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Document 2467527
Alaska EPSCoR is a partnership devoted to growing Alaska’s scientific research
capacity, funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Alaska.
Winter 2008/2009
Learning from the Experts
EPSCoR researchers make use of traditional knowledge
From the Director
Peter Schweitzer
As Phase III of Alaska EPSCoR
nears its midpoint, it is time for us
to reflect on our progress thus far
and to start making plans for the
next phase. As to the former, recent
months have seen a visit and a report
by our External Advisory Committee, a baseline report by our team of
professional evaluators and, perhaps
most importantly, a “reverse site visit”
to the National Science Foundation
Outreach, EPSCoR researchers have learned, runs in both directions.
Even as Alaska EPSCoR makes plans to disseminate its research results through
rural Alaska, scientists studying climate conditions and climate change in the Bush
say they are gleaning at least as much knowledge from local residents as the scientists
hope to impart.
“Field-based social science researchers realized early on that Native residents hold
tremendous knowledge,” stated Alaska EPSCoR director and UAF anthropology
professor Peter Schweitzer. “But it is a much more recent development that researchers across the science spectrum have come to acknowledge how much their own fields
can benefit from working with indigenous people.”
In mid-September, Terry Chapin,
Lil Alessa, Elena Sparrow, Anne
Sudkamp and myself traveled to
NSF Headquarters in Washington,
D.C., to give a presentation of our
accomplishments, meant to serve
as a review of our progress halfway
through the three-year lifespan of
our Phase III grant. Members of the
review panel received an overview of
our research and outreach capabilities and the hurdles we still have to
overcome to further our mission
of improving research capacity in
The NSF came away especially
impressed with our interdisciplinary
focus and with the inclusion of the
social sciences in our efforts. To quote
their report: “The panel commends
the state for its innovative effort of
integrating the social sciences into
its research effort … the leadership
understands that the successful
achievement of their research goal
has the potential to transform the
scientific approaches to studying
climate change.”
Even as we continue to enhance our
research efforts in Phase III, we’re
Continued on page 10
University of Alaska
photo by Tom Moran
Herbert Anungazuk of Anchorage and Joe Leavitt and Ronald Brower of Barrow address a crowd of
University of Alaska Fairbanks students and faculty in an October 15 presentation.
Or, as former Wales resident Herbert Anungazuk, recently told a roomful of UAF
researchers, “I can tell you, you have a lot to learn from us, and we have a lot to learn
from you.”
Anungazuk, who now works for the National Park Service in Anchorage, spoke at
an Oct. 15 event which brought himself as well as Joe Leavitt and Ronald Brower –
both of Barrow – to the UAF campus to lead a discussion called “How We Learned
What We Know: Indigenous Experts Document Arctic Ice and Climate Change.”
The event, co-sponsored by UAF’s Resilience and Adaptation program as well as by
Continued on page 11
Integral to Integration
Chapin Helps Lead Interdisciplinary Science Efforts
Terry Chapin’s entire academic
career has been about expanding
photo by Tom Moran
Starting out as a plant ecologist,
the longtime professor at UAF’s
Institute of Arctic Biology
moved into ecosystem ecology,
then on to studies of climate
feedbacks and land-atmosphere
interactions. That in turn led
to his current interest in socialecological systems, areas where
Terry Chapin
complex natural processes intersect with the equally complex world of human behavior.
“Human institutions influence a lot about the way in which people
manage ecosystems or influence ecosystems,” Chapin said. “And
then also, the ecological patterns determine the services and the
benefits that ecosystems provide to society. To try to develop a
more sustainable future, you need to think about those interactions.”
Now, as co-principal investigator of Alaska EPSCoR, Chapin is
taking expansive notions of scientific subject matter and applying
them to the science. The only way
for scientists to study the interrelated
functions of ecosystems and human
institutions, he posits, is for science
itself to operate with fewer barriers.
That means integration of efforts
across disciplines – the hallmark
of the whole Alaska EPSCOR
helped author 10 books, co-authored more than 400 refereed publications, and had more than 200 abstracts published. In addition to
his IAB and EPSCoR posts, he’s a co-director of UAF’s Resilience
and Adaptation Program (RAP), director of the Bonanza Creek
Long-Term Ecological Research Station, and a member of the
governor’s Subcabinet on Climate-Change Adaptation.
Chapin said Alaska has kept him enthralled for three decades
thanks in part to its status as an unparalleled natural laboratory
for research into ecology – and, in recent years, climate change –
and human relationships to it.
As an example, Chapin cited one of his recent research foci, fire
science. Climate change, largely a result of human influence, is
increasing Alaska’s wildfires, threatening life and property in rural
areas. At the same time, Native communities are facing hugely
increased fuel prices, so clearing out forests near villages could
increase fire safety while providing wood for heating or power
generation and also improving moose habitat. Add to that Native
cultural understandings about fire, Chapin noted, and you have
an intricate scenario that reaches across disciplines.
