Witness the Arctic

Volume 18
Number 2
11 June 2014

Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH)

Sea Ice Prediction has Easy and Difficult Years

Arctic sea ice follows an annual cycle, reaching its low point in September each year. The extent of sea ice remaining at this low point has been trending downwards for decades, as the Arctic warms. Around the long-term downward trend, however, there is significant variation in the minimum extent from one year to the next. Accurate forecasts of yearly conditions would have great value to Arctic residents, shipping companies, and other stakeholders and are the subject of much current research.

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Brief SEARCH Update

Since the last SEARCH update in late February, the SEARCH Science Steering Committee (SSC) has focused on communications with the National Science Foundation (NSF) on a pending proposal to support SEARCH activities and a new organizational structure (see the main SEARCH website for a PDF for "Summary of the new SEARCH framework"). The SEARCH SSC hopes to be able to announce news soon.

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Arctic Research Support and Logistics

NSF Logistics Workshop Prepublication Report Available

In October 2013, the NSF Arctic Research Support and Logistics (RSL) program funded a workshop on strategies and recommendations for Arctic research support and logistics. A prepublication draft of the workshop report¬ is now available online. The final publication will be released by the end of June and announced via ArcticInfo and other information channels.

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Interagency News

NASA Cryospheric Sciences MVP Awarded to Joseph MacGregor

The 2014 winner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Cryospheric Sciences Most Valuable Player award is Joseph A. MacGregor of University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences, for his work synthesizing ice penetrating radar records to produce a 3-dimensional age map of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The work represents a substantial contribution to Arctic research. The results will constrain ice sheet models and assist in the interpretation of paleoclimate information to improve our understanding of the Greenland ice sheet's contribution to sea level change.

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NOAA Launches Arctic Action Plan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched its Arctic Action Plan in April 2014.
This plan provides an overview of NOAA's Arctic programs and describes how they implement NOAA's Arctic Vision and Strategy and the agency's roll in implementing the National Strategy for the Arctic Region.

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Reflections on Arctic Research Coordination

My friend and colleague John Farrell, Executive Director of the Arctic Research Commission, recently surfaced a publication from a couple of decades back by a former Chair of that Commission. John noted that many of the same issues we are tackling now in Arctic research were current back then. On the other hand, I would argue that our understanding of many of the topics has advanced tremendously in the past couple of decades, because there are a lot of very talented people working hard on those issues. ARCUS, the Study of Environmental Arctic Change, the Arctic Research Commission, and other organizations have become more and more adept at promoting and coordinating the efforts of a creative and hard working research community.

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Science Education News

U.S. and Chile Initiate Antarctic Science Education Effort

The first Joint Antarctic School Expedition (JASE), a collaborative venture of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Polar Programs and the Chilean National Antarctic Institute (Instituto Antártico Chileno (INACH)), brought high school students and teachers to Punta Arenas, Chile, in February 2014. This pilot program aimed to provide participants with hands-on experience with Antarctic environments and ecosystems research. For ten years INACH has sponsored a program for secondary school students aimed at promoting awareness and appreciation of Antarctica in young Chileans. INACH holds a national competition in which small student groups perform experimental or bibliographic research. Winning teams are awarded an expedition to the Chilean research station on King George Island, Antarctica. In 2013, INACH invited the United States to participate in the Antarctic School Expedition.

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A Week as an Arctic Council Delegate in Arkhangelsk, Russia

During the last week of February 2014, I had the privilege of representing the United States and Dartmouth College at the 2014 Model Arctic Council, a role-playing program with the same goals as the better-known Model UN: to expose students to high-level policy negotiations through experience and participation. The Model Arctic Council was held at the Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU) in Arkhangelsk, Russia. 30 graduate students from more than ten countries participated in simulated proceedings of the Arctic Council, a high level intergovernmental forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of Arctic indigenous communities, on common Arctic issues.

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Polar Research Board

Recent Reports from the National Academy of Sciences

Permafrost is a thermal condition -- its formation, persistence and disappearance are highly dependent on climate. General circulation models predict that, for a doubling of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, mean annual air temperatures may rise several degrees over much of the Arctic. In the discontinuous permafrost region, where ground temperatures are within 1-2 degrees of thawing, permafrost will likely ultimately disappear as a result of ground thermal changes associated with global climate warming. Where ground ice contents are high, permafrost degradation will have associated physical impacts. Permafrost thaw stands to have wide-ranging impacts, such as the draining and drying of the tundra, erosion of riverbanks and coastline, and destabilization of infrastructure (roads, airports, buildings, etc.), and including potential implications for ecosystems and the carbon cycle in the high latitudes.

