ARCTIC LIFE

The Arctic is teeming with life – from the ocean bottom, through the full water column, to the underside of the sea ice, from Arctic birds to fish and seals and walrus, and polar bears, and bowhead whales.  From the microscopic to charismatic megafauna, scientists and native Arctic dwellers are captivated by the interactions between living species in the Arctic, and between the natural environment and the nature of the diverse life forms that thrive there, and those that are threatened by change.  Scientists who study it range from sea ice physicists, to meteorologists and climatologists, marine biologists, Arctic tundra ecologists, ornithologists, and archaeologists, to name a few.  Here we replay stories about Arctic life told by scientists, and by the hunters whose life depends on respectful coexistence between humans and Arctic life forms. 

Speakers

Assistant Logistics Coordinator, BASC, Barrow, Alaska

A resident of Barrow, AK, Roy accompanies scientists out on the ice and helps keep scientists safe.

Polar Bear expert, Research Wildlife Biologist, US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK

Iñupiaq Elder from Wainwright, AK, descendant of a Boston whaler

Atmospheric Chemistry, Environment Canada

Former President of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association, Whaling Captain, and Iñupiaq Elder

Yves Brower is the chief of operations at the BUECI and manages wastewater collection, distribution, and treatment.

Areas Wildlife Biologist, Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game

Formerly a polar bear expert with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Anchorage, Alaska

Glaciologist, Professor of Geophysics at the Geophysical Institute and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Assistant Logistics Coordinator, BASC, Barrow, Alaska

 

Newbery-winning author of Julie of the Wolves

Senior Wildlife Biologist (Bowhead Whales), Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough, Utqiagvik, Alaska

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s Executive Vice President of Lands and Natural Resources

Utqiagvik resident from Acuitzio del Canje, Michoacán, Mexico

Professor of Chemistry, Vice Provost for Research and Chief Research Officer at Villanova University, Villanova, PA

Steve Hastings is an ecologist who studies the ways in which plants adapt to climate in ecosystems

Anne Jensen is an archaeologist with the Science Division of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation in Barrow (now Utqiagvik), Alaska

Kitchen Manager, Ilisagvik College

Former Proprietor NARL Hotel, Utqiagvik, Alaska

Senior Research Scientist Emerita at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Research biologist for the US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK

Adjunct Associate Professor of Engineering, Dartmouth College

Professor of Chemistry, University of Michigan

Dr. Cheryl Rosa is Deputy Director and Anchorage-based Alaska Director of the United States Arctic Research Commission (USARC).

Founding Executive Director of BASC (Barrow Arctic Science Consortium)

Dr. Bill Simpson, an environmental chemist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks

Physical scientist working for Environment Canada’s Air Quality Research Division

Research Physical Scientist conducting wide-ranging geophysical studies on snow in high latitudes, Fairbanks, AK

Former Owner of Pepe’s North of the Border Mexican Restaurant

Polar Bear Photographer

Senior Director of Conservation and Staff Scientist at Polar Bears International

Donald "Nok" Nokinba Acker

Assistant Logistics Coordinator, BASC, Barrow, Alaska

Donald “Nok” Acker from Allakaket, AK, lives in Barrow (Utqiagvik), AK. “Nok” is short for Nokinba, which in Athabascan means “Snowy Owl,” a name his parents gave him at birth. Here he talked about his love for the cold and especially for the ice. When we met him he was coordinating logistics for the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, BASC, and helped scientists stay safe on the ice. He talked about polar bears and the knowledge you have to have in order to go out on the ice safely.

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2009

This is an interview with Donald Frederick Acker, also known as Kokinba or “Nok.” From Alakakit, Alaska, Nok has been living in Barrow (now called Utqiaġvik) since 1999. When this clip was made Nok was working for the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC), a nonprofit research support organization. He explains that his name is derived from an Athabascan word that means snowy owl, which was given to him by his parents. He talks about the differences between his culture and others, mainly regarding their source of food. He loves living in the Arctic, despite the extreme cold, and enjoys whaling, fishing, and documenting his experiences on YouTube. Nok is married and has three children whom he loves spending time with. He also mentions that whaling is a dangerous activity, and it is essential to have experienced crew members to ensure safety.

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Roy Ahmaogak

A resident of Barrow, AK, Roy accompanies scientists out on the ice and helps keep scientists safe.

2009

Roy Ahmaogak, a resident of the village of Wainwright also known as Ulguniq or Kuuk, shares stories of his encounters with polar bears and the challenges they pose to the community. He recalls a recent incident where a large polar bear was spotted near in town prompting wildlife authorities and public safety officers to intervene. Roy emphasizes the unpredictability and danger associated with polar bears, urging caution and vigilance when venturing outdoors. Reflecting on a previous year when an unusually high number of polar bears came close to and through town, Roy explains how this phenomenon was unprecedented and likely a result of their limited habitat options, with such occurrences certain to become more common in the future, leading to increased encounters with polar bears. When asked about joining a group heading out to confront a polar bear, Roy confirms that he will be accompanying them, armed for protection.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup

Polar Bear expert, Research Wildlife Biologist, US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK

Steve Amstrup is chief scientist emeritus for Polar Bears International.

He also is an adjunct professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He earned a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Washington (1972), a M.S. in Wildlife Management from the University of Idaho (1975), and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (1995). Prior to joining PBI, he led research on all aspects of polar bear ecology in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea between 1980 and 2010. He is a past chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and has been an active member of the group since 1980. He has authored or co-authored over 150 peer-reviewed articles on movements, distribution and population dynamics of large mammals, and is the senior editor of a recent text on population estimation methods. In 2007, he led a USGS research team in production of nine reports that became the basis for the 2008 decision by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list polar bears as a threatened species because of the threats they face from global warming. More recently Dr. Amstrup led an effort showing polar bears are not inevitably doomed. In the December 2010 issue of Nature, he and his coauthors showed that preserving polar bears is all about controlling human-caused temperature rise. In 2012, Dr. Amstrup was selected as recipient of the Indianapolis Prize and a Bambi Award for his efforts in animal conservation. In July 2020, Dr. Amstrup and his coauthors published a study in Nature Climate Change, following up on his 2010 study, this time using new understandings of polar bear energetics with projected sea ice loss to forecast when and where polar bear reproductive ability and survival would decline across individual subpopulations. This marked the first time that scientists answered the critical question of when the persistence of polar bear populations across the Arctic will be threatened due to sea ice loss from global warming.

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2009

Dr. Amstrup shares his personal journey as a wildlife biologist specializing in bear research, including his involvement in the international efforts to conserve polar bears. He explains the importance of studying polar bears through techniques like capture and recapture, as well as aerial surveys, to gather essential data for population management. Dr. Steve Amstrup also discusses the impact of global warming on polar bears. As the world warms due to human influences, there is less sea ice available, which is crucial habitat for polar bears and their primary prey, such as ring seals and bearded seals. The decline in sea ice reduces the carrying capacity for polar bears. In the past, hunting was the main concern, but now the focus is on global warming and its effects on polar bear habitats.

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Polar Bear expert Dr. Steve Amstrup warns about the severe impact of global warming on polar bears. Due to melting sea ice, bears are forced to inhabit unproductive, deep waters, resulting in food scarcity. Or when the ice retreats far from land, bears remain on land, further depriving them of the natural food sources in the shallow waters of the continental shelf. Amstrup emphasizes that the current rate of warming is unprecedented, posing a significant threat to polar bears. He urges individuals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to preserve polar bear habitats and ensure their survival. Managing climate change is crucial for the long-term preservation of these magnificent creatures.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup is one of the approximately 25-30 polar bear specialists worldwide who dedicate 100 percent of their efforts to studying these remarkable creatures. He has been a full-time polar bear biologist since 1980, focusing mainly on the southern Beaufort Sea population. This area was chosen due to logistical convenience and the presence of Canadian colleagues studying the same population. The shared jurisdiction between Alaska and Canada allowed for effective monitoring and collaboration. Dr. Amstrup emphasizes the importance of understanding specific populations in order to extrapolate knowledge to regions where data is limited. He values the insights of local native communities who live in polar bear habitats year-round and acknowledges their crucial role in polar bear management. Additionally, he highlights the significance of traditional lore and legends in shaping the relationship between native people and wildlife resources, particularly polar bears, in their respective areas.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup, a polar bear specialist, emphasizes that global warming is the single biggest threat to polar bears. The decline in their habitat is directly linked to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Dr. Amstrup describes the process of global warming and talks about the relationship between climate and weather. Despite some uncertainties, scientific consensus supports the understanding that a warmer world will lead to less sea ice, posing dire consequences for polar bears.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup highlights the importance of applied research in polar bear management. Initially basic research can later become crucial in understanding and conserving polar bear populations. Collaboration and sharing of information among nations are essential, particularly for shared populations. By exchanging research findings and resources, scientists avoid duplicating efforts and gain a comprehensive understanding of polar bear behavior and habitat. Focusing on specific populations, such as the southern Beaufort Sea and Western Hudson Bay, allows for in-depth knowledge that can be shared across jurisdictions, promoting effective conservation measures throughout.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup explains the diverse types of radio tags used in polar bear research, tailored to specific study objectives. Researchers employ various collar designs depending on the desired data frequency and duration. Detailed movement patterns and foraging behaviors require high-frequency transmissions, while long-term habitat usage analysis may rely on infrequent but long-lasting transmissions. Trade-offs exist, as more information depletes battery life more quickly. However, across the global polar bear range, similar radio tagging methods are employed to collect data. Fieldwork spans a few months, followed by extensive data analysis and report writing. Initial objectives guide data collection, but unexpected insights often arise during subsequent analysis. The advent of advanced GPS radio collars provides a wealth of information, including location, activity, water presence, temperature, and more. These technological advancements require robust data storage and management systems, facilitated by advancements in computer technology.

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2022

Steve Amstrup highlights the importance of sea ice for polar bears’ survival and explains that despite increasing primary productivity in some areas of the Arctic Ocean, it doesn’t necessarily benefit polar bears. While the productivity increase might be suitable for other species, polar bears primarily rely on catching seals from the surface of the ice. Seals, in turn, depend on the productivity that starts on the underside of the sea ice. If the sea ice diminishes or disappears, polar bears lose their essential hunting platform, and seals lose the nourishment they need. Steve refutes the idea that polar bears could simply adapt to land-based hunting, citing evidence from the past when polar bears disappeared from regions where the sea ice retreated. He emphasizes that the Arctic’s unique ecosystem supports large polar bear populations, while adjacent terrestrial environments, home to grizzly bears, can only sustain small numbers of smaller bears. Steve concludes that maintaining healthy populations of the world’s largest bears requires preserving the sea ice and the nutritious food source it provides for them.

