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ASSW Fairbanks

2016Posted by Ruth Vingerhagen Mar 28, 2016 19:26
Immediately after the Excom meeting the Arctic Science Summit Week started (ASSW). Events kicked off on Friday with the Icebreaker complete with drumming in the Museum of the North, but we didn't stay long since there was a storytelling event in town. 'Dark Winter Nights' was a series of eight speakers (including one audience member and a hibernating ground squirrel) who all told a short story set in Alaska. Topics ranged from building outhouses on permafrost, journeys across Alaska in the winter and the lengths one goes to to get a rock sample from Denali NP. A hugely entertaining and memorable evening: there is no beating a good storyteller.

On Saturday I went to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and EU-PolarNet workshop on research needs for Arctic health and wellbeing. Arctic communities suffer higher rates illness including poorer mental health compared to more southern communities. Distance and language barriers have hindered several health initiatives. There were several references to 'health sovereignty': it is no good flying in an outside person once in a while with their 'message', the impact of such interventions needs to be monitored and the community needs to be trained and empowered to help themselves, this includes having their say in research programmes, the collection and interpretation of the results. An important distinction was also made between health and well-being: it is no good being in physical good health if your community and culture has disappeared as a result of external factors such as climate change. The talks all emphasised the point that research affecting people needs to engage those people and attain long-lasting solutions beyond the completion of short-term projects. An apt quote from 'Together Today for our Children Tomorrow' (Yukon, 1973) was read out at the end and remains relevant 43 years later: "We (the Yukon Indians) need research to show us the best way to take advantage of the good parts of the Whiteman Way, while at the same time keeping the best parts of the Indian Way...We must decide what we feel needs to be researched. We may need some help, but we must make the final decision"

That evening there was the Arctic Cinema and Science Festival - 10 short films in one evening. What I remember most is a scene from the film 'We are all related here' set in the village of Newtok which will vanish due to sea level rise. A new site has been identified but it seems funding has dried up for the new buildings. Funding will not be released for the new school until children live at the new site, but no families will move there whilst there is no school. There was also footage of the local shop full of sweets and junk food, brought home the discussions of the AMAP/EU-PolarNet workshop earlier in the day.

Sunday morning was the 'Do we speak the same language of science?' symposium organised by some of the IASC Fellows. This consisted of short talks by speakers from a wide variety of disciplines followed by two panel discussions. There were some very thought-provoking ideas and suggestions on how to communicate your research and embed it in the wider picture. Not to just stay within your discipline but reach out wider, for example, to museums. A published research paper is not the end, but the beginning of getting that knowledge into a place where it can make a difference.

Sunday afternoon was the EU-PolarNet open meeting where the main discussion centred around their priorities document which will influence EU polar-related funding calls in the near future.

My ASSW experience was rounded off by a trip to the Chena hot springs and a highly recommended Silver Gulch Tundra Apple Ale at Fox, just outside of Fairbanks.



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