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UAF receives $3 million for marine sustainability program

Submitted by Carin Bailey Stephens
Phone: 907-322-8730

12/10/08

Thanks to a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the University of Alaska Fairbanks will soon offer an interdisciplinary graduate program in marine ecosystem sustainability.

The Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Subarctic program will provide graduate students with a broad education in all aspects of marine ecosystems, including the biological, chemical, physical and human factors that affect ocean life. The program will train students in ecosystem-based approaches to the sustainable use of marine resources.

"Alaska's northern coasts are suffering from rapid and often damaging changes as a result of global warming and other human influences," said Bill Smoker, principal investigator for the grant and the director of UAF's fisheries program. "These changes are affecting Alaska's marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them."

According to Smoker, the new interdisciplinary program will prepare marine scientists to address climate change and other important issues like fishing pressure, habitat loss and pollution. By transcending traditional boundaries between the natural and social sciences, the MESAS program will train students in ecosystem-based management, a holistic approach in natural resource management that considers the entire ecosystem. The academic program will include courses and case studies in anthropology, ecology, economics, fisheries science and management, marine policy and oceanography.

Ginny Eckert, program co-director and an associate professor of fisheries, says that traditional graduate education does not prepare students to be versatile in both the human and natural components of marine systems.

"That is why we created this program: to provide a new generation of scientists with a broader background in marine issues," Eckert adds.

The program begins in the fall semester of 2009 and will continue until 2012. MESAS will support 19 Ph.D. candidates for two years each and UAF will guarantee a third year of support through teaching assistantships and fellowships. Applications for MESAS must be submitted by Feb. 15, 2009.

Major participants in the MESAS program include the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, School of Management and the College of Liberal Arts. MESAS is one of over 120 programs that are part of NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, which promotes innovative, problem-centered, collaborative training to prepare scientists and engineers to address the global questions of the future.

About SFOS The UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences conducts world-class marine and fisheries research, education and outreach across Alaska, the Arctic and Antarctic. 55 faculty scientists and 135 students are engaged in building knowledge about Alaska and the world's coastal and marine ecosystems. SFOS is headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and serves the state from facilities located in Seward, Juneau, Anchorage and Kodiak.