“To get to the point where you can think about adaptation options
Continued on next page
“I think that’s probably been the
largest challenge that the EPSCoR
program has faced is how to put all
the pieces together,” he said. “That’s
the part I’m most interested in.”
Chapin brings an impressive
scientific background to EPSCoR’s
integration efforts. He received
his bachelor’s in biology from
Swarthmore and his Ph.D. in the
same field from Stanford; notwithstanding nine years at Berkeley, he
has been at UAF since his professional career began in 1973. He
has been showered with accolades
throughout his career, including a
Guggenheim fellowship, and has
photo courtesy Terry Chapin
Alaska EPSCoR Co-Principal Investigator Terry Chapin visits the site of a forest fire in spring 2005 as
part of an ecosystem research project.
EPSCoR Briefs
Continued from previous page
New Staff at EPSCoR Main Office
photo by Tom Moran
to climate warming requires an understanding of the climate
system, it requires an understanding of disturbance dynamics of
ecosystems, it requires an understanding of the things that people
can do to a fire regime, as well as the direct responses to fire and
the cultural implications of those effects of fire on people.”
Chapin’s research efforts combine rural community outreach with
integration efforts in more ways than one. As he sees it, Native
lifestyles aren’t just a noteworthy subject of research, but a natural
model for integration.
With the overcoming of disciplinary and geographic barriers in
mind, Chapin and co-PI Lil Alessa are leading EPSCoR’s current
efforts to foster integrative science through a variety of methods:
a framework built around computer modeling and other cybertools; regional integration teams arranged across Alaska; and a
series of fellowships and incentives for UA researchers pursuing
integrative topics. Much of EPSCoR’s integrative experiment
remains a work-in-progress, one Chapin would ultimately like
to see result not just in closer relationships among researchers,
but more collaboration across UA’s campuses and between the
university and schools and communities.
He’s also focusing on how research results can be better incorporated into real-world policy decisions, an issue he’s dealing with
firsthand as a member of the governor’s Subcabinet on Climate
Change. “That’s the part I’m most interested in,” he said. “Trying
to make research more policy-relevant and useful to communities
or regions that are interested in seeking a more sustainable path
in the future.”
Despite his many administrative positions, Chapin still tries to
keep research on the front burner, spending much of his time
doing hands-on science in conjunction with the RAP program
grad students. But he also continues to work on integration
science through Alaska EPSCoR; he will remain a co-PI through
the end of this grant cycle in 2010 and plans to continue with
the program during its proposed next phase, which will feature
a renewed focus on integration science. He calls the program a
perfect fit for his interests.
“EPSCoR’s ultimate goal, I think, is to enhance the sustainability
and reduce the vulnerability of Alaska to the variety of changes
that are impinging on us, and that’s basically the same as my own
personal and professional goals,” Chapin said. “I’m really happy
to be able to participate in a program like that.”
photo by Tom Moran
“A lot of the traditions of academia are very partitioned out so
that they fit neatly into courses and departments, and research
programs and so forth,” he said. “I think lots can be gained by
beginning to put those back together again, which is much more
the way indigenous groups think about issues: they don’t separate
out people from nature, they don’t separate out wildlife harvests
from their economic goals of getting through the year, versus
their educational goals of educating their kids. It’s all part of the
same thing.”
Julia Parzick
Jacki Wilson
There are two new faces at the main Alaska
EPSCoR office on the UAF campus. Our new
administrative coordinator is Julia Parzick,
who joined us in June after 13 years at the UAF
History and Northern Studies department. She
is the first point of contact for everyone who
comes in or calls, and keeps EPSCoR’s paperwork (especially travel expenses) under control.
Also on board is Jacki Wilson, who has been
keeping EPSCoR’s finances in order since September as the organization’s new fiscal officer.
Previously she spent a year and half with the
UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences,
preceded by two and a half years at UA Statewide’s Department of Academic Affairs.
International Recognition
EPSCoR director Peter Schweitzer and executive officer Anne
Sudkamp both have been re-elected as members of the governing
council of the International Arctic Social Sciences Association.
Schweitzer previously served as IASSA president from 2001-04
and as a council member from 2004-08, while Sudkamp served
as executive officer of the association from 2001-04 and as a
council member from 2004-08. They were re-elected to the
9-member council during the 6th International Congress of Arctic
Social Sciences, held in August in Nuuk, Greenland.
The mission of the organization is to promote research by social
scientists in the world’s arctic and subarctic regions. Other members of the council hail from Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Norway
and Scotland.