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Steve Amstrup, Chief Scientist for Polar Bears International, works to raise awareness about the impact of global warming on polar bears and their Arctic habitat. He believes polar bears’ iconic status draws public attention to climate change. While more people are concerned about global warming, translating it into action and policy changes remains a challenge. Steve connects the polar bear’s plight to the changing climate worldwide, emphasizing the far-reaching consequences of climate change. He hopes to inspire action by keeping climate change in the public eye. Steve envisions a future where the world embraces cleaner energy options to mitigate climate change and reduce conflicts over fossil fuels. Ultimately, he remains hopeful for a sustainable and climate-resilient future.

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Steve Amstrup reflects on his thrilling years conducting polar bear research, capturing (darting and collecting data and samples) and studying these majestic creatures in the Arctic. Despite missing the excitement of fieldwork with the US Geological Survey, he made a conscious decision to focus on polar bear conservation with Polar Bears International. Witnessing the profound changes in the bears’ habitat due to global warming, he emphasizes the importance of understanding and preserving these ecosystems. Steve believes their work at Polar Bears International contributes to the cause of polar bear conservation, aiming to safeguard these iconic creatures and their Arctic environment from the increasing human impacts.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup and his colleagues published a groundbreaking paper in 2020, shedding light on the future plight of polar bears in different regions. By analyzing the energetics of polar bears and their ability to fast during ice-free periods, they predicted when different sub-populations will face challenges due to climate change. The study, involving 13 of the world’s 19 sub-populations of bears, provided valuable insights into the impending risks polar bears are likely to encounter. For example, in Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea of Alaska, polar bears are already facing significant challenges. This information is crucial not only for scientific understanding but also for policymakers and conservation managers.

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Dr. Steve Amstrup, former Polar Bear Chief Scientist for the USGS (US Geological Survey), transitioned to working with Polar Bears International in 2010 to address the main threat to polar bears: global warming and habitat loss. As a small non-profit, the focus of PBI is on outreach and education to raise awareness about the challenges polar bears face due to climate change. Through research projects and supporting other scientists, they aim to disseminate current science and emphasize the importance of collective action to combat global warming. Their mission is not only about polar bear conservation but also about safeguarding the planet as a whole. Through media engagement and website stories, they strive to keep the plight of polar bears in the public eye, inspiring action to protect these iconic creatures and the environment.

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Eddie Bodfish

Iñupiaq Elder from Wainwright, AK, descendant of a Boston whaler

Eddie grew up in Wainright, Alaska, a small Inupiaq village south of Barrow. Here he talks about what it was like to grow up out at fish camp for three months of the year and then start whaling for his father’s crew until he went to high school in Sitka, Alaska.

He talks about how whaling crews had to walk 9-15 miles out on the ice to get the whales because Wainright, unlike Barrow, is tucked into a bay, and to get the whales, the whalers have to walk out to the open sea where the whales pass during migrations

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2009

Eddie Bodfish, who was born (May 17, 1941) and raised in Wainwright, Alaska, and who worked many years as airport manager for the North Slope Borough, shares his adventures growing up in a small town and living a traditional lifestyle centered around hunting, fishing, and whaling. When he was young, there were no jobs so he grew up spending summers at Fish Camp, where he trapped red fox and hunted ptarmigan, ground squirrels and as many as 40 caribou in a summer in order to feed the family for the whole year. He took his homework from school and remained at fish camp until the day before Thanksgiving. They had dogs at camp but he remembers walking 25-30 miles in a day to check 14 traps, set far apart. At 9 years old Eddie started whaling. He and his brothers would leave school and walk 9-18 miles out on the ice to their family whaling camp and come home days later. (Wainright whale camps are farther out from land than camps in Utqiaġvik because Wainright was built on a bay and not a point jutting into the ocean). He describes becoming a harpooner at 13 or 14 years old and eventually running his own whaling crew. Whaling with sled dogs in those days was a whole different situation than using snow machines as whaling crews do today. Eddie’s story offers a captivating glimpse into Alaska’s wilderness and the rich cultural heritage of indigenous communities.

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Eddie Bodfish, a native of Wainwright, Alaska, shares his experiences of attending high school in Sitka and his subsequent career in engineering and airport renovation. Despite his ventures outside of Alaska, Eddie’s passion for whaling remained, and he fondly recalls stories from his days as a whaler. He discusses the challenges of hunting whales on the ice and the clever tactics employed by the whales to evade capture. Lots of personal stories here, including falling through the ice when he was a teenager chasing a whale and harpooning a young whale that had just nudged his boat and “given itself” to the hunters. Eddie also reflects on the changing regulations imposed on indigenous communities and the impact on their traditional way of life. He highlights the difficulty faced by those without jobs in providing for their families and mentions the importance of seal hunting during tough times. Additionally, Eddie reminisces about the abundance of polar bears in the past and the significant increase in the value of their skins. Polar bears are still hunted for their skins in Canada but not here on the North Slope of Alaska.

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Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim

Atmospheric Chemistry, Environment Canada

Dr. Bottenheim’s research interests are in the area of atmospheric gas phase chemistry. One area of particular interest to Jan is the chemistry of the Arctic boundary layer air. Several decades ago Jan and colleague Len Barrie discovered that during the Arctic spring ozone in the surface boundary layer air can be almost totally absent. This lower tropospheric ozone hole has been one of the topics Jan has studied in detail in collaboration with several colleagues from all over the world.  More recently, this has led to the discovery of surprisingly active photochemistry of the snow pack.

Jan was the lead scientist for several large field studies in recent years such as the OASIS-CANADA, Polar Sunrise Experiment 1992, PACIFIC93, ATLANTIC96 and ALERT2000, and the results of these studies have been published in special issues of key scientific journals such as the Journal of Geophysical Research and Atmospheric Environment.

Born in the Netherlands, Jan received his education from the University of Amsterdam, and after post doctoral work in Japan and the US came to Canada in 1975. After a stint in Alberta he came to Toronto in 1980 where he was employed by Environment and Climate Change Canada.  He is now retired and lives with his wonderful wife Annelies, sometimes in Aurora, Ontario, and sometimes in Catus, France.

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2009

Dr. Paul Shepson and Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim discuss the untouched natural beauty of the Arctic and express concern about the potential loss of this environment for future generations. They acknowledge the need to address climate change and the excitement of rising to the challenge of finding solutions. They caution, however, against relying solely on engineering and technological fixes, highlighting the potential dangers and unintended consequences of quick fixes. They criticize proposals such as injecting sulfur into the stratosphere to block out the sun, emphasizing the immense scale and long-term commitment required. They stress the importance of global cooperation, international agreements, and informed decision-making when allocating resources to tackle climate change effectively. They advocate for responsible use of limited resources and considerate choices that prioritize human well-being and sustainable practices.

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Dr. Jan Willem Bottenheim reflects on his experiences in the Arctic, expressing his fascination with the sounds and music created by different types of snow. He shares his love for classical music and how the unique sounds of walking on snow inspired him. He mentions encountering a polar bear for the first time and discusses the wildlife commonly found in the Arctic, including Arctic foxes and wolf packs. Dr. Bottenheim describes the beauty of observing the wolves and shares an anecdote about hearing their calls during the midnight sun. He compares his experiences in Alert, Nunavut, Canada, to Barrow, now Utqiaġvik, Alaska, a town with a larger population and more amenities. He acknowledges the changes in the Arctic due to climate change and reflects on the philosophical question of whether the Earth’s transformations are inevitable and part of nature’s course. He expresses his appreciation for the current beauty of the Arctic while remaining open to the possibilities and beauty that may emerge in the future.

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Eugene Brower

Former President of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association, Whaling Captain, and Iñupiaq Elder

Inupiaq Eskimo elder and whaling captain Eugene Brower knows the ice in the Chukchi Sea off Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska, through many thousands of hours hunting the bowhead whale. Out there, he has seen some amazing things. Eugene was born in 1948 to Annie (Qaġġun) and Harry (Kupaaq) Brower, Sr., and his growing up was focused on living off the land. Some of his earliest memories are of living in a small sod house at Iviksuk on the tundra inland from Utqiagvik. He learned to hunt, fish, trap, run a dog team, and be a whaler from his father, who was an accomplished subsistence provider for his family. Eugene started whaling at age eight under the mentorship of Luther Leavitt, Sr., and became a harpooner at age twenty-seven in his father’s whaling crew (Kupaaq Crew). In the early 1990s, when his father became ill and was no longer able to go whaling, Eugene was put in charge of their crew. He started his own Aalaak Crew around 1992, after his father passed away. Eugene was mayor of the North Slope Borough from 1981-1984, and in 2005 retired as Fire Chief from the North Slope Borough Fire Department. Currently, he is on the Board of Directors of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), and President of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association.

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2009

Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, recounts a remarkable encounter with a polar bear, which he considers the most memorable experience from his lifetime of hunting and observing wild game. He describes the scene on the shorefast ice, where he and his family witnessed a polar bear about a quarter of a mile away. As they watched, belugas at the edge of the ice. Suddenly, the massive polar bear emerged from the water and climbed onto the ice. Eugene marvels at the bear’s strength as it effortlessly lifted and maneuvered blocks of ice. The bear stood on its hind legs, surveying the surroundings, and then dropped the ice on a beluga and with a single swipe of its paw extracted the prey from the water.

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Eugene Brower, Iñupiaq elder from Utqiaġvik, Alaska, discusses the challenging transition from a subsistence lifestyle to a cash-based economy. He explains that while the availability of cash brought convenience and access to necessary products like groceries, ammunition, and rifles, it also introduced financial burdens with the high cost of supplies for hunting such as the casings, fuses, black powder, and plastic caps. Eugene acknowledges that the rate of return on their investments is uncertain, but it is necessary to continue spending significant amounts, ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 per season, in order to continue the traditions of the Iñupiat. Maintaining snow machines alone requires a substantial financial commitment, with annual costs reaching approximately $1,000. Eugene expresses his concerns about replacing outdated snow machines, highlighting that some of his equipment dates back to the 1980s with 15,000 miles of use. These remarks shed light on the financial pressures faced by individuals transitioning from traditional subsistence practices to a cash economy in the context of hunting and living in the Arctic region.

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Eugene Brower, an experienced observer of Arctic ice and whale migration, in the days before satellite technology, relied on his own observations while walking across the frozen landscapes. He explains how he would search for logical spots and landmarks, such as the Will Roger Wiley Post monument, to gauge the movement of ice and the path of the whales. The whales, he notes, follow a specific route between points, avoiding sudden turns along the shoreline. Eugene recounts a journey that took 16 days to cover a trail of about 16 miles, highlighting the challenges involved. He describes the presence of multiple crews and the teamwork required to track and strike the whales. Eugene reflects on the migration patterns of the whales, noting how they steadily travel north while communicating with each other through sounds that carry over long distances. His firsthand experiences offer valuable insights into the behavior and movement of these majestic creatures in the Arctic waters.

