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AAAS Arctic Division Conference in Juneau Explores Impact of Climate Change on Health

The AAAS Arctic Division will hold its 2009 Arctic Science Conference in Juneau, Alaska, exploring the consequences of climate change on human health along with its social and physical impacts on Arctic communities.

Convening 14-16 September at the Westmark Baranof Juneau Hotel, conference highlights include plenary lectures on Arctic science policy, transforming science education, changing communities, and sustainability; and technical sessions on climate change, marine science, wildlife diversity, and circumpolar health.

In addition, there will be sessions for educators on the importance of teaching distance education to rural communities in the circumpolar North and how to increase the participation of indigenous populations in science education.

Lawrence Duffy, executive secretary of the Arctic Division, said that this year's meeting is being held in Juneau, the state's capital, as opposed to Anchorage or Fairbanks, the state's largest cities, in an effort to engage state lawmakers with the impacts of Arctic science. The division is working with U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) office to participate in a symposium on the social and physical impacts of climate change on Arctic communities in regard to his new legislative proposals.

This is part of an effort to give public policymakers more access to the cutting-edge work of Arctic scientists and engineers, said Duffy.

Duffy said that the meeting will feature issues of particular importance to scientists and residents that are often ignored at other meetings.

"Arctic science sometimes get short-changed at bigger meetings because its practitioners frequently live or work far away from traditional meeting hubs," said Duffy. He added that the smaller meetings are great for students at all stages of their education, allowing them to engage with scientists about their research.


Fewer caribou calves are being born and more of them are dying in West Greenland as a result of a warming climate.
Photo credit: Eric Post, Penn State

Duffy said that meeting's theme is important because Arctic regions are especially susceptible to a changing climate. A number of Arctic communities are already suffering severe erosion and encroaching waters because of increasingly severe storms and rising seas. "Food insecurity" is becoming more prevalent as climate change affects fish runs and disrupts the migration patterns of game animals; in some cases, higher fuel prices make it more difficult to get to fishing and hunting grounds.

That, in turn, can trigger health problems like obesity and heart disease if Arctic residents adopt a sedentary lifestyle or increase their red meat consumption. Alaskan officials have reported an increasing number of people moving from Bush villages into cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The four regional divisions of AAAS--Arctic, Pacific, Caribbean, and Southwestern and Rocky Mountain (SWARM)--serve as regional networks for scientists, organizing meetings on regional issues and promoting publications from scientists active within the division.

The Arctic Division was founded in 1951. The Pacific Division is the oldest AAAS regional division, with its charter dating to 1915; the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division was founded in 1920 and the Caribbean Division in 1985.

The Arctic Division of AAAS is open and accessible to all who are working on Arctic, Alaskan, Canadian, northern or Antarctic issues, and seeks to help them communicate their research and discoveries to others. The Arctic Division's membership spans the circumpolar region, with most members residing in Alaska and in Canada's Northwest Territory and the Yukon and Nunavut territories.

All AAAS members in good standing, and who reside or work within the specified boundaries of a regional division, are automatically included as members of that regional division.