The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging research questions


Henry P. Huntington, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Stephanie Pfirman, Columbia University
Carin Ashjian, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, Michigan Technological UniversityFollow
Jennifer A. Francis, Rutgers University - New Brunswick/Piscataway
Sven Haakanson, University of Washington
Robert Hawley, Dartmouth College
Taqulik Hepa
David Hik, University of Alberta
Larry Hinzman, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Amanda Lynch, Brown University
A. Michael Macrander, Shell Alaska
Gifford H. Miller, University of Colorado Boulder
Kate Moran, Ocean Networks Canada
Ellen S. Mosley-Thompson, Ohio State University - Main Campus
Samuel B. Makusa, University of New Hampshire, Durham
Tom Weingartner, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Maggie Walser, National Research Council
Lauren Everett, National Research Council
Lara Henry, National Research Council
Elizabeth Finkelman, National Research Council
Rita Gaskins, National Research Council
Shelly Freeland, National Research Council
Rob Greenway, National Research Council
James C. White, University of Colorado Boulder
Waleed Abdalati, University of Colorado Boulder
Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus
Julie Brigham-Grette, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
John Cassano, University of Colorado Boulder
Jennifer A. Francis, Rutgers University - New Brunswick/Piscataway
Eileen E. Hofmann, Old Dominion University
Ellen S. Mosley-Thompson, Ohio State University - Main Campus
George B. Newton, QinetiQ North America
Rafe Pomerance
Caryn Rea, Conoco Phillips
Gaius R. Shaver, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Katey Walter Anthony, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Allan T. Weatherwax, Siena College
Terry Wilson, Ohio State University - Main Campus
Deneb Karentz, University of San Francisco
Amanda Staudt, National Research Council
Laurie Geller, National Research Council
Amanda Purcell, National Research Council

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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.

Publisher's Statement

© 2014 National Academy of Sciences.

Authored by the Committee on Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic and the Polar Research Board

Publication Title

The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions