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Stantec Joins Diverse Collaborators to Study, Report on Changing Arctic Environment

Nov 9, 2021 | Arctic, Engineering, News

A walrus skin boat near St. Lawrence Island.

F. H. Fay

The National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs recently funded the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and six other institutions to synthesize what is known about the changing Arctic environment and its consequences to people in a five-year project. The Arctic environment is both responding to and accelerating climate warming with social, economic, and cultural consequences within and outside the Arctic.

The Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) will spend the next five years bringing together scientific, Indigenous, and decision-making experts to understand environmental change in the Arctic more fully. The SEARCH team will make the results available to decision makers in local communities, multiple levels of government, and the private sector. Global design firm Stantec, which earlier this year was named the fifth most sustainable company in the world by Corporate Knights, will co-lead the overall project.

SEARCH will employ co-production, a method that has for decades been considered a more inclusive and equitable means of creating new knowledge, better understandings, and more meaningful sharing of that new knowledge. A sustainable environment is a value shared broadly by those who live, study, and do business in the Arctic. That shared value is the basis for a complex collaboration that will make knowledge of changing environment more accessible to decision makers. The collaboration will provide information needed in policy and business decisions while developing capacity in Indigenous communities and advancing modes of co-producing knowledge.

“We put forward a new approach to co-design this study and co-produce the knowledge and understanding needed to address the impacts and consequences of climate change in the Arctic,” said Dr. Francis Wiese, Stantec’s technical leader for Marine Science in the United States and co-principal investigator of this study.

“The study goes beyond one discipline, one geography, and one system of learning and knowing. Together with my colleagues from around the US, as well as Canada, Norway, and Russia, we hope to bring meaningful understanding to decision making at the local, regional, national, and international level.”

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“The Arctic is witnessing rapid and sudden changes,” said Brendan Kelly, the project’s chief scientist and a professor with the UAF International Arctic Research Center. “And understanding the impacts of those accelerating changes—on people, business, and the Arctic ecosystem—requires the expertise of diverse disciplines and knowledge systems, as well as of those who use the understanding in decision making.”

SEARCH will form three co-production teams—each including scientific, Indigenous, and decision-making experts—dedicated to understanding the multifaceted nature of changes in the Arctic. One team will focus on the processes and ecological consequences of Arctic change. Another will focus on understanding human well-being in the changing Arctic. The third, which Wiese co-chairs, will examine the consequences of environmental change for geopolitical and economic stability in the region. The combined findings will be shared in plain language and in technical publications.

The project was conceived and co-produced by Stantec, the International Arctic Research Center, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Eskimo Walrus Commission, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Oregon State University, the University of Michigan, and the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute. It will build a novel synthesis spanning multiple knowledge systems and disciplines based on the extensive knowledge of scientific and Indigenous experts.

“This collaboration addresses equity and evidence-based decision making, recognizing the value of different knowledge systems that are integral to the resilience of people and communities in the Arctic,” said Renee Crain, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Research Support and Logistics program.

SEARCH is seeking nominations of scientific, Indigenous, and decision-making experts to be part of the different co-production teams. More information on the call for nominations and the overall project is available here.

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