AK CASC adapts to COVID-19 impacts

two people walk in rain gear on a beach

In the midst of the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, the AK CASC has adapted to a new, virtual mode of operation and found new opportunities in the current limitations. Despite challenges in conducting fieldwork, hiring new staff, and postponing events and travel, there have been exciting developments across the AK CASC.

Inspiring Girls Expedition at UAF, hosted by the AK CASC, offers tuition-free wilderness programs to empower young women to lead and succeed through science, art, and exploration. This summer, Inspiring Girls Expeditions launched an “Expeditions@Home” program in lieu of their planned summer field expeditions. In collaboration with Oregon State University and the Alpine Club of Canada, Inspiring Girls Expeditions at UAF hosted over 60 students in the US and Canada in two virtual programs featuring online learning, distance research projects, and public presentations. “When we realized that we were going to have to do things online, we pretty quickly pivoted to planning a multi-week, online curriculum that would mirror the curriculum we follow in person. The goal was to reach more participants than we would in a typical year, which we were successful in,” said Sarah Clement, the program coordinator for Inspiring Girls Expeditions at UAF.  Learn more about Expeditions@Home on the Inspiring Girls Expedition website.

In May 2020, the AK CASC planned to host a workshop for stakeholders, scientists, staff, and students to discuss co-production across our projects and collaborations. With the onset of travel and meeting restrictions, the workshop is being restructured into a series of digital webinars and workshops that will take place in the fall and early winter. The postponement and restructuring of the summit is allowing organizers to incorporate more Alaska Native perspectives and voices into the planning process, and create a broader scope of conversations around co-production in Alaska.

Over the past two years, the Pacific Islands CASC and AK CASC have organized several meetings to explore ways to share knowledge, resources, and build a unique joint science agenda that capitalizes on research themes across Hawai’i and Alaska. A planned in-person meeting at the Guam Island Sustainability Conference was canceled due to COVID-19, but virtual collaborations between the two CASCs have remained strong. A new request for proposals was initiated in early June to support concurrent research between the CASCs, soliciting proposals on topics related to climate adaptation in Ridge-to-Reef and Icefield-to-Ocean ecosystems. 

Fieldwork for the Glacier Outburst Flood Modeling project was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, but has since been able to continue with multiple field visits throughout the summer.

In addition to these adaptations at the programmatic level, AK CASC graduate students, postdocs, staff, and senior scientists have been managing added challenges in transitioning to working and teaching from home. AK CASC scientists in academic faculty positions at UAF, UAS, and University of Nevada, Reno are modifying their courses for online learning. 

The AK CASC will continue to find novel ways to stay connected, collaborate, and conduct research this fall with our partners within Alaska and across the nation.