Human Dimensions Laboratory

page last updated: 12 August 2014


Structural – Social – Behavioral – Integrative

About the Lab

Faculty and students at the Human Dimensions Lab study coastal and environmental issues such as water and food security, marine resource policy and governance, environmental quality, and the engineered environment through a social and cultural frame. Our overriding premise is that the best solutions are place-based and culturally appropriate and acceptable solutions. We use an interdisciplinary approach to study trans-disciplinary societal problems, blending quantitative and qualitative social science methods with approaches from ecology, environmental science, and paleoclimatology. Topics of ongoing research at the lab include coastal community vulnerability to climate change impacts, environmental contamination, local ecological knowledge, and food-water-energy interactions in rural Alaska economies.


The WERC-HD Lab provides technology and support for a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including ethnography and oral history, qualitative and quantitative statistics, survey design, discourse analysis, GIS and cultural mapping, systems modeling, historical ecology, photovoice, and photojournalism / videography. Our growing library contains a number of up-to-date resources pertaining to human dimensions research, covering topics from survey design to ethnoarchaeology.

Lab Manager

  • Samuel T. Norlin, MS., UAF  Sam has a background in ecosystem ecology and science education and outreach. He currently manages the WERC-HD lab

Associated Faculty

  • Philip A. Loring, Ph.D., UAF,  Dr. Loring is a human ecologist with training in anthropology and sociology, ecology, and information technology. He currently works with students on a number of projects relating to community food production, food security, and water security.
  • William E. Schnabel, Ph.D., P.E., UAF, WERC Director Dr. Schnabel is an environmental engineer researching cold region surface/subsurface water and ecological quality, contaminant fate and transport, and water resources and waste management.
  • S. Craig Gerlach, Ph.D., UAF, Center for Cross-Cultural Studies Dr. Gerlach researches the geography and nutritional ecology of food systems, with interests in small-scale agriculture, reconciliation ecology, and ethnoarchaeology. He has experience with environmental impact assessment, cultural resource management, oil and gas development, and oil spill litigation.
  • Nicole Misarti, PhD. Water and Environmental Research Center Dr Misarti’s research focuses on long-term marine ecosystem and climate change coupled with an archaeological and anthropological component. One of my goals is to use long-term proxy data to augment current research on coastal ecosystems and assist management and conservation decisions for a sustainable future.

Associated Staff

Sarah Betcher. Ethnographic Filmmaker. Sarah received her MA from the Center of Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she focused on Alaska Native cultures, ethnographic film and ethnoecology. Her debut film, Tradition in Tune, takes viewers into the cultural world of the Athabascan fiddling tradition. She has collaborated on films with the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Center, the UA Museum of the North, and the UAF Center for Cross-Cultural Studies. Most recently she has been working with UAF’s Northern Engineering department on an multi-part series about climate change and the consequences for subsistence communities in the NW arctic. Sarah Betcher is committed to exploring the interface between culture and science in the north, and how this knowledge can be shared across cultures. For more information visit Sarah Betcher’s website at:  


  • Hannah Harrison (MS, INDS) Harrison is a student in UAF’s interdisciplinary graduate program. Her research involves seafood exchange and marketing in the Kenai Peninsula. She has a BS from UAF in natural resources. Harrison 2013 MS Thesis.
  • Yasmeen Hossein (PhD, INDS, RAP) Yasmeen is a PhD student in the Resilience and Adaptation Program, an interdisciplinary graduate training program here at UAF. Her research involves renewable energy and its role in reducing rural community vulnerability to global socioeconomic forces and shocks. She has an M.Sc. in Environment and Development from London School of Economics and Political Science, and has worked in the private sector on renewable energy research.
  • Henry (Harry) J. Penn (PhD, CEE) Henry Penn is a PhD student in the Water and Environmental Research Center.  His research is centered on regional assessments of water security assets, and wider spatially-explicit aspects of climate change related vulnerability.  He has a MEng in Civil Engineering from Loughborough University.

Current Projects

Title: Sustainable Futures North

Team Members: Loring, Gerlach, Norlin, Penn Description: This project is concerned primarily with developing a more sophisticated understanding of the interactions among environmental security  and natural resource development in the North American Arctic and Subarctic regions. With principle study sites in Bristol Bay, Alaska, Kotzebue Sound, Alaska, and Baffin Island, Nunavut, SFN combines integrated assessments of community needs and challenges, ethnographic filmmaking, large-scale data synthesis, engineered systems analysis, and an education and outreach program intended to enhance community capacity for responding to change.

