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The High Arc­tic Insti­tute is an IRS des­ig­nated 501(c)(3) not-for-profit con­ser­va­tion, research and edu­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tion that was founded by Kurt Burn­ham in 2006.  Based in the United States, sci­en­tists from the High Arc­tic Insti­tute travel to north­west Green­land each sum­mer to con­duct a vari­ety of sci­en­tific stud­ies on the many species of birds which occur there.  For more infor­ma­tion on the types of research we con­duct visit our Con­ser­va­tion, Research, and Edu­ca­tion page to see our cur­rent and com­pleted projects.

Con­ser­va­tion Goal:  To mon­i­tor avian species in the Thule area to doc­u­ment changes in the over­all num­ber of indi­vid­u­als or pairs, dis­tri­b­u­tion of the local pop­u­la­tion, and nest­ing chronol­ogy, with spe­cific atten­tion given to species which occur at rel­a­tively low levels.

Research Goal:  To con­duct research on little-known or poorly under­stood species and top­ics and to advance the over­all sci­en­tific knowl­edge of High Arc­tic species and ecosystems.

Edu­ca­tion Goal:  To pro­vide hands-on research expe­ri­ence to under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents by hav­ing them accom­pany High Arc­tic Insti­tute sci­en­tists into the field.



Founded in 2006, the High Arc­tic Insti­tute takes over a long his­tory of Pere­grine Fal­con and Gyr­fal­con research first started in Green­land in 1972.  In addi­tion to con­tin­u­ing to work with fal­cons, the High Arc­tic Insti­tute has branched out to work with other species of birds, and in some capac­ity cur­rently works with nearly every bird species found in the Thule area, north­west Greenland.

Long-term research on Pere­grine Fal­cons and Gyr­fal­cons was first begun in 1972 in the Kanger­lus­suaq area, central-west Green­land, by Bill Mat­tox and the Green­land Pere­grine Fal­con Sur­vey.  Research con­tin­ued in this area unin­ter­rupted until the late 1990s.  In the mid-1970s, research was briefly expanded to the Disko Bay area and south­east Greenland.

To the far north­west of Green­land, in the Thule area, The Pere­grine Fund began study­ing both species of fal­cons in 1993.  In 1998, at the request of Bill Mat­tox and the Green­land Pere­grine Fal­con Sur­vey, The Pere­grine Fund also took over lead­er­ship of all fal­con research in the Kanger­lus­suaq area.  The Pere­grine Fund con­tin­ued to expand its research Green­land from 2000 to 2005, with projects occur­ring in the Man­nit­soq, Uum­man­naq, and Scores­by­sund areas.  In the fall of 2006 The Pere­grine Fund made the deci­sion to cease all oper­a­tions in Greenland.

With the deci­sion made to stop work­ing in Green­land, The Pere­grine Fund’s Arc­tic Projects Direc­tor, Kurt Burn­ham, approached The Pere­grine Fund with the idea that he would cre­ate a new not-for-profit orga­ni­za­tion, the High Arc­tic Insti­tute, to con­tinue research in Green­land.  Kurt had been work­ing in Green­land for all of his adult life and was in the process of com­plet­ing his D.Phil. at the Uni­ver­sity of Oxford in the United King­dom, with his dis­ser­ta­tion focus­ing on both Gyr­fal­con and Pere­grine Fal­con pop­u­la­tions in Green­land.  This was an amaz­ing oppor­tu­nity and would allow Kurt to pur­sue his life­long dream: to con­tinue study­ing fal­cons Green­land while at the same time branch­ing out to work with new species.  Peter Jenny, Pres­i­dent of The Pere­grine Fund, sup­ported the cre­ation of the High Arc­tic Insti­tute by trans­fer­ring own­er­ship of all field equip­ment, boats, and trucks in Green­land the High Arc­tic Insti­tute.  We kindly thank Mr. Jenny and The Pere­grine Fund for their sup­port and for help­ing us to get where we are today.



Kurt K. Burn­ham, D.Phil., Pres­i­dent and CEO

Kurt was born in Col­orado and moved to Idaho at the age of nine.  Kurt grew up in the out­doors and trav­eled exten­sively around the world, vis­it­ing var­i­ous con­ser­va­tion and research projects through­out the third world with his father (for­mer pres­i­dent of The Pere­grine Fund, Dr. William Burn­ham).  Kurt first vis­ited Green­land in 1991 and received his Bachelor’s degree in Biol­ogy from Albertson’s Col­lege of Idaho in 1997.  Upon grad­u­at­ing Kurt began work­ing for The Pere­grine Fund man­ag­ing their Green­land Project, and in 2003 was appointed as their Arc­tic Projects Direc­tor.  In the fall of 2006 Kurt cre­ated the High Arc­tic Insti­tute and in the spring of 2008 received his D.Phil. from the Uni­ver­sity of Oxford, with his research focus­ing on Pere­grine and Gyr­fal­con pop­u­la­tions in Green­land.  Kurt has con­ducted field research in Green­land every sum­mer since 1991, spend­ing nearly three com­bined years of his life in Greenland.