EPSCoR Office Wins Fuel Conservation Award
The employees of the main office of Alaska EPSCoR, located on
the West Ridge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have been
awarded the “Don’t Be Fuelish” prize by the Northern Alaska
Environmental Center and the Fairbanks North Star Borough for
their efforts in taking alternative transportation to work over the
summer of 2008.
The contest challenges Fairbanks commuters to keep track of how
many miles they accumulate over the course of the summer by
walking, bicycling, running, carpooling or riding the bus. EPSCoR
employees travelled 3,129 miles, or 625.8 miles per capita, enough
to beat out the 20 other organizations that participated. The chief
reason for the office’s success was Administrative Coordinator Julia
Parzick (see above), who commutes from North Pole to Fairbanks
five days a week via bus - more than 30 miles a day. Tom Moran
also contributed by exclusively biking to work.
James Edwin was awarded a $30,000 2008 Early-Career Grant. His
name was inadvertently left out of the summer newsletter.●
Fertile Ground for Study
UAS Undergrad Examines Southeast Gardens
For Elizabeth Kunibe, an X on a map marked a path to years of
fruitful research.
The EPSCoR-funded University of Alaska Southeast undergrad,
on a field trip for a class called “Archeology of Glacier Bay,” was
navigating an island using a hand-drawn map from 1965 with
an X that marked a garden site. Kunibe was surprised to discover
that three-foot tall garden rows still stood on the spot.
“I was just shocked that this garden was here,” said, Kunibe,
a nontraditional student who came to UAS after a career in
theatrical set design. “I wrote my final class paper on gardening
and potatoes, and started to realize that Tlingit people had been
growing them around here for several hundred years.”
The chance encounter led to an enduring interest in Tlingit gardening practices for Kunibe, a senior majoring in social science
with an anthropology emphasis. First she discovered two varieties of Alaskan potatoes which the US Department of Agriculture
officially classified as Native American potatoes – two of just five
such varieties in the world. Then, with funding from a $5,000
EPSCoR undergraduate grant, she began an exhaustive inquiry
into historic and current Native gardens centered in Southeast
Alaska. The project has involved research in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Palmer as well as visits to Sitka, Angoon, Haines,
Klukwan, Skagway, Whitehorse and Galena.
Kunibe said she’s uncovered a rich but little-known history of
gardening throughout Southeast. Residents of many villages
would plant gardens of root vegetables - like rutabagas and parsnips - on islands on their way to fish camps, Kunibe said, then
harvest them in the fall.
She said the gardens have mostly disappeared over the course
of the last century for various reasons, chief among them the
islands being parceled out by the U.S. Forest Service for homesteads and fox farms. Also, Tlingits in Sitka lost their island
gardens in WWII when the government forbade private water
Red-Hot Research
Biomass Fuels are Topic of Study for EPSCoR Grantee
Robbin Garber-Slaght won’t object at all if her research goes up in
Garber-Slaght, a UAF undergrad,
spent the summer working on an
EPSCoR-funded project to study
the potential of various quick-growing Alaska plants to serve as replenishable fuels for a planned biomass
Robbin Garber-Slaght power plant. The work was done in
partnership with Chena Hot Springs
Resort, which has plans to follow up the construction
of a geothermal power plant at the resort with a pilot
biomass plant.
Resources and Sciences Professor Steve Sparrow.
Though research took up the bulk of her time, GarberSlaght said that useful material was often hard to come
by. “Actually there was very little information on the
photo courtesy Robbin Garber-Slaght
photo by Tom Moran
“To demonstrate the same (geothermal plant) technology using biomass, that’s the concept,” said Gwen
Holdmann, who until recently worked as vice-president
of new development for the Fairbanks-area thermal resort. “The idea is that it should be a demonstration for
potential rural Alaskan applications.”
Garber-Slaght, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, used a combination of library research and
fieldwork in an attempt to gauge the growth rates of
fast-growing Interior Alaskan trees and shrubs, such as
alders and willows. Her labor was funded by a $5,000
EPSCoR undergraduate research grant and overseen by
Holdmann – who now runs UAF’s Alaska Center for
Energy and Power – as well as UAF School of Natural
Robbin Garber-Slaght measures fauna growth rates in the Delta area.
growth rates of willows and alders,” she said. “There’s a
limited amount of knowledge out there on how to grow
She was still able to cull information out of a variety of
sources, from experiments in Sweden and New York state
travel. Tuberculosis outbreaks and other disruptions, combined
with the increasing availability of imported food, also hastened
the end of individual and community gardens.
“In 1952 they grew 4,000 pounds of potatoes in Angoon,”
Kunibe noted. “Today they don’t have a garden.”
Kunibe’s research has combined the study of archival documents
with open forum discussions with villagers about their recollections of local garden practices. “A lot of people forgot about
gardens, it got pushed back in their memories,” she said. “It
reminded them of a lot of lost history.”
