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Partnering for Northern Futures: AAAS Arctic Division Plans High-Impact Conference
With the International Polar Year focusing research and public interest on Earth's rich and sensitive Arctic zones, more than 200 scientists and engineers from the United States, Canada, and Europe will convene in Anchorage, Alaska, later this month for the AAAS Arctic Division's annual meeting.
The meeting, from 24-26 September, is the world's biggest multi-disciplinary conference focusing on the northern and southern polar regions. Climate change will be a central topic this year, with symposia exploring the impact on polar ice sheets, permafrost, and human cultures—and related policy issues. But the full list of speakers and symposia is as diverse as the Arctic itself, covering fields ranging food production and Arctic engineering to public health and marine biodiversity.
Plus, organizers say, the International Polar Year (IPY) has brought a new dimension to the 2007 meeting. Among the speakers will be David Hik, executive director of the Canadian International Polar Year Secretariat, and Lars Kullerud, director of the Norway-based University of the Arctic. The AAAS Arctic Division will assemble a selection of papers from the meeting into an IPY commemorative volume that will be available in 2008.
"We hope it will be a time capsule for the next IPY 50 years from now—sort of a snapshot of what our scientific disciplines recognize as important in 2007,” said division President John Kelley, who served on the National Academies of Science Planning Committee for U.S. participation in the IPY.
Lawrence Duffy, executive director of the Arctic Division, said the conference "is especially important during the IPY" because it "brings together scientists and policy-makers both national and international, creating the potential to develop new partnerships to increase our knowledge of polar systems."
The International Polar Year is a vast, two-year effort to study the Arctic and Antarctica, with thousands of scientists from over 60 nations engaged in over 200 projects examining a physical, biological and social research topics. The first IPY was held in 1882-83, followed by another in 1932-33 and a third 50 years ago, in 1957-58.
John Kelley, president of the AAAS Arctic Division.
And the Arctic Division is one of the key places where AAAS engages with the IPY effort. The Arctic Division, founded in 1951 (as the Alaska Division), promotes science activities and communication among researchers, graduate students, wildlife managers, business leaders, rural residents, Alaska natives, teachers, students and others. Recent annual meetings have explored topics including climate, environmental change, natural resources, telecommunications and northern people and cultures.
Kelley, a professor of marine science at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF), said this year’s Arctic Division meeting will acknowledge not just the IPY, but a series of similar endeavors in the past, currently underway, or in planning: The 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year; the 2007-08 Electronic Geophysical Year; the 2007-08 International Heliophysical Year; and the International Year of Planet Earth, which begins in 2008.
"That's unique," said Kelley. "No matter where you go…you won’t really hear about these others international years. We felt it was necessary to bring attention to them because we have a lot of scientists up here who are engaged in those projects."
Lawrence K. Duffy, executive director of the AAAS Arctic Division, takes a hair sample from a sled dog as part of a study of mercury concentration in Alaskan sled dogs fed meat from wild animals and fish.
The meeting will be dedicated to the memory of the late C.D. Keeling, a chemist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., who 50 years ago pioneered efforts to routinely measure levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. His efforts were crucial in helping to increase understanding of how energy plants, combustion engines and other human activity produce greenhouse gases that cause global climate change. Keeling died in 2005, three years after winning the U.S. National Medal of Science.
Albert H. Teich, director of Science and Policy Programs at AAAS, will attend the Anchorage meeting and moderate a roundtable, "Science and Politics." It will explore recent cases in which government officials have sought to suppress or distort research findings, many of them related to climate change. Teich also will have four photographs in “Synthesis,” an art and science exhibition organized in conjunction with the meeting at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage.
"Science plays a vital role in helping us understand and adapt to the Arctic environment, protect its unique and fragile resources, and learn much from it that may be critical to the future of the whole world," Teich said. "For nearly 60 years, the AAAS Arctic Division has hosted the single most important scientific meeting in the region. It attracts an international who's who of polar studies and other fields of science conducted in the Arctic. Within its region, the Arctic Division serves virtually every part of AAAS's mission—enhancing communication among scientists, promoting responsible use of science, providing a voice for science, and more."
The Arctic Division also plays a valuable role in supporting AAAS's mission because "it attracts young scientists and students from many disciplines," said Duffy, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UAF. "They are exposed to the role of scientists in advancing science policy, and AAAS's leadership in advocacy for science and engineering"
AAAS has three other regional divisions: the Pacific, founded in 1915; the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division, founded in 1920; and the Caribbean, founded in 1985. [Learn more about AAAS’s regional divisions.] AAAS members who live or work within one of the regional divisions are automatically considered division members.
Edward W. Lempinen
7 September 2007