In its 14th year, the American Meteorological Society’s Summer Policy Colloquium boasts an impressive curriculum (last year’s is here), arguably the most comprehensive introduction to U.S. politics, the relevance of science and policy to each other, and the legislative process that is possible in 10 days. 


Participants of the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium (SPC) in front of the Capitol Building.

The first two days of the program focused on policy fundamentals; each day we had morning lectures on the basics of U.S. politics and policy, the inner-workings of the congressional and executive branches, and the details of the U.S. budget and scientific funding.  Notable among our list of speakers was Judy Schneider, who conducts orientation for all of the new members of Congress when they arrive in Washington.  Her cold-calling approach was intimidating for most of the members of our cohort; few of the grad students and scientists had much (if any) knowledge of the rules of procedure for the House and Senate!  However, it was the perfect introduction to Washington, and when we met with representatives from the Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, we knew the difference between committees and subcommittees, how their heads are determined, and how members’ offices and staffing typically work. 

The third day was focused on international policy.  As international development and multinational scientific collaborations are areas of personal interest and career goals, I found this day particularly exciting.  We heard from Dr. Tegan Blaine, the Senior Climate Change Adviser for Africa at the US Agency for International Development, first.  She shared that three departments oversee international development with respect to climate change adaptation: State, Treasury, and USAID, although other offices like USDA help with projects.  The State Department’s efforts are focused on international partnerships around specific development initiatives such as clean energy, whereas the treasury funds projects such as REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation).  USAID’s mission is distinguished in its incorporation of science and decision analysis and its focus on bilateral relationships.  In her position as a specialist for Africa, she has to make funding allocations and prioritize various projects based on impact vs. need considerations, the United States’ international agenda, the host country’s priorities, and in-country capacity.  Often she faces the question of where the investment (which is on a 3-5 year timeframe) will have the most lasting impact and where program implementation is most likely to be successful. 



Following Dr. Blaine, we were addressed by Dr. Jonathan Pershing, the Principal Director of EPSA and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate Change Policy and Technology in International Affairs at the Department of Energy (what a title!).  He spoke of his involvement with the Montreal ratification profess and the IPCC, as well as the U.S.’ role in the Copenhagen Accord.  I found it refreshing to hear his optimism regarding follow-up to the Copenhagen Accord, which is a non-binding document of carbon emissions reductions produced through Obama’s leadership at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference.  But what I found most thought-provoking were his distinctions between the ways that scientists and politicians think, distinctions of which I must be acutely aware if I end up pursing a career in Washington.  He said that science, at its most fundamental level, is about what we don’t know.  Policy takes what we do know and turns it into action.  Scientists are focused on the best solution, whereas the best available solution is necessarily used in policy decisions.  He also shared his thoughts on pursuing a career as a government scientist, sharing the perspective that scientists who generate good ideas alone make great professors and that those who come up with good ideas by working with 1,000 other people can be effective players in policy.  Our final international speaker was Dr. Norman Neureiter, the Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy and Center for Science Diplomacy of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (turns out few of our speakers’ titles were short).  He spoke passionately about science as something countries can agree on even when they agree on just about nothing else.  He highlighted the US-Russia collaboration on space, the 2001 US-Iran science collaboration on foodborne disease and air pollution, and the recent collaboration with North Korea on reforestation.  Science, he argued, is transboundary in nature and is easier to communicate than politics.  We also had an extended, dinnertime lecture delivered by Dr. Andrew light, a George Mason professor.  He spoke of his role as Senior Adviser to the Special Enjoy on Climate Change at the State Department and provided an insider’s view and optimism about the U.N. climate negotiations.  I had not thought so critically about science as a tool for international diplomacy prior to these lecture, although I left feeling energized about a potential career as a scientist in international relations and development.


Group work.

