeared, and a trapped train still sits at the station. Just a five years earlier, the rail operator Omnitrax Canada had touted Churchill as the future anchor point for oil and gas shipping through the Arctic, promising investment and repairs to the ageing rail line since the 1990s. Now the company argued that the $60 million in damages to the train tracks (Figure 3) is too extensive and costly to repair without significant governmental and first-nations support.Meanwhile, local residents are feeling increasingly isolated as the service they have come to depend on comes no closer to functionality.

Figure 3: Heavy rain and melting snow washed out sections of the Hudson Bay Railway. The company that owns the line says it can’t afford repairs leaving Churchill Manitoba stranded.
Source: OmniTrax


To ensure future operability, relevant stakeholders would need to finance repairs combined with a mitigation and adaption strategy to harden infrastructure against new levels of environmental impacts. The severity of these environmental stressors has been exacerbated by climate change and is projected to continue rising. These issues are pertinent throughout Arctic region, with ageing buildings and transport infrastructure in the Russian Arctic and Alaska also being impacted by ongoing climate change. This is a preview of the future which might be in store for newly built infrastructure. The need to mitigate and adapt to eventual climate-change impacts must be considered in the planning and development of future projects.

The infrastructure which is already built in the Arctic has been shown to be at risk and will require significant investments in mitigation and adaption to continue operating as intended. Meanwhile, the construction of new infrastructure continues and is planned in many regions, undeterred by the experiences of their northern neighbours. Any construction in the Arctic is very costly as a result of the remote location and because of the unique geotechnical challenges that must be addressed. The newly opened all-weather gravel road, from Inuvik to  Tuktoyaktuk, NT, will be 120 km long and cost over $300 million, about $2.5 million per kilometre. The road represents only the start of the Northwest Territory’s development plans, with routes being planned in the regions around Yellowknife, Nunavut, and the Mackenzie Valley. These sorts of new developments are an attractive and flashy investment for policymakers, pleasing constituents and big business alike. Funding their maintenance and upkeep over the long term is a less politically appealing matter.

Investments in new infrastructure will certainly benefit local peoples and the economy, but they will never be without significant future costs. The Churchill Port and rail were major projects of their time, just as the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktukroad Highway is now. Both infrastructure projects were hailed as groundbreaking, opening new territories and connecting underserved populations. However, when the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktukroad Highway is inevitably faced with mitigating expensive climate-change impacts, as the Churchill Port and rail are now, the costs will quickly rise and continued support is not guaranteed. In Manitoba, rising repair costs are being cited as an argument to abandon the infrastructure altogether and OmniTrax is looking to sell its stake in the project, showing the transient nature of support for Arctic infrastructure projects. Though the Manitoba government has promised to help future owners fund repairs, the practical release of these funds remains uncertain.

In many cases, the companies and governments responsible for repairs are inhibited by high-costs and the desire to invest in new development rather than upkeep existing infrastructures. While the mood along the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktukroad Highway is high – as it should be – these communities must temper their long-term expectations. While planning for the growth that will come with the new road is beneficial, it is equally useful to plan for scenarios when the route is damaged and investment is less forthcoming.

The Role of Scientists on Social Media

You already have an online presence. You might as well curate it.


The online engagement of the scientific community with a wider audience of colleagues, stakeholders, and the general public is increasingly important in an age of globalizing virtual platforms and transdisciplinary innovation. Many scientists already use social media to some extent to communicate with their colleagues, but generally do not engage the public or media. However, the resources to do scientific journalism are limited and social networks offer the opportunity for researchers to reach beyond the universities and spread the results of their work among the public.


