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Harry L. Stern Joins Center as affiliated faculty member

Harry Stern in Arctic

February 28, 2014

by Andrea Banel, Graduate Student, Evans School of Public Affairs; Canadian Studies Center Reporter

We are delighted to announce our new affiliated faculty member, Harry L. Stern from the Polar Science Center at the Applied Physics Laboratory. Stern’s research focuses on using satellite data to study Arctic sea ice. He is currently studying changes in the ice habitat of polar bears and narwhals in Baffin Bay, Canada. Stern was an Associate Editor for the Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans from 2007 to 2010. His other accomplishments include his work promoting and running the annual Polar Science Weekend at Pacific Science Center.

Stern says that his interest in Arctic exploration was inspired by his father’s work as antiquarian which exposed Stern to historic maps of exploration at a young age. Stern has gone on adventures of his own, including his participation in the Around the Americas expedition through Canada’s Northwest Passage.

Stern found out about an interesting family tie to the Arctic after he was already working at the Polar Science Center. Stern’s great-uncle, Robert Gross, shared with Stern about the time he sailed on a mission with Robert Bartlett, the famous Canadian Arctic explorer who captained the ship that took Robert Peary north on his expedition to the North Pole. As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Gross was assigned to assist Bartlett when he was contracted by the U.S. military during WWII to use his schooner, the Effie M. Morrissey, to re-supply weather stations along the coast of Greenland. Stern fondly recalls his Uncle “Bobby” describing the Greenland voyage as “so rough an exaggeration would be an understatement.” Stern visited Bartlett’s hometown of Brigus, Newfoundland at the end of his stint on Ocean Watch in 2009, having sailed through the eastern half of the Northwest Passage.

Stern’s essay, “Sea Ice in the Western Portal of the Northwest Passage from 1778 to the 21st Century,” will be featured in, Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage, a collection of about 20 essays to be published by University of Washington Press in 2014. The collection aims in part to revisit Cook’s third voyage in a modern context. Stern’s essay specifically looks at sea ice data to determine whether Cook had encountered an especially heavy ice year. Through his analysis of whaling ship records, historic charts, and satellite data Stern concluded that the conditions Cook encountered were consistent with ice edge patterns up to the 1990s, after which the ice began retreating significantly farther in the summer. Stern concluded that while Cook was unlucky in not finding a way through the heavy ice, Cook may have in fact been lucky in that he avoided being trapped and crushed by ice later on in the complex and arduous channel.

Arctic Ambitions is being published in conjunction with a museum exhibition of the same name opening at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center on March 27, 2015 and coming to the Washington State History Museum in October 2015. The project is the result of a partnership between the Anchorage Museum and the Washington State Historical Society. The exhibition will concentrate on Cook’s voyages in the North Pacific and Arctic in 1778 and will feature art, artifacts, and personal journals of Captain James Cook. In addition to the book of essays, symposia and an educational website are planned.

We are honored to have Harry L. Stern join the Canadian Studies Center as an affiliated faculty. We appreciate his contributions to the study of the Arctic and we are excited to see what he will study next.

Harry Stern studies Arctic sea ice and climate using satellite data. Current interests include the changing sea ice habitat of polar bears and narwhals. He helped to launch the annual Polar Science Weekend at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, and now runs the event with funding from NASA. He has a B.S. in mathematics and M.S. in applied mathematics. He has been with the Polar Science Center since 1987 and with the University since 1980.

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