Kunibe is also looking at gardening in the present: some Tlingit
communities are restarting communal gardens, mostly as an
antidote to the poor nutritional value and troubling additives of
much store-bought food. Angoon is reviving its garden, she said,
and Klukwan has been planting a community garden for several
years after almost a century without one. “The change is coming
from within the communities,” she said. “The people within
these communities are brilliant and concerned with making
dietary changes that contribute to people’s health.”
Kunibe was able to expand her study to Galena after winning
$750 in an EPSCoR poster contest. She has since received a
to data used in reforestation projects after the building
of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The remainder of her
work was spent surveying farmland, mostly in the Delta
Junction area, which had been left fallow for a three-year
period as conservation reserves and has since sprouted
willows and alders.
Garber-Slaght reached several noteworthy conclusions:
first, the felt-leaf willow – “which everyone (in Alaska)
uses to revegetate everything,” she noted – is a potential candidate for a biomass crop in Interior Alaska.
Second, she conjectures that, based on natural growth
rates measured in the field, it may require more than the
hoped-for three-year crop cycle to feed a biomass plant.
“I’m leaning towards the idea that a three-year cycle is
too short,” she said, noting that fueling the plant with
three-year-old willows would likely require an untenable
amount of acreage.
On the other hand, Garber-Slaght said the jury’s still
out on the issue because of the uncontrolled conditions
in the Delta fields. She noted that Sparrow has planted a
crop at the UAF Experimental Farm that should provide
more specific information about the crops and their potential growth rates, which can be augmented considerably through the use of fertilizer and other techniques.
Holdmann agreed that the results for growth in the wild
were less than had been hoped for based on growth rates
measured elsewhere, and chalked up the discrepancy to
photo by Kim Getgood
Elizabeth Kunibe at Potato Point in Angoon, site of a historic garden. She’s
crouched in a furrow between garden rows roughly two feet high.
second EPSCoR grant, this one for over $7,000, to further
her research. Her primary goal is to continue her work with
communities to foster information-sharing on gardening,
and to study which potato varieties and cultivation practices
are appropriate for different areas. “It’s a great idea to have
a garden, but people have them and they fail,” she said. “So
I’ll be doing some comparison of varieties and precipitation
levels to obtain potatoes suited to the environment.”
Continued on page 10
Alaska EPSCoR Announces
There are 31 2008-09 Alaska EPSCoR graduate student fellows, 30 of whom
work in the fields of physical science, biology and social science. The last fellow is
focused on outreach efforts. Fellows hail from all three main University of Alaska
campuses and are enrolled in a variety of master’s and doctoral programs.
Biology Fellows
Jennifer Rohrs-Richey, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Christa Mulder
Focus: Susceptibility of alders to canker disease and its relationship to drought conditions.
photo courtesy Jennifer Rohrs-Richey
Jessica Beecher, M.S. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Diana Wolf
Focus: Latitudinal variations of cold tolerance in the subspecies
kamchatica of arabidopsis lyrata
(lyre-leaved rock cress).
Ryan Cooper, M.S. candidate,
Advisor: Link Olson
Focus: The prevalence of historic
genetic changes versus recent ones
in Alaskan mammals, in particular the hoary marmot.
Daniel J. Glass, M.S. candidate,
Advisor: Lee Taylor
Focus: Cataloging and studying Alaskan fungi through DNA
analysis, and attempting to connect newly discovered types of
fungi to documented ones.
Social Science Fellows
Stacey Fritz, Ph.D. candidate,
Advisor: David Koester
Focus: The changes in Alaskan
communities brought about by
the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line radar system.
Jordan Lewis, Ph.D. candidate,
Advisor: Gerald Mohatt
Focus: Concepts and perceptions
of aging among Alaska Natives.
Karen Hibbard-Rode, Ph.D candidate, UAF
Advisor: Kris Hundertmark
Focus: The history and identity of
North Slope caribou herds, examined through landscape genetics
and oral history.
Kyndall Hildebrandt, M.S. candidate, UAF
Biology Graduate Fellow Jennifer Rohrs-Richey
Advisor: Link Olson
Focus: Habitat and characteristics of the Glacier Bay water shrew. selected villages.
James Sowerwine, M.S. candidate, UAA
Advisor: Matt Carlson
Focus: The spread of the invasive
species melilotus alba (white
sweetclover) and its effects on
moose browse.
Marcy Okada, M.S. candidate,
Advisor: Gary Kofinas
Focus: Modeling and projecting the social-ecological changes
of oil and gas development on
Ryan Kovach, Ph.D. candidate, UAS
Advisor: David Tallmon
Focus: The coastrange scuplin and its adaptability to changes in
habitat features.
Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Peter Schweitzer
Research focus: The connections between fish resources and the
cultural identity of Northwest Alaska Natives.
