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Arctic Change! A new interdisciplinary undergraduate class for UW


May 31, 2011

by Rebecca Woodgate, Applied Physics Laboratory

Spring 2011 marked the start of a new Arctic class at the University of Washington. Led by Oceanography professor Rebecca Woodgate, this class aimed to introduce students of any discipline to the wonders and challenges of the Arctic.

As described on the course website: “The Arctic is no longer remote. Arctic sea-ice loss, shipping through the legendary Northwest Passage, the international land-grab for the North Pole and the Arctic sea floor, Arctic oil and gas exploration, the fate of the polar bear – these and more are all household terms. Yet, many people’s understanding of this system and the reality of the issues is based primarily on news and media coverage. The UW houses a remarkably wide range of world-class Arctic research – this course will access that knowledge base and provide an interdisciplinary, science-based introduction to Arctic science and topical world issues that are at the forefront of understanding how the Arctic works today, how the Arctic is changing, and what impacts those changes may have on us.”

The course covered the ocean-ice-atmosphere system, extending into Arctic ecosystems (from ice-algae to the “charismatic megafauna”), and from this base, looked into topics ranging from the challenges faced by communities that live in the Arctic to the various roles the Arctic plays in the world. Guest lecturers from UW covered their own specializations, including Jody Deming (on Life In the ice), Sue Moore (on Life on and under the Ice, the Megafauna), George Hunt (on the Ecosystems of the Bering Sea, home of 50% of the US fish catch), Vince Galluci (on the Politics of the Arctic) and finally the Canadian Studies Center’s own Nadine Fabbi, introducing Arctic Indigenous political mobilization particularly in Arctic Canada.

Woodgate and Deming also teach a graduate oceanography class – The Changing Arctic Ocean – but this new class was aimed much broader. Indeed, the 2011 class drew students in widely varying subjects, including oceanography, biology, engineering, astronomy, computer science, environmental science, aquatic and fisheries science, languages, psychology, sociology, architecture, ethnic studies, communications, law, political science, anthropology, art, international studies, health sciences, human design, and comparative religion – a true cross-section of the University, and a living example of the breadth of interest in the Arctic from communities at lower latitudes.
For more about “Arctic Change” see the course website at

The Canadian Studies Center is the Council Representative for the University of Washington’s membership in University of the Arctic. UW students are eligible to apply for a major in Circumpolar Studies via UArctic membership.