With the rapid changes occurring in the climate system in polar regions, there is a critical need for the scientific community to evaluate ongoing and potential impacts of polar climate forcing on all the Earth’s ecosystems, including the interconnectivity they have with humans. A focus of the workshop was on developing a systems approach that evaluates diverse processes across a range of time and space scales to understand polar ecosystem response to varying forcing factors. Issues of thresholds and tipping points in ecosystem connections, polar amplification, and ecosystem predictability, vulnerability, and resilience in the context of natural and human perturbations, were discussed. Frontiers questions were developed from these discussions that are considered globally significant, relatively unexplored, challenging, urgent, and at the forefront of an expanding field of knowledge. These questions (without priority) are:
Will a rapidly shrinking cryosphere tip polar ecosystems into new states?
What are the key polar ecosystem processes that will be the “first responders” to climate forcing?
What are the bi-directional gateways and feedbacks between the poles and the global climate system?
How is climate change altering biodiversity in polar regions and what will be the regional and global impacts?
How will increases in human activities intensify ecosystem impacts in the polar regions?
Workshop participants also emphasized the need for development of emerging methodologies, technologies, and new organizational structures to address the complex system questions associated with understanding climate forcing and polar ecosystem response in a rapidly changing world. The rapid pace of change and its global-scale impacts make polar ecosystems a fundamental concern for science and society.