Archive for the ‘U of AK Fairbanks’ Category

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.


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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.

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I admit, I can be a little nerdy at times. And, in light of my current alma mater, let us conjure Dr. Suess’s imagining of the word [If I Ran the Zoo].

This being said, my Alaska trip became a cornucopia of chance encounters and coincidental run-ins, from people who live in Boston to people I’ve worked with on Polar ice sheets! While I would like to write about all of them, I’ve whittled the “run-in” list to three: Denali National Park, Julia Gourley, and Dr. Carl Benson.

Perhaps its fitting to mention Denali National Park first. It wasn’t until after I was asked to present a poster at the following week’s Week of the Arctic conference that I even thought to visit this majestic park. First established in February 1917 (as Mt. McKinley National Park), Denali NP now sits at 7,329.2 sq. miles, with an additional 2,089.9 sq. miles “buffer” in its preserve. For comparison, New Hampshire (9,279sq. miles) is slightly smaller than the whole of the park and preserve. Denali, or “The High One”, is the Athabaskan name for the mountain that serves as “the roof of the continent”*. My visit was short (day trip aboard a shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center), but it was punctuated by numerous animal sightings and my good friend (and shuttle driver), Dawn, that I met while working in Antarctica. I hope to re-visit this marvelous area sometime soon!

Grizz with springer cubs
Mother grizzly with her two springer cubs.

Coyote on the road
Coyote walking the road to Eielson Visitor Center.

The Wednesday poster presentation was actually part of a general invitation to participate in the Institute of the North‘s Week of the Arctic. Although I did not have time to spend all week in Anchorage, I was able to participate in Tuesday’s session (Arctic Council Strategic Planning and Luncheon) where Senior Arctic Official Julia Gourley (State Department) was a speaker and guest. Her role is to help lead US foreign policy development in the Arctic, and it was fascinating to hear her explain the structure of the Arctic Council (high-level diplomatic forum for international cooperation in the Arctic with 8 member states and 6 permanent participants), illuminate some of the key issues currently facing the Arctic, and engage with the conference participants. I only got a chance to chat with her for about 10 minutes, but I invited her to come to Dartmouth and speak with our IGERT folks … let’s hope her schedule allows!

Perhaps the biggest meeting of the trip, in my estimation, was my evening spent with Dr. Carl Benson (and his wife, Ruth). For those keeping score, Carl planned and led a series of traverses (1952-55) that led to his oft-read 1962 CRREL report that, among other things, defined the concept of glacier facies. Indeed, his traverses were the basis for the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse that Thomas and I undertook last spring. What fun that was! The evening was a mix of tales of derring-do and nostalgia, from train platforms in Evanston, IL, to the great, flat white of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Perhaps most fortunately, Carl delved into some of the glaciological questions that he’s still thinking about … a treasure trove indeed! With luck, I’ll be able to incorporate some of his curiosity into my still-developing thesis! Thanks for a wonderful night, Carl and Ruth!

And thanks, IGERT, for a wonderfully opportunistic Alaskan trip!

Carl Benson and his report
A picture with a legend! Photo courtesy R. Benson.

* Information from http://www.nps.gov/akso/parkwise/students/parkfacts/DENA_FastFacts.htm

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An opportunity to join an August summer course (and workshop) discussing Arctic Energy Futures at the University of Alaska Fairbanks happened my way in late June; how can you pass up an opportunity like this up? [This blog would have made it to the website sooner, but I was cozily staying in an off-the-grid yurt (well) off of Farmers Loop Road.]

Here in the new International Arctic Research Center (IARC) building, Hajo Eicken and Amy Lauren Lovecraft led a workshop designed to do two things: (1) expose interested stakeholders and students to the concept of futures planning through scenarios creation and (2) teach useful, experiential lessons in futures planning by answering the following focal question: What is required to drive demand for Alaskan energy production and use by 2060?

The dizzying list of participants include representatives from Pew Trusts, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Audubon, Ocean Conservancy, Institute of the North, Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, North Slope Science Initiative, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Satellite Facility, Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Geographic Information Network of Alaska, Scenario Networks for Alaska and Arctic Planning, International Arctic Research Center, WWF, Wilderness Society, Alaska Ocean Observing System, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Dartmouth College. Suffice it to say, there was a palpable energy in the room as we all delved into scenarios creation.

Essentially, this fascinating technique allows for an informed projection of plausible futures that extend beyond the normal time frame of predictive forecasting. You can engage in long-range strategy development with time frames beyond 20 years out (e.g., Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment,2007), and through the process you identify components within the separate narratives that are connected. Multiple scenarios allow for a wider exploration of possibilities without being tied to a singular compromised outlook. The scenarios, created primarily through imagination and cognition and grounded, when possible, in science and expert opinion (e.g., local knowledge, traditional knowledge, regional knowledge), create an awareness of long-term futures under conditions of uncertainty. These uncertainties are constrained through plausibilites (not probabilities), and they enable traditionally disciplinary thinkers to approach complex systems with a tool to identify and describe inter-related key factors and forces.