A platform to mobilize existing knowledge

Social media invite more interactive engagement with research, ideally lowering barriers of access without degrading the integrity of the investigation. In this way, it can be shared with members of the public who ultimately fund it. It may be immediately instinctual to associate social media platforms with extroverts who enjoy sharing details about their personal lives. However, many people who are more shy appreciate the sites because they prefer to sit back and be able to observe the conversations, participating only when they are ready. In the spring of 2016, the California Institute of Technology taught its first in-depth course on social media literacy for scientists. Similar lessons and seminars are developing in universities and institutes, such as the “Make Your Research Viral: Social Networks and Science” course at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, a coalition of research institutes that houses 1,500 scientists and support staff.


A network of colleagues and curious minds to promote your findings and coordinate collaborative projects

The big three are Facebook, Twitter and LinkIn. Facebook attracts large audiences of people grouped into communities of interest. Twitter has proven helpful among scientists because of its search and alert service which can immediately notify the release of papers and generally communicate information instantly. LinkedIn’s professional networks are increasingly becoming a way to share information as well as find a job and keep up with the career advances of friends. Although YouTube is primarily focused on video, it also has social media functions and is now the 3rd most popular site on the Internet, after Google and Facebook. Aside from these well known platforms, other sites are more specifically oriented toward scientific communities, such as Mendeley, Academia, and ResearchGate, which revolve around the organization of peer-reviewed publications. The ease of contact on social media platforms lowers the threshold of formality and makes scientists (and their work) more approachable to both lay audiences and other scientists. This is helpful along various stages of the research process, from the identification of collaborators and funding, to the promotion of the finished project.


An opportunity to challenge false or poorly understood information in your specialization

A team of researchers from Boston University produced a study of the distortion of scientific facts online and the spread of misinformation. Much of the public’s contact with scientific research comes from exposure to self-selected traditional media sources, where television or newspaper journalists often simplify research to compete commercially for time and attention. This half-baked information then gets distributed through what one of the BU professors calls a “cacophonous arena of many, many voices” linked by the trust dimension of intrapersonal relationships. In communicating science to people outside of your discipline, it is important to “be thorough, be direct, and be accessible”. The politicization of science can make online discussions nasty time sinks, however, so just beware and stick to the data.


A way to collect more information about interest and attention

Altmetrics is a developing system which aggregates online measures of a peer-reviewed paper’s digital impact. Some of the relevant variables are the number of downloads, comments, shares, clicks, and citations that a paper generates. While it is not intended to be a popularity contest, these figures are some of many which can demonstrate the academic and public reach of a paper’s findings and engagement around the world. The European Commission’s Directorate General for Research & Innovation has gathered an Expert Group on Altmetrics, which is further refining the definition of these measures.


Most scientists like talking about their work making social media a natural place for them to reach an audience.


Quick links from the article and more:

Bird, Caitlin. “Talking about Science on Social Media.” Boston University Research. September 22, 2016.


“Can social media connect science and society?” April 5, 2017.


Groshek, Jacob, Serena Bronda. “How social media can distort and misinform when communicating science.” The Conversation. June 30, 2016.


Halford, Bethany. “Teaching social media to scientists.” Chemical & Engineering News 19, no. 43 (2016): 21-22.


Martinez, Arielle. “Science Students Learn to Use Social Media to Communicate Research.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 18, 2016.


Tachibana, Chris. “A Scientist’s Guide To Social Media.” Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office. February 8, 2014.

Fairbanks North Star Borough in Alaska Establishes Sustainability Commission

By Claire Franco

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is establishing a new Sustainability Commission to meet the needs of its current and future citizens. Research analyzing similar bodies in other communities has demonstrated that such programs can reduce municipal operating expenses, stimulate business, improve human welfare, enhance food security, and promote ecological responsibility.

Fairbanks North Star Borough in AK [Credit: Google Maps]
The Fairbanks North Star Borough is considering an ordinance that would convert the territory’s existing Recycling Commission into the broader Sustainability Commission. Many of the duties which necessitated the authorization of the Recycling Commission with large public support in 2009 have been handed off to the Central Recycling Facility as of September 1, 2017.

