Academic Tuesdays: March 28, 2023

Students drill into ice as they perform research in the field.
Students drill into ice as they perform research in the field.

By Karsten Hueffer, interim dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics         
    Diane Wagner, associate dean of CNSM, department chair biology and wildlife
    Carl Tape, professor of Geoscience

Interdisciplinary education in the natural sciences
Wicked problems such as climate change require complex and interdisciplinary solutions. As Mike Toman from the World Bank put it: “Climate change is an issue that presents great scientific and economic complexities, some very deep uncertainties, profound ethical issues, and even lack of agreement on what the problem is." Preparing students for interdisciplinary work while also acquiring deep knowledge is a goal of UAF and the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. This approach is an opportunity for UAF to maintain its leadership in educating leaders in natural sciences with a Northern focus. Teams in CNSM and other colleges have developed programs that allow students, both undergraduates and graduates, to sharpen their interdisciplinary skills. The new Bachelor of Science in Climate and Environmental Change and the Earth Systems Science graduate programs provide new opportunities to students at UAF. 

Bachelor of Science in Climate and Environment Studies
Meeting the enormous scientific and social challenges posed by climate change will require college graduates broadly trained in science and policy and able to communicate effectively to a diverse audience. The B.S. in Climate and Environmental Change is a new interdisciplinary program that combines coursework in science and environmental management with upper division work in policy, culture, and communication. Students will learn marketable tools such as Geographic Information Systems, with the opportunity to acquire additional tools such as remote sensing and advanced data analysis. Many courses in the program focus on the circumpolar North, where climate is changing most rapidly. Students emphasize areas of special interest and expertise by choosing among four concentrations representing different aspects of climate change: environmental earth science, physical processes, ecological processes, and sustainability. The concentrations prepare students for different aspects of environmentally-related work in government agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations, and articulate with Earth Systems Science and other graduate programs.

Graduate programs in Earth System Science
The field of Earth System Science evolved in the 1980s at a time when scientists realized that they couldn't entirely understand any one component of the Earth – such as its atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere, biosphere, and geosphere – without understanding the links among all components. The current climate crisis is just one example of this interconnectedness of Earth’s systems. The UAF graduate programs in ESS provide a curricular response to what UAF is already renowned for: world-leading research in Arctic sciences. What are the impacts on Alaskan inhabitants – people, animals, plants, and life of all varieties – in a warming climate? What kinds of statewide scientific measurements and modeling can help guide a large-scale understanding of how Alaska's land, waterways, airways, and life will evolve and adapt? The ESS program will establish a large cohort of students and faculty spanning three colleges, six departments, and five research institutes. All students will take a small set of core classes in ESS and then choose to concentrate in one of eight domains: Sustainability, Ecosystems, Hydrology, Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, Cryosphere, Solid Earth Geophysics, Geoscience, and Geospatial Science. The first ESS seminar series will kick off in fall 2023 (Fridays at 11:45 a.m.), and all students and faculty are encouraged to participate and help guide the future of ESS at UAF.

For more information visit our website or contact the College of Natural Science and Mathematics at if you are interested in either of these programs.