Sitting on the porch after the first morning of our virtual orientation I had a new profound sense of how just how blessed I am to be selected to be part of the PolarTREC professional community. I walked away from my computer out on the front porch to get some sun and the realization of ‘I’ve made it’, ‘I’m in the respectable ranks’, ‘this is a big deal’, ‘this is the real deal’ all started to sink in. I get to lean back into my science background and practice not only thinking like a scientist, but also doing science more than I have in years. I get to communicate critically important weather forecasting science to a broad expansive audience. I am part of a science team with the top leaders of the Office of Naval Research and the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center. I am highly valued and important to the success of the International Arctic Buoy Programmes’ 2020 mission and most likely into the future.
I am a bit anxious about completing this entire orientation virtually over the course of many many days. It’s tough to try to focus and learn so much in this format. And yet at the same time, I’m glad we’re going ahead with orientation and not cancelling it completely. During this time of world-wide unrest with the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing, the orientation time is a rather effective distraction from life outside and offers a lot of purpose for my days. PolarTREC is an effective antidote of the pandemic.
Already, just since late December when I was selected for the 2020 PolarTREC cohort, I have learned so much about a region of the world I had never put a whole lot of energy into. The Arctic is so far away and I've always been so focused on place-based learning. And at the same time, I've been wondering what the next focus for me might be professionally. I feel like I've done so much place based stuff, that for me as a lifelong learner my brain is ready for new content to get excited about. And, the Arctic is revealing itself as the next amazing place to learn about. I'm curious about everything; from the rocks to the politics and everything in-between. I wonder about the 'so what' of the science that is being done; how does it apply to rest of the system, the system that includes people as well as the natural world, politics, and history.
Diving in over the course of the last three months has been exciting. I've been exploring the critical importance of the International Arctic Buoy Programme to international weather forecasting, as well as navigation, and understanding climate science. Digging into the immense amount of really well done data visualizations available from NASA, NOAA, USGS and others regarding polar topics has been incredible. Also it has been fun to learn more about the native people's relationship with the sea ice. I've been listening in to Top of the World Community Radio from Utqiaġvik - how fun! Having a significant reason to learn about an entirely new place has been expanding my mind and been really fun.
A significant portion of the April Utqiaġvik expedition was to conduct a number of educational experiences for rural Alaskan communities. I offered to teach workshops to encourage the local people to contribute their unique perspective of their landscape and experience to NASA's GLOBE Observer program. Through my tremendous reach through professional networks, the lead scientist for GLOBE Observer's Land Cover program got wind of my intention to teach rural Alaskans to do citizen science. Dr. Peder Nelson and I have since established a pretty neat relationship where he is supporting the work I'm doing to encourage community science observations both through my Arctic science work as well as other projects with Wild Rose Education. It'll be neat to see what else comes from this new relationship with NASA GLOBE Observer.
And now, I'm not going to Utqiaġvik due to the pandemic. It's quite the disappointment. Yet I'm staying engaged. I'm encouraged by both Dr. Rigor and LCDR Woods that we WILL get to the Arctic at some point. I'm included in the planning of the next potential expedition already. They are recognizing and utilizing my skills and talents that I can effectively contribute to the team. And I so appreciate both of them and their commitment to me and my learning.