The United States and other countries are placing more attention on the Arctic as global climate change opens the region to navigation and commercial exploration. During his remarks at a State Department celebration marking the beginning of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in May 2015, Secretary Kerry noted that, “We want a region where people can live with hope and optimism for the future, where strong measures are being taken to mitigate environmental harm, where natural resources are managed effectively and sustainably, and where the challenges of economic development and social cohesion are being addressed in a creative, sensitive, responsible way.”
As Secretary Kerry made these remarks, 17 junior scholars and established experts from the eight Arctic countries, including Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, gathered in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada for their first official meeting as participants of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative. For 18 months, the Fulbright Arctic Scholars will be working with governments, NGOs, businesses, and Arctic communities to research innovative solutions to impacts of climate change in the Arctic, particularly on the issues of water, energy, health, and infrastructure.
While in Iqaluit, the scholars informed and shaped their individual and group research projects by forming partnerships with local leaders, policymakers, and researchers of the Arctic region. They met with community leaders Peter Taptuna, premier of Nanuvut; Ekho Wilman, mayor of Iqaluit; and Okalik Eegeesiak, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. U.S. Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries Dave Balton, U.S. Senior Arctic Official Julie Gourley, and CanNor President Janet King discussed U.S. and Canadian government priorities for the region. Arctic researchers, including Gwen Healy, director of the Qaujigiartiit Heath Research Center, and Mary Ellen Thomas, senior research officer at the Nunavut Research Institute, talked to the group about the particular challenges of conducting research in the Arctic.
This inaugural meeting followed the transition in April to the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which will seek to focus more attention on Arctic issues and foster increased international scholarly collaboration with the United States.
Dr. Ross Virginia of Dartmouth College and Dr. Mike Sfraga of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, are the Co-lead Scholars of the Initiative. On the outcome of the opening meeting, Dr. Virginia said, “The Fulbright Scholars came to Iqaluit as individuals and left as a team. Their commitment to conducting research that is relevant to Arctic communities, policy makers, and the broader public is impressive. We expect great things to come from the Initiative.”
As Arctic nations take steps to work together on shared challenges, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative offers a collaborative model for scholarly exchange to help translate theory into practice.
About the Author: Steve Money is a Program Officer in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs’ Office of Academic Exchange Programs.