2022 RID Awards

PROJECT: Developing a Long-Term Dataset of Ice Concentration in Alaskan Rivers with the Landsat Archive to Better Understand Changing Ice Regimes

PI: Dana Brown, Assistant Professor, UAF

River ice plays an important role in high-latitude hydrology, fluvial geomorphology, aquatic ecology, and social-ecological systems. Ice-covered rivers serve as the primary travel corridor in winter for many remote Alaskan communities. With a warming climate, ice regimes are changing. The season for ice travel is getting shorter and hazardous conditions are becoming more common, while the season for boat/barge transport is growing. The magnitude of historic change in ice regimes is not well-documented throughout the different regions of the state. This project aims to use the multidecadal archive of Landsat satellite imagery to build a comprehensive dataset of ice concentration (% cover) for major rivers throughout the state. From this, we will analyze regional changes in ice seasonality and impacts on river navigability. Future research will use this dataset to develop models for predicting ice regimes under different climate scenarios.

PROJECT: Dissipative Coating for Electrostatic Discharge Management and Dust Mitigation — Protocol Development and Characterization

PI: Cheng-Fu Chen, Professor, UAF

Static electricity exists in nature. If not managed, abrupt electrostatic discharge – as powerful as lightening, or as local as sparking when touching a door handle in a dry day – can be a hazard. For NASA, the issue of surface static charges prevails, ranging from the corona established to interrupt electronic signals during vehicle launching and instrumentation for space flight and planetary explorations[1][1], to the adsorbed PM2.5-like dust grains posing a risk to crew member health. Unfortunately, surface electrostatic charges are not avoidable as they typically build up through the contact of two dissimilar materials. In space, they can also be injected by solar events or from
energetic particles. This project addresses electrostatic discharge (ESD) management by developing an electrostatically dissipative polymer coating that has a surface resistivity between the conductive and insulated range. The project outcomes will work toward passive control of ESD and dust mitigation.

PROJECT: Development of Improved Indoor Air Quality Strategies for Alaskan Homes

PI: Getu Hailu, Associate Professor, UAA

The American Lung Association “State of the Air” report found that Alaska has some of the worst air quality in the nation [1]. The American Lung Association reports that many Alaskans are living in areas with unhealthy air with wood-burning stoves and wildfire smoke contributing to poor air quality [1]. The situation is expected to worsen. As the Arctic thaws, new economic opportunities, such as tourism, resource exploration and new shipping routes will be created. With increased transportation, increase in emission of air pollutants such as particulate matter and greenhouse gases is expected. As glaciers melt, black carbon is exposed and released to the atmosphere. Swelling temperatures and increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere create favorable conditions for increased period of pollen seasons, and increased amount of pollen produced by plants. Frequent wildfire in Alaska is another source of air polluting particulate matter and gases. Consequently, the air quality in the Alaskan homes will be adversely affected, resulting in poor indoor air quality (IAQ). Because people spend much of their times indoor (up to 90% in the US), the health and economic concerns associated with poor IAQ are enormous. There is mounting evidence that exposure to poor IAQ is the main cause of allergies, hypersensitivity reactions, airway infections, and even cancer. Although air pollution is a huge problem in Alaska, data for many places are unavailable and pollutant motion and dispersion in the Alaskan homes (where wood-burning stoves are used) is poorly understood [1]. The merit of this project is, therefore, in advancing our understanding of pollutant motion and dispersion in Alaskan homes; and development of efficient and effective IAQ mitigating strategies for healthy and comfortable living of Alaskans. Benefits of an improved IAQ include lower healthcare costs, reduced sick leaves, better performance at work. This will be reflected on economic benefits of Alaskans. It has been reported that the air quality improvements could reduce air pollution-related deaths by 40% in Arctic Council countries, alongside thousands of cases of debilitating illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis and childhood asthma [2]. The project aligns well with NASA’s Research Taxonomy TX06 Human Health, Life Support, and Habitation Systems. More specifically the project aligns well with TX06.4.3 and TX06.4.4 which emphasize on the importance of having habitable compartments of the spacecraft, and the ability to clean the habitable environment of the spacecraft in the event of contamination.

The project also aligns with Alaska’s S&T Research Priority 6: Human Health – Delivering effective physical and behavioral health care in the Arctic and subarctic. The project is also in alignment with Alaska’s S&T Research Priority 5: Environmental Monitoring and Management – Monitoring and mitigation of environmental change, mapping and remote sensing, fire prevention and response, and geophysical research.

PROJECT: Quantifying Spruce Bark Beetle Infestation Using Remote Sensing

PI: Simon Zweiback, Professor, UAA

Alaska’s boreal forest is changing rapidly in the face of shifting meteorological conditions, fire regimes, pathogens, and insects. A recent outbreak of the spruce beetle has killed spruce trees on over a million acres, causing considerable damage to the economy and ecosystem services, and increasing the risk of intense wildfires. Our capability to assess the impact of the infestation on permafrost, the carbon and water cycle and to predict and mitigate spruce beetle infestation is limited by the paucity of quantitative, fine-grained data on the timing, extent, and severity of the infestation across Alaska.

I propose to address this knowledge gap by developing tailor-made remote sensing solutions in collaboration with NASA JPL and local forestry experts. First (O1), I will create and assess an automated mapping tool that detects individual dead spruce trees in high-resolution imagery using a convolutional neural network. Second (O2), I will measure reflectance spectra of healthy, infested and killed spruce trees with a field spectrometer, thus laying the foundation for remote-sensing early-warning systems.

The data, expertise and connections gained within this RID project will be foundational for an externally funded research program focused on monitoring insect infestation and understanding interactions between ecosystem function and the carbon cycle with insect damage. The overarching goal is to establish Alaska-wide remote sensing as an indispensable automated tool for the operational monitoring, prediction and management of insects and pathogens across Alaskan forests. These advances in remote sensing will provide a direct benefit to the management of Alaskan timber resources, to fire prediction and management, and to the sustainable stewardship of Alaska’s diverse ecosystems.

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