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Evening at Egan Friday Fall Lecture Series

Posted: September 9, 2012 - 12:03am

The annual Evening at Egan Fall Lecture series at the University Southeast starts Friday with Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil author Ross Coen in the Egan Library at 7 p.m.

Coen’s presentation is on the challenges faced in a test run of an ice-breaking crude oil tanker in the Northwest Passage. The talk should be especially timely with the recent controversy over oil companies poised to drill off-shore in the Arctic.

Following the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, Humble Oil (now Exxon) commissioned the SS Manhattan, a 155,000-ton icebreaking tanker, to transit the Northwest Passage in order to test the logistic and economic feasibility of an all-marine transportation system for Alaska North Slope crude oil. Proposed as an alternative to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Manhattan made two voyages to the North American Arctic, along the way collecting volumes of scientific data on the marine environment of the Far North.

The expeditions also raised important questions about the “ownership” of the Northwest Passage — sovereign Canadian waters or international strait? — and how the use of science and technology in northern development relates to environmental protection of the fragile Arctic. Both questions remain open to debate today, especially in light of climate change and the thinning icepack that is presently opening circumpolar marine routes and altering our relationship with the North. Although the Manhattan successfully transited the Northwest Passage, in the process closing a 500-year chapter of arctic exploration by becoming the first commercial vessel to do so, the expedition demonstrated the impracticality of moving crude oil by icebreaking ships. Today the Manhattan provides an important historical reference point for marine traffic and resource development in the Arctic.

Drawing on ship logbooks, internal company memoranda, archival sources, interviews with surviving crew members, and dozens of original photographs, Coen presents the lecture “Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil” about one of the most unique episodes in the long and colorful history of polar exploration.

Coen is a PhD student in American history at the University of Washington. Previously he served as Rural Energy Specialist at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, an applied research institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and as Climate Change Policy Analyst for Senator Ted Stevens and the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Coen holds a Masters degree in Northern Studies from UAF. He is the author of two books and numerous articles on environmental, political, and social history of Alaska and the circumpolar North. His newest book, Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil: The Epic Voyage of the SS Manhattan Through the Northwest Passage, was published by University of Alaska Press in April 2012. Coen currently serves as president of the Alaska Historical Society.

Sept. 21, UAS environmental science faculty Eran Hood and Jason Amundson present the origins of the Suicide Basin outburst flood on the Mendenhall Glacier and future work aimed at better understanding this local natural hazard that occurred the past two summers. Sept. 28, photographer Skip Schiel presents “Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Nonviolent Resistance” in the Egan Lecture Hall. This multi-media presentation illustrates the reality of the occupation and highlights Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent responses. Both events take place at the Egan Lecture Hall.

Other events this season include a presentation by new Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center director Alison Bidlack on Collaborative Research in Southeast Alaska (Oct.12) and a UAS student presentation on their Spring 2012 semester in Cuba (Oct. 26). The series finishes off in November with talks by Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation Elder in Residence Randall Tetlichi on Human-Caribou Relations (Nov. 9) and author Karsten Heuer on his book, “Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd” (Nov. 16). Both presentations are part of the UAS One Campus - One Book, 2012: Being Caribou. All events are free, open to the public and held at either the Egan Lecture Hall or Library. For the full schedule and live streaming link, please see the Evening at Egan website at: http://www.uas.alaska.edu/eganlecture/.

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