ice loss to adjacent marine and land areas as well as society, and resolving future predictions of ecosystem alteration or population dynamics all require consideration of complex interactions and interdependent linkages among system components.

The National Research Council, through its Polar Research Board, organized a workshop “Frontiers in Understanding Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems” in what is intended to be the first in a series of periodic workshops addressing “frontiers in polar science.” The workshop, held on August 24-25, 2010, in Cambridge, Maryland, consisted of two components: a series of presentations in plenary sessions that introduced examples to highlight known and anticipated impacts of climate change on ecosystems in polar regions and an interactive portion designed to elicit an exchange of information on evolving capabilities to study ecological systems and highlight the next questions or frontiers that stand to be addressed (Chapter 2).

During the workshop, scientists from academic institutions, federal agencies, and other organizations explored emerging interdisciplinary questions and topics with the goal of understanding polar systems in a changing world and identifying new capabilities to study marine and terrestrial ecosystems that might help answer these questions (Chapter 3). Participants were asked to identify (but not prioritize) areas of research and technology advances needed to better understand the changes occurring in polar ecosystems. Participants were invited from a broad range of disciplines across the Arctic and the Antarctic including (but not limited to) expertise in marine and terrestrial ecology and oceanography, geology, human and social sciences, as well as atmospheric, geochemical, and biological sciences. Four plenary speakers (two with an Arctic focus and two with an Antarctic focus) were selected to highlight terrestrial, marine, cryosphere, and paleoclimate perspectives. These talks were intended to set the stage and to provide necessary background information. The topics covered were not intended to be exhaustive and some issues related to adaptation and the social components of climate change were not discussed in great detail. The planning committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired, and this report summarizes the views expressed by workshop participants.

In accordance with the statement of task, the workshop:

  • explored a selected field of science with special polar relevance: climate change and polar ecosystems,

  • considered accomplishments in that field to date,

  • identified emerging or important new questions,

  • identified important unknowns or gaps in understanding, and

  • allowed participants to identify what they see as the anticipated

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