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Fulbright Arctic Initiative: Circumpolar Scholars Studying Region’s Problems

A new State Department program enables scholars from circumpolar nations to share research and solutions for regional problems.

Researchers with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power lower a doughnut-shaped device that’s about the size of a refrigerator into the rushing waters of the Tanana River in Interior Alaska.

They’re testing a hydrokinetic generating system that uses the river’s current to produce about 20 kilowatts. Center Director Gwen Holdmann says the mini-hydropower unit is one of many sustainable-energy alternatives the organization is developing for remote communities.

Credit Todd Paris/UAF
From left: Stephanie Jump, a student intern with Alaska Center for Energy and Power, and Parker Bradley, an observer with the state Fish and Game Department, look on as ACEP Alaska Hydrokinetic Research Center (AHERC) research engineer Jack Schmid and Jeremy Kasper, AHERC program director, examine the Oceana hydrokinetic turbine aboard an ACEP barge on the Tanana River near Nenana.

“I think that the kinds of technologies that we’re developing here have a global application,” she said.

Holdmann’s work has earned her a chance to collaborate with 16 other scholars from around the Arctic who’ve been selected for the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“My theme is related to the idea of developing sustainable-energy systems in Alaska and sharing knowledge related to that,” she said.

Meghann Curtis, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Academic Programs, says the agency launched the initiative this spring because it recognizes both the growing importance of the region and the urgency of its problems.

“We are ramping up our engagement on Arctic issues,” Curtis said, “both because the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council has begun and also because of the rapidly increasing effects of climate change in the region.”

Credit UAF
Gwen Holdmann, Alaska Center for Energy and Power director.

Mike Sfraga is co-lead scholar for the Initiative and a vice chancellor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He says scholars from council member nations will focus much of their research on climate change impacts on the far north.

“Energy, water, infrastructure and health – those are really important issues the eight Arctic nations are grappling with right now as we go through a period of incredibly rapid change,” Sfraga said.

Holdmann will work in Iceland to learn about that nation’s expertise in geothermally generated energy.

“They have developed a knowledge export economy around geothermal resources,” she said. “And so I’m interested in seeing how we can adapt their model to Alaska to look at how we can build a new economy or new industry in this state that’s based on these types of renewable energy.”

Reports on the Fulbright Arctic scholars’ research will be issued in 2017.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.