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Eugene Brower reflects on his various roles and positions of leadership in the community of Barrow, now called Utqiaġvik, Alaska. He mentions becoming the president of the Barrow Whaling Captain Association in 1972 and subsequently being re-elected and serving as president multiple times. Eugene also mentions stepping down from the position, hoping that someone else would take over the responsibility of managing the whalers. He briefly mentions his three-year term as the mayor of Barrow for one term, and his involvement in the city council. Eugene highlights the need to be a jack of all trades to survive in the old days, mentioning his varied roles as an equipment operator, laborer, and electronic technician. Eugene shares his humble beginnings in a sod hut, where he never could have imagined one day becoming the mayor of Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska.

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Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower shares his knowledge about the design and behavior of sealskin boats in the Arctic. He explains that sealskin boats are intentionally designed to be quiet, allowing hunters to approach seals without being detected. Eugene emphasizes the importance of paying attention to wind direction, as seals have a keen sense of smell and can detect human presence. To minimize any scents, one side of camp on the ice is kept clean, while activities such as cooking, disposing of coffee grounds, and using the bathroom are carried out on the far side of camp, away from passing whales. This careful separation ensures that whales won’t catch any human scent from the camp. The bowhead whale, Eugene says, can even sense the presence of humans underwater and can react by submerging deeper or altering their behavior. Hunters have to remain still and quiet while observing approaching whales. These insights provide a glimpse into the tactics and strategies employed by hunters in sealskin boats as they navigate the Arctic waters and interact with the natural behaviors of whales.

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Eugene Brower of Utqiaġvik, Alaska, discusses his role as a whaler and the responsibilities he took on when his father fell ill. He talks about being a half owner in his family’s whaling crew from the age of 27. Taking on a crew at a young age, Eugene learned how to select the campsite, determine the placement of the boats on the ice, and assess the ice conditions. He reflects on the challenges of interpreting ice formations, pressure ridges, currents, and the impact on the ice of winds from different directions. Eugene acknowledges that he made a few mistakes initially but managed to survive and learn from those experiences. He mentions their preparations for the upcoming whaling season. He notes that the crew size varies from 12 to 16 members, depending on the year and the level of success in their whaling activities. Eugene emphasizes that a successful season leads to a larger crew over time.

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Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower recounts a memorable encounter with a white whale. He describes how he was initially preparing to harpoon the whale, estimating it to be around 25 to 27 feet long. However, his father, who had been sleeping in the tent, suddenly emerged and urged him not to strike, emphasizing the rarity and preciousness of this white whale. Frozen in response to his father’s intervention, Eugene ultimately decided not to throw the harpoon. He reflects on how he now finds himself in a similar position, advising his own crew members and saying “no” when necessary, explaining the reasons behind his decisions. Eugene shares that he has encountered the same white whale four different times, recognizing it by a distinct mark on its blowhole. He mentions that each whale has unique markings, allowing each one to be identified over time.

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Eugene Brower recounts an encounter with a rogue walrus that lives in the pack ice year-round and preys on seals. As they paddled closer, the animal’s massive grayish head emerged from the water, revealing its impressive size. Excitedly, Eugene and his companions started paddling back to shore, fearing it might attack them. Their boat was moving so swiftly that when they reached the ice, it launched them into the air. The ice was only about as thick as their arms’ length. The walrus came alongside them and emitted a loud noise, stopped to observe the men closely. Eugene estimated the walrus to be about 12 feet wide and over 20 feet long, making it the largest walrus he had ever seen. Initially, the group considered shooting the walrus, but Eugene’s father intervened, reminding them that it was an animal living in its natural habitat, sustaining itself by feeding on seals. His father emphasized the importance of letting the walrus be, as provoking it could result in destructive behavior, such as breaking up the ice they were on. Eugene’s father warned that the walrus could easily break the ice if it came in fast and went on top. This captivating story offers a glimpse into the awe-inspiring encounter with a magnificent marine creature and the wisdom of respecting nature’s balance.

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Eugene Brower, an experienced Alaskan whaler, shares his journey from a young helper to a skilled harpooner and captain, demonstrating deep knowledge of whale anatomy and behavior.

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Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower shares memories of his childhood and the challenging living conditions his family faced. He describes their small living space, which was about 8 by 10 or 10 by 12 feet in size, with a unique makeshift stove made from a five-gallon GI can. The stove was fueled variously by blubber, wood, and coal obtained through bartering. Eugene reminisces about their modes of transportation, from using small boats made with caribou skins and dog sleds in winter to later transitioning to snow machines. He recounts the journey they would take from their camp down the river and along the coastline to reach Browerville, a cluster of houses where his grandfather’s two-story house stood. He mentions the original trading post, which is now a restaurant, and how they would visit the store for supplies, traveling with dog teams and sleds. Eugene reflects on the isolation of their living situation and the changes they experienced over time. This narrative provides a glimpse into Eugene Brower’s upbringing in a remote area before Barrow, now Utqiaġvik, Alaska, was a bigger town, and the resourcefulness required to navigate the harsh Arctic environment.

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In this conversation with Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower describes the process of setting up a fishing net under solid ice. He explains that his father used a two-by-four piece of wood, cut to about half an inch thick, and wrapped the ends tightly with grooves. This created a 16-foot long stick. They would start by cutting a hole in the ice, then lay out the net, cutting holes along the way until reaching the other end. A twine with a weight would be dropped through the holes, and a piece of wire with a coil was used to hook and pull the twine from hole to hole, eventually reaching the other side. They would then place the net on that side and pull it underneath the ice, spanning about 50 to 60 feet. Eugene’s father had homemade tools, including a small block to measure the width of the mesh. He would continually adjust the net. Additionally, pieces of whale ribs, obtained after drying out and removing the meat, were used as weights for the net. A float, made from a flat piece of wood about three to four inches long, was attached to the top of the net.

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Eugene Brower shares his experiences as a harpooner during his whaling days. At the age of 27, after 19 years of experience, Eugene became a harpooner. He recalls his first harpooning attempt, where he mistakenly threw the harpoon like a javelin, missing the whale entirely. This frustrated his father, who left in silence and returned hours later with a wooden post. Eugene’s father crafted a new harpoon handle by attaching the brass portion of the harpoon to the post and securing it with a small nail. After reloading the harpoon, Eugene tested its weight and found it to be heavy but satisfactory. Another whale surfaced in front of them, and Eugene, using all his strength, successfully struck it with the improved harpoon. The harpoon penetrated and immobilized the whale. Overjoyed by his first successful strike, Eugene and the crew tightly secured the whale and paddled back to shore. His father, impressed by the accomplishment, advised him that he didn’t need to throw the harpoon as forcefully next time. Eugene reflects on the exhilaration and sense of achievement he felt in that moment, as he had struck his first whale and experienced an indescribable rush of emotions.

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2022

Peter Lourie, Paul Shepson, Craig George, and Eugene Brower engage in a conversation discussing Eugene’s retirement from the Barrow Whaling Captains Association after 41 years as president. Due to health issues, he transferred his whaling equipment to his son Frederick Brower, who has become a successful and confident young captain. The crew consists of family members, including Eugene’s brother, uncle, and other experienced whalers. Recently the town has had a successful whaling season, landing all 15 whales without any losses. The crew size varies but is typically around 16 people. While traditional skin boats are still used, the process of preparing the boats and equipment has evolved over time, with advancements like ready-made skins and synthetic materials simplifying the process compared to traditional methods.

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In a captivating zoom conversation with Peter Lourie, Paul Shepson, and Utqiaġvik resident Dr. Craig George, Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower shares his early experiences with whaling and how it has evolved over the years. He recounts his childhood initiation into whaling, learning from his father and his uncle, Luther Leavitt Sr. Eugene reflects on the past, reminiscing about the challenges of traversing pressure ridges with dogs and sleds. He describes traditional techniques for safe ice travel and the importance of understanding whale behavior. As the conversation progresses, Eugene and Peter discuss the changing population of whales and their awe-inspiring presence in the ocean. Eugene also discusses the practical aspects of whaling, from cooking blubber to the construction of skin boats using driftwood. Despite the physical demands and harsh conditions of whaling, Eugene’s passion for the hunt perseveres, and he proudly shares the legacy of his family’s involvement in this ancient Arctic tradition.

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Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower recounts his early experiences as a harpooner and the techniques he learned. He describes how he was taught to throw harpoons balancing them like javelins, while also learning where and how to strike a moving whale. Eugene explains the use of explosive tips and black powder projectiles, highlighting the importance of timing and precision. He shares thrilling encounters with whales, including an albino beluga and a whale saving another from danger. Eugene’s stories showcase the intelligence and remarkable behaviors of these majestic creatures, leaving the listeners in awe.

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In a conversation with Peter Lourie, Paul Shepson, Iñupiaq elder from Utqiaġvik, Alaska, Eugene Brower discusses changes in whaling due to climate change. Eugene shares how whaling methods have remained the same, but melting ice makes finding suitable spots to harvest whales challenging. He notes that younger generations are taking over as older whalers retire. The discussion turns to how whales can detect scents and the overall conversation highlights the importance of indigenous wisdom and its contribution to understanding the natural world.

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Eugene shares his perspective on the lack of knowledge about the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the federal government’s involvement in whaling among indigenous communities. He recounts the uproar caused by the moratorium on whaling imposed by the government, and the formation of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to protect the Iñupiaq way of life. Eugene also describes his defiance during a grand jury hearing and the subsequent intervention of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. He highlights the unique cooperative agreement between the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the federal government, emphasizing the importance of enforcement and registration for whaling captains. Eugene expresses gratitude for Dr. Tom Albert’s support in documenting their whaling history and fighting for Iñupiaq rights. The conversation jokingly touches on Craig George, who arrived in Utqiaġvik with an Afro and was initially seen as a “hippie freak!”

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Craig George, in response to kind words from his friend Eugene Brower, explains that he started working at the animal research facility in 1977, where he met Tom Albert and developed a good working relationship. He became involved in logistical tasks and eventually joined the bowhead whale research team. In order to set up acoustic arrays and track the whales’ migration, the scientists incorporated traditional Iñupiaq knowledge about the bowheads, including their ability to swim under the ice undetected. This approach led scientists to increase abundance estimates and the verification of a population increase over time, as the Iñupiaq hunters had been telling the scientists all along. In turn, Eugene acknowledges the valuable training he himself received from both local and renowned scientists.

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Eugene discusses changes in working safely on the ice over the years. He and Craig mention the disappearance of multi-year ice, the presence of jumbled first-year ice, and the extended periods of open water due to climate change. They also mention the dangers of ice collisions and the responsibility of ensuring safety.

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Iñupiaq elder Eugene Brower is a deep well of whaling knowledge and Iñupiaq traditions. Here he talks about how much he really knows and is honored by Eskimo communities throughout the North Slope.

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Yves Brower

Yves Brower is the chief of operations at the BUECI and manages wastewater collection, distribution, and treatment.

