The UMaine Arctic initiative serves as a hub for researchers

The UMaine Arctic initiative is one of the most interdisciplinary projects at UMaine, with membership spanning 20 different departments and schools.

The initiative is based on a program launched at the University of New Hampshire and funded through a planning grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The result was the New England Arctic Network (NEAN), which UMaine researchers joined.

“At the time, UMaine did not have an umbrella initiative that covered Arctic research. Jason Charland, director of the Office of Research Development along with Chris Gerbi, professor at the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and associate dean for research in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture created a place where researchers from across campus could come together. The effort received early support from our office,” says Kody Varahramyan, the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School

The Arctic is a unique place with great importance. It plays a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate and is a place of deep cultural and ecological significance. It has also increasingly become a region of economic and strategic advantage. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recognizes the importance of this region and includes Navigating the New Arctic as one of its current 10 Big Ideas.

The UMaine Arctic initiative has come a long way from the Summer of 2018, when faculty members with interests in the Arctic gathered and gave brief presentations to introduce themselves and their work. Following the success of these meetings and continued interest in the further development of an Arctic research group, Kristin Schild was named the coordinator of UMaine Arctic.

She, and others in the initiative, support grant writing, networking, and host a speaker series providing a platform for researchers to share their findings and interests within the community.

“The UMaine Arctic Initiative got its start as a grassroots group: ‘let’s start a seminar series once a month’ to bring people together and get people talking on campus. From there, researchers began to connect and realize that we actually have people on campus, within our own university, and the university system, who fill exactly the void in our individual projects,” says Schild.

As one of the most interdisciplinary initiatives on campus, with a sprawling membership, Arctic research from UMaine attacks problems from a variety of angles and viewpoints. Researchers look at how climate change is affecting coastal communities, ocean circulation, ecosystem services, and much more.

“I think one of the cool things is that the Arctic sounds like it’s so far away, and in some respects it is. But there are changes that are happening in the Arctic that are impacting the state of Maine and the Gulf of Maine specifically,” says Charland.

By creating UMaine Arctic, the university has brought together people working across campus and provided a platform for communication, finding synergy, and expanding interdisciplinary impact.

Gerbi reflects on its progress. “UMaine Arctic was not cut out of whole cloth, but rather is possible because of the strong history and current engagement of UMaine faculty, staff, and students in high latitude research, education, and outreach: from the changing climate to glacier mechanics, lake ecology, environmental health, the carbon cycle, oceanography, fisheries, and transportation. Work in these areas also has a direct benefit to the state, consistent with our land- and sea-grant missions.”

This coming year the UMaine Arctic initiative will continue its valuable work, bringing together researchers across campus, supporting innovative interdisciplinary research, hosting events, and further expanding engagement through regional conferences.