Born in 1944, David W. Norton was infected at an early age by “high-latitude fascination.” While a high school student in Massachusetts, he was hired as a field assistant for a National Science Foundation (NSF) research project near the Arctic Circle in Interior Alaska.
After a second summer in Alaska, Dave did his undergraduate work at Harvard, spent his non-academic months as an undergraduate near the Equator in South America, then returned to Alaska for graduate study in animal physiology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
His plans to become an academic scientist were not fulfilled for a long time. As he finished graduate work (1973), the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (oil) was nearing approval for construction. Along with other Alaska biologists, Dave was drawn into serving as an “environmental cop behind a billboard” for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other cooperating agencies during the 1974-77 construction of the pipeline. There followed a seven-year stint as an environmental research manager while the U.S. federal government scrambled to lease Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) submerged lands to the petroleum industry for exploration drilling and production.
That stint was followed by seven years’ service as editor of the monograph series Biological Papers of the University of Alaska. By 1989, Dave had also taught for five summers with the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill resulted in another spate of what Dave calls the “ambulance-chasing” form of applied ecological research. After that experience—in fact, while Dave was in New England seeking a position in academia—he was invited to Barrow to develop a Natural Sciences department with the young community college there. That position put a premium on his breadth of scientific experience—if not his depth—in making sciences appealing to undergraduate students.
Dave officially retired in 1999, but has continued dabbling in research, teaching for RAHI and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and writing for The Polar Times and Arctic. For relaxation, Dave grooms and uses cross-country ski trails near Fairbanks, and operates riverboats to support teams investigating Cretaceous dinosaurs of Arctic and Interior Alaska.