The ordinance establishes a body of seven members appointed by the mayor who will meet at least quarterly to discuss and update policies and projects under their responsibility. The authoring Assembly cites precedents from “communities around the world” which have already begun similar sustainability initiatives and achieved excellent results.

The territory included in this administrative unit is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey and hosts a population of approximately 98,000 Alaskans. The committee will work to reduce individual and collective ecological impacts while improving the economic, security, and sustainability targets of the borough.

The Sustainability Commission will also inherit and fulfill the duties of the Agricultural Commission. New emphasis on policies relevant to local agriculture will target the issue of food security. Exploring avenues of local, renewable energy will help to reduce supply volatility and emissions contributing to climate change, while diversifying the regional economy. In practice, the committee will be tasked with setting sustainability goals and making long range recommendations, policies, and budgets to realize them. Members will award public purpose grants that promote these goals and design monitoring matrices which measure their effectiveness.

The reorientation of the former Recycling Commission to one with broader goals demonstrates the adaptability of the Fairbanks North Star Borough to meet the relevant demands of the local environment and the community it hosts. The integration of the former Agricultural Commission in this restructuring recognizes the critical component of responsible food provision in the long term implementation of any municipal planning. The ordinance acknowledges the larger global drive toward sustainability while focusing attention on the details of the region’s own population and stretch of practicality.



The ordinance has been approved and will be put into action.

Student Perspectives on Fieldwork in Siberia

During the Summer of 2017, the PIRE team made a research trip to the Russian cities of Salekhard and Vorkuta. Here we present some of the student descriptions of the trip. 

July 9:

Anna Zhu

Of the 11 glaciers that previously existed in the region, only 2.5 remain. Today, we journeyed to the Ray-Iz glacier and plateau region of the Polar Urals. Formed during the Jurassic Era by active volcanic fissures and surface lava flow, the region and its glaciers are extremely important indicators of glaciation evolution and climactic changes. The glaciers are unique as they are located at an elevation of 1,200 meters, which is below the snow line of 1,800 meters, and are formed solely by wind redistribution of snow from plateaus to cirques. This dry region was widely

T. Henning

glaciated in the Pleistocene Era and is characterized by rare mineral resources in rock formations. We also observed many periglacial features, such as kettle and tarn lakes along with avalanche cones and talus.

Unfortunately, our hike was cut short when we reached frozen and icy conditions on the way to the glacier and it was too dangerous to proceed. From a distance, we learned that the glacier is receding and degrading. We then continued to observe the landscape, studying the varied ground patterns characterized by slopes, frost boils, and pingos. An earth covered ice mound, pingos are usually located in drained lakes where they have access to moisture. Groundwater moment and top down freezing combined with increased pressure forces water to move upward in the path of least resistance, raising the ground into a mound that creates the pingo formation. After learning about the landscape, we arrived at a river and completed our day with a picnic with a picturesque view.


9 июля:

Claire Franco

Сегодня мы поднимались в горы, чтобы посмотреть известный ледник в массиве Рай-Из, который находится на Полярном Урале. В 1960-ом году ученые нашли 11 ледников в этом районе, на сегодняшний день осталось только 2-3. По дороге на ледник мы проезжали поселок Харп, где находится “Полярная сова” – исправительная колония особого режима для пожизненно осужденных. Там заключенные собирают мебель. Вдоль дороги почти не встре чалась растительность, кроме некоторых видов трав. Но когда мы поднялись по склону, открывшийся вид с гор был похож на пейзаж Марса. На склоне горы, Валерий Иванович показал нам, как вода размывает горные породы, в результате чего образуются горные долины. К сожалению, дальнейший путь был опасен и наше профессора показали нам образование бугров пучений вместо этого.

T. Henning

Мы обедали рядом с горной рекой. Никита, один из русских студентов, показал мне основные типы облаков в небе. Тереза из Германии научила нас пускать блинчики на воде реки.Наш прибрежный пикник закончился и мы поехали домой. Вечером в гостинице мы слушали студенческие доклады о Арктике.


