Earth Institute Research Projects

Bridging the Scientific and Indigenous Communities to Study Sea Ice Change in Arctic Alaska

Lead PI: Dr. Christopher J. Zappa

Unit Affiliation: Ocean & Climate Physics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

November 2016 - June 2021
North America ; Alaska
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Ikaavik Sikukuun (Ice Bridges) is a newly-launched research partnership in Kotzebue, Alaska, that adopts an end-to-end community-based approach to study fundamental processes underlying the mechanisms and impacts of the changing sea ice in coastal Alaska. Under guidance from a local advisory council, we will use state-of-the-art observing techniques including long-range unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to study under-observed sea ice regions during critical periods of marine mammal migration, molting and reproduction. Here, we describe what, to the best of our knowledge, is a precedent-setting approach to co-creating research questions and hypotheses that integrate indigenous knowledge (IK) and interdisciplinary scientific methods. A key element of this approach is that we established an advisory committee of local IK holders before defining specific research questions. This has enabled us to iteratively develop hypotheses that incorporate IK and respond to the research needs of the local community while also addressing key geophysical and ecological questions related to changes in the seasonal ice zone. The advisory committee will be key participants in the project team, ensuring that IK is incorporated into the design of the observing plan and the synthesis and dissemination of findings. In addition to building bridges between the scientific community and indigenous residents of Kotzebue, the legacy of our project will include a video documentary that will allow us to share the story of this partnership and our findings with a broad audience.