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IOWA CITY | The University of Northern Iowa sits roughly 1,500 miles, at the shortest distance, from being within the realm of the Arctic Circle. But they got a little closer on Thursday.

The Iowa Board of Regents unanimously approved on Thursday the establishment of an Arctic, Remote, and Cold Territories Interdisciplinary Center, or ARCTICenter, in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UNI.

The center will build on an Arctic research lab that began at UNI in 2011.

The Arctic Social and Environmental Systems Research Lab, or ARCSES, Director Andrey Petrov said UNI is an ideal location for continuing study of the Arctic regions.

“UNI is now a well-recognized center of polar science. In the last few years, we received several million in NSF funding to study the Arctic, contributed to major global research initiatives in the Arctic and became a Midwestern hub for Arctic research,” Petrov said. “UNI is an institution with strong commitment to applied, community-based research, a kind of research that is in high demand in Arctic communities.”

The center will study human and environmental systems in the Arctic using approaches from multiple disciplines, including geography, anthropology, climatology, sociology, economics, remote sensing and geographic information science. UNI would like to see the center develop into a primary source for accurate information about the Arctic as well as a leader in research, education and outreach on the regions.

Arctic and polar regions represent about 25 percent of the total land mass of Earth. About 4,500,000 people live in the Arctic regions comprising parts of multiple countries. At least three cities within the Arctic Circle have a population of more than 300,000, Petrov said.

Petrov worked with the university to secure a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant that will fund most of the ARCTICenter for the next six years as it builds on the work that has already been done in the ARCSES lab. The remaining about $200,000 will be made up by reallocating funding sources. The center will employ three to four graduate students and one to five undergraduates who will contribute to the research. Most of them will come from UNI but not exclusively.

Petrov’s work with the Arctic dates back to the 1990s in Russia, where he became interested in the transitions happening in the Russian Arctic and then later the comparison between the Russian Arctic and North American Arctic. He studied Arctic societies at UNI for his master’s degree and then pursued doctorates in the study in Russia and Canada.

But Petrov said UNI’s history with the Arctic predates his involvement and the start of the research lab.

“Few people know that UNI has a long legacy of involvement in Arctic and cold environments research,” Petrov said. “UNI alumna Dorothy Jean Ray was a renowned Arctic anthropologist, who created an endowed scholarship for UNI anthropology students.”

Work that has already been done through the research lab has resulted in a better understanding of creative and knowledge workers in Arctic communities, identified gaps in education in the region as well as noting that more women achieve higher education than men in these areas, and explored tools of sustainable development in the polar regions, among many other pieces of knowledge.

“Arctic research is relevant for Iowa,” Petrov adds. “For example, understanding Arctic climate change may help us in predicting extremely cold weather and other hazardous weather events in Iowa. Iowa rural settlements are in many ways similar to the Arctic -- limited infrastructure, small labor market, population decline, brain drain, etc. Thus sustainable regional and community development solutions from the Arctic could be of use in Iowa.”

For more information about the lab, go to www.uni.edu/arctic.

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