Arctic research in the United States over the next two years should include a greater focus on Indigenous knowledge and needs, a report from a government agency said.
The U.S. Arctic Research Commission, the agency that advises the president and Congress on research needs, issued its biennial report Wednesday on goals and objectives for 2023 and 2024.
The report identified five priority areas: environmental risks and hazards, community health and well-being, infrastructure, Arctic economics, and research cooperation. All five priority areas address pressing concerns of Alaska’s Indigenous people.
Environmental risks and hazards are largely connected to climate change, and some of the people most affected are subsistence hunters and fishers, the report said. Crashes of western Alaska salmon runs, for example, have been linked to climate change in the ocean and in the upriver spawning areas. Research in the coming two years should increasingly focus on how climate change is affecting people and how people can respond to it, the report said. “While continuing research to understand the physical basis of climate change, we must increase emphasis on responding to its impacts by focusing on risk reduction, attribution, sustainability, mitigation, and scenario development,” it said.
The goal of improving community health and well-being includes attention to the continuing disparities between Arctic and non-Arctic residents, such as the higher rate of maternal mortality and other poor health outcomes to the mostly Indigenous residents of rural Alaska. Research cooperation encompasses greater emphasis on co-production of knowledge with Indigenous experts.
The greater emphasis on Indigenous issues might reflect the commission makeup, said executive director John Farrell. Three of the seven commissioners are Alaska Native, the most ever for the organization, he said. “The reason we’re hearing more about that, in part, is because of representation,” he said.
While more cooperation and consultation at the local and tribal level is already happening, the bad news is that research cooperation between scientists in Alaska and in Russia have disintegrated, officials said when the report was released.
A lot of U.S. scientists who had been working with Russian colleagues are now shifting their international efforts to the Nordic nations or Canada, Farrell said.
Not all ties with Russia have been severed, however. Russia, along with eight other nations and the European Union, remains a party to the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement that has established a preemptive moratorium on any commercial fishing in international waters of the Arctic Ocean.
Representatives of the Russian government are scheduled to participate – albeit remotely and not in person – in a March meeting in Utqiagvik, Farrell said. That meeting concerns the development of a joint scientific program, which is a product of the fisheries agreement.
“That is one area where Russia is still participating,” he said.
The biennial goals and objectives report released Wednesday is one of the key responsibilities of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. The commission also coordinates with the state of Alaska, academics, the National Science Foundation and other organizations that carry out the research.
In addition to laying out the five broad priorities, the report identified some emerging research opportunities and areas of interest, including mariculture, considered part of a “blue economy”; drone-assisted research; electric vehicles; and small-scale nuclear energy production.
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