USGS and University of Alaska Reaffirm Long-term Climate Science Partnership

The new Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center hosting agreement will bring with it 11.4 million dollars in funding and continue a 14-year long collaboration between the University of Alaska (UA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The center, part of a national network, will continue to provide regionally relevant climate science to support climate change adaptation by connecting government agencies, researchers, and local decision-makers over the course of the 5-year agreement ending in 2028.

The centers, stood up first in Alaska and now spanning the nation, address a growing demand for researchers skilled in serving the adaptation science needs of land managers.

Maggie Harings stands in ankle-deep water and samples river water for her eDNA research.
Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center graduate student Maggie Harings is studying eDNA and how it might be used to estimate fish populations in Alaska’s rivers. Photo by Erik Schoen

The International Arctic Research Center (IARC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has been the host university for the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center (AK CASC), since 2010. Since then Scott Rupp, a UAF wildfire scientist, and Steve Gray, a USGS hydrologist, have led the center’s efforts to provide adaptation science to managers of Alaska’s land, water, fish, wildlife, and cultural heritage resources.

The new agreement will support the center as it investigates research priorities for decision-makers, prepares the next generation of scientists, trains Tribal leaders to incorporate climate science into their planning, and stands at the cutting edge of climate science communication. Recent projects have focused on Alaska’s changing berries harvests, landslide risks along National Park roads, and glacier lake outburst flooding near Juneau. The new agreement maintains the center’s organizational structure in which UAF will continue serving as the University host while UA Anchorage and UA Southeast serve as consortium partners.

“This structure of federal agency and university partnership is somewhat unique.” says Gray, USGS Regional Administrator for the Alaska CASC “It’s worked well for us though. The science happening at the universities is helping land managers make better decisions in the face of a changing climate. That’s not just here in the Department of the Interior either. Our work is helping other federal agencies, state agencies and local land managers make better decisions too.”

With joint university and USGS leadership, the new hosting agreement coincides with new leadership as well. The USGS side of the partnership is welcoming Patrick Lemons as the Assistant Regional Administrator who will be based in Anchorage with the USGS AK CASC office.  

Lemons was the Chief of the Alaska Marine Mammals Management Office from 2016 to 2023 which is congressionally responsible for the conservation of polar bears, northern sea otters, and Pacific walruses. He’s seen the impacts of a changing climate first hand on critical species across Alaska from his first days in Alaska as a graduate student studying migratory bird populations, and has worked with partners to responsibly manage and conserve critical habitat and populations.

His understanding of regulatory research needs from his time at Marine Mammals Office provide a new and powerful perspective to the center. “I’m excited to innovate on how we serve our managing partners in Alaska. What’s the best way to maintain clear and open communication with local, state and federal managers? How do we best turn their questions into research priorities? That interests me and as a long-term collaboration with a nation-wide network of fellow centers to learn from the AK CASC is where I want to pursue that work.”