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2009

Yves Brower, a resident of Barrow (the town now goes by its native name, Utqiaġvik), shares his background and connection to the Arctic region. Born in California, Yves moved to Massachusetts and didn’t return to Barrow until he was 13. It was during a stay with his uncle and a hunting expedition that he fell in love with the area and knew he would eventually move back. After finishing high school and spending three years in college, Yves made his permanent move to Barrow in 1995. Coming from a large family with relatives in every village of the North Slope, Yves takes pride in his heritage, with his father and uncle being avid hunters and whalers. He is part of his Uncle Eugene Brower’s whaling crew, which involves extensive preparations such as breaking trails through the ice, making skin boats, sleds, and gathering supplies. Yves explains that whaling is not only a significant cultural tradition but also a practical way to secure food in a region where expenses are high. Despite the hard work involved, Yves finds joy in hunting and cherishes the time spent with his family members, passing on his knowledge and love for hunting to his son. He appreciates the beauty of the Arctic landscape, its vastness, and the sense of exploration it offers.

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Yves Brower shares his experiences and preparations for a winter hunting trip. He discusses packing gear, setting up camp, hunting successes, traditional foods like muktuk, and the importance of self-sufficiency in his community. He also reflects on the influence of his grandfather, a reindeer herder.

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Yves Brower describes the uniqueness and beauty of the Arctic during winter. He expresses admiration for the pristine white landscape, the crunching sound of snow, and the incredible friendliness of the people in the close-knit community of Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Yves shares his strong attachment to the Arctic, the longing he feels when away, and his reluctance to live elsewhere. He reflects on his father’s experience being sent to school in Sitka, the loss of his grandmother, and his own return to the Arctic. Yves discusses the different hunting seasons throughout the year, including whaling, caribou hunting, fishing, and trapping, highlighting the constant activity and engagement with nature in his life. He contrasts this with the perceived boredom of newcomers who spend their winters indoors, emphasizing his own full schedule and lack of time for television.

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2022

Yves Brower, Chief of Operations at Barrow Utilities And Electric Cooperative, oversees water distribution, wastewater collections, and wastewater treatment. In his job, he witnesses significant changes in the climate. Over the years, Yves has observed the worsening conditions for utilities due to factors such as thawing ground, increased precipitation, and changing permafrost. These changes have led to challenges in maintaining water and sewer systems. The utility company employs different methods like utilidors (underground tunnels) and direct burial pipes, but the shifting permafrost has caused houses to move and pipes to break, resulting in frequent repairs and water main breaks. Yves, although not formally trained as an engineer, has learned everything on the job and through interactions with knowledgeable individuals, including local elders, scientists, and fellow employees. He emphasizes the importance of incorporating local knowledge into scientific studies and appreciates the open-mindedness of local residents and scientists like Geoff Carroll and Dr. Craig George. Yves also shares a story about a seal-catching technique devised by a local hunter that baffled the scientists studying seals.

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Prior to this job as chief of operations at Barrow Utilities and Electric, Yves Brower had various offshore and dredging jobs while engaging in arts and crafts and hunting to support his family. Though his hunting activities have been reduced since obtaining a permanent job, he still manages to get out quite a bit. Yves loves living in the Utqiaġvik area, remarking on the beauty of the land and the changing seasons, particularly the mesmerizing winter Northern Lights. Yves acknowledges that hunting has faced challenges due to the warming climate, with less stable ice for hunting seals and whales. There is a new need for increased caution during hunting expeditions. He notes changes in animal behavior, such as caribou getting skinnier and the migration of lynx farther north.

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Yves Brower reflects on the changing rainfall patterns in Barrow, Alaska, now called Utqiaġvik, and its impact on the local environment. Yves grew up in Massachusetts but moved to Utqiaġvik in 1995. He describes how precipitation has increased over the years, with heavier rainstorms replacing the light misty rain and foggy conditions of the past. Yves notes that these changes have affected the wastewater treatment plant, causing significant increases in water flow. He mentions the rise in snowfall and subsequent snowmelt during the spring, resulting in marshier tundra and more water on the landscape. Despite these transformations, Yves, like the indigenous Iñupiaq community, maintains a healthy perspective of adaptation. He emphasizes the need to embrace change and find new ways of living harmoniously with nature. Yves reminisces about the traditional whale hunting practices and expresses a sense of loss as the culture evolves.

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Yves Brower, a water management professional in Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, had a successful spring whale hunt. The community caught 16-17 small whales and enjoyed abundant muktuk (whale blubber) and festive celebrations. Yves reflects on the friendly and family-oriented atmosphere in Utqiaġvik, where neighbors treat each other like relatives. While he loves his job, Yves contemplates a potential career change to the wildlife department.

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Geoff Carroll

Areas Wildlife Biologist, Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game

Formerly Geoff Carroll was arctic Wildlife Biologist for Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game.  He lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska.  In 1986 he was one of the six-member team led by Will Steger to reach the North Pole by dogsled without re-supply.  

Remembering the North Pole trek of 1986, by Paul Schurke (MinnPost)

 Will Steger (Wikipedia)

Whales, Polar Bears and Muskox, Geoff Carroll: Biologist in Barrow by Candice Bressler (Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

NPR: Retired Wildlife Biologist Recounts His Face-to-face Meeting with a Polar Bear, January 9, 2022

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2009

Wildlife biologist Geoff Carroll recounts his work as an area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. His responsibilities encompass a vast 56,000 square mile area, primarily focused on land mammals, caribou in particular, which he considers a crucial land resource. He explains the ongoing project of conducting regular counts, including photo censuses every few years and yearly assessments of calf production and survival rates. To aid in the studies, Geoff uses radio collars providing valuable data on caribou movements and behaviors. The North Slope alone is home to four caribou herds, each with populations ranging from 60,000 to nearly half a million. Managing and monitoring these herds necessitates meticulous observations, sampling, and statistical analysis.

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Geoff Carroll recalls his encounters with polar bears during his work on the whale census. Camped on the edge of the open lead (open water) in spring, Geoff and his team made efforts to keep the bears away from their camps. While they generally had benign experiences with polar bears, Geoff shares a particularly memorable incident. One day at their census camp, with separate sleep and cook tents, Geoff was asleep in a sleep tent while one of their whale counters was cooking in the cook tent. Suddenly Jim noticed a polar bear halfway through the front door of the tent, and the gun happened to be near the bear. Jim yelled and threw a frying pan at the bear, hitting it on the nose, causing it to retreat.

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Geoff Carroll reflects on the untouched wilderness of the North Slope, particularly the vastness of the sea ice and the sense of freedom it provides. He describes the pristine environment that re-forms every year, offering a fresh start and the opportunity to explore uncharted territory. Geoff expresses his gratitude for experiencing this untamed beauty before the onset of oil development and seismic exploration on the North Slope. He acknowledges, however, that change is inevitable and he anticipates a gradual degradation of the region’s natural state, understanding the need for economic development. Geoff highlights the significant changes in the sea ice that he has witnessed, with open water lasting longer into the fall season and the landfast ice becoming less stable, increasing hazards for travelers on the ice. He mentions the diminishing extent of ice in the Northwest Passage, and predicts future ship traffic in the summer, transforming the Arctic forever.

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Wildlife biologist Geoff Carroll talks about his journey to the Arctic, driven by his lifelong fascination with Northern and Arctic environments. Originally from Wyoming, he made his way to Alaska in his early 20s and enrolled at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to study wildlife, which included studying bowhead whales. Initially hired to collect samples from harvested whales, Geoff recognized the need for a more accurate population estimate and convinced his colleagues to start a bowhead whale census. With limited experience living and working on the ice, he collaborated with Iñupiaq whaling crews, assisting them with whaling even as they helped him count whales for science. Eventually, funding became available, and a dedicated census crew was formed to conduct a 24-hour watch and count bowhead whales every spring.

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Wildlife biologist Geoff Carroll recounts the story of muskoxen in Alaska. Eradicated in the 1800s, they were reintroduced in the 1930s, and the population grew rapidly but faced predation and health issues, leading to a decline from 800 to 200 animals today. Efforts are underway to understand and protect this unique creature crucial to Alaska’s ecosystem.

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Wildlife biologist Geoff Carroll discusses ice fishing to feed his sled dogs, which are Greenland huskies. Geoff mentions his previous experience with Greenland huskies and how they differ from Alaskan huskies. The conversation touches on ther athleticism and fighting tendencies.

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In 1986, wth years of ice experience from his work in the Utqiaġvik, Alaska, area wildlife biologist Geoff Carroll discusses how he overcame months of obstacles and faced extreme conditions to fulfill his dream of reaching the North Pole. With a team of experienced mushers and resilient Greenland sled dogs, his team navigated treacherous ice, freezing temperatures, and open leads of water. Through unwavering determination and resourcefulness, they triumphantly reached the North Pole, leaving an inspiring mark in the world of polar exploration.

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2022

Geoff Carroll shares his extensive experience as a biologist and wildlife manager in northern Alaska for over three decades. He worked as an area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, overseeing a vast territory and monitoring various land mammals, including musk oxen, caribou, moose, wolves, and bears. Geoff describes his job as multi-faceted, involving research, monitoring, problem-solving, and educational outreach. He enjoyed the freedom to prioritize tasks and work independently. Having retired in 2016, Geoff now spends his time in Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow), maintaining his dog team and embarking on occasional trips around town. He reminisces about the dog team’s past significance in his work, often using it to visit villages, gaining a warm reception from the locals. Nowadays, he focuses on smaller trips and continues to cherish his connection with the Alaskan wilderness.

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Geoff Carroll, a biologist with 30 years of experience in northern Alaska, discusses the notable changes in the region. He mentions the diminishing ice cover, flakier ice formations, and the shift from traditional to modern methods in whale hunting. Despite the changes, Geoff acknowledges the resilience of local hunters and their determination to preserve their cultural practices.

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Geoff Carroll reflects on the fascinating whale counting program that began in 1974. Over the years, the count has improved and provided valuable insights into the whale population’s growth and health. The population has significantly increased, but due to changing ice conditions, the census has become more challenging. The whales are now staying farther from the shore, making it harder to observe them closely. As a result, local whalers are sometimes foregoing the traditional sealskin umiaq and using outboard motors to intercept the whales in their new habitats.

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Geoff Carroll discusses his love for traveling on the ice with his dog team, but notes that the ice conditions have changed significantly. In the past, the ice was more stable, allowing for enjoyable expeditions, but now it has become rough and less safe. He reminisces about his record-breaking sled-dog trek to the North Pole in 1986 with Will Steger and observes that modern North Pole expeditions have adapted their styles due to the less stable ice conditions, with more emphasis on manhauling and the use of dry suits to navigate open waters.

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Geoff Carroll reflects on the changes in the Arctic and how they have and have not impacted the sense of freedom and open spaces he once cherished. While the ice conditions have become less stable, leading to some frustrations and adaptations, he notes that people in the region are generally adaptable and find new ways to navigate the changing environment. While there is a sense of nostalgia for the past, people continue to move forward, embracing new challenges. Geoff also points out that the changes in ice conditions can sometimes show exceptions, with variations occurring in different years, making it a complex and dynamic situation in the Arctic.

