AAAS Arctic Division Meeting Highlights Need for More Climate Monitoring

The 2010 Annual Meeting of the AAAS Arctic Division will convene 13-15 September in Anchorage, Alaska, with the theme “Water: Integrating Health, Habitat and Economy.” Arctic residents face environmental challenges from climate change and land use, and participants at the meeting will discuss how to adapt to those challenges

“The impacts and effects of environmental changes have not been carefully thought out,” said Lilian Alessa, president of the AAAS Arctic Division. “Part of this is because we’ve not had the kinds of tools in the past that would allow us to visualize outcomes under different scenarios.”

The three-day meeting features scientific lectures on the environmental science of Arctic habitats and health disparities in Arctic residents. Attendees can also participate on field trips to local sites of scientific interest.

The next technological challenge for Alaska, Alessa said, is to improve modeling to help manage land, water, and other resources. “Using this robust virtual decision-making, we can reveal strategies and policies that are most likely to succeed,” said Alessa, the director of the Resilience and Adaptive Management Group at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

The meeting will also highlight health issues in people who live in the north. Lawrence Duffy, chemistry and biology professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, said that lifestyles in the north have changed recently as food supplies have become more plentiful and secure.

In the field. Lawrence K. Duffy, executive director of the AAAS Arctic Division, collects water from the Yukon River that will be sampled for mercury levels.
In the field. Lawrence K. Duffy, executive director of the AAAS Arctic Division, collects water from the Yukon River that will be sampled for mercury levels.

“We’re seeing increases in disease related to modern lifestyle: less exercise, more eating processed food,” said Duffy, executive officer of the AAAS Arctic Division. He will give a talk 14 September about monitoring nutrition, diets, and disease.

Climate change is another health issue in northern latitudes, as infectious and zoonotic diseases—such as avian flu—will probably increase, he said. Climate change is altering the Arctic environment. “We have direct impacts that we can notice of climate change,” said Duffy, listing invasive species, erosion, regional changes in sea ice size, and agricultural problems due to extended growing seasons.

“We are isolated up here, and we still have a relatively pristine environment,” Duffy said. But, he added, Alaska is “downwind from Asia and eastern Europe” and effects of their pollution can be felt. More monitoring of the current habitat is needed, Duffy said, to “better understand the changes that are ongoing and to make plans to adapt to the changes.”

Other speakers will discuss fisheries, sustainability issues, the Arctic economy, and the history of AAAS in Alaska.

Attendees at the AAAS Arctic Division meeting can participate in a field trip with a walk along Anchorage’s coastal trails, including Ship Creek, a local fishing hole for salmon. The waterway used to be polluted, but has recently been restored. “One of the focuses of the meeting is asking questions about the relationship between the health of the population and the health of the environment,” Duffy said. “If we don’t have clean water and clean air, how healthy will we be as a people?”


Lilian Alessa [Photo courtesy of & © University of Alaska Anchorage]
Lilian Alessa | Photo courtesy of & © University of Alaska Anchorage

One of the strengths of regional divisions of AAAS—including the Arctic, Caribbean, Pacific and Southwest/Rocky Mountain—is that they help science communities that might be some distance from the main research hubs to talk about science, science education, and science policy, Duffy said. The AAAS division meetings “allow people in science to get together and talk without having to spend the money on travel,” he said.


The regional meetings also allow scientists to home in on local science issues. “I think the AAAS Arctic Division needs to play a stronger role in helping develop and promote state-specific research that is transferable to the nation,” Alessa said. “The division should be a bridging force to ensure that our region is not only serving its own needs, but is also in tune with other regions and the national body.”

Founded in 1951, the AAAS Arctic Division fosters communication between researchers working on the Arctic, Alaskan, Canadian, northern or Antarctic issues, including climate, environmental change, natural resources, telecommunications and northern people and cultures. Most of the division’s members live in the north, but anyone who is a member of AAAS can join.

The 2011 Annual Meeting of the AAAS Arctic Division will be held in the fall of 2011 in Dillingham, Alaska.

Register now for the 2010 Annual Meeting of the AAAS Arctic Division.

Get more details on the meeting, held this year in Anchorage, Alaska.