|Jason Mercer is at home in the great outdoors.|
Because Jason Mercer believes the Arctic is the canary in the coal mine, he joined Expedition Arguk, a team of five scientists and media experts who will hike and packraft 300 miles from the Gates of the Arctic to the Arctic Ocean this fall. (Arguk in Inupiat means to walk against the wind.)
Mercer, a 2007 UAF graduate with a degree in natural resources management, will be a natural interpreter on the trek. “Aside from simply being born and raised in Alaska, I have worked and studied all over the state for more than a decade, including in the Brooks Range, the Foothills and the Arctic Coastal Plain,” Mercer said. “These experiences provide an insight into what kinds of vegetation, wildlife and potential hazards we might run into along the route.”
At the present moment, Mercer is in a warmer climate, spending several months in Ecuador, taking Spanish classes and learning about the culture of Ecuador and Latin America. Beginning in mid-February, he will be working with a conservation organization focused on watershed health in and around Ecuador. The organization, the Ecuadorian River Institute, is based in Tena.
Mercer will be assisting ERI with some updates to their data management system, as well as participating in the inventory of illegal mining activities along some of the major headwaters of the Amazon. “But my trip isn’t all volunteer work and Spanish lessons,” Mercer said. “I will also be attempting to summit Volcano Cotopaxi followed by Mt. Chimborazo. Other activities include trekking, scuba diving, sailing and salsa dancing.”
As part of his graduate studies he will spend the summer performing hydrology field work in and around the Banff National Park area, in the Canadian Rockies. “This opportunity provides access to world class terrain, which I will take full advantage of, packrafting and hiking as much as possible in my down time,” Mercer said. “This will be the first summer I’ve ever spent away from Alaska. I can only hope the mountains and rivers of Canada will provide me solace while away from my homeland.”
Looking toward Arguk in the fall, Mercer said he decided to join the team because of concerns about climate change. “Every day studies, reports and news articles are published illustrating the impacts of climate change, as well as predicting further harm,” Mercer said. “In particular, high latitudes appear to be experiencing the swiftest changes in climate, with temperatures rising faster in the north. Despite innumerable warnings and strong evidence indicating human cause, political and economic pressure has produced a continuing resource boom, with the Arctic and its people suffering the consequences of these negative externalities.
"My team members and I are just normal people, with an abnormal amount of backcountry experience, and we see global climate change as a serious threat to the existence of our planet in its current form. The Arctic is the canary in the coal mine. And there is so little information about this vast, open land. My hope is that we can shed some light on this beautiful place for those who can’t see it for themselves.”
While Mercer’s formal education was in forestry, his background is in geographic information systems and remote sensing. He landed a position in the private sector before even graduating from UAF. For the last six years he has focused on the interaction between policy and science, with a particular emphasis on Alaska wetlands. “This focus has been interesting, because so much of Alaska is considered wetland, which means I’ve been able to see, feel and experience much of this great state for myself,” Mercer said.
He donates time to a number of causes including the Anchorage Waterways Council as a citizen environmental monitor, Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest Board of Advocates, United Way and Challenge Alaska.
When asked what he learned from his undergraduate studies with SNRAS, Mercer said, “Work hard, use your common sense, come prepared, but don’t be afraid to fail. That is, all our failures are just steps toward success. I couldn’t be adequately prepared for Expedition Arguk if I hadn’t pushed myself to figure out just what my limits are and then worked hard to get past them. That applies physically, mentally and emotionally. So, be creative, put yourself out there to be judged negatively or positively and think outside the box. But above all, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and stay positive.”
One of his goals for the expedition is to simply enjoy the beauty of the Brooks Range and North Slope.
“We’re hoping to find compelling, creative and unique ways to share the drama of the changing Arctic,” Mercer said. “With few exceptions, we don’t believe conventional media has been successful in conveying the importance of this issue to the general public. Thus we are aiming to implement a new strategy in the market of ideas surrounding this very important topic.
“We intend to make a number of video, photographic and written products, including an animation by our Media Producer Paxson Woelber. Paxson’s a fantastic artist and I’m really excited to see what he comes up with. We intend to showcase our work via our website, film festivals, public presentations, print media and social media outlets." Find Expedition Arctic on Facebook.