Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: IPY: Municipal Water Systems and the Resilience of Arctic Communities (Award# 0755966)

PI: Alessa, Lilian (
Phone: (208) 885.6651 
Institute/Department: U of Idaho, Moscow, Department of Landscape Architecture  
IPY Project? YES
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ASSP
Program Manager: Dr. Anna Kerttula (
Discipline(s): | Social and Human Sciences\Behavioral Geography | Social and Human Sciences\Ethnography |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
Over the past several decades, water infrastructure, in the form of municipal water systems (MWS) have been constructed in remote regions of the world in order to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with water-borne diseases and contaminants. However, scientists, policy makers, and communities have little understanding of the sociocultural effects of MWS. This research asks, “Does the presence or absence of MWS affect the social values of water?” It focuses on the role that MWS may play in affecting the values, perceptions and knowledge of water in the Russian Far East and Western Alaska communities. The scientists seek to understand whether or not MWS affect longer term resilience of a community by decreasing the familiarity of the users in these communities with their hydrological landscapes through a process of “distancing,” a phenomenon detected in the research team’s earlier work. The focus regions are those in which the researchers already have active collaborations for several synergistic and complimentary projects. While the Chukotka region of Eastern Russia and the Seward Peninsula, Western Alaska, share somewhat similar biophysical, geographical, subsistence characteristics, they consist of different cultures and thus would allow the team to determine, at least in this pilot study, whether distancing due to MWS occurs regardless of culture. Communities in both regions share similar challenges in acquiring water for domestic and industrial uses and are experiencing rapid transformations due to large-scale resource extraction. The interdisciplinary approach uses information provided by residents about their values, perceptions and knowledge of the water they rely on and integrates it into a new, composite tool to assess their overall resilience called the Arctic Water Resources Vulnerability Index (AWRVI). Since almost no social data or ethnography of water exist for the Arctic, the data collected will be a stand-alone, novel contribution to our limited understanding of human-freshwater interactions. Community members will be trained in the use of AWRVI and provided with the tool for their use beyond the conclusion of this project. The application of AWRVI in each community will serve as a baseline that communities may refer to in order to measure changes in their resilience over time, under diverse scenarios. They will explore the relationships between individual's values, perceptions and knowledge of water in communities with and without MWS. An extension of this objective is to explore how communities who have had MWS and have lost it are adapting, what the trade-offs are and whether or not the benefits that are provided by water treatment/supply technologies should be balanced against cultural changes in the short and long term.

Logistics Summary:
Researchers on this IPY project will work to elucidate the values, perceptions and use of varying communities’ freshwater resources in Chukotka Peninsula (Russia), and Seward Peninsula (Alaska). The research involves three consecutive years of ethnographic field work beginning in 2009. In spring/early summer, a research team of four will assemble in Nome, Alaska, for ~4 weeks of field work. After pre-season meetings, they will split into two groups of two. A team will spend about five days visiting communities on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula in mid-April and again early in June. In mid-August, a team will make a 10-week trip to Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula, visiting about 10 communities in all. The primary communities in Alaska in 2009 will be Elim, Golovin, Nome, Wales and White Mountain. They will also make a preliminary trip to Gambell with the intention of working in Gambell in summer 2010. The teams will travel to remote communities via scheduled and chartered fixed-wing flights to Seward Peninsula and to Provideniya, Chukotka—or via rented vehicle if possible for the Alaska work. The research team will interview individuals in communities and collect other social data. The teams will use local accommodations where possible. For 2011 work, a researcher returned to Gambell. Note: Post-doctoral fellow Sveta Yamin-Pasternak will participate in the Alessa-led research during all years of field work. In 2009, she also will conduct field work in Chukotka for her post-doc award (0631321). Support for that effort will be combined in this record.

For the Chukotka work, CPS will establish subcontracts with CSSG. For the Seward Peninsula work, CPS will provide fixed-wing charter and scheduled flights, village accommodations, field food, remote transportation using local village assistance, and safety/communications equipment as needed. The PI will arrange and pay for all other support.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2009Alaska - Elim04 / 10 / 2009 06 / 24 / 20093
2009Alaska - Gambell05 / 19 / 2009 06 / 24 / 20093
2009Alaska - Golovin04 / 10 / 2009 06 / 24 / 20093
2009Alaska - Nome05 / 19 / 2009 08 / 14 / 20092
2009Alaska - Teller04 / 10 / 2009 04 / 15 / 20092
2009Alaska - Wales04 / 10 / 2009 06 / 24 / 20093
2009Alaska - White Mountain04 / 10 / 2009 06 / 24 / 20093
2009Russia - Enmelen2
2009Russia - Enurmino2
2009Russia - Inchoun2
2009Russia - Lavrentiya2
2009Russia - Lorino2
2009Russia - Neshkan2
2009Russia - New Chaplino2
2009Russia - Nunligran2
2009Russia - Provideniya3
2009Russia - Sireniki2
2009Russia - Uelen2
2009Russia - Yanrakynnot3
2011Alaska - Gambell03 / 01 / 2011 03 / 31 / 20111
2011Alaska - Savoonga0

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     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1