National Academies Press: OpenBook

The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions (2014)

Chapter: 2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research

« Previous: 1 Introduction
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

CHAPTER TWO

Rationale for Continued Arctic Research

What happens in the Arctic has far-reaching implications around the world. Loss of snow and ice exacerbates climate change and is the largest contributor to expected global sea level rise over the next century. Ten percent of the world’s fish catches come from Arctic and subarctic waters (Lindholt, 2006). The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that up to 13 percent of the world’s estimated remaining oil reserves are in the Arctic (Gautier et al., 2009). The iconic cultures and species of the Arctic capture the imagination of millions of people (ABA, 2013). The geologic history of the Arctic may hold vital clues about volcanic eruptions and their impacts on ocean chemistry and atmospheric aerosols, including the release of large volumes of ash that are thought to have caused mass extinctions in the distant past (Grasby et al., 2011). The physical, biological, and social systems of the Arctic are changing in rapid, complex, and interactive ways, with effects throughout the region and, increasingly, the globe. If we as a global society are to respond effectively to these challenges, understanding the Arctic system has never been more critical and thus Arctic research has never been more important.

The ability to identify and predict the ways in which loss of sea ice affects climate, biology, and society will help us better prepare and adapt, in the Arctic and beyond. Assessing the impacts of industrial activity will help us develop appropriate regulatory strategies that reap economic benefits while minimizing negative consequences, lessons that can be applied far and wide.

Studying the ways Arctic peoples respond to social and environmental change will help us better understand societal resilience and the conditions that foster it, a pressing challenge everywhere. Understanding how a fast-warming Arctic may contribute to increased extreme weather events will help to evaluate risk outside the Arctic.

These and many other key questions have been identified over the years in various planning documents and other efforts to guide Arctic research. The committee analyzed many strategic research planning documents produced since the conclusion of the International Polar Year in 2009. These reports included many recommendations for future Arctic research. The sheer number of reports, and the hundreds of partici-

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

BOX 2.1 SELECTED RECENT (2013) DEVELOPMENTS IN THE ARCTIC

Winter rain, an unusual event in the high north, drives animal numbers on a Norwegian Arctic island into decline, showing that extreme climate events can affect an entire community of vertebrates (Hansen et al., 2013).

Within the past 5 years, nine of the 14 villages in Nunavik in northernmost Quebec have had to install cooling systems at community ice hockey arenas to keep the rinks cold during winter (Klein, 2013).

Tracer results from the Greenland Ice Sheet drainage system indicate evolution from a slow process to a fast channelized system over the course of the melt season (Chandler et al., 2013).

Ancient camels may have occupied Arctic forests 3.5 million years ago, a time when the region was densely forested and considerably warmer than today (Rybczynski et al., 2013).

One of the key features of amplified Arctic warming is that winter warming exceeds summer warming by at least a factor of 4, according to model simulations (Bintanja and van der Linden, 2013).

Dynamic bacterial communities associated with snowpacks may be active in supraglacial nitrogen cycling and capable of rapid responses to changes induced by snowmelt (Hell et al., 2013).

An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning (Bocharova et al., 2013).

The Arctic Council agreed to expand to include six new countries with permanent observer status in the Arctic Council: China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India, and Italy (Myers, 2013).

Pliocene polar amplification could be related to the loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, according to model simulations (Ballantyne et al., 2013).

ExxonMobil and Rosneft (a Russian oil company) reached an agreement to create a $450-million Arctic Research Center (OGJ Editors, 2013).

Sediments from Lake El’gygytgyn in northeastern Russia reveal that 3.6 million years ago the Arctic’s summers were 8 °C warmer than they are today (Brigham-Grette et al., 2013).

 

pants involved in their preparation, testifies to the strength of community concern and need for deeper knowledge.

In crafting a research strategy for the next 10 to 20 years, it is essential to assess the questions that are emerging in Arctic research, from our increased understanding, from the rapid changes under way, from new opportunities to study areas and phenomena that have remained hidden until now, and from new needs to manage how we respond to the developing Arctic. These questions are addressed in the next chapter. The significance of the emerging questions does not in any way reduce the importance of the existing questions that currently guide Arctic research. On the contrary, the ability to ask emerging questions depends on past results as well as ongoing pursuits to address important issues in Arctic research (e.g., Box 2.1). With this in mind,

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

 

Shifts in sea ice cover could affect oceanic emissions of dimethylsulphide (DMS)—a climate-relevant trace gas generated by ice algae and phytoplankton that acts as a nucleus for cloud droplet formation. Observations and model results suggest that the emission of DMS will increase in the Arctic as the seasonal sea ice cover recedes. If it escapes to the atmosphere, it could augment cloud formation and cool the Arctic climate (Levasseur, 2013).

