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NATO-affiliated Science and Technology Panel Gets Arctic Research Briefing at UAF

Henrick Bliddel

A delegation of politicians affiliated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization met with researchers and officials during a stopover Thursday at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee came to UAF during a fact-finding visit to Alaska to learn about the university’s research on the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

Science and Technology Committee Director Henrik Bliddal says this is the panel’s first trip to Alaska. He says members travel widely to report on issues of concern to NATOand its 28 member nations.

“Our committee does everything from environmental and energy security to very hands-on defense technology,” he said.

Bliddal says the 30-or-so committee members and staff came to Alaska mainly to learn more about climate-change impacts here, and research under way on those impacts. He says that information will be reported to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, an advisory panel comprised of parliamentarians and legislators from member nations.

Baroness Ramsay is a member of the British House of Lords, and she’s also the committee’s chairwoman. She says the panel came to UAF because it’s one of the world’s top Arctic climate-change research institutions.

“The research here obviously very advanced and very, very well done,” she said.

Ramsay suggests it’s a long-overdue visit because of the urgency of climate change and the need for the world to catch up with research into the phenomenon that’s going on here.

“I see Alaska anyway as playing a very important role in the whole development of our knowledge of what’s going to be happen in this area, and try and be prepared for it,” she said. “Because the rest of the world is just vaguely waking up to it. Whereas up here, you’ve know about the developments for a long time.”

Ramsay says that information is useful for both NATO and its member nations’ policy-makers.

Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino, another committee member, says the information will help him and his fellow lawmakers make decisions on funding and other congressional actions.

“This will help me take information back to Congress, talk with my colleagues, explain to my constituents in my district in Pennsylvania why or why we should not get involved in budgeting, more so or less,” Marino said.

UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Mark Myers says faculty and administrators briefed committee members Thursday on among other things research that would help the United States and its NATO allies monitor shipping in Arctic waters that is expected to increase as the polar ice pack continues to recede. He says that information, like much of the data UAF is generating, is useful for environmental monitoring, emergency response and national and international security.

“Some of the systems we operate, like the coastal radar that our School of Fisheries (and Ocean Sciences) folks operate, are giving us new data on ocean currents. But they also are going to help us locate ships,” Myers said. “So there’s a multi-purpose use of all the technology out there, Some of which is scientifically based; some of which is traditional defense structure.”

Both Bliddal and Ramsay downplayed suggestions that international security played a major role in the committee’s visit, coming as it does at the same time as the NATO leaders’ summit in the U.K. But Ramsay did note Alaska’s strategic location vis-à-vis Russia.

“That’s a whole other aspect of Alaska’s place in the world, quite apart from being in the Arctic,” she said. “It’s your proximity to Russia. And so it’s very important.”  

Bliddal says during the committee’s stay in Anchorage earlier this week, members were briefed by officials with the federal Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Northern Command. He says today, they’ll tour Eielson Air Force Base and get more briefings from the Army, Air Force and Missile Defense Agency.

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.