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Geoff Carroll discusses the significant decline in caribou herds in the Arctic over the past 15 years, with some populations experiencing at least a 50 percent decrease. This decline is likely linked to warmer winters, leading to icing events that make it difficult for the caribou to access their food. As the population declines, the predator-to-prey ratio changes, resulting in more caribou being preyed upon by wolves and bears. Although there have been signs of recovery, the Western Arctic Caribou herd experienced another decline recently. Despite this, there have been reports of caribou coming close to Utqiaġvik in the last two years, leading to local perceptions that the caribou population is increasing.

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Geoff Carroll discusses the status of Musk Oxen populations on the North Slope, highlighting a positive trend of growth in the southwestern region. He reminisces about his time conducting aerial surveys, covering a vast area of 56,000 square miles, but also acknowledges the inherent dangers in so many flights in small planes and recalls some close calls, leading to mixed feelings of missing the work while being grateful to have come through it all. Despite the challenges, Geoff remains passionate about the Arctic and its wildlife, sharing valuable insights into the changing conditions and the adaptability of both animals and people in the face of shifting environmental dynamics.

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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).

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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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Dr George Durner

Formerly a polar bear expert with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Anchorage, Alaska

Formerly a polar bear expert with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Anchorage, Alaska

https://www.usgs.gov/staff-profiles/george-durner

George Durner is a research zoologist with the US Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center polar bear research program.  He entered this position in 1991 and currently works with a team of USGS scientists to identify and describe the mechanisms that drive the response of polar bears to a changing Arctic ecosystem. He has a BS in biology from East Stroudsburg University, an MS in wildlife biology from Frostburg State University, and a PhD in zoology and physiology from the University of Wyoming. His research focus is in polar bear habitat relationships, particularly on how polar bears have and will respond to declines in sea ice. Hence, his research has been reliant on a 29 year history of polar bear location data gained through the Argos Data Collection and Location System. Much of his research results were used to inform the United States Secretary of the Interior’s decision in 2008 to list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. George is a member of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, and serves as a scientific advisor to the Joint Commissions of the Inuvialuit Game Council and the North Slope Borough for polar bear management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service Polar Bear Recovery team, and the Canadian Polar Bear Technical Committee. George has authored or co-authored more than 25 scientific papers on polar bears and other wildlife.

https://www.clsamerica.com/george-durner

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2022

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. George Durner and his team were able to continue their polar bear research with determination and adaptability. While most team members worked from their homes, the research progressed seamlessly through the use of modern technology, allowing remote discussions and data analysis. The pandemic did impact some aspects of fieldwork, particularly in the interactions with native cultures, but the team took necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. In 2020, they had to cut short their field season, but subsequent years saw successful research operations in Utqiaġvik and Prudhoe Bay, demonstrating their dedication to understanding polar bears’ responses to a changing Arctic environment.

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Dr. Hajo Eicken

Glaciologist, Professor of Geophysics at the Geophysical Institute and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Dr. Hajo Eicken is Professor at the Geophysical Institute and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Before joining the University of Alaska, Dr. Eicken was a senior scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute where he was the head of a research group for sea ice physics and remote sensing. Dr. Eicken’s research interests include studies of the growth, evolution, and properties of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. He is particularly interested in determining how microscopic and macroscopic properties affect larger-scale sea-ice processes and its role in the climate system. In Alaska, Dr. Eicken has spent time on the ice to learn more about the different uses of the sea ice environment and its role in polar ecosystems. Dr. Eicken has participated in several icebreaker expeditions in both hemispheres.

https://seaice.alaska.edu/gi/people/eicken/

In his own words: My main research interests are in the field of sea-ice geophysics. In particular, I am interested in how small-scale properties and (micro)structure of sea ice impact processes on a larger scale as well as the role of sea ice in the climate system. As part of the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2009 I am part of an international group that is studying the seasonal Arctic ice zone through an observing network (SIZONet). You can learn more about this project by visiting the SIZONet site or one of the following web pages: Arctic Observing Network Data site, Alaska Ocean Observing System, Barrow Sea Ice Observatory.

One of the main interests of our group here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is to study in more depth the multiple uses of sea ice as well as its important role in coastal environments. This work ties in with a broader range of activities at the University of Alaska that aim to examine how we as scientists can improve access to the vast amount of data collected during the IPY and beyond in order to help different users of the sea ice (local communities, indigenous populations, industry, government and others) make better planning decisions.

In a rapidly changing Arctic, where sea ice plays an important role not just in the physical environment but also in the context of ecosystems, geopolitics, indigenous knowledge and use as well as economic development, it takes communication and collaboration between different disciplines and interest groups to help us address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that come with change in a responsible and sustainable fashion. I invite you to visit the web pages describing the sea ice research, look at publications by our group or visit the UA IPY North by 2020 Forum‘s web site. If you are a student interested in working on these topics, please get in touch, visit the Department of Geology and Geophysics‘ web pages or have a look at the Resilience and Adaptation Program (RAP) here at UAF which provides opportunities for research and education on these issues in a broader, interdisciplinary context.

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2022

Dr. Hajo Eicken discusses the career progress of former student Matt Druckenmiller and the importance of involving indigenous communities in their work. He also highlights the advancements made by PhD student Oliver Damon in understanding sea ice landscapes using state-of-the-art models and satellite technology. These developments contribute to safer navigation in the ice environment and enhance our understanding of the changing Arctic.

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Dr. Hajo Eicken highlights the proactive role of indigenous peoples in dealing with environmental challenges for centuries. As the director of a research institute, he emphasizes their collaboration with the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center and the Alaska Arctic Observatory Knowledge Hub. These efforts involve developing plans, tools, and resilience strategies in partnership with various tribes and communities to adapt to climate change. Dr. Eicken also commends the leadership of Donna Hauser in the Alaska Arctic Observatory Knowledge Hub, which engages communities and indigenous graduate students in observing and studying the impacts of sea ice changes, coastal erosion, and fisheries-related transformations.

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Dr. Hajo Eicken at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, discusses the impact of changing sea ice conditions on the migration patterns and cultural activities of bowhead whales in North Slope communities. Collaborating with wildlife management departments, researchers have observed that bowhead whales benefit from less summer ice, enabling them to feed more effectively. The presence of open water and ice leads also allows bowheads to be present throughout the winter, facilitating hunting and whale observations. However, the timing of the fall hunt has shifted significantly, with the fall freeze-up occurring later by two to three weeks every decade. This change presents challenges for communities as they navigate wavy conditions and adapt to the absence of ice in the water.

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Joe Fieldman

Assistant Logistics Coordinator, BASC, Barrow, Alaska

Helicopter Pilot, Polar Bear Project

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2022

Joe Fieldman is a helicopter pilot in Alaska, currently involved in the polar bear project with USGS. He works for Prism Helicopters and has been flying in Alaska for five years. Joe is passionate about his work and is dedicated to helping dart and relocate polar bears to their natural habitat. The job comes with its challenges, as Alaska’s Arctic region presents harsh winter conditions with constant weather changes and vast icy landscapes. Joe prioritizes the safety of his team and the bears, ensuring they return safely each day. Tracking and darting polar bears require low-altitude flights and following tracks, which can be complicated due to the white, snowy environment. Once a bear is darted, Joe lands the helicopter in a safe area, allowing the drug to take effect. The well-being of the bears is paramount, and Joe goes out of his way to keep them safe during the process. After the bear is sedated, Joe and the team perform data collection, including measurements and blood samples. They may also mark the bear for future identification. Once the procedure is complete, Joe ensures the bear is in a secure location before taking off. Safety precautions are taken to avoid encountering other predators or disturbing the bear’s natural behavior. After confirming the bear’s departure the following day, Joe continues his important work in the polar bear project.

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Helicopter pilot Joe Fieldman had preconceived notions about the Arctic that proved to be untrue. He expected flat, white ice but found a dynamic environment with pressure ridges and textures. Despite concerns, he found the Arctic more favorable than anticipated. While observing massive ice plates colliding, he realized the Arctic can be unpredictable. Working with majestic polar bears exceeded his expectations. Overall, Joe sees the Arctic as a special and unique place for his work.

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Jean Craighead George

Newbery-winning author of Julie of the Wolves

Jean Craighead George was born in a family of naturalists. Her father, mother, brothers, aunts and uncles were students of nature. On weekends they camped in the woods near their Washington, D.C. home, climbed trees to study owls, gathered edible plants and made fish hooks from twigs. Her first pet was a turkey vulture. In third grade she began writing and hasn’t stopped yet. She has written over 100 books.

Her book, Julie of the Wolves won the prestigious Newbery Medal, the American Julie of the Wolves Library Association’s award for the most distinguished contribution to literature for children, 1973. My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book. She has also received 20 other awards.

She attended Penn State University graduating with a degree in Science and Literature. In the 1940s she was a reporter for The Washington Post and a member of the White House Press Corps. After her children were born she returned to her love of nature and brought owls, robins, mink, sea gulls, tarantulas – 173 wild animals into their home and backyard. These became characters in her books and, although always free to go, they would stay with the family until the sun changed their behavior and they migrated or went off to seek partners of their own kind.

When her children, Twig, Craig and Luke, were old enough to carry their own backpacks, they all went to the animals. They climbed mountains, canoed rivers, hiked deserts. Her children learned about nature and Jean came home and to write books. Craig and Luke are now environmental scientists andTwig writes children’s books, too.

One summer Jean learned that the wolves were friendly, lived in a well-run society and communicated with each other in wolf talk — sound, sight, posture, scent and coloration. Excited to learn more, she took Luke and went to the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Utqiagvik, Alaska, where scientists were studying this remarkable animal. She even talked to the wolves in their own language. With that, Julie of the Wolves was born. A little girl walking on the vast lonesome tundra outside Utqiagvik, and a magnificent alpha male wolf, leader of a pack in Denali National Park were the inspiration for the characters in the book. Years later, after many requests from her readers, she wrote the sequels,Julie and Julie’s Wolf Pack.

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2010

Jean Craighead George, an acclaimed children’s book writer, and the mother of Bowhead Whale expert and Arctic resident Dr. John “Craig” George, expresses her deep connection and love for the Arctic in a conversation with Peter Lourie. Having visited the Arctic Research Lab in Barrow, Alaska in 1970, she was captivated by the wolves, snowy owls, and the Eskimos she encountered. Inspired by her experiences, she wrote “Julie of the Wolves,” a story about a young girl protected by a wolf pack. Her exploration continued as she learned about whaling and the early Eskimos, which she depicted in her book “Water Sky.” “Ice Whale” aims to shed light on the traditional ways of the Arctic’s inhabitants and their adaptation to the modern world. Jean marvels at how the Eskimos and remarkable individuals like Eugene Brower persist in safeguarding their culture and spiritual connection to the sea, land, and ice, despite the challenges posed by technology and melting ice. She emphasizes the presence of dedicated scientists from around the world and highlights her son, Craig, who heads whale research. Jean acknowledges the extreme conditions of the Arctic, including temperatures as low as 50 below zero, which she experienced firsthand. Despite the harshness, she describes the cold as invigorating and yearns to return to the North, a place she finds ethereal and captivating. Jean believes that the Arctic resonates with the American spirit, evoking a sense of wilderness and drawing people into its allure. She concludes by emphasizing the beauty of this last untamed frontier, acknowledging that many may never have the opportunity to witness its splendor.