July 12th

Nina Feldman

A. Sumi

The day started off a bit fishy. An aroma of excitement and curiosity filled the air as the students loaded the bus. We were off to visit a local fish factory in Salekhard. After being kindly greeted by the Director and Head Engineer of the factory, we were fitted with the appropriate factory attire. Sporting thin white coats and blue hair nets, we followed our hosts through a thorough tour of the production facilities. We saw how the workers canned, labeled, smoked and tested various types of fish. At the end of the tour the Director took us to a conference room that had a large spread of all the fish they sold at the factory ready for us to sample. The factory’s hospitality made for one of the most unique and exciting parts of the trip, and one I will remember.

Following the factory fish feast was a day of museum touring. We started with the Craft Museum in Salekhard where we saw various artifacts carved by the indigenous people of Siberia. Intricate tusks displayed detailed carvings depicting different beliefs and stories of these people. Next was the Geology Museum in Labytnangi. This museum

U. B. Shpak

was definitely a diamond in the rough. The halls were filled with a large collection of minerals and stones extracted from around the area, as well as drilling samples and interactive exhibits that explained how they were able to find what they have found. We ended with a tour that took us back in time, following the lives of indigenous people throughout history. We learned how the Komi people used Birch bark to build their canoes and huts, and how the Khanty considered themselves to be descendants of bears and had a sacred bear festival every time one was killed.

What was great about this day is that through it all we were able to capture the historic, geologic and local feel of the region. As a result, we were able to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the community we were living in.


July 13th

Anna Sumi

U. V. Shpak

I’m one of those college students who got through my hard science requirements my freshman year, in a hurry and with my eye lids half open. So I think it’s fair to say I had no clue what it meant when we were told we would be “in the field” for the day. I nodded along in feigned understanding and put on my olive green farm boots as instructed before settling into the bus with a false feeling of preparedness.

That day we were in the Tundra measuring active layer thickness and temperature. That day also presented the added challenge of pretending to act naturally as two Russian TV crews followed us around with their cameras. While I may have never felt completely prepared for the Tundra, at least I was not wearing a skirt and brocade tights like one of the journalists, who had clearly not thought through the landscape she would find herself in. I watched with a look of sympathy as she attempted to take a shower in bug spray.

U. V. Shpak

Somehow that ill-prepared TV anchor survived her day in the Tundra and later that night we gathered in Abby and Anna’s hotel room, crowding onto the two twin beds. The box of a television, sitting in the corner broadcasting the local news, held our full attention. After an hour of bated breath and hasty translations from the two of the group who had a light grasp on Russian, we realized they were not using our feature that night. Luckily, two minutes later, Luis walked into the room with his computer queued up to the broadcast from another channel. We huddled around that computer and giggled and gasped with recognition as our faces appeared on the screen. It was yet another once in a lifetime experience on our trip to Siberia.


July 18:

Claire Franco

In the morning, we collected our things and prepared for a 10-hour train ride west across the Polar Urals toward Vorkuta. At breakfast we learned that our train left two hours later then we had planned because all trains in Russia operate on Moscow time rather than local time. I used this extra minutes to finish some letters and send them through the local post office. Stamps for these two letters, one to California and one to Belarus, together cost less than $2.50 and I’ve made bets on how long each will take to reach its recipient.

Once our train was on its way, the usual rounds of card games and crossword puzzles began. The day before, I had expressed interest in Russian music to one of our GW professors, Nikolay Shiklomanov. In preparation for our long journey by train, he made a playlist of songs which loosely chronicle Soviet and Russian history from World War II until the 1990s. It began with war ballads made popular by Soviet

C. Franco

films, such as Two Soldiers (Два бойца, 1943) and Belorussian Station (Белорусский вокзал1971). Then came the bards like Vladimir Vysotsky (Владимир Высоцкий) whose music was typically self-published and consisted of only a single voice accompanied by a guitar. This genre is called bardovskaya (бардовская) or avtorskaya (авторская) music. The playlist included a song about Soviet-Jewish emigration to Israel and another about the human expense of the gulag system. The final decades of the USSR  were represented in the selection by the bands KINO (КИНО) and DDT (ДДТ), among others. This historical narrative in songs was supplemented by an MSU professor, Nadezhda Zamjatina, who wrote me her own list of significant music, films, and literature, focusing on those related to the Arctic territories.

