Science fair winner goes to the top of the world

Coast Guard Capt. Lawson Brigham (above) illustrates his description of the voyage of the icebreaker Polar Sea from Antarctica to the North Pole in 1994 with slides. A map (below) shows the area of Capt. Brigham’s experience and expertise.

Islanders interested in the marine world, climate change, theglobal maritime industry and/or the reminiscences of an Islandboyhood should show up early (seating is limited) at the ShelterIsland Public Library this coming Friday night, January 29, whenDr. Lawson W. Brigham, Captain, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.) will speakat 7 p.m. and “arctic refreshments and good conversation willfollow his talk, slide show and Q and A.

Dr. Brigham grew up on Shelter Island. He will be here to visithis mother, Gladys, and as he’s done in the past, he graciouslyagreed to spend some time talking about his very variedexperiences, warming up one of our cold, dark evenings.

A 1966 graduate of the Shelter Island School in a class of 16,with an even split he thinks of boys and girls, he was alwaysinterested in science.

“I was lucky to have Gene Kinghan as a teacher, he said in arecent interview, “a really superior science teacher, I felt quiteclose to him, he was a really great mentor, an inspirationalperson. Mr. Kinghan guided his studies, helped him participate inthe 1965 state science congress and provided “a very positiveexperience. It was a time, the years after Sputnik, when therevitalization of American science was a very big deal.

Being an Islander, sailing, fishing and life on the water werean integral part of his growing up years; his attendance at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy was a natural next step. The academyoperates polar ships and while there he became involved in studyingpolicy and the regulations deriving from it, and went to Greenlandand spent one summer on an ice-breaker.

He went on to receive a Master of Science degree from RensselaerPolytechnic Institute and to attend the University of Cambridge inEngland for a doctorate in polar oceanography.

Dr. Brigham is the Distinguished Professor of Geography andArctic Policy at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and haschaired the intergovernmental Arctic Council’s Arctic MarineShipping Assessment. He has served at sea in command of four CoastGuard cutters and the polar icebreaker, Polar Bay, and was directorof the U. S. Arctic Research Commission from 2001 until 2008.

His most recent work and the title of his talk this Friday is”The New Maritime Arctic.

“There are many challenges confronting future uses of this onceremote ocean. Globalization and the increasing economic connectionof the Arctic to the rest of the planet are driving increases inArctic marine operations, as well as the exploration anddevelopment of the Arctic’s large storehouse of natural resources,such as oil and gas and mineral wealth.

Weather changes and the thinning of the ice now permit longerseasons of navigation and new marine access to coastal regions,previously difficult to reach. This new maritime access raises ahost of challenges and heralds a new era of Arctic economicuse.

Dr. Brigham lives in Fairbanks with his wife, Ellen, a speechpathologist teaching at the University in Anchorage.

His mother, Gladys, filled out some additional background whenthe Reporter visited her this week. Lawson has two sisters, Marion,a kindergarten teacher in South Carolina, and Margaret, calledMaggie, an accountant in Stonington, Connecticut. His father,Walter, was a highly regarded Island boat builder who died just ayear ago.

Asked about her son’s unusual first name, his mother was happyto explain. Lawson was his grandmother’s maiden name but there wasalready a cousin named Walter Lawson when Lawson was born, so hisparents simply changed the order and named him Lawson Walter.

With membership in the Shelter Island Yacht Club for over 50years, Mrs. Brigham was pleased when one of the races sponsored bythe club was dedicated to her husband. This past season, her soncame home to present the trophy to the winner and agreed to jointhe race himself. According to his mother, out of 17 or 18 boats,she couldn’t remember exactly which, “Guess who won! Yes, Lawson,she said laughing.

Looking forward to Friday night, she plans to attend, to getthere early and to enjoy the evening. Most likely a large number ofIslanders will join her.