The Arctic is highly complex, with a tightly coupled system of people, land, ocean, ice and air that behaves in ways that we do not fully comprehend, and which has demonstrated a capacity for rapid and unpredictable change with global ramifications. The Arctic is pivotal to the dynamics of our planet and it is critical that we better understand this complex and interactive system.

As conceptualized during the 2002 ARCSS All-Hands Workshop, and as stated in the recent NSF announcement of arctic research opportunities, the goal of the NSF ARCSS Program is to answer the question: What do changes in the arctic system imply for the future?

To address this question, researchers must:

  • Advance from a component understanding to a system understanding of the Arctic;

  • Understand the behavior of the arctic system—past, present and future;

  • Understand the role of the Arctic as a component of the global system; and

  • Include society as an integral part of the arctic system.

  • In the sixteen years since its inception, ARCSS Program research has become increasingly integrative, rather than disciplinary, with an expanding synthesis focus that aims to achieve system-level understanding of the Arctic.

Overarching science questions relevant to the synthesis effort include:

  • How do the interconnected social, physical, chemical, and biological systems of the Arctic operate and interact to define and drive the arctic system (broadly defined)?

  • How does the arctic system interact with the larger earth system?

  • What is the trajectory of the arctic system and the implications of that trajectory in the years and decades to come?

Addressing the ARCSS Program goal and related science questions will require continuation and expansion of the broader community dialogue and input that has characterized the ARCSS Program from its inception. Communication and collaboration between and among the ARCSS research community (including Communities of Practice), the ARCSS Committee, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) is critical for the most productive use of ARCSS research and research funding.