UAA’s 2019 ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment awardees make important strides in Arctic research

by Michelle Saport  |   

Faculty and students at the University of Alaska Anchorage are researching some of the Arctic's most pressing issues, from how climate change is affecting Alaska's buildings and infrastructure to how increasing solar penetration is affecting power system stability for Arctic communities. Funded by the ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment, the 2019 awards for these exploratory research projects total more than $470,000.

"UAA faculty and students live and work in the only Arctic state in the U.S.," UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said. "ConocoPhillips' generous gift provides continuous support to conduct critical research in this important region."

Selected projects must promote and grow the fields of Arctic science and engineering, demonstrate a likelihood of major scientific or engineering impact and strongly connect to community and industry. Programs, research and activities inclusive of Alaska students, communities, projects and opportunities are given priority.

Created in 2008 with a $15 million gift from ConocoPhillips Alaska, the endowment provides annual support to Arctic science and engineering programs and research at UAA and is the largest endowment in the University of Alaska system.

Researchers collaborating

From left to right, Thomas Folan, Gennady Gienko, Kurt Meehleis and Rob Lang discuss their project to update Alaska's long-outdated snow load data and maps. The project was one of four proposals selected for 2016 ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment awards. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

The winning projects for fiscal year 2019 include:

Improving cooling performance of battery backup facilities (Getu Hailu, principal investigator) Cellphone towers and antennas in remote areas depend on battery backup systems to provide uninterrupted service to users, especially in emergency situations. To avoid degradation of the batteries' performance, facilities must maintain an ideal temperature range. This project aims to develop a simple, cost-effective strategy for cooling battery backup facilities.

Combustion and dispersion model of particulate matter from in situ oil burning (Jifeng Peng, principal investigator) In situ burning is a widely used method in onshore and offshore oil spill cleanup. First responders nationwide lack the tools to accurately model particulate matter dispersion patterns associated with in situ oil burning, which limits its use. This project aims to develop a modeling tool to predict dispersion in order to minimize exposure to humans and the environment.

Determining interdependencies in critical Arctic networks (Sebastian Neumayer, principal investigator; Mohammad Heidari Kapourchali, co-principal investigator) Many remote villages in Alaska rely on infrastructure for power, communication and other necessities. Geographical remoteness makes the reliability and resilience of the networks that provide these village services essential. This project's objective is to model the interdependencies of critical networks in Alaska to ensure their reliability and resilience.

Building a new "pipeline" of oil spill recovery research at UAA (Patrick Tomco, principal investigator; Khrystyne Duddleston, Aaron Dotson and Timothy Bradner, co-principal investigators) This project aims to develop new opportunities for oil spill research and outreach at UAA to help shape a new integrated teaching, research and outreach platform. The project will focus on conducting research to facilitate external funding opportunities, enhancing undergraduate education, and fostering research collaborations between the university and external partners.

Operating photovoltaics in Arctic environments: Potential threats to Alaskan power systems (Mohammad Heidari Kapourchali, principal investigator; Ahmed AbuHussein and Matthew Kupilik, co-principal investigators) Increasing solar penetration in Alaska has the potential to impact power-system operation for both grid-connected communities and rural diesel-based microgrids that use solar energy. The proposal aims to identify potential risks of increasing solar penetration of photovoltaics, the systems used to convert sunlight to electricity, to power system stability and efficiency for Arctic communities. This study provides hands-on research experience to undergraduate students.

Toward the prediction of climate change impact on the built infrastructures in Northern Alaska (Caixia Wang, principal investigator; Z. Joey Yang, co-principal investigator) In recent decades, the temperature across the Arctic has warmed at twice the rate of the global average. Alaska's built infrastructures are facing increasing challenges posed by climate change. This project seeks to develop a prediction framework for key engineering design parameters to assess climate warming's damage to the built infrastructure or to consider its impact when designing infrastructures.

Enhanced 3D seismic imaging and geologic modeling on Alaska's North Slope (Shuvajit Bhattacharya, principal investigator; Jennifer Aschoff and Z. Joey Yang, co-principal investigators) Permafrost is a major challenge for oil and gas exploration in Arctic regions because it interferes with seismic imaging. The project's goal is to reconstruct high-resolution 3D seismic images in permafrost areas to better visualize the subsurface for geologic modeling of shallow rock layers and hydrocarbon exploration on the North Slope of Alaska.

ConocoPhillips has been leading the search for energy in Alaska for more than 50 years and is committed to being a good steward in communities where it operates. ConocoPhillips has been a long-standing supporter of the University of Alaska and has contributed more than $43 million to the university system, including its historic $15 million contribution to UAA in 2008.

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