The ASU team studies sea ice changes in the Arctic

The ASU team studies sea ice changes in the Arctic
The ASU team studies sea ice changes in the Arctic

March 15, 2023

Research focuses on the inclusion of indigenous voices

Priscilla “Aumaqpaq” Frankson understands the importance of including Indigenous voices and acknowledging the erasure that has been done to Indigenous peoples when conducting and reading scholarly research.

Frankson is a graduate student in the American Indian studies program at Arizona State University and is working on his master’s degree in tribal leadership and governance.

Being from Point Hope, Alaska, and a member of the Iñupiat community, Frankson’s priority is working with the indigenous communities and local governance.

She hopes to bridge the gap between Western academia and Alaskan communities by allowing indigenous voices to be heard as a member of the team ARC-NAV: Arctic Robust Communities-Navigating Adaptation to Variability, which researches sea ice changes in the Arctic.

“For many Western systems of knowledge, indigenous peoples are seen as people who only live in the past. By making our voice much louder and by saying, “We’ve been here since time immemorial,” it allows us to take that space. (In time immemorial) means that we were always here, and we have always done what we needed to do to take care of the land and for us to be able to live off it, says Frankson.

“We know historically that research has done a lot of really bad things for communities,” says Frankson. “It is for these reasons that I want to be part of this research team, to ensure, with the guidance of my elders, my family and my friends, that this research is done ethically and is beneficial to members of society.”


Priscilla “Aumaqpaq” Frankson, graduate student in the American Indian Studies Program at Arizona State University and member of the ARC-NAV team. Photo with permission Priscilla “Aumaqpaq” Frankson

The ARC-NAV project

The ARC-NAV project is made up of a national group of researchers with different expertise who take both a social and natural science approach to researching sea ice changes in the Arctic. They work with indigenous people in Arctic communities to find out what matters most to them.

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The research will take place in Chukotka and Kamchatka, Russia, as well as Gambell and Point Hope, Alaska.

The $3 million project is funded by the National Science Foundation and is part of NSF’s Navigating the New Arctic, says Abigail York, an environmental-social and political scientist at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and principal investigator of the project.

York says the team’s top priority is to conduct the research in an ethical manner that benefits all communities.

Shauna BurnSilver, an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change involved in the project, says the initial idea for ARC NAV came from a 2019 meeting of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission when a frustrated commissioner said, “I’m tired of explaining our perspectives to people in Washington, and when they describe our home, I don’t recognize it.”

“So a main aim of the project is to track how changes in sea ice landscapes are first perceived and communicated upwards by local communities to local, regional, national and international governing bodies, and then how well the policies and decisions made by these governing bodies actually address local concerns,” says BurnSilver.

The research

While the COVID-19 pandemic halted travel and research for a while, the team was able to explore a subset of research projects.

For example, York conducted and published research on whaling management, and one of her graduate classes analyzes news stories about sea ice to see if the articles included indigenous voices (so far, most have not).

Tatiana Degai, an assistant professor at the University of Victoria and indigenous researcher from the Itelmen community of Kamchatka, researches food sovereignty issues and the management of salmon fisheries in Russia, together with colleagues at ARCTICenter at the University of Northern Iowa, because ice and climate change are affecting the salmon, says York.

“We work with communities and individuals in communities and different groups—for example, hunters, women, and people who use ice in different ways—and we try to find out what they care about the most,” York says.

Another area of ​​concern is false chillsUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks Research Associate Professor Andy Mahoney, graduate student Kitrea Pacifica Takata-Glushkoff and McGill Professor Bruno Tremblay are leading this research. where the ice appears to be freezing but is not.

Ice is a very important part of whaling for Iñupiat communities, explains York. In many communities, the whales are brought out onto the ice, and it is therefore not safe to whale if there is no ice. So, with sea ice change, communities will face problems with animals and hunting. Societies in Alaska have depended on subsistence hunting for thousands of years.

“People use sea ice for livelihood, especially hunting, but they also use it for travel,” says York. “So there are ice roads and other things. There are major safety issues associated with ice breaking. So, for example, you have sea ice because it’s cold and then you have this unusual warming, at least given historical trends, and then you get the breakup of the sea ice. It can be quite dangerous.”

“Where I come from, in my community, we are traditionally nomadic people,” says Frankson. “We have moved historically with the food. One season we would be where the reindeer are, which we depend on, then another season we would have the marine mammals, and then there are ducks, so you follow the seasons.”

Masha Monakhova, a PhD student in environmental and social sciences at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, says her area of ​​expertise in previous Arctic projects drew her to work with the ARC-NAV team. Monakhova’s research will focus on the co-production of sea ice knowledge between indigenous knowledge holders and Western researchers.

“Obviously the Arctic is experiencing the most change, and I feel there is a lot of potential for positive impact that research can do,” says Monakhova. “For me, studying the co-production of knowledge is extremely important, as it is an essential part of most, if not all, research projects in the Arctic. I am interested in how we can improve co-production practices.”

2023 visit to Alaska

In February, the team traveled to Utqiagvik, Alaska, to meet each other for the first time and visit the community. Frankson says the city is a hub for most of Alaska’s northern communities.

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Although no data was collected on this trip, the team worked to build community bonds and relationships, and the foundation for effective interdisciplinary team science.

“There’s something about being in a place that makes you rethink things that you can’t appreciate just by reading about it,” says York. “I think it’s very difficult to appreciate things without having been to a place, and it helps you understand things more deeply. We can never fully understand things like someone from these environments and from a different culture than our own. But it helps you connect in ways you wouldn’t be able to if you called them on the phone.”

For Frankson, the trip was special because she was able to meet extended family members and the other researchers on the team.

“It’s a special place to be in person, where I’m a researcher doing research in my own community,” says Frankson. “I will never forget the trauma that has been inflicted on both my people and other community members around Alaska, and the entire United States, due to unethical research practices. So it helps me feel a little better to know that those who have never experienced the Arctic like I have can have that experience and make sure to include it in the work we will do in ARC-NAV.”

The ARC-NAV team includes Associate Professor Shauna BurnSilver and Professor Marty Anderies with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Professor Stephanie Pfirman with the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, among several others

Top photo: The researchers visit the arctic ice in Utqiagvik, Alaska. Photo by Masha Monakhova

Nicole Pomerantz

Communication specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

480-965-0610[email protected]

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