Infrastructure Interdependencies in the Arctic: Reframing the Urban-Rural Interface


Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas. NNA projects address convergence scientific challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. This Arctic research is needed to inform the economy, security and resilience of the Nation, the larger region and the globe. NNA empowers new research partnerships from local to international scales, diversifies the next generation of Arctic researchers, enhances efforts in formal and informal education, and integrates the co-production of knowledge where appropriate. This award fulfills part of that aim by addressing interactions among social systems, natural environment, and built environment and is within the Resilient Infrastructure NNA focus area.

Critical infrastructure services (CISs), such as water, transportation, energy, communications, public health, and waste, are essential for the well-being and economic livelihood of Alaskan communities. However, providing these services is challenging due to the extreme and changing climate, as well as the remote nature of hub communities and Alaska Native villages. We do not currently understand how CISs are interconnected in Arctic communities; however, we do know that these interconnections are sources of both resilience and vulnerability. Furthermore, the different CIS organizations are complex, are responsible for people?s lives and safety, and have characteristics that we must understand further. This project explores how CISs support each other (e.g., increasing broadband in rural Alaska enables telehealth) and create challenges (e.g., local supply chains often delay infrastructure repairs). Unlike most rural communities in the contiguous US, in Alaska, the air service network is denser than the roadway network. In turn, hub communities?i.e., communities that can be reached by commercial airplanes or ports?are critical for surrounding, remote villages as they provide services including delivery of fuel and workforce support. This project considers the interface between urban hub communities and neighboring rural Alaska Native villages, exploring how challenges in hub towns cascade to villages. In collaboration with three hub communities in Alaska, the interdisciplinary research team integrates systems engineering, organizational sciences, civil engineering, and public health to improve the provision of CISs, not only benefiting the towns themselves, but also Alaska Native villages.

This project aims to architect infrastructure interdependencies within hub communities and at the interfaces between urban hubs and rural Alaska Native villages. In doing so, this work paves the way for future research by providing new empirical data and creating a set of management approaches that can help communities immediately improve their CISs. Leveraging semi-structured interviews with CIS stakeholders, operational data collection, and collaborative stakeholder workshops, Phase 1 of the project identifies and maps CIS interdependencies in hub towns. This phase uses fuzzy cognitive mapping and causal loop diagrams to bring together stakeholders' expertise and perspectives. Phase 2 analyzes how the provision of CISs in hub towns cascade to neighboring villages by assessing end-users' perceptions towards their infrastructure services and how they use services in hub towns. End-users' perspectives are captured through semi-structured interviews and transportation demand surveys. As CIS organizations in Arctic communities are complex, and are responsible for people's lives and safety, they are considered High Reliability Organizations (HROs); thus, this project uses HRO Theory to provide a solid bridge between social and technical issues. Phase 3 evaluates the organizations involved and provides stakeholders with a concrete assessment of where they stand and how they can become more robust organizations, and thus a more resilient system of organizations.

Principal Investigators

Co-Principal Investigators

Project PI(s)
Funded Institutions
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Texas at Austin
Project Start Date
Sep 2023
Award Year