warming faster than the rest of the planet in all seasons. In response to that warming, the physical and biological components of the Arctic system are continually adjusting. At the same time, the social, political, and economic components of the Arctic system are also changing, in part in response to a changing Arctic environment that is more accessible than at any period in the post-industrialized era, but also in response to related and unrelated geopolitical pressures. As a result, even well-established multidecadal trends may be misleading. Records of past Arctic climates exhibit threshold behavior, with abrupt and profound changes in state that occurred within a decade, and suggest that future abrupt changes are possible in a warming climate regime (Lenton, 2012). Consequently, we need to consider not just the implications of current trends, but also our ability to predict unexpected departures from those trends and their subsequent implications.

Our task in this report is to assess what we can do now in Arctic research that is new and to identify those questions that we will regret having ignored if we do not invest in answering them soon.


This report was prepared by the Committee on Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic, appointed by the National Research Council (NRC) in response to a request from the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Smithsonian Institution to provide guidance on future research questions in the Arctic over the next 10 to 20 years (Box 1.1). The committee’s goal was to provide concise guidance for U.S. Arctic research so that research is targeted on critical scientific and societal questions and conducted as effectively as possible. In doing so, the committee considered the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) to be the main audience for this report. Thus the high level concepts listed in the Table of Contents (particularly in Chapters 3 and 4) are intended to be priorities for IARPC as a whole, with the understanding that individual agencies will prioritize investments in accordance with their specific mission and goals.


The Committee on Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic was formed in early 2013 and completed its work over the course of the next 14 months. It held four meet-

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