Thursday, January 14, 2016

SNRE professor Lawson Brigham receives Polar Medal

Lawson speaks at the Safe and Sustainable Shipping in the Arctic Environment (ShipArc 2015) conference in Sweden last August. Photo courtesy of World Maritime University

The American Polar Society has awarded SNRE Professor Lawson Brigham its Honorary Member Polar Medal.

Brigham received the medal during the society’s 80th Symposium recently at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. A certificate from the society notes that the medal was in “recognition of your contribution to polar science and exploration and your support of the society’s mission to encourage polar research and education and to preserve polar history.”

John Splettstoesser, the chair of the society's Board of Governors, said the award was "long overdue."

According to the American Geographical Society, Brigham was recognized for his voyages as captain of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea, which sailed from the southernmost Antarctic limit in the Southern Ocean to the North Pole in seven months in 1994, making it the first vessel in history to reach the extremes of the global ocean.

He was also honored for his work on the Arctic Council as chair of the council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment and in the International Maritime Organization for efforts developing the Polar Code, which was adopted in 2014. Brigham said the organization’s Polar Code provides new rules and regulations for ships operating in polar waters.

“It’s focused on protecting the Arctic people and the polar environment,” he said.

Since 1936, the society has honored 62 individuals with its Polar Medal for contributions to polar science and exploration. Other recipients include Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Admiral Richard Byrd. Brigham received the award Nov. 5 with eight other recipients.

Brigham doesn’t compare himself to those early explorers. "Our exploration aboard the Polar Sea was about research and understanding the planet," he said.

His recent work has focused on Arctic policy, specifically issues related to marine safety and environmental protection.

Brigham is a distinguished professor of geography and arctic policy. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1970 and earned a doctorate in oceanography from the University of Cambridge in 2000. He came to UAF in 2009 after a career as a Coast Guard officer, in which he commanded four Coast Guard cutters, including the Polar Sea on Arctic and Antarctic waters and six years as the Alaska director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

Brigham is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arctic, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and was elected in 2013 to the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research. 

Captain Lawson Brigham poses with the Polar Sea near Antarctica.

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