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KNBA News - North Slope Borough mayor faces recall effort; Citizen science spans Alaska coast

Jan. 28, 2016

Residents petition to recall NSB Mayor Charlotte Brower

Associated Press

North Slope officials have called for a special election to recall Mayor Charlotte Brower after residents successfully gathered enough signatures on a petition. KTVA-TV reports that the announcement was made Tuesday at a North Slope Borough Assembly meeting.

Citizen science providing important data to University of Alaska scientists

By Johanna Eurich - Anchorage

Residents of several Alaska villages are now on the frontlines of Alaska science thanks to the efforts of a group of oceanographers based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Peter Winsor, an associate professor at UAF told the Alaska Marine Symposium that residents of Saint Paul in the Middle of the Bering Sea, Old Harbor on Kodiak island, and Kaktovik on Barter Island in the Buford Sea are all taking samples to monitor their coastal waters for changes caused by global warming.

"We have equipment that measures temperatures and salinity, for instance, of the ocean from surface to the sea floor and these are ... it's built to be simple to use,” said Winsor. “You just twist the cap and it automatically uploads.  That's one of the criteria we had for this program is whatever measurements we are doing, we want to do them consistently, we want to do them the same everywhere, and we want to make sure it's easy to use so people don't get frustrated with the technology per say." 

Winsor came up with the idea of recurring residents of Alaska's coastal villages to help gather data because he was frustrated that most of the data scientists were gathering was off shore in deeper water far away from the coastal communities where people needed to understand better the changes in their environment.  There was not enough money to send technicians out to these places all year. The only way to get the data was to train locals and it has been successful in ways no one expected.

For example they sent an electron microscope to Old Harbor and now the students are using it to look at and catalogue the plankton in the ocean around them.

"In Kodiak Island students are overly excited about taking little plankton samples and looking in an electronic microscope to see what's in their local ocean outside the door,” said Winsor. “And this has now spread to multiple communities in Kodiak island. Multiple schools are picking this up and doing the same kind of work.  We're hoping for that kind of cascade effect to happen."

The villages in the program are linked with ones in Canada.  Winsor envisions a system stretching from Vancouver into the high arctic helping to gather data to tease out the changes taking place in the ocean as the climate warms.

"If you are looking large scale and long term, this can be a very powerful tool for doing very high level cutting edge science,” said Winsor, “but also for the local people to understand the changing environments where they live."

Winsor sees the program expanding into gathering biological samples and even dreams of teaching students in Alaska's coastal communities to use robotic tools to gather scientific data about the ocean outside their door.

Citizen science like Winsor's program is one the priorities out lined by Mark Brazezinnski, the former ambassador to Sweden, who spoke at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium yesterday in his capacity as President Obama's executive director of the government's Arctic Executive Steering Committee.