FAIRBANKS — More than 1,000 scientists, government officials and industry experts have descended on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus to take part in Arctic Science Summit Week — an international gathering focused on the many issues facing the Arctic.
The first business meetings began Saturday, but the summit kicked into high gear Monday with a full slate of events and meetings from as early as 8 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m. Arctic Science Summit Week is an annual event put together by the International Arctic Science Committee and planned each year by a different host committee.
The summit takes place in a different country each year. Last year, the conference was held in Toyama, Japan, and the year before that in Helsinki, Finland. This year, the 18th annual summit, will be the first to take place in Fairbanks, according to Kristin Timm, communications and outreach coordinator for this year’s summit.
Along with the usual groups that typically attend the summit each year, hundreds of other visitors have made the trip to Fairbanks for the week to take part in several other related events that have been added to the agenda to coincide with the usual summit.
The Arctic Observing Summit, which takes place every other year, will take place at UAF today through Friday. The 2016 Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials Meeting will also take place in Fairbanks, beginning today and running through Thursday. The Model Arctic Council, comprised of college students from Arctic nations, began Wednesday and ends today.
The Senior Officials Meeting serves as the major annual gathering of the eight-country intergovernmental forum, which also includes six indigenous groups as non-voting members and numerous non-Arctic countries under observer status. The council's largest gathering, its ministerial meeting, takes place biennially and will take place in Fairbanks in 2017. The Arctic Council discusses topics and sets guidelines regarding various Arctic issues, from carbon emissions and sea level rise to improving telecommunication infrastructure.
U.S. Senior Arctic Official Julie Gourley addressed the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Monday, describing the Arctic Council’s mission and scope.
Today, as the earlier events wrap up and the later events begin, was designed by summit planners to serve as the week’s focal point. Numerous meetings, workshops and collaborative discussions will take place at UAF throughout the day.
“That’s where the program for (today) really comes in. We created this program at UAF to really take advantage of all these people being here,” Timm said. “In having so many officials here, or experts in the Arctic, we really wanted to make sure we gave people in the community a chance to learn what’s happening at UAF or what’s happening in Arctic science.”
Between the science summit, Arctic Council and Model Arctic Council, more than 1,200 people were expected in Fairbanks for Arctic conference activities this week, Timm estimated.
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel praised the summit during his brief remarks at the chamber luncheon Monday, following Gourley’s speech.
“I’m not sure everybody in Fairbanks totally understands or appreciates the magnitude of this,” Kassel said. “The scope of this program is just incredible for our community and the entire circumpolar north.”
Kassel said, due in large part to the science summit and Arctic Council meetings, Fairbanks has quite nearly run out of room.
“This rarely happens, but this week every hotel room in Fairbanks is full,” Kassel said.
Deb Hickok, president and CEO of Explore Fairbanks, said the summit has had an exceptionally positive impact on the local tourism industry.
“March is our most popular winter month to begin with, and this particular week is one of the most popular weeks,” Hickok said.
There’s no way to know exactly how many of the rooms in the borough are occupied by visitors in town for the science summit, Hickok said, but between UAF events, the Tanana Chiefs Conference shareholders meeting and the usual aurora tourism and World Ice Art Championships, all but a handful of rooms are booked through the end of the week.
In total, the Fairbanks area has just less than 2,900 rooms available year-round, according to Hickok. That number expands by about 800 in the summer, but no summer-only properties have opened yet. Those numbers don’t include private lodgings advertised on websites like AirBnB and Craigslist.
“This whole month has really taken off,” Hickok said.
Arctic Science Summit Week ends Friday. A full list of events open to the public can be found online at www.assw2016.org/assw-program/public-events.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.
Multiple corrections have been made to this article. The original stated some conference events are open to the public. This is true, but registration is required on site for $180.