Dr. Glenn Sheehan

Founding Executive Director of BASC (Barrow Arctic Science Consortium)

Twenty six years helping scientists and the community


Dr. Sheehan was founding Executive Director of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC), an NGO created by local Barrow organizations to encourage more scientists to do research on the North Slope in collaboration with residents, employing their local, regional and cultural knowledge to improve safety and data collection.  During BASC’s 16 year run the number of projects and visiting scientists increased to over 626 people in a single year.


BASC helped create the Chukotka Science Support Group (CSSG) NGO in Russia, which was run by the Yupik Eskimo Society (Provideniya) and the Naukan Native Cooperative (Lavrentia).  BASC facilitated US and foreign icebreaker research ashore and at sea, providing logistics for re-supply, personnel transfers and help with emergencies.


BASC held meetings around the US to solicit scientific input on the design of the first new science building on the North Slope since the Navy departed.  The building was funded by Congress and built by the Utqiagvik Inupiat Corporation.


Sheehan started working on the North Slope in 1981 as an archaeologist and anthropologist, continuing active research until shortly after BASC’s creation.  He ended his career as Director of the North Slope Borough Health Department during the most intense period of the COVID epidemic.  Prior to that he ran the Health Department’s clinics in the villages of Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Wainwright and Point Lay.


One Square Mile: Barrow, Alaska (Brazos Films) Glenn appears at 14:07 and this film has appearances from many of the people interviewed for arcticstories.



Dr. Glenn Sheehan speaks about the Arctic, highlighting how the people make it a great place to live. He mentions that there are over 60% native Eskimo in Utqiaġvik, formerly Barrow, Alaska. And in the surrounding villages, it’s around 98%. Dr. Sheehan, with an anthropology and science background, finds it interesting that people today have social relationships on the North Slope similar to the social relationships they’ve had for a few thousand years. He thinks that understanding the cultural and historical underpinnings of the way people interact today makes you more comfortable with everyday life in the Arctic. Dr. Sheehan also discusses the permafrost in the Arctic, noting that it is not melting in most of the Arctic, but the annual thaw at the top of it can get deeper on an annual basis. He explains that most buildings in town are on pilings, and if the active layer gets much deeper, the pilings will start moving, which is not a good thing.

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Dr. Glenn Sheehan has been a resident of Barrow, Alaska, now called Utqiaġvik, since 1996, but started conducting research in the area in 1981, initially as an archaeologist. He noticed that everything that people had discarded or lost in the area was preserved, and the community members were very knowledgeable about the history of the area and the tools that were used in the past. Later, he became involved with the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, a community-based organization that works to bring more science to the North Slope. The organization aims to help scientists collaborate with local people and students. Some scientists were initially resistant to this collaborative approach, but over time, they realized the value of learning from locals’ deep knowledge and experience.

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This is a conversation between Dr. Paul Shepson and Dr. Glenn Sheehan about life in the North Slope and the Arctic. Dr. Sheehan shares his experience working at BASC, the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, a community-based organization that works to bring more science, and he describes his work at the local Health Department and school district during the pandemic. He also talks about the borough’s declining budget and how it was unfortunate that people didn’t know how to negotiate contracts or deal with huge amounts of money. Additionally, he discusses how the Army Corps of Engineers proposed solutions that don’t make sense because they can only go with the solutions permitted by Congress.

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Dr. Glenn Sheehan has left the North Slope, where he lived for decades, but has fond memories of the resilience and adaptability of the whaling communities in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Dr. Sheehan emphasizes the strong organizational skills and attention to detail among the whaling captains, who work closely with the community to address challenges such as food distribution. He believes that despite climate and environmental changes, the cultural lives of the people remain intact, with a continued focus on successful whaling and sharing. Dr. Sheehan also touches on the potential impact of external decisions on the community and highlights the hidden concerns and day-to-day living of the community members in a subsistence culture. Dr. Sheehan sheds light on the strength and unity of the whaling communities in the face of ongoing changes.

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Glenn Sheehan reflects on the value of gaining perspective by moving away from Utqiaġvik and experiencing life in different places. He describes the power and simplicity of living on the North Slope, and in the Arctic in general, where gradual changes in climate and the environment are observed. Glenn discusses the importance of scientists consulting with local communities and the positive impact this dialogue can have on research outcomes. He recounts a story of a researcher who embraced community input, leading to a successful and respectful research project.

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Glenn Sheehan discusses the impact of changes in the Arctic, particularly on the native communities engaged in whaling. Glenn emphasizes that despite the changes in climate and the environment, Iñupiaq cultural traditions and practices remain intact, and the whaling captains continue to be organized and attentive to community needs. He highlights the resilience of the whaling communities and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. While there may be a sense of calamity hidden beneath the surface, the people primarily focus on living day-to-day and season-to-season in their subsistence culture.

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