The rest of the colloquium was filled with similarly compelling speakers and engaging exercises.  (Gifford’s forthcoming entry will focus on our exercise in passing climate legislation.)  Science communication instructors from the American Geophysical Union joined us on Thursday June 5 for exercises (storytelling, improv, bringing an “ask” to a congressional staffer, communicating with journalists, etc.)  We also engaged in discussion with invited speakers on connecting with a public audience in general and to journalists and policy-makers in particular.  On subsequent days, we focused on science opportunities in the military (I was not previously aware these existed), the leadership and funding of the National Science Foundation and its pertinent divisions, and the role and image of the National Hurricane Center.  We also heard climate perspectives from the Senior Adviser for Infrastructure Resilience (Department of Housing and Urban Development) and a representative from the American Red Cross.  A case study on water supply and scarcity illuminated the necessity of but systemic difficulties associated with collaboration between the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and the USGS.

The productive week culminated on an extremely high note, with four program alums speaking about their work.  The closing speaker of the program, Dr. Ahsha Tribble, is a meteorologist who directly advised the President and his senior staff during hurricanes Sandy and Irene, among other disasters.  She was an engaging and inspirational speaker who talked about the importance of taking opportunities when they arise, being open to learning something new, and not confining one’s self to pre-existing career paths. 

In short, it was an illuminating and formative 10 days in which we had the privilege of interacting with accomplished and driven program participants, compelling speakers, and guests who have used their PhDs in the sciences to advance onto highly successful and impactful careers in policy. I left feeling grateful for the opportunity and feeling a little more certain that I’ll be moving ~500 miles south on I-95 after my time in Hanover comes to a close.


Julia Bradley-Cook receiving her Certificate of Achievement from Dr. Bill Hooke, Senior Policy Fellow and Associate Executive Director of the American Meteorological Society.

Greetings from Washington DC! Gifford, Alexandra and I are in the capitol for a 10 day crash course on science policy that is hosted by the American Meteorological Society.


We have joined 33 other participant to learn the fundamentals of science policy, meet with experts, and learn through hands-on exercises.

The participants make for a dynamic group. We have a very wide variety of backgrounds, including: grad students, post-docs, climate modeling research scientists, social scientists studying climate and extreme weather, a science education expert, professional forecasters, and NOAA administrators. The diversity of experiences and perspectives make for lively discussions during our meetings and interesting conversations during breaks and over meals.

What is science policy anyway? In short, it captures two key concepts: (1) “science for policy,” meaning science that is used to assist or improve policy decisions, and (2) “policy for science,” meaning policy that determines how to fund or structure the systematic pursuit of knowledge (science!). For instance, science for policy includes carbon models that are used to project future greenhouse gas emissions and the risk that our activities pose for the future. On the other hand, policy for science determines how much money is given to science and technology and how it is prioritized among areas of research.

After morning presentations and discussions, we spent the first two afternoons of the Colloquium visiting Capitol Hill for meetings with staffers and experts in the Senate and House of Representatives.


The group of participants taking the bus to The Capitol building

The Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives

The Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives


The AMS Colloquium participants in the House of Representatives

Meeting with majority and minority staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

Meeting with majority and minority staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee

It is exciting to be around people who are learning and talking about science policy. More than anything, these first days of science policy “boot camp” have taught me that there is so much more to learn about how policy and politics(!) are connected to science.

When I think of middle school, I think of purple braces, playing a lot of basketball, and being inspired by my science teachers, Mr. Z and Mr­­. Serrill. Thanks to these teachers, the most important things I learned in middle school were that science and math are wicked awesome and that I wanted to be an ecologist. :)

In Mr. Z’s class we learned about biomes and the life of animals in the tundra. I was captivated and read more about the arctic tundra in a National Geographic magazine sitting under Mr. Z’s window. Still though, the Arctic seemed like a faraway strange place that was completely disconnected from me and my community.

