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Advancing Arctic Research

The draft Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021 of the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee is now available for public review and comment.

The United States is an Arctic nation.  Americans depend on the Arctic for food, energy, and national security. This region is under threat due to climate and environmental change, testing the resilience of ecosystems and communities, as highlighted by President Obama during his historic visit to the Arctic in August 2015. Arctic temperatures continue to increase at more than twice the rate of those in the rest of the world. Already, this year has been one for the record books, with the warmest winter on record in Alaska, record low Arctic-wide spring snow-cover extent, and record low end-of-winter maximum sea ice extent. As sea ice retreats, and the area of open water and the sea surface temperature increase, Arctic coastal communities are becoming more vulnerable to increasing ocean surface wave heights, storm surges, inundation, and erosion accelerated by warming and thawing of permafrost.  These growing impacts lend urgency to the need for coordinated, collaborative research to inform preparedness and response efforts.

The Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021 (the Plan) aims to advance understanding of climate and environmental change in Alaska and the Arctic region, and to assess the regional and global impacts on people and communities in order to provide the basis for science-informed decision- and policy-making. The Plan is the responsibility of the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) and is now available online for public review and comment until August 21, 2016. The Plan has nine goals:

  1. Enhance understanding of health determinants, and support efforts that improve the well-being of Arctic residents;
  2. Advance process and system understanding of the changing Arctic atmospheric composition and dynamics and resulting changes to surface energy budgets;
  3. 3.Enhance understanding and improve predictions of the changing sea-ice cover;
  4. Increase understanding of the structure and function of Arctic marine ecosystems and their role in the climate system, and advance predictive capabilities of regional models;
  5. Understand and project the mass balance of mountain glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet and the consequences for sea level rise;
  6. Advance understanding of processes controlling permafrost dynamics and the impacts on ecosystems, infrastructure, and climate feedbacks;
  7. Advance an integrated, landscape-scale understanding of Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and the potential for future change;
  8. Strengthen coastal community resilience and advance stewardship of coastal natural and cultural resources by engaging in research related to the connections among people, and natural and built environments; and,
  9. Enhance environmental intelligence gathering, interpretation, and application to provide decision support.

Consistent with the U.S. Arctic Region Policy and the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, the Plan is designed to inform policies associated with enhancing the well-being of Arctic residents, advancing stewardship of the Arctic environment, strengthening national and regional security, and improving understanding of the Arctic.

The rapid changes underway in the Arctic exemplify the imperative to understand the system and to synthesize the body of environmental knowledge to support decision- and policy-making. The nine goals of the Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021 address this imperative and the need for accelerated progress via interagency collaboration.

Martin Jeffries is Assistant Director for Polar Sciences and Executive Director of IARPC for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.