Santosh Muralidaran tackles energy and environmental challenges in rural Alaska

March 23, 2024
By Yuri Bult-Ito

Santosh Muralidaran
Photo courtesy of Santosh Muralidaran/ACEP
Santosh Muralidaran is a research fellow at ACEP.

Santosh Muralidaran joined ACEP as a research fellow through the Alaska Fellows Program. He works on th

e research team led by Erin Trochim, research assistant professor for the UAF Institute of Northern Engineering and former research faculty at ACEP.

Muralidaran’s recent work includes two projects with the team. One involves conducting a retrospective analysis of the 2019 Alaska Environmentally Threatened Communities Assessment to update data and knowledge on how coastal erosion, flooding and thawing permafrost affect vulnerable communities in Alaska as a result of climate change.

This project is reevaluating the 5-year-old assessment by talking to the people involved in the original report and to interested community members to understand how risk assessments can better represent the unique needs of communities across Alaska. This includes updating datasets evaluating the existing threats as well as consideration of other threats like landslides and fire. Muralidaran presented on this project at the Alaska Forum on the Environment in Anchorage last month and will be presenting it at the International Conference of Permafrost in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada in June this year.

“Santosh's dedication to understanding the challenges of environmentally threatened communities in Alaska shines through his work,” Trochim said. “His commitment to rigorous research methods promises a bright future for him in this critical field.”

The other project Muralidaran has worked on is to research and estimate the costs associated with connecting off-grid communities in Alaska and northern Canada to continental power grids to support decarbonization and the integration of renewable energy sources. For this project, Muralidaran works on creating visualizations of existing and future transmission lines — the conductors that transmit electrical power from a generating substation to distribution units — in the Arctic. He creates maps of the transmission lines by using existing raster and vector data on Google Earth Engine and Python, a programming language.

Muralidaran grew up in a moderate climate of the Bay Area in California but was always fascinated by cold climates. He went abroad for his undergraduate degrees, earning his dual B.A. between the University of British Columbia and the Paris Institute of Political Studies (also known as Sciences Po Paris). While he studied political science and economics for his degrees, he focused many of his extracurriculars on sustainability work, particularly in the clean transportation and renewable energy fields and gained a strong background in the social sciences and data analysis.

Santosh Muralidaran on skis
Photo by Eleanor Gagnon.
Santosh Muralidaran prepared a “Wild West” theme for the Fairbanks Ivory Quest 2024 in February. For this annual 9-mile race, participants mush, skijor or ski, the last of which is his newly acquired hobby.

While Muralidaran enjoyed the colder climate of Vancouver in winter, the constant Pacific Northwest rain left him longing for the sun. His appointment with ACEP was a great opportunity for him to exercise his skills and experience learned during his studies but also to live in a place with plenty of cold and sunny days. When not at work, Muralidaran has been enjoying cross-country skiing since he arrived in Fairbanks. One of his fondest memories this year is skiing 10 km at 22 below zero Fahrenheit, although he admits that will be the lowest temperature he will be skiing.

Muralidaran finds the trails on the UAF campus beautiful and says that the views never get old. He takes advantage of the beauty Fairbanks has to offer and enjoys running and hiking as well. He can also be found listening to alternative and indie rock music and tracking random flights on Flightradar24.