Alaskans are well acquainted with rapid change — from our weather and climate to the ever-changing response by communities and industry to economic, policy and environmental shifts. We’re seeing statewide temperatures climb three to four degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were a lifetime ago, and our warming oceans are affecting fish, seabirds, marine mammals and those who rely on them for food or work. Also in constant flux are the state’s economic drivers and energy options, such as the ups and downs of the natural resource industry or emerging opportunities in the renewable energy and climate change mitigation sector. To make informed decisions that will enable us to cope with these shifts, Alaska needs research that is nimble, timely, and addresses our state’s unique priorities and changes.
Investing in University of Alaska research on our region’s changing climate can provide the flexibility to stay ahead of tomorrow’s problems and develop the knowledge, technology, and solutions we need to compete successfully in the marketplace. Along with state and federal support, University of Alaska donors are helping to make our state more resilient and responsive to climate change impacts and new priorities.
One of those generous donors, the late Roger Markle, created the Roger A. Markle Climate Change Adaptation Endowment by investing $2.1 million in the UAF International Arctic Research Center. Through his generous support, Markle, a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, left a lasting legacy in an area that mattered to him — funding climate change research that makes a difference in the lives of Alaskans. By doing so, he is helping guide the future of research in Alaska.
Ocean acidification is an emerging problem and state priority where University of Alaska endowments like Roger Markle’s are already making a difference. Commercial fishermen, subsistence users and sport fishermen alike are concerned about the threat of ocean acidification to salmon, shellfish, crab and the ocean system as a whole. But in Alaska, we don’t have a solid understanding of the current status of ocean acidification in our waters, how it may interact with climate change, or what solutions can be developed to maintain food security and support fisheries and aquaculture.
Markle’s endowment earnings now help support research to understand how ocean acidification in the Gulf of Alaska may interact with climate change. Addie Norgaard, the UAF graduate student in charge of the project, hopes her work will help the subsistence and commercial fishing communities in the area adapt to and plan for the future.
Such swift response to a regional need is increasingly critical in Alaska. Traditional mechanisms for supporting research, such as through federal grants, are often reactive, sluggish and at times focused on national or global priorities at the expense of local needs. With less restrictive funds, scientists can be more responsive to community needs and partner with local communities, regional organizations, the private sector and others.
National funding initiatives often support research that answers broad questions that have limited use for community level planning and decision making. With the right Alaska-minded funding partners, university researchers can go the extra mile by tailoring models and data analysis to meet specific local needs. Such “downscaled” information can make a real difference in the lives of Alaskans. For example, projections of future snow can inform community-specific snow loads for building projects, extreme rain event statistics can improve culvert and bridge designs, and knowledge of typical weather conditions over remote airfields can make flights to rural Alaska safer.
Roger Markle’s endowment is a great step forward and a new beginning for responsive and place-based scientific research to directly benefit Alaskans. We are grateful for his confidence in the University of Alaska and his generous investment in our students and researchers who are working to find solutions for Alaskans.
Hajo Eicken is the director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center and an expert on Arctic climate change.