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Blog Category: Alaska

Travel Journal: There’s No Place Like Nome!

Secretary Pritzker reviewing plans in Nome, Alaska with Joy Baker, Col. Christopher Lestochi and NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan

Last week, I embarked on my first trip as Commerce Secretary to Alaska to see how the Last Frontier directly contributes to our economy, and how the U.S. Department of Commerce can help further support Alaskan communities.

The Arctic’s importance to the Nation continues to grow as the impact of global climate change and loss of sea ice make the region much more accessible. This accessibility has inspired strong interest for new commercial initiatives in the region, including energy production, increased shipping, scientific research, tourism, and related infrastructure development. Last year, the Obama Administration introduced  the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, not only in recognition of the growing interest in and vulnerability of the region, but also to prioritize and integrate efforts across the Federal government to explore emerging opportunities – while simultaneously exploring efforts to protect and conserve this pristine environment.

During my trip, I explored the city of Nome, which is located on the edge of the Bering Sea on the northwest side of the 49th state. Once a gold mining town, Nome is one of the most remote communities in Alaska, with a population of 3,500.

My first stop was the Port of Nome. Joy Baker, Special Projects Director and former Harbormaster of the City of Nome, led me and my staff on a tour and described the economic impact and infrastructure challenges associated with increased Arctic shipping.  Although originally from San Antonio, Texas,  Joy has worked for the City of Nome for almost 25 years. Her passion for the city was obvious, and she explained how satisfying it was to see the expansion and development of the facility as the successful end result of many years of work and input about additional infrastructure needs in Nome.

After the port tour, we saw U.S. Arctic port infrastructure and vessels, ranging from small gold dredges to industry ships, giving us a better understanding of how the Department of Commerce’s work in implementing the Community Development Quota program in 1992 has been able to grow and further support economic development and achieve sustainable and diversified local economies in the region.

Having enjoyed the outdoors, we moved inside for a roundtable focused on new economic opportunities that are emerging as the impacts of climate change are felt in the Arctic region, including maritime transportation, fishing, and oil and gas activities. Various Alaska Native corporations, industries, and local, state, and federal officials offered a variety of perspectives which gave me a better sense of how the Department of Commerce can further our efforts to support the region.

We wrapped up the day with another productive and engaging roundtable centered on the threats from climate change, which are already impacting some Alaskan communities. These threats include exacerbated erosion and inundation frequency; and the shrinking of sea ice habitat affecting marine mammals.

While we face these challenges, my hope is that the Department can continue to do its part to facilitate trade and investment, assist with the development and management of natural resources, and provide the data and environmental intelligence that are critical to the safety and prosperity of individuals, communities and businesses that are dealing with a changing environment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Alaska, and I look forward to strengthening our partnerships in Alaska and across the Arctic region in the coming months and years.

Obama Administration to Strengthen Rural Alaskan Community Economy

Aerial view, Bristol Bay Lowlands (Alaska)

Guest blog post by Matt Erskine, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development

Over the last three and a half years, President Obama has committed his administration to make investments to strengthen rural economies and create jobs. That includes Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

The Bristol Bay Jobs Accelerator Project, an economic growth effort by the Bristol Bay Native Association in Dillingham, Alaska is one of the winners of the multiagency Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, an initiative that pools the resources of 13 federal agencies to support innovation in rural regional industry clusters.

While Bristol Bay has a wealth of natural resources, it has struggled to leverage those assets to fuel long-term, sustainable growth. The area, for example, is one of the world’s premier fishing grounds for sockeye and king salmon, with millions of fish returning to Bristol Bay and its tributaries each year to spawn.

The Bristol Bay Jobs Accelerator Project, representing a consortium of 31 Alaskan tribes, will support the fisheries and seafood processing industry cluster located in Bristol Bay. The goal is to assist distressed rural communities in the region by leveraging local assets, building stronger economies, and creating regional linkages.

NOAA Ship Fairweather Conducting Hydrographic Reconnaissance in the Arctic

NOAA Ship Fairweather

Mission to update measurements dating to the 18th century

NOAA Ship Fairweather begins a 30-day survey mission in the Arctic this week, scheduled to check a sparsely measured 1,500-nautical mile coastal corridor from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, north through the Bering Strait and east to the Canadian border.

The mission will collect needed information to determine NOAA’s future charting survey projects in the Arctic and will cover sea lanes that were last measured by Captain James Cook in 1778.

“Much of Alaska’s coastal area has never had full bottom surveys to measure water depths,” said Cmdr. James Crocker, commanding officer of Fairweather, and chief scientist of the party. “A tanker, carrying millions of gallons of oil, should not be asked to rely on measurements gathered in the 19th century. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what navigators have to do, in too many cases. NOAA is changing that.”