Bridger W. Konkel, Logis­tics Field Man­ager (seasonal)

Bridger was born and raised in Wyoming where a rural upbring­ing instilled in him a deep con­nec­tion with the wilder­ness.  It was at his parent’s home at the foot of the Bighorn Moun­tains where he cul­ti­vated a var­ied set of out­door pur­suits.  Land­scape paint­ing soon came to the fore­front of those activ­i­ties, and fol­low­ing high school Bridger attended the Uni­ver­sity of Wyoming and then Lyme Acad­emy of Fine Arts to study tra­di­tional art tech­niques.  Bridger first trav­eled to Green­land with The Pere­grine Fund in 2006, and since then has returned each year with the High Arc­tic Institute.  





Jen­nifer L. Burn­ham, Ph.D.

Jen­nifer is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Geog­ra­phy at Augus­tana Col­lege in Rock Island, Illi­nois.  She received her M.S. in geog­ra­phy from the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois, Champaign-Urbana, and her Ph.D. in earth and space sci­ences from the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton, Seat­tle.  Her dis­ser­ta­tion research focused on the spa­tial dis­tri­b­u­tion of organic car­bon stored in the soils of north­west Green­land.  This research has impor­tant impli­ca­tions for the study of car­bon cycling in the Arc­tic and the role that the release of pre­vi­ously frozen car­bon may have on global cli­mate change. Jen­nifer con­tin­ues to work in the Arc­tic and cur­rently focuses her research on the High Arc­tic Insti­tute methyl mer­cury and sta­ble iso­tope projects.  In alter­nat­ing years she brings under­grad­u­ate stu­dents to north­west Green­land to par­tic­i­pate in research projects.                                                                                                                                                                                               

Jack V. Cafferty

Jack was born and raised in Idaho, where he has spent a great deal of time enjoy­ing the out­doors since his early child­hood.  Upon receiv­ing a Bachelor’s degree in Biol­ogy from the Col­lege of Idaho in 1997, he made his first trip to Green­land Work­ing as a field assis­tant.  In early 2001, Jack began work­ing for The Pere­grine Fund on fundrais­ing, pub­lic rela­tions, and pub­li­ca­tions.  In late 2003, Jack took over the direc­tion of the envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion pro­gram and the Velma Mor­ri­son Inter­pre­tive Cen­ter at the The Pere­grine Fund’s World Cen­ter for Birds of Prey and over­saw its con­tin­ued growth an expan­sion until sum­mer 2012.  Begin­ning in July 2012 Jack returned to his Alma mater (The Col­lege of Idaho) as the Direc­tor of Devel­op­ment and looks for­ward to help­ing the small lib­eral arts col­lege con­tinue to grow and expand.  Jack and his wife Ash­ley and son Jasper reside in Boise, Idaho, and enjoy spend­ing time in the out­doors.  Since that first trip to Green­land, he has returned many times to assist with field work and is a strong advo­cate for the High Arc­tic Institute’s con­tin­ued research in the Arc­tic.  It seems he can just never get enough of that cold arc­tic wind and the slip­ping and slid­ing on the talus slopes!


Jeff A. John­son, Ph.D.

Jeff is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences and the Insti­tute of Applied Sci­ences at Uni­ver­sity of North Texas.  Prior to Uni­ver­sity of North Texas, he was an Assis­tant Research Sci­en­tist for five years with the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Zoology-Bird Divi­sion and the Depart­ment of Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­ogy. While at Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, he worked directly with mul­ti­ple researchers from The Pere­grine Fund to help incor­po­rate pop­u­la­tion genetic and phy­lo­ge­netic research into their active con­ser­va­tion pro­gram.  Jeff’s post­grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion focused on evo­lu­tion­ary and con­ser­va­tion biol­ogy research.  Jeff received his M.S. from the Zool­ogy Depart­ment at North Car­olina State Uni­ver­sity where he was inter­ested in ani­mal behavior-based ques­tions address­ing sex­ual selec­tion and other fac­tors con­tribut­ing to species diver­gence.  For his Ph.D. at Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin, Jeff was inter­ested in iden­ti­fy­ing fac­tors lead­ing to avian species extinc­tion.  This work pri­mar­ily addressed habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion and life his­tory con­straints in main­tain­ing viable pop­u­la­tions of prairie-grouse, and his stud­ies have been instru­men­tal in chang­ing prairie-grouse man­age­ment prac­tices by advo­cat­ing con­nec­tiv­ity among sub-populations to help main­tain dis­per­sal pat­terns and healthy pop­u­la­tions.  Since his dis­ser­ta­tion work, Jeff has con­tin­ued his research focus on con­ser­va­tion of nat­ural pop­u­la­tions dis­trib­uted through­out the world, includ­ing the Arc­tic and Antarc­tic, where he has a fas­ci­na­tion with the harsh envi­ron­ment and their unique and highly adapted inhabitants.


