UMass Amherst Geologist Named New Chair of National Polar Research Board

Julie Brigham-Grette

AMHERST, Mass. – Geoscientist Julie Brigham-Grette of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been named the new chair of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board (PRB) with the responsibility of promoting excellence in polar science and providing independent scientific guidance to federal agencies and the nation on science issues in the Arctic, Antarctic and cold regions of the world.

Brigham-Grette, who is currently in the Arctic co-leading a research project for undergraduate students studying tidewater glaciers, begins her three-year renewable PRB appointment on Aug. 1.

Previously, she co-chaired the U.S. National Research Council’s 2012 synthesis of reports from thousands of scientists in 60 countries who took part in the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-08.

Brigham-Grette is an expert in climate evolution and sea level history in the Arctic over the last 3.6 million years and has participated in nine field expeditions there over the past three decades. Among other techniques, she and colleagues use stratigraphy, sedimentology and chronology of geologic systems to document the global context of paleoenvironmental change in the area of the Bering Land Bridge, “Beringia,” and adjacent seas between Alaska and the Yukon and Northeast Russia. 

Brigham-Grette says she is particularly excited about a couple of upcoming opportunities for the PRB. “First, the United States, with leadership from the State Department, will become chair of the intergovernmental body of the Arctic Council in 2015, so there will be opportunities for the PRB to have input with federal agencies on the goals and deliverables for the three-year U.S. chairmanship, especially in the area of climate change. The Arctic Council, established in 1998, includes representatives from Canada, Denmark (which includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.  

Further, she adds, the PRB will have a role, along with federal agencies, in framing future research directions for the United States Arctic and Antarctic research programs, including partnerships at the international level. The board attempts to ensure that the U.S. polar research community participates in critical international planning activities and encourages international cooperation.

Brigham-Grette has been a PRB board member for six years. Overall, the board’s goal is to “make research in the polar regions more productive and responsive to the needs of the United States, maintain U.S. awareness of and representation in international science programs, and enhance understanding of issues in the polar regions.” It is unique in covering both Arctic and Antarctic science. Working closely with a large number of federal agencies and committees on polar matters, it serves as the U.S. National Committee for the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and for the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).