By Laura Mack

Alaska’s climate is changing, causing severe wildfire and permafrost degradation in the interior lands and significant erosion of the coastlines. In August, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) hosted a kickoff workshop in Fairbanks, Alaska, as part of a new interagency effort to increase the pace of innovation in conservation management. 

Rosa Affleck (USACE CRREL), an ESTCP principal investigator (CR23-7787), presenting the objectives, progress to date, and pathways for the installation community to collaborate with her research. Photo Credit: Tracy Mallard, Noblis

The DoD, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and other partner research and land management agencies recently established a collaborative network to transfer new science and technology across representative federal landscapes to help managers keep up with the pace of landscape change. The National Innovation Landscape Network (NILN) will create a pathway for installation personnel – such as installation planners, engineers, and natural resource managers – to directly communicate with the research community. 

Four regional landscape sites experiencing rapid change from climate change and other ecological threats are testing SERDP and ESTCP tools and technologies for application and establishing continual needs assessment for accelerated science support. Installation personnel and researchers within the region then work together to transition tools and technologies to scale. 

“The purpose of these regional landscape networks is to operate at the intersection of science, management, policy and interagency partnerships,” explained Michelle Michaels, the Portfolio Manager of the Alaska Innovation Landscape Network (AILN). “We're not just talking about the research and technology, but we're also talking about the folks responsible for climate adaptation at the installation and community levels.” 

USACE-CRREL research civil engineers Kevin Bjella (left) and Dr. Rosa Affleck (right) at the entrance to the USACE-CRREL Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility. The facility is located near Fox, Alaska. Photo Credit: Michelle Michaels, SERDP & ESTCP

Specifically, for AILN, the initial effort is centered around the deleterious effects of permafrost degradation on built and natural infrastructure. Future efforts are planned to address wildfire and coastal erosion. 

The AILN workshop in August focused on bolstering knowledge-transfer of arctic climate resilience data, tools, and technologies. The workshop organizers aimed to solicit feedback from installation personnel about current landscape management needs. By discussing the challenges in responding to and preparing for climate hazards, workshop attendees gained insights on how to improve the research and innovation process 

The kickoff workshop drew stakeholder engagement from key organizations and agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Woodwell Climate Research Center, DoD National Security Innovation Network, and DoD Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program. 

Installation managers from Eielson Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Fort Greely, and Fort Wainwright also attended. Researchers briefed attendees on current tools and technologies under development, and installation managers provided crucial insights about the operational challenges they face. 

Looking down the first corridor near the entrance into the USACE-CRREL Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility. Pictured on the right side of the tunnel is a prominent ice lens. Photo Credit: Michelle Michaels, SERDP & ESTCP

AILN is now working to formalize their leadership team and partners and develop their official strategy and implementation plans. In order to rapidly attract proposals relevant to the needs shared by AILN stakeholders, ESTCP released a solicitation requesting projects aimed at transferring climate resilience technologies to key DoD geographies. 

“[The solicitation] was not aimed towards collecting or generating climate information, but more about identifying the tools that are already out there and moving them across the finish line, which is really what this network is about,” said Ms. Michaels. 

With AILN, installation managers are now actively connected with research teams that respond to these calls for proposals. Researchers and managers can use AILN’s direct pathway for communication, which leads to more coordinated and developed research efforts moving forward. 

SERDP and ESTCP have eleven completed projects and eight in-progress projects that encompass their Arctic portfolio. The projects have focused on understanding how Arctic regions are impacted by climate change, developing engineering solutions for more resilient infrastructure, and analyzing the impact of fire disturbance and permafrost thaw on installations. AILN aims to leverage tools from SERDP, ETSCP, and other research organizations and scale them for use across DoD installations and communities. 

“We had a great beginning conversation at the kickoff workshop, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how the network develops, grows, and expands from here on,” said Ms. Michaels. 



The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) harness the latest science and technology to improve the Department of Defense’s environmental performance, reduce costs, and enhance and sustain mission capabilities. The programs respond to energy and environmental technology requirements across the military services. SERDP and ESTCP are independent DoD programs managed jointly to coordinate the full spectrum of research and development efforts, from the laboratory to field demonstration and validation. For more information, visit Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn