A Changing Arctic

Fourth Estate/Billy Ferguson

Mason team receives grant to study Arctic industrialization conditions


New trade routes are opening throughout the Arctic, which may have unprecedented effects on that environment. 

To combat potential conflicts, Volgenau School of Engineering professor Elise Miller-Hooks and her team of scientists will be studying Arctic industrialization over the next five years. This is thanks to a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation for their project titled, “An Expanding Global Maritime Network, Its Arctic Impacts and Reverberations.”

Miller-Hooks’ team is comprised of fellow Mason professors Sara Cobb and Celso Ferreira, as well as Thomas Ravens of the University of Alaska-Anchorage, Anne Garland of Applied Research in Environmental Sciences, Jinlun Zhang of the University of Washington, and Capt. Ralph Pundt of the Maine Maritime Academy.

Each person on the team serves a role in one of the key areas of the project. The five key areas are maritime flows, ice conditions, coastal dynamics, local communities and governance. To Miller-Hooks this multidisciplinary approach is required for their research.

“This work requires a convergence research approach to enable deep understanding of complex interactions of natural, built and social systems,” said Miller-Hooks.

The impacts and reverberations of Arctic industrialization have the potential to evolve into conflicts. Conflicts may arise because of increased shipping, resource use, navigation, migration/relocation of people, increased tourism and erosion.

They will be utilizing mathematical modeling, geophysical computation and social systems knowledge in the project to serve their goals. Their main goals are to forecast the thickness of sea ice and other coastal dynamics and to assess and manage risks from increased maritime polar traffic.

With the mathematical modeling and geophysical computation, the project predicts that they will see as the climate changes the sea ice diminish at a faster rate than ever. Melting permafrost on the coast could also decrease resistance to storms, affecting the surrounding community. 

Ferriera, associate professor in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE) at Mason, said, “We’re really at the forefront of this issue because we don’t know much about it. As the geopolitical west moves into this area, we’re going to try to transfer our knowledge from previous studies to this project.”