So, when I learned about the possibility of involving a middle school teacher in my research in Greenland, I jumped at the opportunity. If a teacher could do research in the Arctic and teach students about it, the students might gain a better understanding of the world as one system, why the Arctic is important, and how day-to-day science works. Maybe one student will even grow up to be a polar scientist. Just because their teacher cared about immersing students in current scientific research.

Emily Snowden, a science teacher at Crawford Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky, is one of those teachers. Thanks to the support of the PolarTrec program, Emily will be joining me in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland in June. Emily and I wanted to write a short pre-field-season blog, interview style.

Q: Emily, what are your students most excited to have you see or do and share with them?

A: My students view scientist as rock stars.  They know they exist, but they have little hope of ever actually interacting or meeting a scientist.  They love hearing my stories of past field experience I have had, but these stories are from the past and the research team has moved on.  I feel that this opportunity allows my students to get a lot closer and involved with the scientists.  With technology advancements such as Skype and the internet they will be able to meet Christine and the team while the research is occurring.  They are excited be able to follow along and ask questions instead of me just relaying old information.

Q: I think it’s awesome that you found this opportunity and want to be involved in scientific research.  What do you think is the biggest misconception your students, or any middle school students, have about science?

A: I think one big misconception that students have about science is that if you study science it is only to become a doctor.  They do not realize all the fields of study that science involves and how many other paths (besides being a doctor) are possible if you study science.

Q: What is one way you are planning to share polar science with your community or school?

A: To create an initial interest in Greenland and to encourage students to follow along with my blog I am having students draw pictures of what they think Greenland looks like on a post card.  I am then going to take these postcards to Greenland with me and mail then back to the students. I will write on these postcards to encourage my students to look at my pictures on my journal of what Greenland actually looks like.  These post cards will also include postage from Greenland which is neat since most of my kids have never left Lexington, much less the state or country.


The top of one of my field sites in Kangerlussuaq.

We’ll keep you updated! Emily is posting pictures and journal entries to this webpage: http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/climate-change-and-pollinators-in-the-arctic

In a nutshell: Ecology + Teacher and Outreach + Greenland = We’re psyched for this field season

Hanover, New Hampshire has a population of 11,000.  It is 90 miles from Burlington, 120 from Boston, and 260 from New York.  Undergraduate and graduate students at Dartmouth College have tremendous global learning opportunities, and, as an IGERT student, I have received enormous support for developing my less-conventional career goals in the policy arena.  Still, Hanover is geographically distant from scientific and political hubs, and I do not regularly interact with the larger community of students and experts committed to ensuring a peaceful and sustainable future for the rapidly changing Arctic environment.

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere on the planet, three times the global mean temperature change, in fact.  Its changes are affecting human populations, ecosystems, and economic opportunities, and the Arctic Council provides the sole forum for solution development and consensus building.  The Arctic is unique in being a region where climate changes are affecting resource availability, human health, cultural heritage, and governance across many national boundaries—and to the great interest of the rest of the globe.  As US Public Affairs Officer Steven Labensky stated on the first day of the winter school, “the ramifications and solutions to challenges [faced by Arctic nations] fall also below the 66th parallel.”  He saluted the decision to include observer nations in the Model Arctic Council.

I view the challenges faced and solutions developed by the Arctic states a mild harbinger of what is in store for the more politically volatile, more densely populated region of the Tibetan Plateau, where I also conduct research and ultimately hope to do diplomatic work.  The Arctic Council – its procedures, its shortcomings, and its enormous successes – will serve to provide the world with a model for peaceful international dialogue and resolutions for collaborative adaptation and sustainable development.

In addition to learning about the history, procedures, and priorities of the Arctic Council, I left Arkhangelsk reflecting on two subjects I had not necessarily anticipated: first, the role of scientists in Arctic diplomacy and, second, what it means for America—and for an American—to be part of the larger Arctic community.



