Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Professor Lawson Brigham adds global perspective to UAF

Lawson Brigham, distinguished professor of geography and arctic policy with the School of Natural Resources and Extension, is dedicated to researching arctic policy centered on natural resources management. “I focus on Arctic marine policy issues,” he said.

Brigham travels the world representing the University of Alaska Fairbanks. With his solid connections to Washington, D.C., he brings in research grants, including ones from the National Science Foundation and State of Alaska.
While in Fairbanks recently for a NATO committee meeting, Professor Lawson Brigham (left) consulted with Interim Dean and Director Steve Sparrow.

The Cambridge-educated professor concentrates on Arctic policies and strategies to protect Arctic people and the marine environment. He works with Arctic Council working groups and research teams to respond to the complexity of new marine uses of the Arctic Ocean.

Brigham serves on the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, made up of legislators and citizens, representing the University of Alaska on research and policy issues. He also serves on the U.S. Delegation to the International Maritime Organization (a United Nations body) and works with Stanford University’s Arctic Security Initiative.

“Arctic climate change is profound,” Brigham said. “And geopolitics are becoming very complicated in the Arctic.”

Brigham strives to balance the freedom to navigate in the Arctic Ocean with the key issues of marine safety and protection. His background as a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker captain is an invaluable asset to his current work. “It’s key to have maritime experience,” he said. “It gives a practical bridge between maritime policy and academics. It merges the practical and theoretical.”

One of Brigham’s most visible projects lately has been the Polar Code, a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters. It addresses the risks specific to operations in polar waters, taking into account the extreme environmental conditions and the remoteness of operation. The code will address ships’ construction standards, safety equipment, requirements for qualified ice navigators, and environmental restrictions on ship discharges.

“This will be a new set of regulations for ships in the Arctic and Antarctic,” Brigham said. “It’s been 20 years in the making and means a new regime for marine operations everywhere in the Arctic.”
This excerpt from NBC national TV news, reveals the crux of the matter.

“Today, there are just a handful of people in the world with the appropriate training and skills for safe navigation in polar waters, he explained at a recent workshop on the code in Seattle. The meeting was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is the country's lead agency to the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations that sets standards for the shipping industry.

“Within years," Brigham said, "across the U.S. maritime Arctic we may have Statoil, Shell and Conoco Phillips all with their armada of ships drilling offshore with thousands of vessel transits in the Arctic. The question is: What is the Arctic experience and training of the mariners in the pilot house?"

Brigham’s travels for the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on the Arctic have taken him as far as Abu Dhabi. He is looking forward to visiting Dubai in November for the Forum’s World Summit on the Global Agenda.

Of all the publications Brigham has helped publish, he is quick to point out one of his favorites, Demystifying the Arctic, a WEF report that seeks to counter misinformation presented by the global media over the years.

Part of the report is a page called “Arctic Myths,” which explains the facts behind such illusions as:
•    The Arctic is an uninhabited, unclaimed frontier with no regulation or governance.
•    The region’s wealth of natural resources is readily available for development.
•    The Arctic will become immediately accessible as sea ice continues to disappear.
•    The Arctic is tense with geopolitical disputes and is the next flashpoint for conflict.
•    Climate changes in the Arctic are solely of local and regional importance.

Brigham presented to a NATO committee meeting held recently at UAF. “I spoke on arctic natural resources, shipping and environmental security issues ,” he said.

His position requires the ability to communicate complex issues regarding the Arctic. “I’ve been dealing with arctic issues for several decades and communicating to a global audience,” he said.

In his free time, Brigham enjoys sailing and fishing.

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