A Greenland “Grand Canyon” was discovered. It is 50 percent longer than Arizona’s 277-mile Grand Canyon, but not as deep—ranging from 650 feet to about 2,600 feet (200 to 800 meters) (Bamber et al., 2013).

Analysis suggests wild food consumption, as practiced in two isolated First Nations communities of northwestern Ontario, can increase blood levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which provide a number of important metabolic benefits that could allow the prevention/treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, which has risen dramatically in northern communities (Seabert et al., 2013).

The first meeting of the Arctic Circle, a group established to facilitate dialogue and build relationships among businesses and those in the Arctic to address rapid changes in the Arctic, takes place in Iceland.a

The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago shows that during the last Ice Age, people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed (Wade, 2013).

Crusts deposited on underwater rocks by coralline algae record changes in sea ice over the past 650 years. They show that sea ice decline since 1850 is unprecedented in the record (Halfar et al., 2013).

________________________

a See http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/65674arctic_circle_conference_attracts_hundreds_to_iceland/.

 

the identified categories of knowledge both underscore what is important and point toward what is truly emerging, as well as what will be needed to support research in these emerging areas. Whereas previous reports focused on what we know we need to know, this report also considers what we may not yet recognize as unknown.

We know the Arctic system is warming rapidly (see Figure 2.1). We also know that sea ice is dramatically thinner and less extensive and that snow on Arctic land areas is disappearing ever earlier in summer. We know Arctic albedo is decreasing, as it shifts from the high values of ice and snow to the darker grays, greens, browns, blacks, and blues of soil, vegetation, and water. We know Arctic communities are feeling the stress of environmental and social change in all facets of their lives. We also know we have not sufficiently sampled much of the Arctic during the long winter darkness. The observed Arctic impacts attributed to climate change are summarized in Table 2.1.

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

image

FIGURE 2.1 Annual near-surface air temperature changes north of 30 °N are mapped as the average temperature measured between 2001 and 2012 relative to the average temperature for the 30-year baseline period 1971 to 2000. Arctic temperature increases of 2 to 3 °C, compared with the smaller increases (0.5 to 1 °C) in mid-latitude regions, exemplify Arctic amplification of global climate change. Higher temperatures in all parts of the Arctic indicate a response to global change rather than to natural regional variability. SOURCE: Reproduced with permission from Jeffries et al. (2013). Copyright 2013, American Institute of Physics.

 

These knowns are important and establish the foundation for what we do next (see Box 2.2). But there are other categories to consider as well, as indicated by the matrix in Table 2.2, that was inspired by R.D. Laing (1970):

If I don’t know I don’t know
I think I know
If I don’t know I know
I think I don’t know

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

Most of the reports we examined focus on what we know we need to know, following on as the consequences of what we know. We know that social and environmental changes are leading to increasing urbanization, but we do not know the consequences of this evolution. Warming promotes northward habitat migration and changing seasonal conditions, leading to new hotspots and dead zones in biological productivity, but we do not know where or when. We know that some of the thresholds we are reaching and crossing have analogs deep in the geological record, such as life in a previously ice-diminished and more acidic Arctic Ocean, and we need to explore those system circumstances and responses. We know that we have not profiled or sampled much of the central Arctic Ocean sediments and that, once we do, there are sure to be surprises in our understanding of geologic evolution.

Things we think we don’t know are in an important category that is often neglected in scoping out research strategies. This includes things that are known in one community, but largely unknown in others. Traditional knowledge is one example: It has guided the livelihood of indigenous peoples for thousands of years, yet most people who do not live in the Arctic are unaware of its critical observations and known interconnections. Similarly, academic scientific findings, including analyses and interpretations, are often reported in venues and formats that are specific to one discipline and are not accessible or usable by others. Industry research is often proprietary, but it could help answer questions if it were widely accessible. Questions posed by stakeholders and decision makers, as they try to meet the challenges of the changing Arctic, are also important indicators of system responses that are not known by many in the academic Arctic research community.