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PRB Report Released—The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions

In April 2014, the Polar Research Board (PRB) of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences issued the report, The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions, which identifies the key scientific questions that are emerging in different realms of Arctic science and provides guidance on future research questions in the Arctic over the next 10-20 years. Sponsored by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Smithsonian Institution, this report addresses the urgency for understanding the rapidly changing Arctic by connecting the dots among future science opportunities and the infrastructure needed to make best use of them through collaboration and coordination, sustained observations, increased human and operational capacity, actionable and accessible information, and innovative funding approaches.

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International News

Recommendations from 2014 Arctic Observing Summit

The second Arctic Observing Summit (AOS) was held 9-11 April 2014 in conjunction with the Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW) in Helsinki, Finland. Both events surprised the organizers with more participants than expected. Attendance totaled 493 with almost half participating in AOS-2014. The feedback received and the high number of participants clearly showed that the integration of ASSW and AOS was well received. Following this model, the third AOS will be arranged at the ASSW 2016.

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Science News

Influences of Arctic Climate Changes on Weather Patterns in the Mid-latitudes

By: John Walsh, President's Professor of Global Change and Chief Scientist at the International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Several decades ago, the Arctic was an afterthought in climate change research. Today it is at the forefront. The recent acceleration of research on Arctic climate, together with widespread coverage by the media and interest by the public, has come in response to rapid changes in the Arctic over the past few decades. By some measures, these changes are unprecedented. While the changes are driven by warming of the ocean and atmosphere, they

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Arctic Social Sciences Program

Extensive Plan of Activities for the Arctic-FROST Research Network

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a five-year Research Coordination Network (RNC) Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) grant to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) for support of the project entitled "RCN-SEES Arctic-FROST: Arctic FRontiers Of SusTainability: Resources, Societies, Environments and Development in the Changing North." Under the direction of Dr. Andrey Petrov, Arctic-FROST is based at the UNI Arctic Social and Environmental Systems Research (ARCSES) center.

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International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences Hits New Milestones

The eighth International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS VIII) was held 22-26 May 2014 on the main campus of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George, B.C., which is traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Canada. The International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA) organizes this international congress every three years, bringing together scholars and others interested in the Arctic and Subarctic to share social science and humanities research. ICASS VIII was the largest congress in the history of the organization, attracting almost 500 participants from 26 different countries and at least 15 indigenous nations. The five-day event featured keynote speakers, plenary sessions, cultural activities, and over 100 thematic sessions covering the social sciences, humanities, and multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary topics.

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Data Management

NSF Recommends Fourth Year of Funding for ACADIS

The Advanced Cooperative Arctic Data and Information Service (ACADIS) project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), recently completed an NSF panel review of third year accomplishments and progress. ACADIS has been recommended for a fourth year of funding.

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Arctic Natural Sciences Program

New Insights on Ice Dynamics

During the second week of July 2012, satellite-derived estimates of the aerial extent of surface-ice melt on the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) increased from 40% to 97%. Although this event received widespread media attention and public interest, the scientific community lacked direct observations of meltwater controls on ice sheet movement and meltwater geochemistry for such a large-scale melting event. Matt Charette, Senior Scientist of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) secured funding through NSF's Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program to quantify under a short time-frame, the impact of this large-scale melting event on the ice sheet dynamics and meltwater biogeochemistry of the Leverett Glacier, a large land-terminating ice stream along the southwestern coast of Greenland.

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From the ARCUS Board

Meet the Board of Directors -- David Cairns

David is a Professor and the Assistant Department Head of the Geography Department at Texas A&M University. His primary research interests are on the impacts of climate change on vegetation at short and long time scales in a variety of environments. The focus of his work is on ecotones, the transition zones between different vegetation types. Most of his fieldwork has been accomplished at tree line in the western United States, Alaska, and in northern Sweden. He also has projects in two other sensitive environments: in saltmarshes on the coasts of Denmark and Texas, and in tundra environments on the North Slope of Alaska. Dave uses a variety of approaches, including population genetics, dendroecological methods, and simulation modeling, to answer questions about how these environments respond to climate change.

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Meet the Board of Directors -- John Payne

John retired from federal service in December 2012 after serving 37 years in many different positions and functions including a range conservationist, wildlife biologist, pilot, law enforcement officer, program manager and the Executive Director of the North Slope Science Initiative (NSSI). His retirement was short-lived and within a few weeks of leaving federal service, he took a position with Michigan Technological University (MTU) as a senior scientist specializing in Arctic science. At the same time, he was approached by the Oversight Group of the NSSI and asked if he would return to his former position as Executive Director. He welcomed both opportunities to stay connected to the Arctic.

