Friday Focus: Putting U in UAF – Arctic security research

September 17, 2020

Tori Tragis

Faculty and staff involved in aspects of Arctic security research and education work together to make the U of UAF. Photo by Matthew Westhoff, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.
Faculty and staff involved in aspects of Arctic security research and education work together to make the U of UAF. Photo by Matthew Westhoff, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

— by Nettie La Belle-Hamer, interim vice chancellor for research

As a lifelong Alaskan, I embrace the many ways in which Alaska is unique. Where we live and who we are is different enough from mainstream America that we unintentionally surprise people.

Our location, for example, often confuses people, including many of our fellow Americans. How many times have you been told that you cannot get something shipped to Alaska because it is outside the continental U.S.? Well, we are not — Alaska is very much a part of the North American continent! However, the maps shown every day during the national weather forecasts of every news channel show Alaska as an “island” off the coast of California, right next to Hawaii. These erroneous maps do us all a disservice, masking the strategic location of Alaska along with its size.

The United States is an Arctic nation. Alaska is why. However, if you have the mental image in your head of the news channel maps, as many leaders from the Lower 48 do, the U.S. is not an Arctic nation at all! Often, the only American representatives at international Arctic discussions are from Alaska, not the federal government. This creates an inequity in discussions with foreign leaders, at the least. We need this to change for Alaska, and you can be involved in creating that change.

Security challenges extend to the Far North and are starting to be embraced at the national level. The Air Force recently published their new Arctic Strategy, with Alaska front and center. What does this mean for you, here at UAF? As America’s Arctic university, UAF is involved in many aspects of Arctic security, which creates opportunities for members of Nanook Nation to become a part of the global conversation. This means you. (Through AlaskaX, you can get a taste of these capabilities through free online courses in a variety of subjects, including Arctic security. Check it out!) In the meantime, let’s look where some of these opportunities exist today.

In 2013, UAF established the Center for the Study of Security, Hazards, Response and Preparedness, or C-SSHRP, within the School of Management’s homeland security and emergency management program. The center was established as a partnership with College of Natural Science and Mathematics, Geophysical Institute and the International Arctic Research Center. C-SSCHRP was envisioned as a focal point to create new opportunities in which to tie both the academic and the research capabilities of the institution together. 

As the center developed and grew, it became increasingly clear that an area of emphasis was developing in terms of the Arctic, specifically the interests of the U.S. Department of Defense when it came to national and, to a certain extent, human security. An outgrowth of this was the development of the Arctic Defense Security Orientation. Interest in ADSO, managed by C-SSCHRP at UAF, helped to showcase UAF in the DOD Arctic Collaborative Workshops, in the development of a six-hour executive session for senior members of the DOD, and in the delivery of the U.S. Alaskan Command Arctic Maritime Symposium and Arctic Symposium.

Based on the interests of those who had continued to work with C-SSCHRP, this year it was decided that a more appropriate name for the center moving forward is the Center for Arctic Security and Resilience. The newly renamed CASR will provide the primary focus for UAF with regard to Arctic security while simultaneously continuing its work on both human security issues and disaster management under the added focus area of resilience.

In 2018, the Geophysical Detection of Nuclear Proliferation University Affiliated Research Center was established at the Geophysical Institute to detect, locate, characterize, and assess the threat potential of nuclear activities worldwide through research, development, testing, and evaluation of scientific and technological capabilities. The Geophysical Institute at UAF was a natural choice to house the GDNP UARC, owing to its long history of supporting the national technical means. The UARC status also enables any U.S. government agency to quickly issue a sole-source contract that falls under its core mission and core competencies, increasing our engagement in DOD research.

But Arctic security means more than just DOD. Included in the concept of security for America’s arctic is food security, search and rescue, and the many aspects of domain awareness. The Center for One Health at UAF recognizes the interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health, and that a holistic approach to the well-being of all will lead to improved health outcomes and enhanced resilience. This interdependence is intricately tied to food security here in the Arctic. 

The Arctic Domain Awareness Center is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence hosted by the University of Alaska, with research conducted at UA campuses in Anchorage and Fairbanks and across a growing network of academic and industry partners in the United States and Canada. The center's principal customer is the U.S. Coast Guard, whose Arctic search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and security missions must constantly evolve to meet the needs of a changing Arctic. 

Arctic security concerns span many disciplines, creating opportunities for you and me as we pursue our interests in research and education here at UAF. There is much work to be done in the physical sciences, the biological sciences, One Health, and political science, to name just a few. With the implementation of a new policy studies center proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaskans like us will see more ways in the near future we can be involved in creating the desired security for our Arctic.

How will you contribute to making the Arctic secure for generations to come?

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is asked to contribute a column.