Calen Offield

Calen was born in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia and raised on Santa Catalina Island for the first eight years of his life before mov­ing to Laguna Beach.  At a young age, he was intro­duced to the impor­tance of con­ser­va­tion through his involve­ment with the Catalina Island Con­ser­vancy and expe­ri­ences with the Bill­fish Foun­da­tion.  Calen stud­ied a year of wildlife biol­ogy at Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity, before trans­fer­ring to Brooks Insti­tute of Pho­tog­ra­phy, where he grad­u­ated with a degree in Pho­tog­ra­phy.  He cur­rently works as a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher, trav­el­ing the world for var­i­ous assign­ments.  Calen first trav­eled to Green­land in 2002 with The Pere­grine Fund, and his love of Green­land has con­tin­ued to grow as he works each year with the High Arc­tic Insti­tute on their ongo­ing research projects.




Below find links to a lim­ited selec­tion of online and print arti­cles (avail­able as pdf down­loads) which have high­lighted our research.  For the lat­est news, infor­ma­tion, results and pho­tos from our work in Green­land fol­low us on Facebook.





Online links:

BBC Nature — Gyr­fal­cons are ‘secret seabirds’

BBC — Earth News — 2.500-year-old bird’s nest found

Nunatsiaq Online — Darker-coloured crit­ters may soon gain edge over whie ones in the Arctic

The Amer­i­can Bird­ing Asso­ci­a­tion — The pelagic Gyrfalcon

Envi­ron­men­tal News Net­work — The amaz­ing lifestyle of the Gyr­fal­con 

Rap­tor Pol­i­tics — Gyr­fal­con — New research con­clude this arc­tic fal­con spends long peri­ods liv­ing and hunt­ing at sea 

Mother Nature Net­work - Life at the epi­cen­ter of cli­mate change 

Quad-City Times — Q-C area cou­ple stud­ies Arc­tic birds 

The Atlantic - Green­land: A Global Warm­ing Laboratory

Print arti­cles (will down­load as a .pdf):

Green­land Today — Birds in Thule (in Dan­ish and English)

New Sci­en­tist

Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel Magazine

Bird­ing Jan­u­ary 2010

Illus­tr­erad Veten­skap or Sci­ence Illus­trated (arti­cle in Swedish)

Que­bec Oiseaux (arti­cle in French) 




Dr. Jen­nifer Burn­ham, Augus­tana College

Dr. Jeff John­son, Uni­ver­sity of North Texas

Dr. Richard Phillips, British Antarc­tic Survey

Dr. Jef­frey Welker, Uni­ver­sity of Alaska – Anchorage

Dr. Matt Chum­chal, Texas Chris­t­ian University

Dr. Robert Rosen­field, Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin– Stevens Point

Dr. Alas­tair Franke, ArcticRaptors.ca

Dr. Dou­glas Causey

The National Sci­ence Foundation

CH2M HILL Polar Services

Green­land Insti­tute of Nat­ural Resources




Past and present sup­port­ers of the High Arc­tic Institute:

Calen Offield and The Offield Fam­ily Foundation

Wolf Creek Char­i­ta­ble Trust

Yvon Chouinard

Ruth O. and Brian Mutch

The Nor­cross Wildlife Foundation

William Wade, Jr.

The John Newell Wade Foundation

Augus­tana College

The Pere­grine Fund

Patri­cia Burnham


Jack Stephens

The Harry W. Mor­ri­son Foun­da­tion, Inc.

Jack and Ash­ley Cafferty

Kurt and Jen­nifer Burnham

Uni­ver­sity of North Texas

Kim and Colleen Pelle

Veron­ica Padulla

Julia Jarvis and Andrew, Elsa and Henry Trout

Audubon Coun­cil of Illinois

Gre­gory Swanson

Robert and Judy Barday

Decatur Audubon Society

United States Geo­log­i­cal Survey

The Water­bird Society

The Seabird Group