Despite the time constraints, class participants felt enriched by the experience. Okay, I certainly did, and all of the folks I had a chance to ask concurred. For the most part, most felt this strategy could be translated into their own professional experiences. This technique of scenarios creation is a great tool to have in your tool box. If anything, it highlighted how the process is the most important component in scenarios creation and futures planning. Gathering experts together and communicating on a topic (focal question) helps establish broader understanding and identifies key factors (provided there is good moderation, which there was in our class “example”). Ideally, you would also have decision-makers involved in the process so that, by virtue of their participation and observation of the exercise, they become educated in the topic, invested in the scenarios, and motivated to integrate viable strategies.

Class time in Fairbanks
A view from my classroom perch.

The class was such a hit, organizers from the Institute of the North wanted to somehow showcase this summer workshop in their annual Week of the Arctic in Anchorage, AK. As luck would have it, I was able to stay awhile longer in Alaska and volunteered to participate in the Wednesday session (Northern Energy Science and Technology Fair). Images and experiences from that little add-on will follow shortly!

Week of the Arctic Poster
A shot of the poster from the Wednesday poster session.

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Nestled at the end of a 60 mile dirt road, 120 miles from the nearest gas station in the town of Glennallen and 12 hours from Fairbanks lies McCarthy, AK. A vestige of the 1910s – 1930s copper boom in up-valley Kennicott, AK, McCarthy still possesses the character of a former era. When Kennicott was the biggest town in Alaska and was turning out high-grade copper 363 days per year (totaling 4.6 million tons of ore over the life of the mines), McCarthy was the town where the train turned around and also the place where alcohol was permitted. This early 20th century party town is experiencing recent revitalization as a center for tourism as well as natural science education.

The Kennicott mill. We had a free afternoon, when a number of students elected to take a guided tour of the historic sites in Kennicott.

The Wrangell Mountains Center (WMC), based out of McCarthy’s Old Hardware Store, exemplifies sustainable living at its best: the water is unfiltered rain and glacier melt, what minimal electricity is used is powered by solar panels, the restrooms are outhouses, the vegetables and herbs are from the garden out back, and all prepared meals are vegetarian. The center takes advantage of its location adjacent to the Nation’s largest national park and is dedicated to fostering: “appreciation, understanding, and stewardship of wildlands and mountain culture in Alaska through scientific and artistic inquiry in the Wrangell Mountains.” Programs at this experiential learning center include writers workshops, science lectures, wildlands field research for undergraduates, artists in residence, sketching and journaling seminars, and day programs. On June 10, 2012, 37 glaciologists from all over the world descended upon McCarthy for the second WMC-hosted International Summer School in Glaciology.

McCarthy’s Old Hardware Store, where the Wrangell Mountains Center is based. We ate all of our meals and completed our group work in this building.*
The Wrangell Mountain Center’s recently acquired second building, Porphyry Place, where we attended lectures. The building was a cabin formerly owned by Ed LaChapelle, an American glaciologist well-known for his avalanche research and photography in “Glacier Ice” (2000).*

The summer school is an intensive, 8-day course drawing 27 glaciology graduate students from not only the U.S. but also Australia, Denmark, Brazil, France, Belgium, and other countries. Eleven countries were represented in total, with only 15 of the 27 students from various U.S. institutions. The 10 instructors are prominent figures in the field and hailed mostly from University of Alaska at Fairbanks (the organizing university) but also from CU Boulder, Clark University, and University of Manchester, U.K. The course goal was to provide students with a “comprehensive overview of the physics of glaciers and current research frontiers in glaciology” through formal lectures, group work, advised projects, and interactions with scientists researching a diverse range of glaciological questions.

We drove 12 hours from Fairbanks, many of us having arrived only the evening before, and were surprised when dropped off at a footbridge. McCarthy is not accessible by public road, and the residents want to keep it that way. We loaded up dollies with our belongings: everything from computers and posters to tents and crampons, and pulled them across the river. Once on the other side, staff from the WMC arrived in vehicles (which they pay $350/yr to drive into and out of town on private land) for transporting the academic materials to town. Some of the staff stayed behind to show the students to their home for the week (“tent city”) and provide instructions on how to avoid attracting the resident grizzlies and black bears to our tents.

tent city
Tent city, the students’ home for the duration of the course.

Tent city is about a 10 minute’s walk from town, which has a few private homes, a hotel, hostel, bar, coffee shop, general store, and the two buildings of the WMC. Every morning for the 8-day course, we’d arrive at the Old Hardware Store for a prepared breakfast at 7:45 and start lecture promptly at 8:30. After 4 hours of class, we ate lunch and, on most days, spent the afternoon completing exercises to reinforce the morning’s teaching. The glaciological topics covered during the course ranged from the remote sensing of glaciers through satellite data to climate change impacts on glaciers, from ice sheet modeling to research frontiers in the field.