Colin Shanley, M.S. candidate, UAS
Advisor: Sanjay Pyare
Focus: Balancing access and subsistence needs against wildlife
habitat conservation.
Neva Hickman, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Terrence Cole
Focus: The historic adaptation processes of residents of Alaska’s
Western Arctic.
Zach Meyers, M.S. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Stephanie Ickert-Bond
Focus: Landscape genetics and biogeography of oxytropis (locoweed).
Jedediah Smith, M.A. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Amy Lovecraft
Focus: An inventory and study of Alaskan watershed councils.
2008-09 Graduate Fellows
photo by Todd Paris - University Marketing and Communications
Becky Warren, M.S. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Joshua Greenberg
Focus: Energy security and use in rural Alaskan villages and the
frameworks available for transitions to sustainable independent
power generation.
Qiang Li, M.S. candidate, UAA
Advisor: Zhaohui Yang
Focus: The effects of seismic activity on civil infrastructure in
areas of permafrost and seasonally frozen soils.
Amanda Rinehart, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Jeremy Jones
Focus: The fate of organic nitrogen released by melting permafrost and its relation to nitrogen fluxes in headwater streams.
Leslie Simmons, Ph.D. candidate, UAA
Advisor: William Schnabel
Focus: An investigation of contaminants associated with rural
municipal solid waste sites.
Nickolas Straka, M.S. candidate, UAA
Advisor: Thomas Ravens
Focus: Modeling the erosion processes of the North Slope coast
and assisting a village or villages in setting up a coastal erosion
monitoring system.
photo by Todd Paris - University Marketing and Communications
Social Science Graduate Fellow Marcy Okada
Paula Williams, Ph.D candidate, UAA
Advisor: Lilian Alessa
Focus: The effect of perception on decision-making, particularly
in regards to Arctic resource management.
Josh Wisniewski, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Peter Schweitzer
Focus: Marine mammal hunters in Shishmaref and their adaptations to ecological changes.
Physical Science Fellows
Margaret Cysewski, M.S. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Yuri Shur
Focus: Historic permafrost engineering research in Fairbanks.
Matthew Dillon, M.S. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Yuri Shur
Focus: Designing a 3-dimensional frost heave cell.
Megan Leach, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Vladimir Romanovsky
Focus: The effects of snow cover and vegetation on the thermal
characteristics of discontinuous permafrost.
Edda Mutter, Ph.D. candidate, UAA
Advisor: Birgit Hagedorn
Focus: An assessment of the health hazards of current solid waste
disposal practices in rural Alaskan communities.
Paul Perreault, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Yuri Shur
Focus: The feasibility of using frost-protected shallow foundations on building projects in Alaska’s discontinuous permafrost
Physical Science Graduate Fellow Yu Zhang
Erin Trochim, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Douglas Kane
Focus: Documenting changing water-tracks and vegetation patterns in the Arctic and examining their relationships to permafrost thaw patterns.
Yu Zhang, Ph.D. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Leroy Hulsey
Research focus: The liquefaction of partially frozen or thawed
soil during earthquakes.
Outreach Fellow
Tom Moran, M.F.A. candidate, UAF
Advisor: Alaska EPSCoR
Focus: Grant writing, publicity and community outreach.
Stemming an Invasion
EPSCoR Graduate Student Studies Non-Native Clover
James Sowerwine doesn’t wear
his scientific interest on his
sleeve. He wears it around his
Sowerwine, an EPSCoR-funded
graduate student studying
invasive species at the University of Alaska Anchorage, has
decorated his right calf with a
James Sowerwine
tattoo of Hypericum canariense,
an invasive form of St. John’s wort he studied as an
photo courtesy James Sowerwine
Sowerwine grows animated when he talks about
sweetclover, describing how the biennial plant, used
to make honey and as a homeopathic remedy, worked
its way centuries ago from Europe to collection and
cultivation in America. He said it was likely introduced to Alaska when it was handed out more than
75 years ago by a Canadian research station on the far
side of the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. “It’s a really
interesting story, actually,” he said.
“Biologists, man, we’re a funny bunch,” said Sowerwine.
The body art is a symbol of the dedication Sowerwine, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Plant Science Biology from UC-Santa
Cruz, has to his area of study. Sowerwine said the
topic of invasive species excites him because of its
relationship to both human and natural systems, and
because he sees control of invaders as a concrete and
visceral way for research to have a real impact.
“At the end of the day you walk away and feel really, really good about what you’re doing,” he said. “I
haven’t found a lot I can do where I can simply look
at the work and say, ‘this does some good.’”
Sowerwine’s interest in floral invaders led him to enroll in the UAA master’s
program in Biology
under professor Matt
Carlson, who specializes
in plant ecology and
conservation biology.