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Author Jean Craighead George reflects on her journey to the Arctic and the inspiration behind her renowned book, “Julie of the Wolves.” She explains that she initially traveled north after learning from Dr. L. David Mech that wolves are friendly.mJean encountered a young girl in the Arctic, whom she affectionately called Julie. Jean’s understanding of wolves blossomed during her time at the Arctic Research Lab, where scientists taught her about the plants and the ways in which wolves communicate through their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and posture. She developed a unique bond with a mother wolf and her four wolf pups, gradually gaining their trust. Dr. Michael Fox studied the behavior of the alpha male and conducted tests and observations on the wolves, revealing traits like curiosity, perseverance, and assertiveness. Jean found similarities between these wolf characteristics and human behavior.

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In a conversation with the Newbury-winning writer Jean Craighead George, the author discusses her son Craig’s journey to the Arctic and his immersion in the world of whales. After graduating from Utah State, Craig took a job counting whales and never returned home. Jean shares that Craig has been teaching her about whales and taking her on adventures, including camping on the ice in freezing temperatures. She vividly describes the experience of venturing out of a warm sleeping bag into the frigid cold. Jean recounts a moment when she listened to the whales’ low notes from the Acoustics lab, marveling at their unique communication. Inspired by her experiences and Craig’s wealth of knowledge, Jean decided to write a book about whales. Craig provided her with new information, such as how whales play with logs when surrounded by ice. The Eskimos have a deep love for these magnificent creatures, and Jean embarked on writing the story, incorporating the lives of generations of Iñupiat and the bowhead whale they hunt.

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Jean Craighead George describes her unique process of creating panoramic drawings for her books. She explains how she starts with a line and continues sketching, folding the books over and over until a complete panorama unfolds. She shares an example of a drawing depicting people pulling a whale onto land during the spring whaling season. She proudly mentions that many of her books feature her own illustrations, as she studied art in college. While some editors suggested hiring other artists, she found it more enjoyable to illustrate her own books. She also discusses the artwork in “My Side of the Mountain,” clarifying that the drawings were done by Caldecott Medal-winner John Schoenherr. Moving on to her home, Jean mentions her 17-year-old African gray parrot, known for its exceptional talking abilities. The parrot says phrases like “Who let the dogs out?” and recognizes people’s names. Jean showcases Alaskan masks and Eskimo dolls that she collected, along with whale bone carvings and other artifacts.

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Jean discusses various items in her home and their significance. She explains the baleen, which are filters hanging from the roof of a whale’s mouth. These filters, numbering 640 in total, function to separate and capture the whale’s food from the water. The baleen here was brought back by her son, Craig (Dr. John “Craig” George, whale biologist). Jean also points out a painting on the wall by artist Tom Melvin, a friend of Craig’s, who is known for his mural artwork in Chicago. She mentions her long tenure in the house where the interview takes place (in her kitchen), having lived there for 54 years and raising her children there. Jean expresses her attachment to the place, even though it would be practical to move closer to her daughter Twig in Maryland. She takes the interviewer through her office. Jean mentions missing the animals she used to have in the house when the kids were growing up, and she finds solace in her pet African gray parrot, with whom she communicates. Despite not having many animals around anymore, she recalls joyous former times with crows, tarantulas, robins, mice, and white-tailed deer. As she gazes out of her office, she finds inspiration in the beauty of nature, particularly in the dynamic movements of waterfalls and fire.

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Jean Craighead George reflects on her experience traveling to Barrow (now called Utqiaġvik), Alaska, where scientists aiming to reach a wider audience through education outreach took her out on the tundra, teaching her about the depth of the permafrost and the ocean currents. Jean considers it a valuable education and acknowledges the scientists’ desire to bridge the gap between their scientific writings and a broader audience. She recounts how her son, Luke, now a professor at Humboldt College in California, accompanied her and corrected her notes based on what he heard from the scientists. Jean realizes that scientists can convey information effectively but need someone to document it in a more accessible manner. She mentions the fascinating behavior of lemmings, clarifying that they don’t actually run into the ocean but run until they exhaust themselves, falling prey to predators along the way. She recalls how the local Iñupiaq children collected lemmings for the scientists’ study on warming, showcasing their knowledge of where to find them. Jean remarks that these children would make great collectors and humorously suggests that they should be hired now.

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Jean Craighead George passionately describes her fascination with the Arctic during a conversation. She explains that the allure of the Arctic lies in its wildness, unexplored landscapes, and vast open spaces. She acknowledges the people who are born and live amidst the ice and snow, considering them an integral part of the region. Jean emphasizes the enormity and remoteness of the Arctic, which adds to its captivating beauty.

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Dr. John C. "Craig" George

Senior Wildlife Biologist (Bowhead Whales), Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough, Utqiagvik, Alaska

Craig George worked as a Wildlife Biologist with the North Slope Department of Wildlife Management in Utqiagvik, Alaska for 25 years.  Craig earned a B.S. in Wildlife Biology from the Utah State University in 1976 and recently completed his Ph.D. in bowhead whale energetics, age estimation and morphology (comprehensive exams 2001).  Beginning in 1982, Craig worked on and later coordinated the bowhead whale ice-based population assessment project on the sea ice near Point Barrow for nearly two decades.   He also has conducted many postmortem exams on bowheads harvested by Alaskan Eskimos (since 1980) and published a number of papers on this work ranging from evidence of killer whale predation to structural anatomy to population biology. Craig has attended IWC meetings since 1987 focusing mainly on aboriginal whaling management procedures and assessments and population estimation. He has also participated in Eskimo traditional knowledge studies on the North Slope. Craig has lived in Utqiagvik since 1977 and is married to Cyd Hanns, a wildlife technician. Together they enjoy community and outdoor activities with their two sons Luke and Sam.

 A Tribute to Dr. Craig George, Jenny Evans

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2009

Dr. John C. “Craig” George, a senior wildlife biologist in the Department of Wildlife Management for the North Slope Borough, shares his experience and involvement in Arctic research, particularly focused on bowhead whales. He describes his initial work at an animal research facility, his fascination with the Arctic ice, and his transition to studying bowhead whales. Dr. George highlights the significance of the native community’s knowledge and Iñupiaq collaboration in understanding the bowhead whale population. Through acoustic research and refining census techniques, scientists have discovered that a larger number of whales migrated under the sea ice than previously thought. The research findings confirmed the native hunters’ observations, leading to a better understanding of bowhead whale populations and their recovery.

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Dr. George reflects on his unexpected decision to raise a family in Barrow, Alaska, despite the expectations of leaving for better education opportunities. He highlights the unique and appealing aspects of the community, including its small size, diverse activities such as dog mushing, fishing, hunting, Eskimo dances, and the vibrant whaling culture. Dr. George emphasizes the positive aspects of the local schools and the supportive community. He expresses satisfaction with the experiences his family has had, including participating in whaling, festivals, outdoor activities, and encountering wildlife like caribou and polar bears. He appreciates the sense of safety and freedom for children to explore and enjoy the natural surroundings, which he believes is increasingly rare in urban areas. Overall, Dr. George describes his time in Barrow as a rewarding and enriching experience that has offered his family a unique and vibrant slice of America.

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An enthusiast of climbing mountains in the western states of the Lower 48, Craig found a similar sense of fulfillment when he came to the North Slope and in his decades-long exploration of the sea ice. He is passionate about the untouched, pristine nature of the ice and how it creates a feeling of being part of a renewable wilderness area. As a member of the close-knit Utqiaġvik community of whalers and scientists, Dr. George focuses on bowhead whales, emphasizing their extraordinary characteristics. Bowheads are massive creatures, known to reach lengths of up to 60 feet, and potentially even larger based on historical records. They possess thick blubber, long baleen plates used for filtering prey, and remarkably large heads that continue to grow throughout their lives. Bowheads captivated even Charles Darwin, he says, who recognized the uniqueness of their baleen structure. Additionally, evidence suggests that bowheads live exceptionally long lives, potentially exceeding 150 years. Various techniques, such as chemical aging and baleen analysis, provide insights into their slow growth and delayed maturity in frigid Arctic waters. The bowhead whale’s longevity and reproductive patterns contribute to their cultural significance among Eskimo communities, where whaling plays a central role. The act of hunting and sharing the harvested whale is a cooperative endeavor that brings joy and happiness to the community, highlighting the selfless nature of their sharing network. The experience of witnessing the communal celebration and the deep connection to this important resource leaves a lasting impression on Dr. George.

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Dr. Craig George discusses his experiences living and working on the ice and learning from the Iñupiaq about the complexity of ice dynamics and ice safety. The preparations for his study of whales start in winter. He and his crew typically begin moving out onto the ice around mid-April, setting up a 24-hour watch. Due to the changing conditions, they now have to end their work in late May as the ice becomes too soft to remain on the ice pack. Challenges he faces include dealing with polar bears and the risk of ice breaking off and stranding the scientists. Craig talks about when their camp drifted in 1987 and when the ice shattered in 1985, he narrowly escaped onto safer ice. Craig relates stories of his encounters with bears and the need for safety measures and training. His scientific crew consists of scientists and local Iñupiat, and the work is intense and unpredictable, with each year presenting different circumstances. The location of their work along the coast is uncertain, as ice conditions and pressure ridges vary annually. Despite the uncertainties, he acknowledges the success of bowhead whale conservation, with the population rebounding to approximately 13,000 or more after facing the brink of extinction due to commercial hunting early in the 20th century.

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Dr. George reflects on raising a family in the Arctic. Despite suggestions from family and friends in the lower 48 states to leave for better educational opportunities, Craig loved the small Utqiaġvik community, which offers good schools, a supportive community, dog mushing, fishing, hunting, Eskimo dances, and a vibrant whaling culture. He and his wife have had experiences unmatched elsewhere. The region is filled with beautiful rivers, a vast roadless region with few people and abundant wildlife. Utqiaġvik, Alaska, formerly Barrow, provides a sense of safety, allowing its children to freely explore and engage in activities that may not be possible in urban areas.

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2022

Dr. George reflects on raising a family in the Arctic. Despite suggestions from family and friends in the lower 48 states to leave for better educational opportunities, Craig loved the small Utqiaġvik community, which offers good schools, a supportive community, dog mushing, fishing, hunting, Eskimo dances, and a vibrant whaling culture. He and his wife have had experiences unmatched elsewhere. The region is filled with beautiful rivers, a vast roadless region with few people and abundant wildlife. Utqiaġvik, Alaska, formerly Barrow, provides a sense of safety, allowing its children to freely explore and engage in activities that may not be possible in urban areas.

