Mari-Vaughn Johnson describes being in Juneau, Alaska, a lot like being on an island. Like many locations in the state, the only means in and out are by plane, boat or trail. 

Their remote quality isn’t the only thing that Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Islands have in common. Due to climate change, both regions are experiencing very similar significant alterations to their watershed ecosystems and environmental processes. 

The Pacific Island-Alaska collaboration, which includes the two Climate Adaptation Science Centers, in Alaska and the Pacific Islands, recently launched their new website on April 15. Its purpose is to serve as an online resource for the community to follow along with the collaborative “ridge to reef” and “ice to ocean” research projects. 

Prior to the pandemic, the collaboration had planned for students and researchers to have the opportunity to be a part of an exchange program, where they would travel to and from Alaska and the Pacific Islands, said Darren Lerner, the Pacific Islands CASC university consortium director

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University of Alaska Southeast master’s student Claire Delbecq and former UAS undergrad Lucy Franklin place a drift net in Montana Creek to capture plant matter, insects, and sediment from the water column.

The Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center is a collaborative partnership with the US Geological Survey, which includes the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and the University of Guam, both under the leadership of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. The Alaska CASC includes the University of Alaska Anchorage and UA Southeast, under the leadership of Alaska Fairbanks. 

There is no set time of when this exchange may take place, yet there is hope it will be sometime in the near future, Lerner said. 

“You can’t really have that full experiential learning that’s available by being there in person,” Lerner said. 

Researchers from the Pacific Islands take an holistic approach when looking at the climate impacts on rain, groundwater, invasive species and on the entire watershed, which is very similar to their collaborators in Alaska, Lerner added. 

"One of the most interesting things I have found in working with the Alaska-Pacific Island collaboration, so far, is how communities that seem so different…these ecosystems and communities share so many of the same challenges related to climate change adaptation," said Mari-Vaughn Johnson, Pacific Islands CASC federal director. 

Their mission is to work with both natural and cultural resource managers and the community. 

“This is in service to the collective we,” Lerner said. “If there was one message to take home, it is that for the students, that research that they’re doing, the careers it'll set them up for, really is about that service to the collective we in the community.”

Students in the Pacific Islands CASC can apply to be a part of a summer undergraduate research fellowship, said Lerner. He added that SURF’s dual application, which includes mentor applicants, pairs students with research and professors based on their interests.

The 10-week fellowship pays a stipend to the students. 

Graduate students, which are linked up to research projects, can receive funding for up to two years. The goal is to work with the students and professors to frame research around their degrees, Lerner said. 

The intent is to continue to grow the collaboration, said Johnson. If anyone is interested in being included in seminars, workshops, funding opportunities, and other aspects, she invites them to reach out to her at mvjohnson@usgs.gov or at picasc@hawaii.edu so that they can put them on the mailing list.