Sowerwine’s research
focus in Anchorage
has been a study of the
invasive plant species
Melilotus alba (white
photo courtesy James Sowerwine
sweetclover) and its poCenter: James Sowerwine’s lower-leg
tential effects on moose tattoo of Hypericum canariense, an
invasive species of St. John’s Wort he
browse along Alaska’s
studied as an undergrad.
road and river systems.
photo courtesy James Sowerwine
Sowerwine weighs experimental samples of Melilotus Alba for analysis.
Sweetclover was planted in Alaska with marginal
success but soon took to the wild, traveling by road
and river until it established a still-growing habitat
stretching from the Matanuska-Susitna valley to
partway up the Dalton Highway. The problem with
M. Alba, Sowerwine explains, is its direct competition with native plants. His research is focusing on its
impact on felt-leaf willow, a popular form of moose
browse. Willows are now forced to fight for space
with sweetclover, increasing stress on the willow – and
potentially triggering the release of protein-binding
tannins, a defense mechanism usually reserved for
stresses like moose bites. By binding up proteins, the
tannins make it harder for moose to extract nutrition
from the browse, putting a new stressor on moose
“If you simply take a look at the amount of energy
a moose can pull out of plants, tannins bind up that
protein energy,” Sowerwine explained. “That’s the
Continued on next page
Continued from previous page
photo courtesy James Sowerwine
Sowerwine is studying the problem through a variety of experimental means. First, he planted 1,000
pots full of both M. Alba and red fescue (a stand-in
for willow) to evaluate their interactions through
the seedling stage. Second, he cultivated 400 willow
cuttings in a greenhouse and planted 100 of them
in the field in various
situations. He’s freezedried the results and
is subjecting them to
microbiology tests to
determine tannin levels
and other characteristics.
Third, he’s been gathering sweetclover samples
from within the state
to look for any genetic
differences in separate
The first two experiments involved Sowerwine taking some
initiative, refurbishing a
greenhouse which had
White sweetclover (Melilotus Alba.)
fallen into disuse after
the end of a bioremediation project for which it had
been built. “It filled up with boxes,” he said. “I went
around and finally found someone who was finally
able to obtain a key to it.”
Sowerwine, who plans to complete his master’s in
May 2009, said the final data from his experiment
could be useful to the Alaska Department of Fish and
Game in calculating moose carrying capacities. As for
the sweetclover itself, Sowerwine said public information, removal campaigns (like one underway on the
Dalton Highway) or biocontrols could stop its spread,
but it won’t be eliminated.
“It really doesn’t have any natural competition,” he
noted. “It’s essentially something we can learn to live
And also something to commemorate: Sowerwine
says he may memorialize this study the same way
he did his last one, another memento of a budding
“I have space for it,” Sowerwine said. “The Hypericum
(tattoo) was designed with space for a Master’s. And
so on.”
Phase IV in the Works
Concept Papers Due Dec. 22
Alaska EPSCoR is calling for brief concept papers from
research teams interested in participating in EPSCoR’s
planned Phase IV. Papers are due by December 22, 2008.
The Phase IV grant request to the National Science Foundation is proposed to be a progression of the current Phase
III, which broadly focuses on resilience and adaptation to
climate and social change and consists of three components - biology, physical science and social science - linked
through an integration core.
It is proposed that Phase IV continue to focus on interdisciplinary topics which integrate social, biological and physical
sciences and are key to Alaska’s future, such as energy, water, food systems and mobility. Phase IV research proposals
should use both qualitative and quantitative methods and
employ emerging approaches such as agent-based modeling,
scenario development, information technologies or remote
Alternatively, the Phase IV proposal to the NSF could be
composed under a different theme, as long as it builds on
and integrates the aforementioned and/or other developing strengths and disciplines in the University of Alaska,
is connected to Alaska’s specific strengths and needs, and
is sufficiently broad to engage a critical mass of UA system
Successful proposals should:
• Identify a theme, and describe how exploring that
theme will build self-sustaining research capacity in
promising fields that are both relevant to the NSF and
appropriate to Alaska;
• Engage a diverse team which includes contributors
across disciplines, departments, institutes, colleges, and
• Contain provisions for public outreach and education;
• Outline a specific implementation plan; and
• Lead to permanent changes in research capacity, such
as: new tenure-track faculty, major equipment, or commitments from the university to fund staff salaries or
program expenses beyond 2015.
Proposals will be judged on their intrinsic merit, the appropriateness of their theme to Alaska, their likelihood of being
successfully implemented, and their impact and sustainability. The anticipated support level for each particular
research theme is $500,000 to $1 million per year for five
years, from 2010-2015.
Papers initially will be reviewed by members of the EPSCoR
subcommittee of the Alaska State Committee on Research
(SCoR). Authors of papers selected to advance to the next
stage will be informed on Jan. 23, 2009, after which time
more detailed proposals will be required for further review.