The train was extremely warm and we were all grateful to arrive in Vorkuta, where the night time hours were only slightly darker and the city’s European orientation was immediately more evident in the architecture.


July 19:

Anna Zhu

The professors organizing the trip have long collected ice data in Siberia as part of a project known by its acronym CALM. Located approximately 10 kilometers outside of Vorkuta, CALM Site 2 rests in a typical southern tundra landscape. Established in 1996, this CALM site collects active layer depth, temperature, and soil moisture data and monitors the spatial variation of landscapes. Taller shrubs, dwarf shrubs, and willows characterize the typical southern tundra landscape. There exists no permafrost under taller shrub vegetation, while there is extremely shallow permafrost under dwarf shrubs. Observations of the extremely dry landscape show that the south-facing slope exhibits colder conditions with a shallower active layer. The north-facing slope, on the other hand, exhibits warmer conditions and a deeper active layer. This difference in conditions is largely due to winter snow and wind redistribution following typical wind patterns. The permafrost in this region is highly sensitive to local environmental conditions and anthropogenic impacts, resulting from former agricultural and railroad use. We collected some active layer and vegetation data around CALM Site 2 so that we did not disturb the actual CALM site. Then we all participated in a tundra “polar plunge” to end our day, finally refreshed from a long, hot day in the field.

A. Sumi
A. Sumi


July 21st:

Nina Feldman

C. Franco

Today we spent the day walking around Vorkuta. After having lived here for a few days, exploring allowed us to feel closer to the people and their community. We traveled around, noting buildings with unique architecture as well as the significance they held. One building that stood out to me was the “Дворец культуры шахтеров” or the “Miners Culture Palace”. With numerous large columns at its entrance and an elegant metal statue placed above at its center, it truly demanded attention. After the day of touring, we were able to have a sit down meeting with the city managers of Vorkuta. We talked about their challenges, strategies and thoughts on planning and organizing such a unique city. With changing extreme climates, fluctuating populations, and a sense of consistency needed in the community, it takes a keen sense of creativity and meticulous thought to develop a city like Vorkuta.

C. Franco

Out of the entire day, my favorite moment would have to be when Moscow State University Professor Valeri Ivanovich took us to his childhood bakery shop, “Лакомка”, where he treated us to pastries and tea. This shop definitely stood the test of time, running for over 40 years with its delicious eclairs, donuts, and cookies. This being our last day in Vorkuta, there was a bittersweet feeling. However, I wouldn’t want to spend it any other way then surrounded by friends and colleagues in a cute little pastry shop talking about our time in Vorkuta over some tea and delicious desserts.


July 23rd:

Anna Summi

Maybe it’s because just a few days ago we spent over 10 hours in a train compartment that doubled as a sauna. Or maybe it’s because no one thought that travelling to Siberia in July could’ve easily been mistaken for a trip to the tropics if you closed your eyes, if only for the high temperatures and constant bug buzzing halo. But the feeling of relief and refreshment that swept through the group as we realized the train that we would attempt to call home for the next 40 hours was air-conditioned was instantaneous and all encompassing.

The entirety of today will be spent zooming, at the hyper-speed of around 50 mph, toward Moscow and the reality of the lives we left in America for the past month. Throughout the compartment, over meals in mess kits of bread and cheese and maybe the odd cup noodles, conversations of reflection and fond memories of the trip have begun. I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect when we all met at Dulles nearly three weeks ago, but without a doubt, this experience will stick with each one of us for a long time to come.

L. Jongejans
T. Henning