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Winners of Arctic research awards announced

by Marci Suazo and Austin Osborne  |   

From left to right, volcanoes Mt. Sanford, Mt. Drum, and Mt. Wrangell — part of the Wrangell Volcanic Complex — loom on the horizon as seen from the Glenn Highway near Glenallen, Alaska. (James Evans / UAA)
From left to right, volcanoes Mt. Sanford, Mt. Drum, and Mt. Wrangell — part of the Wrangell Volcanic Complex — loom on the horizon as seen from the Glenn Highway near Glenallen, Alaska. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

In January, UAA and ConocoPhillips Alaska announced the 2022 recipients of the ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment Award.

The endowment is one of the largest in the University of Alaska system and provides awards to recipients who have demonstrated potential to bring about the highest foreseeable impact on developing Arctic science and engineering programs. Historically, winning proposals have been granted anywhere between $10,000 to $100,000.

Details on the 2022 cohort of awards are listed below.

Cryosphere degradation drives change in Arctic and high-latitude streams, ecosystems and communities
(LeeAnn Munk, principal investigator; Jordan Jenckes, co-principal investigator)

This project team will collaborate with industry and Native Alaska communities to enhance understanding of how climate change impacts in the Arctic cause alteration of freshwater and nutrient export to the coastal ocean. The project will also build capacity for community involvement in environmental monitoring while enhancing STEM visibility and availability.

How ground ice loss affects slope stability and groundwater flow in Arctic watersheds
(Kynan Hughson, principal investigator; LeeAnn Munk, co-principal investigator)

In order to evaluate how ground ice loss is destabilizing and transforming surface materials in the Wulik River watershed, and how these changes are affecting groundwater flow, this project will: quantify the physical characteristics of ground ice loss-induced landslides and mass wasting in culturally and economically important stream watersheds using drone-based photogrammetry; identify the links between these features and ground ice/groundwater content using electromagnetic geophysics; and determine how these rapidly emerging landforms are altering stream discharge patterns and water resources by measuring the extent of the saturated groundwater region at various mass wasted and unaltered field sites.

Assessing seismic hazard of Arctic infrastructure in degrading warm permafrost: A case study of Nome, Alaska
(Utpal Dutta, principal investigator)

Permafrost, an essential footprint of Alaska at many high-latitude landscapes, is forecast to thaw extensively in the decades ahead due to climate warming at a rate much faster than anticipated. This project aims to fill a vital knowledge gap by conducting multi-method geophysical and geotechnical investigations at selected strategic sites in the Nome, Alaska, area to map subsurface soil conditions and investigate ground shaking characteristics during earthquakes. The results will help uncover the impact of degrading permafrost and improve the resilience of Arctic infrastructure during seismic events while also enhancing separate studies on the resilience of public infrastructure in the Arctic.

Data for predicting a changing Alaska: Terrestrial imaging for machine learning of spatio-temporal processes
(Matthew Kupilik, principal investigator; Frank Witmer, co-principal investigator)

Climate change is affecting Alaska disproportionately, with shifting precipitation, receding sea ice, increasing wildfires and thawing permafrost causing communities, engineers and decision-makers to rapidly adapt. This project aims to develop a tool to allow Alaska researchers to combine continuous measurements from moderate resolution high temporal frequency satellite imagery with updated downscaled climate and domain-specific data sets to build predictive models.

Crude oil toxicity to Arctic copepods: When to apply chemical herders and burn
(Patrick Tomco, principal investigator)

In the event of a remote oil spill in Arctic or Subarctic waters, on-scene responders must decidehow best to recover oil in a manner that mitigates the potential damage to marine aquatic life. This topic has gained priority interest by government agencies who establish knowledge gaps and fund oil exposure work to feed into their risk assessment models.  These efforts would leverage several new funding opportunities with meaningful student involvement. The goals of this project are to develop new techniques to conduct and gain preliminary toxicity data on Alaska copepods exposed to water-solubilized burned oil residue and herded burned oil residue, and to leverage preliminary data and supplemental funds in new federal proposals.

Is Central Alaska hot enough for our energy needs? Exploring the Wrangell Volcanic Complex as a potential geothermal resource using geochemical and surface temperature analyses
(Claudia Cannatelli, principal investigator)

Alaska is fourth in the U.S. for per capita energy demand and could largely benefit from the utilization of geothermal energy, but most of the geothermal resources in the state are scarcely studied and virtually unexplored. In Central Alaska, the distribution of heat flow suggests that there is a high probability for geothermal systems to exist in the area, and the close vicinity to the Anchorage metropolitan area makes it an appealing target for geothermal exploration. This research will use geochemistry to evaluate the properties of a potential geothermal reservoir (magma chamber) in the Wrangell Volcanic Complex and determine the depth and mechanism of primary fluid-melt interaction that occurred during magma ascent and ponding in the crust. The recorded temperatures and measured volatile contents in MIs will also allow researchers to quantify the water input in the upper crust and estimate the potential for geothermal energy.

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