BOEM Scientist Explores Island near North Pole with International Group: The 2018 OUTREACH Expedition

 From Longyearbyen and up to the ice edge at 81 degrees north, participants on this year's OUTREACH expedition focused on international research collaboration in the  Arctic.  BOEM’s Guillermo Auad is fourth from left/front row.  Expedition leader, Prof. Paul Wassmann, is in the red exposure suit. Photo: Jørn Berger-Nyvoll (UiT)

When Dr. Guillermo Auad, a senior scientist in BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program, had the chance to travel to a remote island in Arctic waters near the North Pole this past June, he didn’t waste any time packing. Even after his graduate studies and research and teaching career at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, followed by eight years working at BOEM, he had not envisioned this experience after 15 years of leading and conducting many research projects in the tropical and subtropical Pacific Ocean.

On this trip, he represented the Department of the Interior and BOEM on an outreach expedition to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole with a diverse group of participants from many sectors and representing five other nations. They included renowned international scientists, program managers, an ambassador, industry leaders, science communicators, museum directors, and the chancellor of the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), the host. For one week, far from their offices, they immersed themselves in discussions on how to better advance international research collaborations in the Arctic, and on identifying priorities requiring international attention.

Guillermo Auad briefs expedition members on BOEM’s Alaska studies program. Photo courtesy of Francisco Werner, NOAA.The goals set by the hosts of the expedition were three-fold:

a) to exchange information about Arctic research being conducted and planned by the participating organizations,

b) to discuss pan-Arctic integration as a top priority for the research community, and 

c) for several attendees who had never been to the Arctic, to connect with it at a different level.

Prof. Paul Wassmann of UiT, the expedition leader, proposed that the pan-Arctic conceptual model developed as part of a BOEM/U.S. Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) initiative be used as a tool-kit for upcoming pan-Arctic integration efforts, such as research planning. Dr. Auad welcomed this statement, noting that it was important for BOEM, Interior, and IARPC.

Expedition members about to disembark from the RV Helmer Hanssen to Smeerenburg on Amsterdam Island, a former whaling settlement from the early 1600s. They include Andrea Tilche, European Commission (front left); Guillermo Auad, seated rear/right; Cisco Werner, NOAA Fisheries Chief Scientist, second from right; and Bjørn Haugland, right, DNV GL group (Norway).  Photo courtesy of Dr. Martin Fortier, Laval University, Canada.

The participants engaged in twice-a-day round tables and presentations, and became acquainted with the historical, geographical, social, and scientific elements of the Arctic in general and of Svalbard in particular.  Dr. Auad briefed participants on BOEM and its Alaska Regional research.

“This was a wonderful experience, and I came to appreciate even more how much outreach matters; it is a powerful and potentially transformative vehicle able to affect attitudes and decisions,” said Dr. Auad of the expedition upon his return home. 

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