Last month, the Strait Science lecture series had its 100th recorded presentation added to the Alaska Sea Grant channel on YouTube. Strait Science is a long-running public science seminar series covering topics of interest and issues relevant to the Bering Strait region of Alaska, ranging from climate change to a US Navy mission that resulted in a community rescue effort. There have been more than 200 Strait Science talks since the program began in 2012, with recorded presentations shared since 2019.
The landmark episode saw retired US Coast Guard Commander Mark Everett speak about regional emergency preparedness, coordination, and response as increasing industrial ship traffic in the area raises the risk of an regionwide oil spill. His talk included information about upcoming community-based events and a live drill in the strait, and residents were able to ask questions directly of high-level leadership.
The Bering Strait is a fifty-two-mile-wide maritime corridor between Chukotka, Russia, and Alaska. The U.S. portion of the transboundary region stretches over 23,000 square miles, and is home to about 10,000 Alaskans, including 20 Alaska Native tribes, in 16 communities.
Strait Science is a partnership between Alaska Sea Grant and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus (NWC). Gay Sheffield, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent based in Nome, along with NWC staff, created the series to foster connections between residents and researchers. Sheffield explains, “Strait Science addresses a need for communication between researchers who conduct fieldwork in the Bering Strait region and the residents who depend on healthy ecosystems and wildlife resources for nutritional, cultural, and economic well-being.”
Sheffield schedules guests to give an evening lecture, either in Nome or by video conference, followed by questions and answers. The series draws diverse speakers, including representatives from state and federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, wildlife commissions, and research institutions. Topics of recent presentations included reindeer herding, federal Arctic policy, regional weather and climate updates, harmful algal blooms and seabird die-offs.
Once exclusively an in-person community event, the series started incorporating remote participation shortly before the COVID pandemic, primarily for the benefit of Bering Strait residents living outside of Nome. Presentation handouts are provided to area communities to allow residents to participate online, or by phone in communities with limited Internet access.
Rick Thoman is an Alaska climate specialist with University of Alaska Fairbanks and a frequent Strait Science guest. “The Strait Science series has allowed me to present weather and climate information, tailored to Western Alaska, directly to people in the region.” Thoman added, “This direct, two-way communication in turn helps me better understand the concerns of people living and working in the region and has pushed my science communications efforts to be relevant and easily accessible to people from many walks of life and varied interests and needs.”
An upcoming talk on May 4 will feature a presentation about radio broadcasting in Western Alaska. Patty Burchell from radio station KICY and Davis Hovey from station KNOM will talk about their respective missions and the services that radio provides to the community of Nome and beyond.