Matt Druckenmiller

Sea Ice Scientist

University of Colorado Boulder

matt Druckenmiller: https://nna-co.org/about/team/matthew-druckenmiller

Dr. Matthew Druckenmiller (PI) is serving as the NNA-CO Director, overseeing the overall coordination and daily operations of the office and its team. He is also responsible for the office’s cooperation with NSF’s NNA Working Group to ensure alignment with NSF strategies and programming. He brings over 15 years of transdisciplinary research experience in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, often in close collaboration with Arctic communities. He also brings experience in participating with a host of national and international Arctic research and policy institutions, including the Polar Research Board (PRB), the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).

Matthew Druckenmiller is a sea ice scientist, who is originally from northern Pennsylvania. He grew up hunting and fishing with his father and grandfather, and became sensitive to observing human influences on natural systems. After studying geo-environmental engineering at Penn State University he moved to Alaska in 2004 with an interest in glaciers and Arctic environments. In 2011, he received his doctoral degree in geophysics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he studied the physics of coastal sea ice. He had the opportunity to base much of his work near coastal communities, such as Utqiagvik, which enabled him to learn the importance of the sea ice and ocean to indigenous peoples and to appreciate the richness of their local environmental knowledge. 

Matthew Druckenmiller is a research scientist at NSIDC. Since 2006, he has worked within the coastal regions of Arctic Alaska, investigating the connections between changing sea ice conditions and marine mammal habitat, and local Indigenous community use of sea ice for hunting and travel. Currently, he serves as director of the Navigating the New Arctic Community Office (NNA-CO) and co-leads the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA). Druckenmiller also serves as the Lead US Delegate to the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), an editor for the Arctic Report Card, and an editor for the Arctic Chapter within the annual Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) State of the Climate Report. Previously, he has served as a Science Policy Fellow at the National Academies’ Polar Research Board (2005), a project manager at the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (2006), and a AAAS Science Policy Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development (2013 to 2015).

Interviews

2009

Research scientist Matt Druckenmiller spends a few months each year in Barrow (now called Utqiaġvik), Alaska, measuring sea ice thickness. He is also involved in a scientific study on the changing dynamics of sea ice. Matt studies the trails created by the Iñupiaq whalers as they hunt whales, examining the relationship between trail depth and ice conditions. His measurements are conducted precisely where the hunters operate, enabling meaningful communication with them. Originally from Pennsylvania, Matt obtained his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Penn State University before joining the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Utqiaġvik is the largest Native whaling community in Alaska, with an annual quota of around 22 whales. The population of bowhead whales, which migrate through the area, has shown signs of growth, now estimated to be around 13,000 individuals. These whales spend summers in the Arctic Ocean and return to the Bering Sea in the fall.

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2022

Matthew Drukenmiller, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, has taken on a new role as the Director of Navigating the New Arctic Community Office. This office is part of a five-year agreement with the National Science Foundation to coordinate and support the Navigating the New Arctic program, which focuses on research addressing the challenges posed by environmental changes in the Arctic. The initiative aims to collaborate with indigenous communities, incorporate their knowledge alongside Western research, and produce actionable solutions for Arctic societal issues.

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Matt Druckenmiller emphasizes the significant shift in how indigenous knowledge is perceived in the research landscape. In the past, traditional knowledge was often seen by scientists as fragmented observations of the environment. But this perspective has evolved, and now indigenous knowledge is viewed as a way of thinking, deeply rooted in stewardship, honoring the land, animals, and ancestors. In today’s world, facing the immediate challenges of the climate crisis, researchers are recognizing the limitations of Western research and technology in caring for the natural world. Indigenous wisdom challenges the scientific community to embrace diverse ways of thinking and consider alternative approaches to stewarding and understanding the environment.

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Matt Druckenmiller discusses the challenge of fragmentation in Arctic research, which hinders collaboration among scientists. While there’s a turn toward interdisciplinary work, competition for research funding remains a barrier. Matt emphasizes the need for more thoughtful engagement with Arctic indigenous communities to address issues effectively. Slowing down and gaining perspective can enhance collaborative efforts despite the rapid changes in the Arctic. The COVID-19 pandemic also provided opportunities for reflection and improvement.

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Matt Druckenmiller shares how he stays positive and motivated in his work. He attributes his positivity to having amazing mentors who possess a long-term perspective on addressing climate challenges and fostering collaboration. Matt emphasizes the importance of thinking beyond short-term wins and leaving a legacy for future generations. He finds inspiration from the entrepreneurial spirit and collaborative nature of the people he works with, especially in the Arctic community. Despite facing difficulties on many levels, the optimistic and cooperative approach of Arctic communities keeps him positive about the future.

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Matt Druckenmiller reflects on the bigger picture of collaboration needed in the Arctic. He aims to provide people with the tools, information, and awareness to make informed decisions and adapt to the challenges they face. The vision guiding their efforts is to focus on values, such as food security, to steer research and collaborations in a meaningful direction. Matt sees organizations like ICC Alaska (Inuit Circumpolar Council–Alaska) as a role model in uplifting the values necessary for the Arctic’s well-being. He emphasizes the importance of staying true to guiding values amid potential conflicts with other interests like resource extraction, and he believes that the research community, when collaborating with Arctic peoples, can define these guiding values for the Arctic’s future.

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Matt Druckenmiller discusses a his 17-year-long project on the North Slope surveying the ice trails of Iñupiaq whalers. They have observed substantial changes in the thickness of the shorefast ice. Matt notes that the ways in which people hunt and assess risk on the ice have adapted in response to the changing ice conditions. The project has been a valuable endeavor, offering unique insights into how the shorefast ice during whaling has evolved over generations. Despite missing a couple of years due to other commitments and the pandemic, Matt remains passionate about going up to the Arctic every spring for fieldwork, envisioning his ice-trail project as a long-term monitoring effort in the future.

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