The full proposal is slated to go to the NSF no later than
October 2009.
Full submission guidelines and contact information can be
found at http://www.alaska.edu/epscor.
NASA EPSCoR Gets Off the Ground
A new Alaska branch of the national
NASA EPSCoR program is offering
researchers in the last frontier an opportunity to develop technology for
the final frontier.
NASA EPSCoR serves a function
similar to NSF EPSCoR, working to
channel aerospace funding towards
states and territories generally underrepresented in the field. Though
the federal program was created in
1994, NASA did not consider Alaska
eligible at first because it was already receiving substantial aerospace
money. The organization changed its policy in 2006.
“We said if the NSF can consider us an EPSCoR
state, if the NIH can, then Alaska should be considered too,” noted Anupma Prakash of the University of
Alaska Fairbanks.
Neal Brown, Denise Thorsen, and Prakash, all from
UAF, submitted a proposal in early 2007 to create the
Alaska NASA EPSCoR program, which would disperse travel and grant funding through a proposal process. The team was granted $400,000 in NASA funds
and a $400,000 match from the University of Alaska.
The first two seed grants were written into the original grant proposal
and were provided to Thorsen and
Dejan Raskovic for a project to develop small satellites to observe the
earth environment.
The NASA EPSCoR program has
two avenues of funding available
to University of Alaska researchers.
The first is through the aforementioned travel and seed grants, which
are reviewed and selected internally.
The second is through a yearly research solicitation to NASA, which
is limited to two proposals from Alaska per year submitted through the NASA EPSCoR program office.
One of two proposals submitted in the first round was
funded, while neither second-round proposal received
NASA funding.
Additional funding opportunities will be available in
forthcoming years. NASA EPSCoR evaluates proposals based on their scientific merit, their alignment with
the research needs of the state, and their promise to
increase the research capacity in the state.
For more information on NASA’s EPSCoR program
visit http://education.nasa.gov/edprograms/national/
Biomass Research
Continued from page 5
the harsh local conditions. “It indicates we need to be
careful in Interior Alaska about making assumptions
about how much biomass can grow as a fuel crop.”
Garber-Slaght’s final data was turned into an article
for possible scholarly publication, and will be published in pamphlet form by the UAF Agricultural and
Forestry Experimental Station. One major beneficiary
is likely to be the hot springs resort, which built a
$2.2 million geothermal power plant in 2006 and
continues to promote and support alternative energy.
The resort’s biomass plant is expected to cost $5
million, funded through private and grant funds.
Current plans call for the plant to be sited on the
Richardson Highway outside of Fairbanks; pending
state grant funding, Holdmann said the resort plans
to break ground on the project next spring.
The plant initially would be fueled by burning brush
and paper from the Fairbanks North Star Borough
landfill, then later by fast-growing wood crops, and is
projected to produce about 400 kilowatts of power enough for a medium-sized bush village.
Director’s Letter
Continued from page 1
already making plans for EPSCoR Phase IV, which – if
funded – would run from 2010-2015, as per new NSF
guidelines which call for a five-year program. Phase IV
would be funded at a maximum of $4 million a year
plus a 50 percent non-federal match, which could mean
a budget of up to one and a half times that of Phase III.
Even though the program wouldn’t start for two years,
we’ve already begun the process of formulating our
proposal. Our intent is to focus again on topics crucial
to Alaska’s future, such as energy, water, food systems
and mobility. While we anticipate that Phase IV will be
in one way or the other a progression of Phase III, we are
open to new ideas for transformative research.
Initial Phase IV concept papers will be due in December
(see the item on page 9) and we look forward to the
chance to further develop the Alaska EPSCoR program
while addressing some of the specific challenges Alaska
faces in the near future. As we continue to improve
Alaska’s research capacity, every contribution counts. 
Native Expertise
Continued from page 1
Alaska EPSCoR, came about as a result of increased scientific focus on indigenous knowledge of climate change.
“There is a huge interest today in getting access to knowledge shared by indigenous experts, who have a deep understanding of the climate they live in,” noted Smithsonian
cultural anthropologist Igor Krupnik, who moderated the
The program afforded the Arctic Coast Natives a chance
to discourse on local information about sea ice and coastal
photo courtesy Katey Walter
EPSCoR Early-Career Researcher Katey Walter gives a public presentation during a research trip to the village of Atqasuk.
conditions and how it is acquired in rural communities.
Leavitt stressed the way Native knowledge is handed down
generationally. “Listening to the Elders is the best way you
could actually learn,” Leavitt said. “We’re actually learning
all the time, we never stop learning. We never stop adding
to our knowledge.”