Things we don’t know we don’t know are things that we cannot foresee at this point in time. They include aspects of the system that we have not yet considered, as well as surprise events after which nothing is the same. An example of this was the dramatic loss of the sea ice cover in the summer of 2007 to 23 percent below the previous record low in 2005 (Stroeve et al., 2008), followed by another dramatic decline 5 years later in 2012 to 50 percent of the sea ice cover of only 30 years before (NSIDC1). To prepare for these events, we need to understand the present system, imagine the “what ifs,” and be positioned to detect and respond. To understand the system, investments need to be made in fundamental, exploratory, and process research. To be in position to detect these changes and critical circumstances, we need comprehensive, long-term observing capabilities coupled with periodic snapshots of the entire system to establish baselines, as we did during the International Polar Year (2007-2009). And we

_______________

1 See http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2012/09/arctic-sea-ice-extent-settles-at-record-seasonalminimum.

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

TABLE 2.1 Observed Impacts of Climate Change in the Arctic Reported in the Literature Since the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC

Category Examples
Snow and Ice Rivers and Lakes Decreasing sea ice cover in summer (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Floods and Drought Reduction in ice volume in glaciers (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Decreasing snow cover extent (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Widespread permafrost degradation, especially in the southern Arctic (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Increased river discharge for large circumpolar rivers (1997–2007) (low confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Increased winter minimum river flow (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Increased lake water temperatures (1985–2009) and prolonged ice-free seasons (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Disappearance of thermokarst lakes due to permafrost degradation in the low Arctic. New lakes created in areas of formerly frozen peat. (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).

 

need to be able to deploy resources quickly once change or an event is detected. This means that both logistics and funding need to be more flexible in terms of timing and also spatial distribution, from local to national and international scales.

The examples in Table 2.2 are illustrative of progress in understanding, issues of current research, informational obstacles that impede progress, and sources of surprises. The table is organized in the following categories: (a) why Arctic research is important

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Category Examples
Terrestrial Ecosystems Increased shrub cover in tundra in North America and Eurasia (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Advance of Arctic tree line in latitude and altitude (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Changed breeding area and population size of subarctic birds, due to snowbed reduction and/or tundra shrub encroachment (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Loss of snowbed ecosystems and tussock tundra (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Impacts on tundra animals from increased ice layers in snow pack, following rain-on-snow events (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Coastal Erosion and Marine Ecosystems Increased coastal erosion (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Negative effects on non-migratory species (high confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Decreased reproductive success in seabirds (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Food Production and Livelihoods Impact on livelihoods of indigenous peoples, beyond effects of economic and sociopolitical changes (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).
Increased shipping traffic across the Bering Strait (medium confidence, major contribution from climate change).

SOURCE: Adapted from IPCC, 2014, Summary for Policy Makers.

(knowns are what we have learned), (b) why emerging questions are worth thinking about (know we need to know are where the next discoveries lie), (c) why we need continued research support and enhanced collaboration (things we think we don’t know are holding us back if we continue to ignore them), and (d) why it’s essential to be open to new things (what we don’t know we don’t know is where the surprises will come from).

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

TABLE 2.2 Examples from the Four Categories of Knowledge Described in the text

(a) Knowns (b) Know We Need to Know

•   Arctic is warming, more warming is likely

•   Identify biodiversity hotspots

•   Changes in phase (increased ice loss/increased permafrost thawing)

•   Greater understanding of teleconnections

•   Adaptation and mitigation strategies

•   Albedo reduction, reduced summer sea ice extent and thickness, reduced snow cover

•   Sustainable development and resilience strategies

•   Reduced glacier mass, leading to increased sea level rise and changes in hydrologic cycle

•   Seasonality of Arctic systems

•   Cumulative impacts of environmental and social change

•   Increased greening

•   Implications of urbanization

•   Increased variability and disturbances in Arctic systems

•   Impact of Arctic change on global climate change

•   Increased accessibility and activity (e.g., resource exploration, shipping, tourism)

•   Impact of ice loss and calving from Greenland on rate and magnitude of global sea level rise

