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Science minds swarm Dillingham

March 23rd, 2012 | Hannah Heimbuch Print this article   Email this article  

The fifth annual Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference kicks off in Dillingham on Wednesday, the start of four days of presentations and discussions surrounding Alaska scientific interests.

With 71 presentations scheduled on issues from sustainable energy to marine science, from indigenous evaluation to food security, there are many issues for scientists and science enthusiasts to sink their teeth into.

The conference theme is "Resilience in a Changing World," a general guide to the tone of the event, said Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Association President Todd Radenbaugh.

"How do we maintain our culture, our communities and our ecosystems with the rapid amount of change occurring across our landscapes," Radenbaugh said.

It allows an interesting confluence of citizen science and professional science, he added.

When it was started five years ago, the conference filled a need for a forum in which to let different disciplines and approaches to science co-mingle, Radenbaugh said. It allows people who normally wouldn't talk to each other to communicate on important topics. Not just in the formality of presentation and question-answer periods, but in the informal free time surrounding the event.

"WAISC takes the flavor of the town it's in and the hot topics of the time," Radenbaugh said.

Not the least on that list of hot topics is the much-discussed Pebble Mine issue, a proposal to institute the large-scale mining of a rich mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region.

This year's conference dedicates an entire day to the presentation of data and information relevant to the Pebble Mine discussion. Thirteen speakers are slated to present on various aspects of this topic on March 31st.

This is a day dedicated to presenting the environmental baseline data collected by a number of parties thus far, Radenbaugh said, not a debate about whether Pebble Mine should go forward.

The conference includes presenter from all over Alaska — some scientists by profession and some immersed in traditional knowledge of science topics — and there are also several presenters from outside. This includes a New Zealander Sandy Kerr — presenting on the new WAISC topic of indigenous evaluation — and University of Washington fisheries professor Daniel Schindler.

The keynote speaker is Richard Seifert, Professor Emiritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and an expert on renewable energy and home building in cold climates.

Conference events are free for Dillingham residents wanting to sit in on the presentations and discussions, though Radenbaugh suggests those wanting to view more than a few should go ahead and register.

More information on the conference and a schedule of events can be found online at by calling the Dillingham Campus at 907-842-5109.

Radenbaugh expects this conference to be the largest yet, including topics that have a dynamic role in Alaska's future. With that in mind, the main goal at this conference is the exchange of information and ideas.

"It gets people together from multiple backgrounds to talk about what information is available and what data needs to then be done to better answer or come to a resolution on an issue," he said.


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