Highlights of USARC Report on Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research 2017-2018

By: Cheryl Rosa, Deputy Director, U.S. Arctic Research Commission

The U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) released its "Report on the Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research 2017-2018 for the U.S. Arctic Research Program," (Goals Report) at the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December 2016. Emphasizing the need for continued scientific research in all of its six major goals, the report includes new recommendations for these goals. In addition, the Commission also calls attention to progress made on these goals over the past two years.

Cover of the USARC 2017-2018 Goals Report. Image courtesy of USARC.Cover of the USARC 2017-2018 Goals Report. Image courtesy of USARC.

The Goals Report is published biennially and includes six priority research goals: 1. Observe, Understand, and Predict Arctic Environmental Change, 2. Improve Arctic Human Health, 3. Transform Arctic Energy, 4. Advance the Arctic "Built Environment," 5. Explore Arctic Cultures and Community Resilience, and 6. Enhance International Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic.

The Commission's research goals help shape the National Arctic Research Plan, the most recent version of which, for the 2017-2021 period, was also released by the White House in December 2016. Implementation of this plan, developed by the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) that is chaired by the National Science Foundation and operates under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council, involves teams from 15 federal agencies and from nonfederal partners, academia, non-federal organizations and the private sector. More on IARPC and the plan may be found here and here.

The USARC also coordinates three Alaska-based working groups through the Anchorage office: the Alaska Rural Water and Sanitation Working Group (ARWSWG), the Arctic Renewable Energy Working Group (AREWG), and the Arctic Mental Health Working Group (AMHWG). All working groups are comprised of subject matter experts and policymakers from a variety of local, state, federal, and other groups.

The Alaska Rural Water and Sanitation Working Group (ARSWG) is in its eighth year of existence. This group is focused on health disparities related to the lack of access to in-home water and sewer services, an inequity particularly felt in remote Arctic villages. Alaska ranks last among U.S. states for the proportion of homes with running water and sewer service; approximately 22% of rural Alaskan households lack in-home water and sewer service. There is strong evidence that in-home water and sewer service is linked to better health and that installing in-home running water service reduces rates of respiratory, skin, invasive bacterial and intestinal infections, and dental disease. This research demonstrates that having in-home running water is directly linked to the improved health of rural Alaskans, especially young children and the elderly. The main goal of this working group is to maximize the health benefits of in-home water and sanitation services in rural Alaska. In 2017, we are focused on working with various groups and agencies to coordinate the creation of a database of existing water and sanitation infrastructure in rural Alaska, with particular emphasis on that which is "at-risk" from environmental change. It is our hope that this work will allow better recognition and coordination of these assets at the local, state, and federal level. We are also focused on the assessment and improvement of local capacity for both water and sewer and renewable energy projects. (Editor's note: see also, Diagnosing Water Security in the Rural North with an Environmental Security Framework in this issue of Witness the Arctic.)

The Arctic Renewable Energy Working Group (AREWG) promotes research on renewable and efficient energy systems in remote Arctic communities. Integration of renewable resources and supporting technologies into a community's current power generation capacity has the potential to increase local employment and decrease air pollution, carbon footprint and, ideally, cost to consumers. Pushing the boundaries of energy efficiency and conservation are critical components of this effort. The AREWG is composed of Alaska-based energy experts familiar with the energy challenges facing remote villages. This year, the AREWG is focused on new options for home heating and electricity aimed at increasing efficiency/use of renewable energy and reducing heating oil consumption. The second in a series of three workshops was recently held to assess progress on filling research needs related to how heat is used in villages. The workshop also prioritized unmet data and research needs and developed pathways and strategies to address outstanding data gaps and research needs. This workshop report is expected in summer of 2017 and will be accessible through the AREWG webpage.

The Arctic Mental Health Working Group (AMHWG) aims to work collaboratively with tribes, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders to promote research on, and raise awareness of, the significant mental and behavioral health disparities that exist between Arctic and non-Arctic populations. As an initial focus, AMHWG has chosen to address suicide prevention in Arctic communities with a specific emphasis on early intervention approaches for children and youth. In addition, the group is currently working on a variety of projects that raise awareness of unmet mental health provider needs in Alaska; encourage research needed to better understand and address the instability of the mental health care provider workforce; promote improved information technology infrastructure to support data integration and analysis; and support the forensic review of suicides to refine prevention strategies and provide support to communities. More information on this group can be found at the AMHWG webpage.

Finally, the Commission will hold both its 107th USARC Meeting and its 7th Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations in Washington DC during the week of 17-20 July 2017. The commission meeting will take place on July 17th at the Naval Heritage Center at the US Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC. More information can be found at arctic.gov/upcoming_meetings.html. The biennial Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations runs from July 18-20th and focuses on naval and other maritime operations in an "ice-free Arctic". It will bring together experts on Arctic marine operations, the environment, science, policy, law, and governance. High-level opening remarks are anticipated from members of the Alaska Congressional Delegation, NOAA, Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, USARC, industry, and other representatives from the U.S., Arctic nations, and international community. More information can be found here.