Title:Regional Assessments of Health Vulnerability and Environmental Security (RAVENS) Phase I: Water Security in Bristol Bay

Team Members: Loring, Schnabel, Gerlach, Penn Description: RAVENS explores the spatially-explicit aspects of climate change related health vulnerabilities, through an integrated assessment of water security assets in the coastal communities of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. These include: water, wastewater, and solid waste infrastructure; human resources; grants and operating budgets; and community disaster mitigation and/or climate change adaptation plans. 2) Existing down-scaled projections of IPCC scenarios for precipitation, permafrost, and storminess will be drawn upon to create detailed regional and local impact scenarios. 3) The data sets and knowledge captured in activities 1 and 2 will guide the development of a GIS-based decision support framework. Future phases of RAVENS will transition the approach for use in other regions of Alaska and the United States, and for other sectors of environmental security including food and energy.

Completed Projects

Title: Food Security in the Kenai Peninsula

Team Members: Loring, Gerlach, Harrison Description: This project engages in a combination of surveys, in-depth interviews, and community workshops, to examine the role of local seafood in the food security of Kenai Peninsula (KP) communities. This work is in partnership with local community organizations including Kachemak Bay Research Reserve (KBRR) and the Southern Kenai Peninsula Communities Project. We identified the need for this research during a food security workshop held in Homer in 2011 by KBRR’s Coastal Training Program. The outcomes of this work will contribute toward more effective community planning for a more resilient region, and will offer insights for addressing food insecurity challenges across the state. The details regarding why consumers can or cannot procure local seafoods, and why local fishers can or cannot make a living providing fish to local markets, will be invaluable to a collaborative process of identifying solutions for improving the local food system. View our report here.


Funding for WERC-HD and its projects has been generously provided by: the National Science Foundation Arctic SEES (Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability) program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Institute of Northern Engineering at UAF.

Recent Publications

  • Loring, P.A., Gerlach, S.C., and Hannah L. Harrison. 2012. Food Security on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska: A Report on Local Seafood Use, Consumer Preferences, and Community Needs. WERC-HD Occasional Publications Series No. 1. Fairbanks, AK: Water and Environmental Research Center and the Center for Cross Cultural Studies. Available here.
  • Loring, P.A., and Lawrence K. Duffy (2011) Managing environmental risks: the benefits of a place-based approach. Remote and Rural Health 11(3): 1800.
  • Díaz, S., F. Quétier, D. M. Cáceres, S. F. Trainor, N. Pérez-Harguindeguy, M. S. Bret-Harte, M. Peña-Claros, L. Poorter & B. Finnegan (2011) Linking functional diversity and social-actor strategies: a framework and tool for interdisciplinary analysis of ecosystem services. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 108: No. 3, pp. 895-902.
  • Abdeladi, W., Beegle-Krause, C., Berner, J., Brigham, L. W., Gerlach, S. C., Grebmeier, J. M., Hamilton, L. C., et al. (2010). Scaling Studies in Arctic Systems Science and Policy Support. Washington D.C.: US Arctic Research Commission. Retrieved from
  • Loring, P., Gerlach, S., Atkinson, D., & Murray, M. S. (2011). Ways to Help and Ways to Hinder: Governance for Successful Livelihoods in a Changing Climate. Arctic.
  • Ericksen, P., Stewart, B., Dixon, J., Barling, D., Loring, P. A., Anderson, M., & Ingram, J. (2010). The Value of a Food System Approach. In Food Security and Global Environmental Change (pp. 25-45). London, UK: Earthscan.
  • Loring, P. A., Duffy, L. K., & Murray, M. S. (2010). A risk-benefit analysis of wild fish consumption for various species in Alaska reveals shortcomings in data and monitoring needs. Science of The Total Environment, 408(20), 4532-4541.
  • S.F. Trainor, T.S Rupp, J. Barnes. 2010. Meeting Alaska’s Fire Science and Climate Information Needs for Forest Managers. Forest Wisdom.
  • D.V. Fazzino and P.A. Loring. 2009. From Crisis to Cumulative Effects: Food Security Challenges in Rural Alaska. NAPA Bulletin 32: 152-177.
  • Loring, P.A. and Gerlach, S.C. 2009. Food, culture, and human health in Alaska: an integrative approach. Environmental Science and Policy.
  • S.F. Trainor, J.E. Walsh, G. Yu. 2009. Towards Predicting the Impact of Climate Change on Tourism: An Hourly Tourism Climate Index. Alaska Park Science, Proceedings of the Arctic Alaska Park Science Symposium Volume 8 (2): 106-109.
  • S.F. Trainor, F. S. Chapin, III, A. D. McGuire, M. Calef, N. Fresco, M. Kwart, P. Duffy, A. L. Lovecraft, T. S. Rupp, L. DeWilde, O. Huntington, D. D. Natcher, 2009. Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate-Related Fire Impacts in Rural and Urban Interior Alaska. Polar Research 28:100-118.
  • White, D. M., Gerlach, S., Loring, P., & Tidwell, A. (2007). Food and water security in a changing arctic climate. Environmental Research Letters, 2(4), 4.