Circumpolar map showing 8 Arctic nations. (source: mapresources.com)

The Arctic Council formed in 1996, with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration, but its precursor began in 1991 with the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS).  Although the AC now promotes coordination on issues ranging from health to economics to cultural preservation, it was exclusively environmental at its inception.  Therefore, the work of earth and environmental scientists has always been of central interest and relevance to Council officials and ministers, and the AC’s working groups represent a closer formal and procedural tie between government leaders and scientists than I’ve been exposed to elsewhere. 

The Arctic Council’s working groups provide a pathway for soliciting and implementing science; however, much of the responsibility still lies with the scientists.  A group that is balancing many interests, considerations, and priorities may not be able to seek out every aspect of relevant scientific work, particularly if it is not easily and readily accessible.  What I’ve heard my adviser call “loading dock science” is a luxury that climate and Arctic scientists can no longer afford.  We cannot conduct our work in a vacuum, publish it, and expect someone else to communicate it and advocate for its consideration in policy decisions.  Nor can we continue to speak an arcane language only our scientific colleagues understand.  It is not uncommon for an Arctic Council member to say to a scientist, “You’re speaking English but I don’t understand what you’re saying,” according to Prof. Douglas Nord who has attended several AC meetings over the last two decades.  Scientists are not permitted to make official policy recommendations to the AC, but it is their responsibility to communicate results, their relevancy, and their implications clearly to ensure that decisions are made with consideration of accurate and up-to-date scientific knowledge.

American universities are producing an astounding amount of research on the Arctic Ocean, ecosystems, ice, climate, and other aspects of the Northern region, which is particularly appropriate given the United States’ status as an Arctic Nation.  I’ve had the privilege of traveling twice to Greenland and twice to Alaska for coursework and research, and so it surprised me that several of my friends seemed confused when I told them I was representing the U.S. at this Model Arctic Council.  “Wait, what?  Why does the U.S. care about the Arctic?  [pause]  Oh, just because of Alaska?” was a common response, even among my peers at Dartmouth.

On the first day of the workshop, we participated in a roundtable discussion with policy representatives about the role of public diplomacy in Arctic issues.  I posed the question of whether it’s problematic for the general American public not to understand the enormous opportunities and responsibilities associated with owning land and marine shelf in the Arctic.  In terms of regional governance and international relations, perhaps the fact that many Americans view Alaska as a gas tank is not a problem.  But choosing not to extend public diplomacy efforts to the younger generation seems, to me, a lost opportunity to engage the public in questions concerning the effects of, collective adaptation to, and equitable capitalization on changes in climate.  Furthermore, by not actively engaging in Arctic issues, we miss exploring part of our identity as Americans.

I was one of 5 participants representing the United States in Arkhangelsk and the only one not from Alaska.  On the first day of the workshop, the group took an organized excursion to Russia’s largest open-air museum, Malye Korely.Image

Standing outside a chapel at the open air museum, Malye Korely. 

As I walked among the 18th century churches and peasant homes, I realized that I knew embarrassingly little about Russian history.  I tried to make up for what I’ve lacked in my history courses and my independent reading in the evenings (when I could get my internet connection to work).  But it didn’t hit me until the conclusion of the Model Arctic Council, when we were invited to the grand opening of the exhibition on American Russia at Arkhangelsk’s Museum of the Arctic, that Russian history—at least prior to the purchase of Alaska in 1867—is part of American history. 



Museum of the Arctic: opening of exhibition on American Russia.

A native New Englander, I have always vaguely identified with European history.  But to the rest of the international Arctic community, particularly to the Russians, Americans are the people who acquired Alaska.  It’s crucial to remember that this one state, with its unique geographical location and associated history, is an important part of our country that provides us with the privilege to contribute to developing, protecting, and preserving one of the most vulnerable parts of our planet.


Museum of the Arctic. (Photo credit: Irina Tyurikova)


Museum of the Arctic.