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Meet the Board of Directors -- Jay Gulledge

Jay is the Director of the Environmental Sciences Division and a member of the Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. CCSI administers the Department of Energy's Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) Arctic research project, a major 10-year investment toward understanding how carbon rich soils in the permafrost respond to a rapidly warming Arctic. He is also a Senior Advisor at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, specializing in the application of scientific knowledge of climate change and its impacts to policy- and decision-making.

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New ARCUS Vision and Mission Statements

In January 2014 the Board of Directors adopted new Vision and Mission statements for ARCUS. These statements were the result of approximately 18 months' worth of discussions during which the board and staff took a self-critical look at the organization. The board embarked on this mission as it became clear that a clean mission statement was needed to effectively focus ARCUS activities. This evaluation of ARCUS started with a facilitated discussion between the board and staff in the spring of 2012 to review the history of ARCUS, its strengths, and its perceived challenges. The outcome of that

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U.S. Arctic Research Commission

USARC Delegation Visits Finland

By: John Farrell, USARC Executive Director

In early April 2014, a delegation of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) traveled to Finland to investigate opportunities to further advance international scientific cooperation and to facilitate U.S.-Finnish coordination in implementing recently updated Arctic research policies.

In Helsinki, the Commission participated in meetings associated with the annual Arctic Science Summit Week, the Arctic Observing Summit, and preparation of the upcoming Third International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III). They also visited

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National Science Foundation News

Committee of Visitors Offers Recommendations to NSF's Arctic Sciences Section

According to NSF policy, each program that awards grants and cooperative agreements must be reviewed once every three years by a Committee of Visitors (COV) comprised of qualified external experts. The Committee reviews program portfolio activities and assesses the quality and integrity of the review process and program management related to proposal funding decisions as well as providing comments on how the results of funded research contribute to the advancement of NSF's mission and goals. Directorate advisory committees select members of each COV. Programs in the Directorate for Geosciences

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Córdova Sworn in as 14th Director of NSF

France A. Córdova was sworn in as the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) on 31 March 2014. President Obama nominated her to the six-year term in August 2013 and the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination on 12 March 2014. She succeeds Subra Suresh, who stepped down in March 2013. Cora B. Marrett was acting director at NSF during the interim.

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Witness the Arctic provides information on current Arctic research efforts and findings, significant research initiatives, national policy affecting Arctic research, international activities, and profiles of institutions with major Arctic research efforts. Witness serves an audience of Arctic scientists, educators, agency personnel, and policy makers. Witness was published biannually in hardcopy from 1995-2008 (archives are available below); starting in early 2009 the issues have been published online. Witness has over 8,700 subscribers.



With the Spring 2009 issue, ARCUS changed the format of Witness the Arctic. To provide more frequent updates and reduce printing and mailing costs and associated environmental impacts, the newsletter is now distributed online in three or four shorter issues per year, depending on newsworthy events.


If you have a question or an idea for a Witness article, contact Betsy Turner-Bogren at betsy@arcus.org.

Witness Community Highlights

Witness Community Highlights is an online publication launched in May 2017 to complement the regular publications of Witness the Arctic. It was developed in response to community feedback identifying the need for a monthly publication to highlight 1–2 Arctic research efforts and other timely items of interest to our readers. Community Highlights is distributed monthly via our Witness the Arctic mailing list of over 8,700 subscribers.

Witness Community Highlights

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Editors: Betsy Turner-Bogren, Helen Wiggins, Kristina Creek, and Judy Fahnestock

Contributors: K. Andersen, S. Arms, C. M. Bitz, E. Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, L. Booker, M. A. Charette, K. Creek, M. Cutler, H. Eicken, L. Everett, J. Fahnestock, J. Farrell, L. Foshee Reed, A. L. Giese, L. C. Hamilton, J. Kay, B. P. Kelly, W. Meier, E. Nienhouse, A. N. Petrov, T. Rosati, J. Scannell, D. Stott, M. Strahlendorff, J. Stroeve, B. Turner-Bogren, J. Verlinde, T. Wagner, J. Walsh, H. Wiggins, L. Yarmey

ARCUS is a nonprofit organization consisting of institutions organized and operated for educational, professional, or scientific purposes. Established by its member institutions in 1988 with the primary mission of strengthening arctic research, ARCUS activities are funded through cooperative agreements with NSF and the National Park Service, grants from NSF, a contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and membership dues.

Witness the Arctic is published periodically by ARCUS. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.