•   Changes in social, economic, cultural, and political systems

•   Arctic atmospheric connections to mid-latitude weather

•   Ocean acidification

•   Community migration

•   Threats to food security

•   Rate of change and associated implications

•   Winter and spring data are lacking

•   How to re-think Arctic engineering

•   Landscape evolution

•   Oceanic restructuring

•   Changes in marine and terrestrial primary production

(c) Think We Don’t Know (d) Don’t Know We Don’t Know
Knowledge that is known to one group but not others, including:

•   Unanticipated and/or extreme environmental changes and events

•   Traditional knowledge

Knowledge that will emerge through:

•   Industry knowledge

•   Monitoring and long-term observations

•   Discipline-specific knowledge

•   Basic research and process studies

•   Stakeholder and policy maker information needs

•   Model-observation intercomparison

•   Analysis of outliers in paleo data

•   Unpublished or unarchived data

•   Systems research and research at system interfaces

•   Exploratory research

•   Understanding system thresholds and transitions

•   Rapid response capability

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

BOX 2.2 ARCTIC-RELATED FINDINGS IN CLIMATE CHANGE 2014: IMPACTS, ADAPTATION, AND VULNERABILITY

The physical, biological, and socioeconomic impacts of climate change in the Arctic have to be seen in the context of often interconnected factors that include not only environmental changes caused by drivers other than climate change but also demography, culture, and economic development.

The rapid rate at which climate is changing in the polar regions will impact natural and social systems (high confidence) and may exceed the rate at which some of their components can successfully adapt (low to medium confidence).

Impacts on the health and well-being of Arctic residents from climate change are significant and projected to increase—especially for many indigenous peoples (high confidence) (IPCC, 2014).

 

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×

image

Summertime heating at 71 °N on the central Baffin Island plateau in 2009 was sufficient to produce deep convection with accompanying thunder and lightning, events that were nearly unheard of in earlier decades. Photo credit: Gifford Miller

Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 31
Suggested Citation:"2 Rationale for Continued Arctic Research." National Research Council. 2014. The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18726.
×
Page 32
Next: 3 Emerging Questions »
The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $65.00 Buy Ebook | $54.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

Once ice-bound, difficult to access, and largely ignored by the rest of the world, the Arctic is now front and center in the midst of many important questions facing the world today. Our daily weather, what we eat, and coastal flooding are all interconnected with the future of the Arctic. The year 2012 was an astounding year for Arctic change. The summer sea ice volume smashed previous records, losing approximately 75 percent of its value since 1980 and half of its areal coverage. Multiple records were also broken when 97 percent of Greenland's surface experienced melt conditions in 2012, the largest melt extent in the satellite era. Receding ice caps in Arctic Canada are now exposing land surfaces that have been continuously ice covered for more than 40,000 years.

What happens in the Arctic has far-reaching implications around the world. Loss of snow and ice exacerbates climate change and is the largest contributor to expected global sea level rise during the next century. Ten percent of the world's fish catches comes from Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that up to 13 percent of the world's remaining oil reserves are in the Arctic. The geologic history of the Arctic may hold vital clues about massive volcanic eruptions and the consequent release of massive amount of coal fly ash that is thought to have caused mass extinctions in the distant past. How will these changes affect the rest of Earth? What research should we invest in to best understand this previously hidden land, manage impacts of change on Arctic communities, and cooperate with researchers from other nations?

The Arctic in the Anthropocene reviews research questions previously identified by Arctic researchers, and then highlights the new questions that have emerged in the wake of and expectation of further rapid Arctic change, as well as new capabilities to address them. This report is meant to guide future directions in U.S. Arctic research so that research is targeted on critical scientific and societal questions and conducted as effectively as possible. The Arctic in the Anthropocene identifies both a disciplinary and a cross-cutting research strategy for the next 10 to 20 years, and evaluates infrastructure needs and collaboration opportunities. The climate, biology, and society in the Arctic are changing in rapid, complex, and interactive ways. Understanding the Arctic system has never been more critical; thus, Arctic research has never been more important. This report will be a resource for institutions, funders, policy makers, and students. Written in an engaging style, The Arctic in the Anthropocene paints a picture of one of the last unknown places on this planet, and communicates the excitement and importance of the discoveries and challenges that lie ahead.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!