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Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2011. Frontiers in Understanding Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13132.
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4
Final Thoughts

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?

Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2011. Frontiers in Understanding Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13132.
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  • 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.

Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2011. Frontiers in Understanding Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13132.
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Page 47
Suggested Citation:"4 Final Thoughts." National Research Council. 2011. Frontiers in Understanding Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13132.
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Page 48
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The polar regions are experiencing rapid changes in climate. These changes are causing observable ecological impacts of various types and degrees of severity at all ecosystem levels, including society. Even larger changes and more significant impacts are anticipated. As species respond to changing environments over time, their interactions with the physical world and other organisms can also change. This chain of interactions can trigger cascades of impacts throughout entire ecosystems. Evaluating the interrelated physical, chemical, biological, and societal components of polar ecosystems is essential to understanding their vulnerability and resilience to climate forcing.

The Polar Research Board (PRB) organized a workshop to address these issues. Experts gathered from a variety of disciplines with knowledge of both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Participants were challenged to consider what is currently known about climate change and polar ecosystems and to identify the next big questions in the field. A set of interdisciplinary "frontier questions" emerged from the workshop discussions as important topics to be addressed in the coming decades. To begin to address these questions, workshop participants discussed the need for holistic, interdisciplinary systems approach to understanding polar ecosystem responses to climate change. As an outcome of the workshop, participants brainstormed methods and technologies that are crucial to advance the understanding of polar ecosystems and to promote the next generation of polar research. These include new and emerging technologies, sustained long-term observations, data synthesis and management, and data dissemination and outreach.

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