Learning virtually all of these topics in a traditional setting was new for me. I completed an independent study in glacier physics as an undergraduate and attended the Juneau Icefield Research Program, but course offerings in glaciology have been essentially nonexistent at my undergraduate institution as well as at Dartmouth (actually, Dartmouth has an undergraduate-level glaciology course, but even that won’t be offered again until 2015). The McCarthy summer school was, for me, a unique opportunity to engage in glaciology coursework.

Perhaps even more valuable than the lectures themselves, however, were the interactions with the instructors who took 10 days out of their busy schedules to live with and teach graduate students. They didn’t show up, lecture, and then leave. Instead, they ate with us, some camped with us, and they socialized with us in the evenings, often around a bonfire engrossed in conversations that inevitably—but organically—returned to science.

Each instructor advised one or more student projects, which had been assigned according to preference prior to the start of the course. I was assigned to the project that had been my first choice: “Ice flow over a bumpy bed.” Ice sheet models, which use a standard “shallow ice approximation,” poorly approximate the decrease in ice surface velocity when ice flows over significant relief. A simple but effective way of accounting for the velocity change is achieved through a “correction factor.” However, the calculation of the correction factor hasn’t been explored in much depth, and my partner (a grad student from Simon Fraser University) and I were tasked with the following: model the ice velocity decrease over a bump, determine the best “averaging window” with which to calculate the correction factor, and assess how well our derived factor improves the shallow ice approximation. Our adviser was Dr. Ed Bueler of UAF, one of the creators of the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) that is used in many studies of climate’s impact on ice sheets, sea level rise, and properties of ice.

In addition to direct contact with esteemed faculty (who were all, I should add, engaging lecturers as well as accomplished scientists), we had formal opportunities to connect with our fellow students on an academic level. We were required to bring a poster summarizing our current research and, on one of the first days, had a poster session during which we learned about each other’s work, practiced communicating about our own, and gave and received feedback. I felt fortunate to be part of a group of such compelling individuals committed to their research. I imagine I will maintain contact with many of them through collaborations and future conferences.

Group work in the Old Hardware Store.*

You might be wondering by now why we drove 12 hours to sit in a lecture hall, albeit beautifully crafted and of historical value. While not specifically a “field course,” the summer school did, indeed, have designated time for exploring the nearby glaciers. Some of the group projects involved photogrammetric or radar measurements of the ice, but one and a half days were devoted to exploring the Kennicott glacier and its tributary, the Root glacier, as a group. Dr. Bob Anderson of CU Boulder conducts much of his research on the drainage conduits of the Kennicott glacier within and underneath the ice, and he gave us a tour on the ice and around the sediment at its terminus. In a drained lake located a few hours’ hike over the ice, he collected his water pressure gauge and downloaded a time lapse video of lake fluctuations from May to the present. He also showed us the runoff stream whose level and properties he records during rapid drainage events.

drained late
The drained basin of the lake that Dr. Anderson studies.

Of course, we did some exploring, too, and in the afternoon I ended up in a winding tunnel/canyon of ice with my crampons on. When Bob Anderson gave a public lecture for the WMC, he began by talking about why scientists study glaciers. Yes, they’re important for understanding and predicting the effects of climate change. Yes, they affect water and agricultural resources. But most of all, we study them because they’re cool.

Me chimneying through ice, with Allen Pope of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge in the background.**

Standing in a chasm of ice that was a deep, almost haunting shade of blue found nowhere else in nature, I found myself marveling, as I often do on glaciers, at the sheer size, might, and breathtaking beauty of these bodies of ice and, in doing so, realized that I was reaffirming my dedication to understanding them.

– Alexandra Giese

Acknowledgements: I wish to thank the Institute of Arctic Studies at the Dickey Center for providing my tuition for the course.

Photo credits: *Andy Aschwanden, **Flavien Beaud

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Dr. Terry Chapin, the eminent ecologist, was on campus in May. For those who are not familiar with his work, his achievements in the scientific community are numerous. He’s written hundreds of articles and numerous textbooks, which have been cited 27,000+ times. He’s a member of the National Academies of Science, has contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and he heads the IGERT program at University of Alaska Fairbanks (major points in our book!).

We, the IGERT Fellows, got to meet with him during his visit and we can confirm that, on top of it all, he’s a stellar guy and has an admirable vision of how science can link society and the Earth’s ecosystems. Plus, he’s a killer fiddle player (we can confirm that too!).

He gave a really interesting talk about the connection between ecosystems and society in Alaska. You can check it out here for yourself:

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