Given the increasing interest in the Arctic—from the international scientific, business, and health communities—it seems fitting, and perhaps even imperative, to expose the next generation of policymakers to the inner workings of Arctic diplomacy. During the last week of February, I had the privilege of representing the United States and Dartmouth College at the first ever Model Arctic Council, a role-playing conference with the same goals as the Model UN: expose students to high-level policy negotiations through experience and participation.

The Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU) in Arkhangelsk, Russia hosted 30 graduate students from over 10 countries to simulate the proceedings of the Arctic Council, the high level intergovernmental forum through which Arctic governments and indigenous peoples discuss and take tangible actions to address the economic, social, health, safety, and security issues that they face.

In front of Northern Arctic Federal University.

The first of four days (see program) consisted of lectures and round-table diplomacy discussions led by prominent government figures: US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Steven Labensky, Russian International Affairs Council Deputy Program Director Timur Makhmutov, and Dr. Lev Levit of the Arctic Council Secretariat. Additionally, students engaged in lectures by Arctic experts in academia: Prof. Hitchins of University of Alaska spoke on the history of the Arctic Council, Prof. Nord of Western Washington University shared his tremendous insights on the changes in and challenges for the Council from his involvement over the past 22 years; and Prof. Alexander Sergunin of St. Petersburg State University lectured on international relations and security strategies.

Me with Officer Labensky of the US Embassy.

The following days involved simulations of the three types of meetings run by the Council: a biannual meeting for one of the six Working Groups, which implement research and projects related to specific interests; the biannual meeting of the Senior Arctic Officials; and the biennial meeting of Arctic Ministers (the Secretary of State represents the US in this meeting). Each was a progressively higher-level meeting to which participants passed along information discussed and resolved at the lower-level meeting the previous day. Students followed the Council’s Rules of Procedure while representing delegates from the 8 Arctic States, 6 Permanent Participants of indigenous groups, 4 of the 6 Working Groups, and 3 of the 12 non-Arctic observer states. Each role was assigned prior to the meeting, and students prepared written position papers as well as oral statements or presentations for the meetings.

Active in negotiations.

Arctic states are those with territory north of the 66th parallel: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States (i.e. Alaska). The Arctic Council is unique among international fora in its inclusion of indigenous groups which have a permanent place at the negotiation table. Although they do not have a vote, each group is actively involved in discussions and consultations at every level of the Council’s activities. Representation may change but currently includes the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Aleut International Association, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and Saami Council. The final category of delegates present was Working Group chairs; working groups focus on a particular subject of interest and include sectoral ministry experts, researchers, and representatives from government agencies. On the Arctic Council, there are 6 such groups:
-Arctic Contaminants Action Program,
-Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme,
-Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna,
-Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response,
-Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, and
-Sustainable Development Working Group.

I played the chair of the Protection of the Marine Environment (PAME) working group during all three levels of negotiation. As the sole PAME representative, I contributed information related to achieving economic and social development while simultaneously ensuring sustainable marine resource use, maintaining biodiversity, and minimizing pollution. I represented the group that provides guidance to the Arctic Council on how to strengthen governance and environmental management, and I contributed environmental considerations to the conversation. The working groups provide the primary pathway through which scientists’ work informs the policy measures and initiatives developed through the Council and was, thus, of particular interest to me as an Earth Sciences PhD student.

Developing language for the Declaration.

Our task and final product was the “Arkhangelsk Declaration.” Emulating those produced every two years at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings, this document highlights progress and outlines future goals we agreed upon by consensus. Specifically, the Declaration summarized our work creating and designing initiatives to revitalize indigenous language, facilitate international electronic sharing of historical archives and data, stimulate product development within the reindeer herding industry, and address the incidence of suicide in Northern communities. Overall, the discussions were engaging, the negotiations successful, and the resulting plan both compelling and achievable.

Daniil Erofeevsky of NArFU, representing of Ambassador Thorsteinn Ingolfsson from Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, signing our Arkhangelsk Declaration.

All participants and instructors.

It’s the dead of night. An investigator is working in the lab, trying to answer one simple question, one question that begins all good investigations: Who are you?

