NSF awards $20 million for five-year research project
Fairbanks, Alaska — A new $20 million National Science Foundation grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks will support interdisciplinary research throughout the state of Alaska. The award to the Alaska Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which is housed at UAF, will support a five-year research project, Alaska Adapting to Changing Environments or Alaska ACE. The project will conduct biological, physical and social research into Alaska communities’ adaptive capacity: the mechanisms that enable communities to effectively respond to environmental and social changes. “Alaska is made up of a diverse array of social and ecological systems that are undergoing dramatic environmental change,” said UAF anthropology professor Peter Schweitzer, the principal investigator of the award. “Alaska is the ideal place to study the ways different types of communities adapt to these changes.” The project will involve 19 core university researchers and will hire eight more. More than 20 additional researchers will participate in the project in some way. Researchers come from a variety of physical, biological and social science disciplines. The university is a national leader in developing the tools and methods need to understand and inform adaption, said Lilian Alessa, a University of Alaska Anchorage biology professor who is serving as a co-principal investigator of the project. “Alaska ACE will continue to set the trend by advancing our knowledge of social dynamics in changing environments, as well as help provide decision support for Alaska’s sustainable future.” Alaska ACE research will be organized around three regional test cases: the Southcentral Alaska test case will examine the effects of land cover and precipitation changes on fisheries and tourism in the Kenai River watershed. The Northern Alaska case will study how permafrost thaw and land cover change affect subsistence resources around four Interior and arctic villages. The Southeast Alaska test case will focus on changes to ecosystem services brought on by glacial recession near the Juneau area. “The test cases strive to build UA’s research capacity to address multifaceted issues and signify a better balance in its approach to integrating research efforts,” said Sanjay Pyare, an associate professor of geography at the University of Alaska Southeast and the other co-principal investigator. “Rather than organize these cases along disciplinary lines, each case is rooted in geographically relevant social-ecological phenomena.” A statewide working group will use the results from the test cases to answer larger scientific questions about adaptation and to create tools for land and resource managers. In addition to these research efforts, a significant portion of the funding will go toward education, outreach and diversity efforts designed to better engage the public in science. UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Mark Myers and Alessa will serve as co-directors of the project, while Pips Veazey of UAF will serve as project administrator. The award comes through the NSF’s EPSCoR program, which was established by Congress to distribute research awards to areas of the country that have traditionally received smaller amounts of federal research funding. Thirty-one states and territories now receive or are eligible for EPSCoR funds.