I signed my contract with SFOS in late 1988, but I was still at UC California during March of 1989 preparing to move my lab and projects to Fairbanks. That spring, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound and Fairbanks set record low temperatures. Everyone knew Maggie and I were moving to Alaska and we almost had T-shirts made that said “Yes…we know how cold it is in Fairbanks today” or “Yes…we have heard about the Alaska oil spill and the otters” (We were living in Santa Cruz, very sea otter “aware” location on the California coast).
That was 24 springs ago and every March, I remember what is was like to be moving to Alaska and our great new adventure, and how special spring is to everyone who lives in Alaska. The Iditarod winners came in last week, UAF students are wearing shorts and light sweaters, the ice-carvers are out in force, the number of graduate theses showing up on my desk is increasing and planning is spinning up for UAF Commencement, just two short months away. You can simply tell from the “spring is in the air” attitudes and the general buoyancy of everyone, that another winter has passed.
For us in SFOS, spring is getting students ready to graduate, theses defended, preparing for field seasons, internships, and looking ahead to new careers for students who are leaving. I enjoy attending the graduate defenses, reading and commenting on the theses and hearing back from the students. As our undergraduate program grows, it is a pleasure to congratulate students and hand out diplomas at the graduation exercises. Being part of the ceremony for the graduate students is wonderful. Commencement is an important component of our academic programs; please attend if you are in town.
Spring is also when we look ahead to new workloads for the coming year, meet with our various Advisory Councils, and plan for operations and support. This coming year, for the first time, we have operations support for the Sikuliaq, which should arrive in Seward in mid-January, 2014. UAF and SFOS are moving into a whole new world when the ship comes on-line. Sikuliaq business level meetings are now several times a week here in Fairbanks, and many times per day in Seward. We are setting up scientific meetings, events and philanthropic tours of the ship for February 2014 while it is in dock in Seward. Spring next year will be one like we have never had before in SFOS.
Our SFOS research teams are extending their operations from winter field work into the spring/summer mode. The number of research related travel authorizations coming through my office is increasing as the days lengthen, and faculty prepare to head out to field sites and collection schedules with their graduate students and teams.
I was in Southern California last week, where spring is not nearly as precious as it is here in Alaska. I told everyone that we still have more than 2 feet of snow in our backyard, but that is was warm, sunny and the students on campus were out and about…..my friends and colleagues mostly like to hear stories about Alaska, but still can’t figure out why we call it “spring” when there is still snow on the ground. I usually just smile, and remember.