Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference focuses on climate change

Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference and Forum

Alaska Sea Grant, together with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus, hosted the 13th annual Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference (WAISC) on May 13 and 14. The conference brought together local and indigenous knowledge of subsistence-based communities and other scientific research relevant to Western Alaska. Normally convening in a Western Alaska community such as Nome, Dillingham, or Unalaska, the conference was held online in 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The spring 2020 conference was cancelled.

Gabe Dunham, Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agent in Dillingham took the lead in organizing the event. “I’m glad we were able to bring WAISC back this year by offering it online,” he said. “I also want to acknowledge Alaska EPSCoR for their generous sponsorship, which covered registration costs for participants.” EPSCoR is the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

This year’s conference focused on future threats and opportunities in the face of a changing climate, and featured more than 50 speakers. A Bethel middle-school student impressed everyone when she shared her results from monitoring berries, as a part of a community-based project to investigate how shifting seasons could affect when berries are available to animals and people. The seventh-grader described herself as someone who loves science, is a hunter and fisherwoman and future UAF student. Drs. Katie Spellman, Christa Mulder, and Malinda Chase shared data collected by volunteers throughout the state showing shifting berry availability in warmer years. Other talks covered wide ranging topics, from hydrology to earthworms. 

Image of the opening slide from a presentation about a community science berry monitoring project
Opening slide from a presentation about berries at WAISC.

The first Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference was organized in 2008 by the late Dr. Todd Radenbaugh, an Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science at the UAF Bristol Bay Campus. This year’s conference was different not only because it took place online, but also because of Dr. Radenbaugh’s absence. 

“This conference is an important annual event that wouldn’t have come about were it not for Todd’s vision,” said Gabe Dunham. “We really miss having his presence but we are proud to carry forward his legacy by hosting this conference for years to come.” 

Recordings of the presentations and discussions will be available for viewing by June 1 at the WAISC website.