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Dr. Craig George discusses fascinating new cancer research in bowhead whales. As long-lived mammals, bowheads have unique mechanisms for tumor suppression and DNA repair, similar to other long-lived species like elephants and naked mole-rats. Bowheads also exhibit low body temperatures and metabolic rates, which may contribute to their longevity. The research has implications for human medicine. Dr. George expresses excitement about the work but also emphasizes the importance of including the native community that provided the specimens in any major breakthroughs or benefits that may arise from the research.

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Dr. Craig George expresses his enduring passion for going out on the sea ice to observe and study whales, particularly during the spring whaling season. He describes the excitement of the upcoming whale migration, beluga sightings, and the impressive scale of the wildlife spectacle in the Arctic. The conversation also touches on a memorable moment when Dr. George had to briefly leave a whale study to attend a wedding, and upon returning, he was struck by the beauty and joy of being out on the ice. The strong connection between the local community and the whales is emphasized, and Dr. George reflects on how it took time for him to truly understand and appreciate this profound relationship.

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Dr. Craig George talks about local impacts of global warming and changes in the traditional whaling practices of the Iñupiat . The migration of bowhead whales seems to be happening earlier, and there are adjustments in hunting due to weaker ice. The opening of the Arctic has allowed for a more extended fall hunting season, and there are speculations about the potential reasons behind the variations in whale presence, including food availability and the influence of killer whales and vessel traffic. Despite changes, some communities still use skin boats, preserving this traditional method of whaling. However, the impacts of climate change and the ice retreat continue to affect whaling practices and the bowhead whale population.

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Dr. Craig George discusses the attitude of residents on the North Slope towards climate change. Unlike the climate-change hysteria found in some regions, the Iñupiat have a more adaptive approach to the changing conditions. They have been dealing with change and adverse conditions for a long time and are pragmatic about finding workarounds. While they acknowledge the impacts of climate change and potential sea level rise, they remain focused on practical solutions. Their resilience and sense of humor, exemplified by individuals like elder Billy Adams, help them navigate the challenges posed by the changing environment and maintain a positive outlook.

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Richard K. "Savik" Glenn

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s Executive Vice President of Lands and Natural Resources

RICHARD K. “Savik” GLENN is Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s Executive Vice President of Lands and Natural Resources. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (“ASRC”) is the Alaska Native-owned regional corporation representing more than eight thousand Inupiat Eskimos of Alaska’s North Slope. The shareholders of ASRC own surface and subsurface title to nearly five million acres of Alaskan North Slope lands with oil, gas, coal and mineral resources. Richard is a member of ASRC’s Board of Directors. From 1995 to 2001, Richard headed Alaska’s North Slope Borough Department of Energy Management, where he supervised the energy programs for all of the North Slope Borough villages.

Richard received a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from San Jose State University in 1985 and a Master of Science degree in Geology from the University of Alaska (UAF) in 1991. Richard has special expertise in resource development in an Arctic setting, and is well-versed in on and offshore Arctic geologic processes. He is a certified professional geologist in the state of Alaska, and holds positions on many boards and commissions, most of them dedicated to education and scientific research. In addition to other postings, he has twice been appointed by the President to the United States Arctic Research Commission, is the Board President of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Ilisagvik College.

Richard also serves as co-captain of the Savik Ahmaogak subsistence whaling crew. He is a member of the Suurimmaaniichuat Eskimo dance group and a budding rock-and-roll keyboardist.

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2009

Richard K. “Savik” Glenn is the founding president of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (also known simply as BASC) and a board member of the organization. He is also the Executive Vice President of Lands Natural Resources at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. Richard’s strong connection to the Arctic stems from his family history and personal experiences. He is deeply passionate about bridging the gap between traditional knowledge and Western science, recognizing the value of how science/community collaboration can lead to a wealth of insights. Richard’s dedication to connecting his community with visiting researchers and his commitment to preserving and integrating traditional knowledge make him a valuable advocate for the Arctic and its people.

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Richard Glenn, a renowned expert in Arctic science and traditional knowledge, shares his deep understanding of the Arctic environment. Through his experiences studying sea ice and its physical properties, he draws fascinating parallels between frozen ocean layers and cooling lava. Richard emphasizes the importance of being physically present in the Arctic, as it offers a unique opportunity to witness and comprehend the intricacies of nature firsthand. He values the concept of “ground truthing,” where direct observation and experience complement remote sensing technologies. Richard highlights the continuous learning process within traditional knowledge, where individuals pass down wisdom to younger generations, fostering a sense of self-improvement and growth. As a co-captain in his family’s whaling crew, he embraces the responsibility of passing on knowledge and experiences to ensure the preservation of cultural traditions. Richard recounts a perilous incident on shifting ice that taught him the importance of respecting nature’s power and relying on traditional knowledge to make informed decisions.

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Cristobal Granados

Utqiagvik resident from Acuitzio del Canje, Michoacán, Mexico

Utqiagvik resident from Acuitzio del Canje, Michoacán, Mexico, worked in the Arctic for many years, including at Pepes North of the Border, and describes here a little about the life he led in the North before moving back to warmer climates

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2009

Cristobal ‘Christopher’ Granados came to Utqiaġvik from Mexico and has been working here for ten years. Christopher talks about the challenges of living in the Arctic, such as the cold weather and the isolation, and how he copes with it. He also talks about his desire to move to California for a warmer climate and to be closer to his family. Additionally, he mentions traveling to Point Lay, a small town near Utqiaġvik, and his experience living there. Pete Lourie asks Christopher about his feelings towards living in the Arctic, his hobbies, and the wide variety of people who live and work in town.

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Dr. Amanda Grannas

Professor of Chemistry, Vice Provost for Research and Chief Research Officer at Villanova University, Villanova, PA

She was in Barrow in 2008 and 2009 (along with several students) studying the cycling of persistent organic pollutants in air, snow and ice, as well as their potential photochemical breakdown in this region. Her research group is interested in a number of environmentally-relevant topics including cycling of pollutants in the environment, pollutant photochemistry and remediation techniques. She is also involved in a number of education activities including development of environmental chemistry curriculum for K-12 and inclusion of high school students in research activities.

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2009

Dr. Grannas talks about how serendipity works doing fieldwork in the Arctic. While conducting fieldwork on the North Slope, she and a group of scientists had a chance encounter with a local station manager who was also an Iñupiaq whaler. They asked him to help collect some samples for them, and after he agreed to help, he also invited them to join him on an ice-breaking trip that he and his whaling crew were conducting for the upcoming whaling season. He said they could collect the samples themselves. During their trip, they encountered Arnold Brower Sr., a respected whaling captain and Iñupiaq elder who shared his experiences and opinions on climate change. Dr. Grannas and her team had that special experience of hearing stories that illuminated modern and traditional lifestyles of the local Iñupiaq population, noting their use of technology alongside their spiritual subsistence activities. Dr. Grannas believes that in sharing Iñupiaq culture and the Iñupiaq approach to hunting, scientists come to learn so much that can then inform their own science, as well as teach the outside world important lessons.

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2022

Dr. Amanda Grannas discusses her scientific background and how even though she is in an administrative role at Villanova, after being in the field when Arcticstories first met her years ago, she is still actively involved in research, publishing, and mentoring students in the field or lab. She finds it rewarding to see students getting excited about research and flourishing, as well as seeing good science happen. Dr. Grannas thinks fondly of the past when she worked in Utqiaġvik meeting fantastic people like Iñupiaq elder and whaling captain Arnold Brower, learning from his experiences and appreciating the importance of traditional knowledge in the study of science. Grannas recalls a conversation she had with Mr. Brower in 2008 when he spoke about how, with changing ice conditions, it was becoming harder and harder for the Iñupiaq community to read the ice. Later that year, Arnold passed away after his snow machine went through the ice and he couldn’t get back to land and died of hypothermia. Her conversation with Arnold now haunts her because it serves as a powerful example of the impact of climate change on people’s lives.

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Steve Hastings

Steve Hastings is an ecologist who studies the ways in which plants adapt to climate in ecosystems

Steve Hastings is an ecologist who studies the ways in which plants adapt to climate in ecosystems as diverse as the Arctic tundra, chaparral scrub, and deserts. Steve has an undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Nebraska, a master’s degree in marine science from the College of William and Mary, and a PhD in ecology from CIBNOR, a university in Mexico.

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2009

Steve Hastings shares his profound appreciation for the Arctic, emphasizing the dramatic seasonal changes and the unique experiences each season brings. He recalls vivid moments like witnessing a river break free in early spring, observing the synchronous arrival of different bird species, and watching the transformation of the tundra from brown to green with blooming flowers. In the fall, he describes the tundra turning to shades of yellow and orange before snowstorms herald the return of winter. Hastings is particularly struck by the wildlife, recounting a memorable encounter with a herd of caribou in Prudhoe Bay. Beyond the natural wonders, he expresses deep respect for the native people living in the Arctic, highlighting their enduring traditions and subsistence activities. He mentions the significance of whale hunting and the dangerous yet essential practice of ice fishing, illustrating the resilience and cultural richness of the Arctic inhabitants. Hastings’ reflections convey a deep connection to both the dramatic natural environment and the resilient communities of the Arctic.

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Steve Hastings recounts a harrowing experience during a flight from Prudhoe Bay. While waiting for a trailer’s brakes to be fixed, he received a call about a minor incident involving a propeller strike caused by a box left on the runway. Later, as he was about to board his flight, he chose a seat behind the wing rather than in the co-pilot seat. During the flight, the plane stalled after taking off due to the landing gear being retracted, leading to a crash. Hastings, who had been reading a book, found himself in the midst of a cockpit fire following the crash. He miraculously survived with minor burns and crushed vertebrae. The accident left him hospitalized for several months, during which he spent quality time reading and bonding with his elderly parents. Despite the trauma, Hastings continued to fly but experienced anxiety during turbulence, particularly on longer flights. His story is a testament to both the fragility of life and the unexpected turns it can take.

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Steve Hastings shares his extensive experience in Arctic research and logistics. Initially joining San Diego State University in 1980 for Arctic research, he later worked for Polar Field Services, providing logistics for NSF Arctic research across Greenland, Canada, Russia, and the United States. His early work in 1984 focused on studying elevated CO2’s effects on the Arctic tundra, where he encountered unexpected results challenging prevailing hypotheses. His research showed that instead of being a CO2 sink, the tundra was releasing more carbon than it absorbed, leading to significant contributions to the scientific understanding of climate change impacts. In 1990, he shifted to logistics, facilitating research activities in Barrow, Alaska, and interacting with a diverse range of scientists. These scientists, dedicated to their work despite harsh conditions, study various aspects of the Arctic environment, from wildlife to oceanography. Hastings highlights the community engagement in research, particularly in archaeology, where local students gain insights into their cultural heritage. His narrative underscores the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of Arctic research and its profound implications.