In addition, Leavitt pointed to the importance of direct
experience of the natural world. “The animals play a big
part of what we learn,” he said. “We learn it through hunting experiences and just watching the animals.”
Leavitt and the other speakers also offered numerous
nuggets of local wisdom. Leavitt said he could tell when a
large chunk of ice floated far offshore by studying the sky,
“just like a television.” When the moon gets a halo around
it, Brower offered, there’s a storm brewing. And Brower
said to learn how not to safely move around on the Arctic
Ocean, “all you have to do is watch how a polar bear walks
on thin ice.”
UAF Geophysical Institute sea ice specialist Hajo Eicken,
also a panelist at the presentation, said the sort of indig-
enous expertise the three men offered up is invaluable in
sculpting experiments and research methodology. “If I go
up to Wales or Barrow, I’m an undergraduate in the University of Sea Ice,” he offered.
The Oct. 15 talk was a rare opportunity to hear Native
experts speak in an academic setting. In many other cases,
EPSCoR researchers have picked the brains of locals in the
course of fieldwork. EPSCoR co-principal investigator and
UAF biology professor Terry Chapin noted that rural hunters are able to give him detailed information about climate
conditions in areas where official records have been scant.
“The observations of hunters who go out on the land have
documented really clearly many of the patterns that we’re
only just beginning to see as a scientific community,” he
Chapin also pointed out that Native Alaskans are proud
of their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and
their methods and techniques for coping with climate
changes are scientifically valuable. “If there’s any group
of people that can figure out ways to deal with the rapid
changes in environment and ecology that are happening,
I think these people have the skills and capacity to do it ...
I’m certainly learning much more from them than they are
from me.”
Early-career grantee Katey Walter, who has made two
trips to the North Slope village of Atqasuk to study lake
methane bubbling, said she has made it a point to meet
with local residents and talk about her research. The UAF
researcher said the meetings have helped her engage with
the community and exposed her to both local knowledge
and a willing cast of assistants.
“It’s really important, I’ve been learning, to meet with
the people who have such a tight relationship with the
landscape,” she said. “So the first thing we do when we get
there is to hold a community meeting … I’ve found that
to be really productive, because they get maps out … they
start getting involved, and then they take you out to those
sites and help make the measurements and they are very
curious about it themselves.”
Of course, gathering indigenous knowledge has always
been a crucial part of social science research. EPSCoR
undergraduate grantee Elizabeth Kunibe, who is working
on a project documenting historic gardening practices in
Southeastern Alaska communities (as well as Skagway and
Galena), said her project benefitted immensely from local
knowledge, which she said has proven far more detailed
than anything she could find in written records.
While such question and answer sessions with locals are a
common research practice for anthropologists, Kunibe said
she’s tried to take it a step further by actively collaborating
with residents and by prominently featuring their contributions in her presentations and research posters. She’s also
started producing bilingual posters in English and Tlingit.
“Everything is 50/50,” she said. “People have traditional
ecological knowledge, so if you go into a community you
need to respect that - to treat people as equals, and as part
of the team.”
Save These Dates!
The 2009 calendar is filling up with Alaska EPSCoR-related
events. Please keep these dates in mind:
April 6-10, 2009: Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference and Forum (WAISC), Nome
May 11-13, 2009: NSF EPSCoR Social-Ecological Systems
Workshop, Anchorage
May 13-15, 2009: Alaska EPSCoR All-Hands Meeting,
September, 2009 (dates TBA): AAAS Arctic Science
Conference, Juneau
photo by Tom Moran
Poster session attendees at the 2008 Alaska
EPSCoR All-Hands Meeting in Fairbanks. The next
meeting will be held May 13-15, 2009 in Anchorage.
Grant Editing Program for Rural Campuses Still Available
Tom Moran, a creative writing master’s student at UAF with an extensive writing background, is available through June 2009 to help craft and
edit grant proposals for Alaska’s rural campuses. His job is to correct minor problems (grammar, clarity, style) and to make suggestions for how
writers can correct larger ones (emphasis, organization, compliance with proposal requirements). Tom can work on NSF grants and also grants
for the USDA and other organizations.
Any University of Alaska rural campus director who plans to submit a grant proposal is strongly encouraged to forward it to Tom at [email protected] Please also include a copy of the program solicitation for the proposal, and also copy the email to Alaska EPSCoR executive
officer Anne Sudkamp at [email protected]
Alaska EPSCoR Newsletter Winter 2008
Writer/Editor Tom Moran Photo Editor Tom Moran Design Tom Moran
UA is an affirmative action/equal
opportunity employer and
educational institution.
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EPSCoR newsletter, or if you have received this
newsletter in error, please contact Tom Moran at
[email protected] or (907)474-5581 to
be removed from the mailing list.
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University of Alaska Fairbanks
P.O. Box 757010
182 Arctic Health Research Building
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7010
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