Development of SEARCH

1990–1999: Early Activities

Development of the SEARCH program began in the mid-1990s, as a number of scientists became concerned about the magnitude of the changes they were observing in arctic ocean and atmospheric conditions. Led by James Morison at the University of Washington's Polar Science Center, the group circulated an open letter to the scientific community proposing a program to track and understand major changes in the arctic environment.

By April 1997, 40 scientists from 25 institutions had signed the letter, which called for an international effort, initially called the "Study of Arctic Change," to investigate those changes through measurement, data analysis, and modeling. The letter was endorsed by the NSF Arctic System Science (ARCSS) Ocean–Atmosphere–Ice Interactions Science Steering Committee.

With support from the ARCSS Program, the University of Washington hosted an open workshop in November 1997 on the Study of Arctic Change. More than 70 scientists reported on recent ocean and atmospheric changes in the Arctic, corroborating earlier observations of change and suggesting a suite of changes that were arctic-wide. As the effort developed, its name changed to the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), and SEARCH advanced beyond sponsorship by the ARCSS Program to a broader initiative involving several federal agencies.

1999–2001: SEARCH Science Plan

At a 1999 workshop, 39 researchers began to draft the first SEARCH Science Plan. Published in 2001, the Science Plan summarizes observed changes; presents original SEARCH hypotheses, objectives, and strategies; and recommends a broad multidisciplinary program aimed at understanding the interrelated arctic changes and their implications.

As the science plan developed, SEARCH gained increasing recognition. In 1999, the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) included SEARCH as "ready for immediate attention" in the U.S. Arctic Research Plan, and a SEARCH Interagency Working Group (IWG) (now the Interagency Program Management Committee, IPMC) chaired by NOAA was established and tasked. The IPMC consists of the eight federal agencies responsible for scientific research in the Arctic that have agreed to work together on SEARCH.

In addition, collaborative arrangements were initiated with international research programs such as the Arctic Climate System Study (ACSYS), the Climate and Cryosphere Project (CLiC), and the Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) program. The international aspects of SEARCH continue to develop.

2002–2007: SEARCH Implementation

The SEARCH Implementation Strategy, outlining science questions, program organization, and implementation activities and priorities, was published by the SEARCH SSC and IPMC (then IWG) in October 2003 and widely circulated at the first SEARCH Open Science Meeting, which provided an international forum for presentation and discussion of research that addresses the basic premise of SEARCH — that there exists a complex of interrelated pan-Arctic changes occurring across terrestrial, oceanic, atmospheric and human systems.

In May 2005, a SEARCH Implementation Workshop was held to establish priorities and next steps for implementation, particularly during the International Polar Year and beyond. Workshop participants identified several science questions building on the hypotheses presented in the 2001 SEARCH Science Plan. These questions were then organized into Observing, Understanding, and Responding activities, and corresponding panels were established to guide the science in each of these realms.

At the 2006 SEARCH SSC Meeting, further planning and implementation was discussed in the the context of the upcoming International Polar Year (IPY) and recent report from the Polar Research Board: Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network.

In January 2006, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released an IPY announcement of opportunity for the creation of an Arctic Observing Network (AON) to enable SEARCH by measuring the full range of continuing changes now underway. AON is a system of atmospheric, land- and ocean-based environmental monitoring capabilities—from ocean buoys to satellites—that will significantly advance observations of arctic environmental conditions. In 2007, a SEARCH SSC Meeting focused on assessing implementation of observing activities, remaining gaps, and increasing coordination with agencies and international arctic efforts.

2008: Recent Activities

In March 2008, the Arctic Observation Integration Workshops were held to advance the planning and implementation of an integrated Arctic Observation System. The workshop series, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), included three interrelated meetings: 1) an AON investigator meeting, 2) a workshop on optimizing deployment of platforms for observations of the ocean-ice-atmosphere system, and 3) a workshop to improve understanding of recent arctic sea ice change and its impacts throughout the arctic system.

Nearly 70 projects, inventoried in the SEARCH Project Catalog, are funded as SEARCH activities by U.S. agencies. Many more SEARCH-related projects are supported through other national and international programs. Recent SEARCH planning efforts are focused on full implementation of observing, understanding, and responding activities through multi-agency efforts and collaborations with interntional programs.