Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus met with senior research personnel and faculty members at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Dec. 5 to discuss the role of the U.S. Navy in the arctic.

"We in the Navy have a particular interest (in the arctic) because our responsibilities increase as the arctic changes," said Mabus. "As sea levels rise, as ice melts, our role in terms of freedom of navigation, in terms of search and rescue and in terms of scientific exploration, increases pretty dramatically."

Home to the International Arctic Research Center, UAF's unique location makes it especially well situated to serve as a hub of research for areas such as the integration and coordination of the study of the arctic and the impact of climate change on this dynamic region.

"One of the main reasons I came here was to hear about this flagship university, and from its resident experts, how we might partner outside our existing Office of Naval Research (ONR) projects, in arctic research," said Mabus. "The arctic is only going to gain importance, particularly for the U.S. Navy."

Currently, ONR has three major projects on the Alaska side of the Arctic Ocean, including seasonal ice zone reconnaissance surveys.

As the United States prepares to take over chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, Mabus' visit to Fairbanks underscored the importance the U.S. Navy places on the arctic, not just in the short term, but through 2030 and beyond.

Previously this year, Mabus visited Sweden, Finland and Norway in an effort to strengthen relationships with these fellow Arctic Council nations.

"What we're trying to do through building these partnerships," Mabus said, "is to do some things now that will allow us to be prepared. As the arctic changes, we have to maintain the ability to be where we're needed, when we're needed. To have that presence, you cannot surge it, you cannot wait for an emergency, you have to be ready."

The U.S. Navy's focus on the arctic is expected to become more prominent over the coming years.

"The arctic is becoming increasingly important, not just for us, not just for the members of the arctic council, but also for the world," said Mabus.