She examines the body, which has three bright white lights shining on it. The body is hairier than expected. The key, she thinks, is the unusual indentations on the side of his abdomen.

After taking notes and doing a final once-over, the investigator knows who this guy is. She feels like cueing some tv crime show theme song. Maybe the one from Bones, where scientists help solve an FBI case.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

But the dead-of-night investigator isn’t done yet. She has 194 bodies to go. The ultimate goal is to create a network – like the kind you see on those tv crime shows. Who’s connected to whom? What were their usual hang-outs?

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who's connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs are.

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who’s connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs were. Credit:cityTV

The guy she just identified might have had a thing for hanging out at buttercups. Or maybe he visited gray willow, like many of the other guys and girls. The guy’s a fly.

Identifying fly specimens is a daunting task. She progresses to the next fly, and starts the process all over again. Antenna shape. Wing veins. Leg spikes. Hairs on the middle of the body near the legs. So many characters to pour over. So many possible identities. Each identification is helping to uncover the network, which will help us understand the importance of pollinators in Greenland.



A fly being identified under the microscope.

The pollen that was previously collected off the fly’s body will give the investigator insight into the fly’s hang outs –  flowers they were visiting.  Stay tuned as we collect these clues .

Sitting in my office at Dartmouth, it is hard to believe that just two weeks ago I woke up in McMurdo. After nearly two weeks at home, I’ve readjusted to life in the Upper Valley. Little things, however, quickly bring me back to the Dry Valleys, with their towering peaks and constant winds. Last week, hearing all of your responses to my blog questions was a lovely reminder of my travels. It was wonderful to hear back from so many of you, to read your thoughts, and to know that you enjoyed following along as I shared my experiences. For me, writing the blogs was one of the highlights of being in Antarctica. It completely eliminated that feeling of isolation that many of you imagined.

Since all good blogs require photos, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some of my favorites from the season.

Since all good blogs require photos, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my favorites from the season.

In reading your responses, it was clear that everyone understood and related to the importance of liquid water in the Dry Valley ecosystem. Indeed, this can’t be stressed enough, especially when we think about what may happen with warmer conditions. Your thoughts and questions about how additional water availability and warming temperatures may change the Dry Valleys were insightful:

Will more nutrients be delivered to the system due to more running water?

How will habitats change?

Will there be any algae blooms due to increased nutrient availability?

How will the lake chemistry change?

Could the Dry Valley lakes ever mix?

Of course, I have no answers to these questions – that’s why we continue to return to the Dry Valleys each year to make observations and conduct our experiments! But it’s rewarding to see that even without visiting the Dry Valleys, you can begin to construct interesting and important science questions.


Although many of the questions I asked were related to science, the question that generated the most responses had to do with repetitive tasks. It seems as though the balance between enjoyable and unbearable may be as delicate as the balance between liquid water and solid ice. Repetitive tasks, when efficient and with a defined purpose, can be soothing, meditative, and bring a peace of mind. But it’s very easy to push things over the edge: with just too much brainpower needed, no defined goal, or a feeling of endlessness, repetitive tasks drive everyone crazy. Having a goal, keeping that big picture in mind even as we focus on details, is critical to enjoyment. That’s something that we should all keep in mind, especially as we train assistants to do those repetitive tasks for us.

The McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Principal Investigators, all together at Lake Hoare Camp!

The McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Principal Investigators, all together at Lake Hoare Camp!

A number of you mentioned that yes, it is possible to learn something without repetition (fire is hot, for instance). So maybe I need to qualify my statement: learning to do something well (playing an instrument, conducting science, asking important questions) requires repetition.

I want to end by thanking you all for a successful blogging season! Thanks for reading, sharing with others, and responding. Stay tuned for future blogs from my travels to Greenland this coming summer!

Photo credit: Matt Knox

Photo credit: Matt Knox


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