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Anne Jensen

Anne Jensen is an archaeologist with the Science Division of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation in Barrow (now Utqiagvik), Alaska

Anne Jensen is an archaeologist with the Science Division of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation in Barrow (now Utqiagvik), Alaska. She has worked on archaeological projects in northern Alaska since the early 1980s, and she and her family have lived on the North Slope since the mid-1990s.

Nuvuk Archaeology Project: https://www.facebook.com/nuvukarchaeology/

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2009

Anne Jensen discusses the archaeology of the North Slope, an area in Alaska that has not been well-explored archaeologically. The logistics of exploring the area are complicated–much of the roadless area is difficult to access. Despite the difficulties, evidence of people on the North Slope over 10,000 years ago has been found, including fluted points and other artifacts. Dating these artifacts, however, can be imprecise due to the wiggling curve of radiocarbon dating. Jensen outlines the challenges of exploring coastal sites, which have been lost due to sea level rise and ice scouring. Dr. Jensen mentions a recent discovery of the Ipiutak Site on the North Slope. Such sites were previously only known to exist further south. The relationship between different cultures in the area, such as the Ipiutak, Thule, and Burner cultures, is also discussed.

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In the video, polar archaeologists Ann Jensen talks about her work in Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska, where she runs the science subsidiary of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC). She explains her involvement in the excavation of a cemetery called Nuvuk, also known as Point Barrow, which was a village settlement until the late 1940s. Jensen and her team have been working on the excavation for the last 10 years and have been able to involve local high school students through a program called Echo. They have been using shovel testing to locate graves and recover artifacts. Jensen shares the excitement of finding a grave with hunting gear, including four harpoon heads, which revealed that the remains were much older than they had originally thought.

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Jensen describes the migration of the Inuit people and their language across a vast area, from Nome, Alaska, to Greenland, which explains that despite the different dialects, people in this vast region all speak a language that is mutually intelligible. The Inuit people have faced various linguistic challenges, such as adapting words due to cultural traditions. Jensen suggests that the Inuit people migrated from Alaska to Greenland around 1100-1200 A.D and that they were likely aided by their experiences living and traveling in cold environments. Finally, Dr. Jensen talks about the discovery of an almost complete pot made from Point Barrow clay on the other side of the Arctic, suggesting that whoever it was that brought the pot must have crossed the region in just a few years.

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Dr. Anne Jenson talks about how the Thule people of Alaska have adapted Yankee whaling technology to their own culture over time. She describes how Charlie Brower introduced the use of Yankee gear to Thule culture and how the community initially doubted its effectiveness. Over time, however, the native community accepted Yankee gear as it proved successful in catching whales. Thule people have continued to adapt and modernize their whaling techniques over the years.

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2022

Arctic Archaeologist Dr. Anne Jensen discusses her work and experiences–how she fell in love with Alaska’s North Slope in the 1980s and moved there in 1996. The work she has done is often driven by the requests and interests of the local community. She talks about the challenges faced during her work.

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Anne Jensen is an active participant in climate change strategies and archaeological responses. She has served as the immediate past chair of the Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Responses Committee of SAA (Society for American Archaeology). She emphasizes that people are becoming more aware of the impact of climate change, even those not residing on the North Slope. She highlights the importance of promptly excavating sites in the Arctic due to the vulnerability of these sites to erosion, fire, and other environmental changes. Anne recognizes the cultural significance of archaeological sites and acknowledges the need to prioritize the preservation of communities’ houses and schools. Anne argues that certain regions, like the Arctic, require continued and rapid excavation. She criticizes the inadequate funding allocated to Arctic research compared to other areas.

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Dr. Jensen collaborates with geologists, engineers, and other experts to understand permafrost degradation and its implications for ongoing engineering projects. She emphasizes that the engineering community in Alaska often underestimates the challenges posed by permafrost degradation. The effects of changes in the permafrost on infrastructure are significant and not well understood. In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to her work, particularly in conducting interviews in remote villages. The pandemic also restricted travel, and some institutions prevented fieldwork in inhabited areas. However, Anne expresses that they are now beginning to regain momentum in Arctic research and fieldwork activities.

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Arcitc Archaeologist Anne Jensen discusses the limited presence of archaeologists working in the Arctic region, particularly the North Slope. Anne herself has been engaged in contemporary archaeological work, including monitoring the removal of tar barrels that were used for shore protection in the 1960s. She highlights the significance of documenting such community-based projects. Anne explains that archaeologists in the Arctic study not only ancient remains but also more recent sites. She mentions the challenges of finding earlier occupation sites due to factors like sea level rise and ice cover. She talks about how Arctic archaeologists establish chronologies.

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Coastal erosion makes Arctic archeology difficult. Also changes in sea level, and permafrost thawing. Many sites are disappearing as a result of these environmental factors. However, there is still a need for archaeologists to be present when new discoveries are made. Projects in areas with known archaeological sites often require monitoring, although it may not always allow for immediate action. Anne mentions that erosion is not only a problem in the coastal areas but also affects sites located along rivers and creeks. Additionally, with the warming of permafrost, sites in Greenland have experienced decay and loss of organic preservation. Bacteria that become active as the permafrost thaws can degrade the organic materials, leading to further deterioration. She shares her experience working with hunter-gatherer artifacts and the need for accurate interpretations based on firsthand knowledge.

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Wendy Johnston

Kitchen Manager, Ilisagvik College

2009

In this video, Wendy Johnston recounts a memorable incident involving polar bears in Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska. She recalls an October, four or five years prior, when polar bears congregated on the campus, preventing people from entering or leaving for half a day. Describing an instance where a young polar bear roamed the parking lot near dining patrons, she highlights the community’s response, including a creative solution by a heavy equipment class instructor using a backhoe to scare the bear away. Johnston also discusses the risks and misconceptions about polar bears, emphasizing that they are wild animals, not the cuddly creatures often imagined. She shares stories of polar bears lounging on the tundra, affecting local life, and recounts a tense moment when a professor’s husband, attempting to photograph a bear, was cautioned about the animal’s speed and potential danger. Johnston’s narrative captures the unique challenges and experiences of living in close proximity to wildlife in the Arctic, showcasing the community’s adaptability and respect for nature.

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Wendy Johnston, originally from Anchorage, moved to Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska, nearly 15 years ago for a rotational program at the local college. Discovering that full-time employees received free tuition, she pursued the unrestricted CDL program at the college and obtained her CDL, a notable achievement, especially as a female in Alaska at that time. She recalls an incident where her CDL skills were unexpectedly called upon to assist a local elder, a task that garnered attention and respect within the community. Wendy continued her education in business administration while working at the college and now manages two departments: the kitchen and shipping/receiving. She describes the unique challenges of living in Utqiaġvi, such as starting cars 30 minutes before use due to extreme cold and being vigilant for polar bears. Wendy also highlights the cultural diversity in Utqiaġvi, with a mix of Iñupiat Eskimo, Tongan, Samoan, Filipino, Mexican, and other communities, making it a culturally rich and varied environment. She reflects on her journey from Anchorage to Barrow, emphasizing the differences even within Alaska and the enriching experience of working with diverse staff and cultures at the college.

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Dario Levia

Former Proprietor NARL Hotel, Utqiagvik, Alaska

2009

Dario Levia is a Chilean immigrant who moved to the United States in 1979 to work as a welder in New Orleans and New York. Later, he learned that cleaning toilets in Alaska would pay $18 an hour, so he moved here. From 1982-87 he worked in Prudhoe Bay on the pipeline. He eventually settled in Barrow, now Utqiaġvik and worked for a company that managed a building that was previously a hotel and now serves as a residence for scientists to stay when they come to Utqiaġvik to study. He has been working here for over 10 years and enjoys the solitude and the cold weather. He goes back to Chile to visit his family for several months each year, and his older son sometimes comes to help him during the summer.

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Dr. Paty Matrai

Senior Research Scientist Emerita at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Senior Research Scientist Emerita at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Boothbay Harbor, Maine. 

Interim Technology Transfer Officer

Air-Sea Exchange Laboratory

Biological Oceanographer Paty Matrai from Bigelow Lab, Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Dr. Paty Matrai is a Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in beautiful mid-coast Maine. Trained as a biological oceanographer, she became interested in biological-chemical interactions at the air-sea interface and, in polar regions, at the seawater-ice-snow-air interface. Her group focuses on biological production of gases and aerosols that are exchanged with the overlying atmosphere, both in the lab and in the field. The hardship of frequent sampling in and over the Arctic Ocean has led to build and/or deploy automated and autonomous systems that can sample the atmosphere and the ocean for chemical and/or biological processes; this is essential in a changing Arctic.  Dr. Matrai is now retired.

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2009

Arctic researcher Dr. Paty Matrai reflects on her time in the Arctic, where 24-hour daylight and the breathtaking colors of the ice captivated her. She shares anecdotes of encountering polar bears, emphasizing the need for caution in the awe-inspiring presence of this protected species. Dr. Matrai also discusses her attempts through public outreach to convey the Arctic’s sensory experience, acknowledging the challenge of fully capturing its beauty and immensity in words and visuals.

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2022

Dr. Paty Matrai shares insights on how immigration, development, shipping, and tourism are affecting the Arctic. There’s a growing awareness among researchers and funding agencies about the necessity to collaborate with local communities and obtain proper permits for research. As interest in the Arctic rises, inexperienced individuals entering the region raise safety concerns. Dr. Matrai emphasizes the critical role of basic science and ice quality in addressing these challenges. Her experience aboard a research vessel highlights the changing conditions and the importance of considering safety and environmental impacts.

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Dr. Lily Peacock

Research biologist for the US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK

Research biologist for the US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK. Lily has studied Polar Bears in Canada where they are still harvested by native peoples.

Lily Peacock is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the United States Geological Survey at the Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK. She specializes in population ecology, harvest management, ecological genetics, polar bear conservation.

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2009

Polar bear biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Dr. Lily Peacock discusses the effects of climate change on polar bear populations and emphasizes the importance of monitoring polar bear harvests. While climate change is likely the primary factor impacting polar bears, monitoring harvests (in Canada native people still hunt the polar bear for food) is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, continuing to harvest polar bears adds to the overall decline caused by climate change. Secondly, climate change is expected to increase polar bears’ interactions with humans, leading to a potential increase in harvest rates. Additionally, due to the heightened international scrutiny surrounding polar bears and their conservation, understanding the impacts of a harvest on bear populations is essential.

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Dr. Lily Peacock had no idea she would end up studying polar bears and large mammals in the Arctic. Originally majoring in entomology and focusing on insects, her interests shifted while studying salmon in Alaska during graduate school. Fascinated by the impacts of human activities on animals, she began studying black bears and their population management in Southeast Alaska. Dr. Peacock found counting animals to be challenging yet intriguing, appreciating the complexity and mathematics involved. Eventually, she applied for a job studying polar bears in Nunavut, an opportunity that led her to a remote Arctic hamlet near Baffin Island. Living there for four field seasons, she and her husband embraced the adventure and the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture. The traditional lifestyle, language, and food captivated them. After deciding to return south, Dr. Peacock took a job in Anchorage, where she continues her research.

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