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CH2M HILL Polar Services

Supporting scientific research throughout Alaska


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CH2M HILL Polar Services staffers assist EM (electromagnetic) bird flight operations unloading research equipment in Barrow.

Photo courtesy of the Eicken Project

Typically when people think of the valuable resources available in Alaska, they think of removable resources—oil and gas, gold, silver, coal, timber, fish—or they think of Alaska experiences, such as sightseeing, hunting, hiking, or exposure to culture. But Alaska is also the only form of access to the Arctic from the United Sates. Many are aware that this access is important for shipping lanes and infrastructure, but the science industry, though perhaps with a smaller budget, also finds much of Alaska invaluable in terms of research.

Part of the reason that Alaska is ideal for research is access to the Arctic as well as large swaths of land minimally touched, if at all, by human influence. Of course, these benefits to research are also hindrances in terms of keeping researchers warm, fed, and moving to optimal locations.

Since 1999 CH2M HILL Polar Services, or CPS, has been a services and support company for Alaska research funded by the National Science Foundation. “In November, 2011, CH2M HILL Polar Services was awarded a third consecutive Arctic Research Support and Logistics Services contract for the National Science Foundation. The contract spans eight years and is estimated at approximately $325 million,” says CH2M HILL Communications Director Bill Doughty.

 

CH2M HILL Polar Services

CPS is a collaborative organization consisting of CH2M HILL, Polar Field Services, Inc., SRI International, and UMIAQ. Alaska Science Support Manager Marin Kuizenga says, “CH2M HILL is the prime that holds the contract with the National Science Foundation; my company, Polar Field Services, does the field logistics for the contract; and then Stanford Research Institute, or SRI, does the communications component. UMIAQ Science Provides Barrow area logistics support.”

According to Doughty, the scope of the contract includes logistics planning and operations for science projects; procurement and inventory management; aviation services; engineering and design services; facilities planning, constructions, maintenance, and operations; information technology and communications support; field safety and risk management; quality management; and stakeholder coordination.

Kuizenga says, “I see us as an equipment and services cooperative. We hold inventory of equipment and professionals that are there to assist [researchers] to implement their field plans. Some groups only want a satellite phone, and for some projects we’re doing full-on staffed field camps.”

 

Matching up Researchers and Support

Researchers obtain the services that CPS provides as a portion of their National Science Foundation proposal funding. “The National Science Foundation funds research grants, and a portion of those funds go to the researcher [directly] for their salary or overhead, whatever the researcher requested. But then researchers can request, and in fact the National Science Foundation encourages, that a portion of their grant award come through us to optimize shared resources,” Kuizenga says. In addition researchers often approach CPS for information and feedback on feasibility of logistics and research plans.

 

A researcher loads core sample taken from Mount Hunter glacier for first leg of trip to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, Colorado. The full surface-to-bedrock core, a record 205 meters (224.19 yards), allowed researchers to determine precipitation levels in Alaska over the last one thousand years.

Photo courtesy of the Osterberg Project

 

CPS Support Scope

Annually, CPS supports “up to 177 science projects and one thousand scientists and field team members working throughout Alaska, Greenland, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Norway, the Arctic Ocean, and the North Pole,” Doughty says. He continues, “Of the 155 CPS-supported science projects in 2013, about half were located in Alaska.”

Kuizenga says that currently, CPS is supporting 152 projects Arctic-wide, with 75 located in Alaska. “Of the 75 field projects in Alaska, 31 funded projects in the Barrow area [41 percent] are supported through CPS with on-the-ground expertise from UMIAQ Science. Twenty-seven are worked in the Toolik area [36 percent] at the Toolik Field Station. Four were CPS staffed field camps with seasonal camp managers.”

Other than those two concentrated areas, the projects are located throughout the state. “We really have to go wherever the research is,” Kuizenga says. “We use a broad range of vendors in the state, including a number of small village vendors.”

Because many of these projects are so remote, one of the largest segments of support that CPS provides is air transportation. Kuizenga says, “We do a lot of flight support… we’re doing a lot of contracting with many of the small air contractors in the state from mom-and-pop size to Ravn to many of the helicopter companies in-state.” CPS spends approximately $1 million dollars annually in-state on air charters, according to Doughty.

 

Areas of Concentration

The majority of the projects that CPS provides support for are multi-year projects of three to five years, though a few are one-year projects. Kuizenga says that, although projects range from helicopter projects in the Aleutians to Southeast to Kaktovik, there are two areas of concentration in Barrow and Toolik.

The Toolik Field Station is operated and managed by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The station provides housing, meals, laboratories, and other support such as GIS and mapping services, technical and IT assistance, and a collection of standardized environmental data. Toolik Field Station’s website states the station’s mission is “to support research and education that creates a greater understanding of the Arctic and its relationship to the global environment.”

Fairbanks is also the base of operations for Polar Field Services’ eight Alaskan project managers as well as an operations manager and a warehouse manager. The Fairbanks location is an office/warehouse space for equipment. “We maintain the four-wheelers and snow machines, and we repair and store the tents, and we have a fleet of trucks for traveling up the haul road and things like that,” Kuizenga says. The employees in Fairbanks are the “on-the-ground” support that’s out in the field working with both researchers and vendors, ensuring that vendors have the capabilities to support the work that’s needed.

The other area of concentration is in Barrow. In terms of far north Arctic research, one either lands in Barrow or Prudhoe Bay, but “there’s a beautiful lab facility,” in Barrow, Kuizinga says. According to the Barrow Bulletin, which contains “Information for NSF funded research in the Barrow area,” the National Science Foundation leases space on the NARL campus from UIC. This space supports scientific research and includes offices, laboratories, storage and staging areas, and cold rooms.

 

Camp at Disenchantment Bay near Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat Bay.

Photo courtesy of the Crowell Project

 

Boon to Economies

While the science industry doesn’t have the largest economic presence in Alaska, it is certainly a presence, and can be a boon for some remote locations, such as Barrow. “When we go to talk to the Borough, they talk about the science industry, and the history of science in the community. Maybe that’s eclipsed a bit lately by other interests, but Barrow is astute and recognizes that this is a revenue source for the community… it’s certainly advantageous for them from a jobs perspective, as well,” Kuizenga says.

Kuizenga says that CPS works through local vendors, wherever in the state operations may be taking place, as often as possible, “including a number of small village vendors.”

According to Doughty, it’s estimated that CPS spends approximately $6.8 million in the state, which includes the $1 million spent on air transportation, annually. Of that, approximately $3.2 million is spent in the Barrow area.

Alaska is a valuable resource to the scientific community, and the research industry is developing as a valuable resource for Alaska.

Tasha Anderson is the Editorial Assistant at Alaska Business Monthly.

This first appeared in the November 2014 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.
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