Scientists across fields focus on Aleutians

For years, Debbie Corbett was regional archeologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She retired in 2013 and began freelancing. She also started working on organizing a forum for scientists doing research in any field – as long as it was centered on the Aleutian Islands.

Screenshot of the AIWG blog. (Courtesy of AIWG)
Screenshot of the AIWG blog. (Courtesy of AIWG)

Corbett said the idea hatched at a National Science Foundation-funded workshop on North Pacific archaeology a few years back.

“And a bunch of us who have worked in the Aleutians attended, and realized that what we really needed was some kind of Aleutian group…to keep each other informed about the research we’re doing,” Corbett said. “It’s all pretty informal.”

Corbett, Caroline Funk of SUNY University at Buffalo and University of Alaska anthropology professor Diane Hanson created the Aleutian Islands Working Group. They held their first in-person meeting in Anchorage in Jan. 2013, but it has since evolved to mostly a web-based forum.

“Communication was probably our biggest goal,” Corbett said. “To have some kind of venue where people doing research in the Aleutians Islands can talk to each other.”

As for current membership, there are cultural anthropologists, biologists, archaeologists, historians, people who do environmental reconstruction…the gamut of disciplines. Members also include residents in Atka, Unalaska and the Pribilofs who are interested in past and present research focused on their home.

And the group is always looking to add new field of studies to it scope.

“There’s a lot of fisheries research going on, so we’re trying to find some oceanographers who’d be willing to do our monthly blog,” Corbett said.

The group’s WordPress site is updated around the 15th of each month. The most recent post talks about the M/V Tiglax, the workboat of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

From June to August, the site will feature reports from the scientists spending the summer on the Tiglax.

And Corbett said she’d love some more participants.

“Like if someone from the museum out there wanted to write in about an exhibit, we would happily put that in our blog,” Corbett said. “If somebody were doing sociological research and wanted to include something – everybody’s welcome. It’s a shared obsession with the Aleutian Islands.”