Polaris: Catalyzing Demographic Change in the Arctic Research Community through an Immersive and Sustained Undergraduate Research Experience
This project is integrating scientific research in the Arctic with education and outreach, with a strong central focus on engaging undergraduate students and visiting faculty from groups that have had little involvement in Arctic science to date. Science and society in the United States will be stronger in the long-term if the scientific workforce more closely reflects the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of its residents. The Arctic research community currently does not. Of the Principal Investigators funded by NSF's Arctic programs in the past five years, only 1% were African American, Hispanic, Native American, or Alaska Native. This project is catalyzing change in these demographics by engaging faculty from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and a diverse group of undergraduate students in cutting-edge Arctic research and providing them encouragement, mentoring, and opportunities to continue pursuing Arctic studies in subsequent years.
The central element of the project is a month-long research expedition to the Yukon River Delta in Alaska. The expedition provides a deep intellectual and cultural immersion in the context of an authentic research experience that is paramount for "hooking" students and keeping them moving along the pipeline to careers as Arctic scientists. The overarching scientific issue that drives the research is the vulnerability and fate of ancient carbon stored in Arctic permafrost (permanently frozen ground). Widespread permafrost thaw is expected to occur this century, but large uncertainties remain in estimating the timing, magnitude, and form of carbon that will be released when thawed. Project participants are working in collaborative research groups to make fundamental scientific discoveries related to the vulnerability of permafrost carbon in the Yukon River Delta and the potential implications of permafrost thaw in this region for the global climate system.