NOAA has made it a priority to update the nautical charts needed by commercial shippers, tankers, passenger vessels, and fishing fleets transiting the Alaskan coastline in ever-greater numbers. In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to update Arctic nautical charts for the shipping lanes, approaches, and ports along the Alaskan coast. Full release

Science at Sea: Teaching Our Youth About the Jobs that Make it Happen

"If I Worked on a NOAA ship" book cover

As NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) prepares for its 2012 season, the lessons and materials created by its participants from the 2011 season are making it into the hands of their eager students around the U.S. In 2011, 34 teachers representing 21 states, participated in NOAA research cruises, involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts that can be integrated into their daily lessons. One of the goals of the TAS program is that teachers understand and use NOAA data in their classrooms. Teachers also obtain and translate this STEM knowledge for their students and the public in their blogs.

Another goal of the TAS program is for teachers to learn how different STEM occupations support NOAA’s mission and to then convey this information to their students. Each teacher is required to meet with, and sometimes interview, multiple crewmembers during the research cruise.  Often times, these interviews are featured in their blogs, but sometimes, teachers have the students create a product that explains the different jobs.

NOAA Ship Fairweather Sets Sail to Map Areas of the Arctic

NOAA Fairweather

NOAA Ship Fairweather, a 231-foot survey vessel, departed Kodiak, Alaska, today on a mission to conduct hydrographic surveys in remote areas of the Arctic where depths have not been measured since before the U.S. bought Alaska in 1867.

Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will use the data to update nautical charts to help mariners safely navigate this  important but sparsely charted region, which is now seeing increased vessel traffic because of the significant loss of  Arctic sea ice.

Over the next two months, Fairweather will conduct hydrographic surveys covering 402 square nautical miles of navigationally significant waters in Kotzebue Sound, a regional distribution hub in northwestern Alaska in the Arctic Circle.

“The reduction in Arctic ice coverage is leading over time to a growth of vessel traffic in the Arctic, and this growth is driving an increase in maritime concerns,” explained NOAA Corps Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the Fairweather. “Starting in 2010, we began surveying in critical Arctic areas where marine transportation dynamics are changing rapidly. These areas are increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges and fishing vessels.”

Fairweather and her survey launches are equipped with state-of-the-art acoustic technology to measure ocean depths, collect 3-D imagery of the seafloor, and detect underwater hazards that could pose a danger to surface vessels. The ship itself will survey the deeper waters, while the launches work in shallow areas.

National and Local Organizations Help Increase Awareness as 2010 Census Partnerships Grow to 200,000

Marquee of 2010census.gov Web site. Click to go to Web site.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians has become the 200,000th partner for the 2010 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. The number of partners supporting the 2010 Census exceeds the 140,000 that signed on to support the 2000 Census. To date, partners have donated 35,088 training locations, saving taxpayers an estimated $338.5 million in rent. The Red Lake Nation, based in Red Lake, Minn., joins a long list of local and national organizations and corporations, as well as other American Indian-Alaska Native nations, working to promote participation in the 2010 Census. (More)

Alaska: 2010 Census is Underway in Noorvik

Groves in dogsled. Click for larger image.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves traveled by dog sled today and visited residents in the remote Alaskan village of Noorvik, north of the Arctic Circle. There he met with the mayor and local leaders before a team of huskies guided him to a local residence to perform the first 2010 Census enumeration. Census takers must get a head start in Noorvik and other villages in remote Alaska before residents leave for hunting and fishing grounds and while the ground is frozen, which allows access to the region by bush plane, dog sled and snowmobile. (2010 Census Web site)

Secretary Locke, Senator Begich Meet with Alaska Business and 2010 Census Leaders in Anchorage

Locke and participants at roundtable.

U.S. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke joined U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) in Anchorage today for a series of meetings to discuss trade expansion, rural development and the 2010 Census. Locke and Begich hosted a roundtable discussion with Alaska business leaders on potential trade expansion between Alaska and Pacific Rim countries, and discussed rural development with the Denali Commission.The pair also toured the Anchorage census office to meet with statewide Complete Count Committee members in advance of this year’s 2010 Census. (Remarks)

EDA Announces Ongoing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funding to Create Jobs, Boost Development

Image of Flagship Enterprise Center. Click for larger image.

Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) invested $2.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to the Flagship Enterprise Center, Inc. and the city of Anderson, Ind.,(pictured here), to help build a business and industrial facility, which will house early-stage businesses that are working to establish themselves in the community. Other recent ARRA grants have been announced for Memphis, Tenn.; Spring Valley, Minn.; Tupelo, Miss.; Fosston, Minn.; Scottsburg, Ind. and Bristol Bay Borough, Alaska. (EDA Recovery Web site)

Secretary Locke Announces Over $11.9 Million in Recovery Act Grants to Create Jobs, Boost Development in Seven States

EDA seal.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced over $11.9 million in Economic Development Administration (EDA) American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants to help seven states boost private investment and create new jobs. The grants will make water treatment facility upgrades in Kentucky; help build an access road to serve an industrial park in Minnesota; help make roadway updates to improve access to an industrial park in Illinois; help build water and sewer infrastructure needed to spur business development in Georgia; convert an existing building for use as a regional vocational training facility in Idaho; expand an existing dock and install a crane to boost the commercial fishing sector in Alaska, and extend an avenue and provide water infrastructure in Washington state.