Witness the Arctic

Volume 20
Number 3
4 November 2016

Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH)

This update on the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) program provides an introduction to SEARCH's new Science Steering Committee (SSC) members and cross-disciplinary working groups; discusses opportunities to connect with SEARCH activities at the upcoming SEARCH events at the Fall Meeting of American Geophysical Union; and includes a summary of a Sea Ice Action Team Knowledge Exchange workshop.
St. Lawrence Island child traveling by skin boat. Photo courtesy of Brendan Kelly.
The Obama Administration advanced Arctic science and policies in many important ways, including hosting the first-ever meeting of Sciences Ministers from Arctic countries. If all the Ministerial accomplished was prompting briefings of Science Ministers from 25 countries on science needs in the Arctic, it would have been an important advance, but the Ministerial promises more if the effort can be sustained. Whether galvanizing the international community to invest in understanding what is happening in the Arctic and the global implications is sustained will depend not only on future administrations and their international partners, but also on the scientific community. It will depend on our continued research and communications.
Figure 1: Number of contributions to the SEARCH/SIPN Sea Ice Outlook over 2008–2016, by type of method. Figure updated from Hamilton and Stroeve (2016).
Summer sea ice cover on the Arctic Ocean has been declining since the 1970s, as the Arctic itself warmed. In 2007 the sea ice decline steepened abruptly to reach a new record low. Even scientists with their eyes on the Arctic were surprised by the sudden drop, which focused attention on the need for better prediction. Where was Arctic change heading, and how fast? Responding to this need to improve prediction, the Study of Environmental Arctic Change organized the Sea Ice Outlook The initiative has been highly successful. In 2014, the SIO was incorporated into a new project, the Sea Ice Prediction Network.

Arctic Natural Sciences Program

Photographs of ice mélange taken at Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. (A) Iceberg clasts can range in size from decimeters to hundreds of meters. (B) In a dense ice mélange, no water is visible at the surface of the fjord. (C) Distinct shear bands are also visible in the ice mélange. Photo courtesy of Jason Amundson.
Recent and on-going retreat of many Northern hemisphere marine-terminating glaciers is contributing significantly to sea level rise. It is driven by poorly understood processes occurring at the ice-ocean interface, such as subglacial discharge into the ocean, turbulent plume dynamics, submarine melting, and iceberg calving. An interdisciplinary project, led by Jason Amundson (University of Alaska Southeast), Justin Burton (Emory University), and Michael Dennin (University of California Irvine) and supported by NSF's Physical Oceanography and Arctic Natural Sciences programs seeks to provide unique data and improved models for projecting contributions to future sea level rise.

Arctic Social Sciences Program

Melting glacier in Upper Verkhoyanie mountains, Northeast Siberia. Image courtesy of Olga Ulturgasheva.
During the Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change 2016 conference in London, 27-28 May, a panel was convened to considered the intersections between environmental conditions, geopolitical tensions, and local innovative reactions characterizing the Arctic in the early 21st century. Siberian and Alaskan participation was supported by NSF’s Arctic Social Science Program. Each of the three sessions in the panel was framed by a report from places vulnerable to environmental, political, and socio-economic upheavals, given by people who live in—and whose ancestors lived in—the country about which they were talking. These were stories of calamity, but not of victimhood.

Arctic Research Support and Logistics

The Sikuliaq travels through icy water during a past science mission. Photo courtest of  Mark Teckenbrock.
During March and April of 2015, researchers and crew set out to investigate the limitations of the R/V Sikuliaq to understand the full ice-capability of the vessel. This includes the ability to maneuver and conduct day-to-day activities, as well as the feasibility of completing various scientific tasks in ice. The ice trials were conducted south of St. Matthew's Island in the Bering Sea; they occurred between 19 March and 7 April, which is typically when ice cover is the greatest in the Arctic.

Data Management

NCEI datasets can be discovered and accessed at the collection level and granule level using HTTP, FTP, Live Access Server, THREDDS, OPeNDAP server, and other services. Figure courtesy of S. Baker-Yeboah, K. Saha, Y. Zhang, K. S. Casey, Y. Li., NOAA/NESDIS/NCEI.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) is part of an Arctic-focused project partnership: the National Science Foundation Arctic Data Center which encompasses the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at U.C. Santa Barbara, DataONE at the University of New Mexico, and NCEI at NOAA. This joint collaboration provides long-term data archive, distribution, integration, and public access services for Arctic data within the purview of NSF and NOAA and will provide more organized and discoverable Arctic data to user communities.

Science News

Figure 1: Open-top hexagon-shaped greenhouses have been used across the Arctic to create warmer micro-climate on plots of tundra without the use of electricity. The photo illustrates an experiment from Zackenberg, Greenland in fall colors. Image courtesy of Riikka Rinnan.
A research team including Riikka Rinnan and Magnus Kramshøj from the Center for Permafrost at the University of Copehagen, Denmark recently conducted studies to assess the Volatile organic compounds (VOC) emission response of vegetation to warming temperatures in the Arctic. The team's results, discussed here, showed that warming caused a significant increase in emission rates for plants that is considerably higher than what is observed at more southern latitudes, emphasizing the high temperature sensitivity of ecosystem processes in the changing Arctic.

Science Education News

JIRP's largest camp (Camp 10) sits above the main branch of Taku Glacier with the Taku Range in the distance. Permanent camps serve as bases from which to study outlying areas of the Juneau Icefield as a venue for in-camp lessons in inclement weather. Photo courtesy of Matt Beedle.
The 2016 summer field season of the Juneau Icefield Research Program marked the 70-year anniversary of continuous study of the Juneau Icefield. As the program looks toward the next 70 years with new ideas and directions, this anniversary provides a timely opportunity to reflect on a rich history and fabric of participant experiences. Initial aerial surveys began in 1946, followed by the first on-ice reconnaissance in 1948. Focused field research continued annually through the International Geophysical Year. This earliest decade was primarily research focused, but also helped launch the careers of many budding scientists and explorers.

National Science Foundation News

NSF's Arctic Sciences Section welcomes four new Program Directors: Dr. Cynthia Suchman as a Program Director for Arctic Natural Sciences (ANS), Dr. Anjuli Bamzai as a new Program Director for the ANS Section, Dr. Jennifer Mercer as Program Manager for Arctic Research Support and Logistics (RSL), and Dr. Frank Rack as a Program Manager for Arctic Research Support and Logistics (RSL) with a focus on marine operations and Alaska projects. Town hall meetings for the Arctic Research Support and Logistics and the Arctic Natural Sciences will be held on Thursday, 15 December during the 2016 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Interagency News

Figure 1: The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) extends from the northern Bering Sea to the Beaufort Sea, with eight sampling regions centered on "hotspots" of marine productivity and biodiversity. The DBO serves as a change detection array for the identification and consistent monitoring of biophysical responses to rapid physical changes in the Pacific Arctic sector.
The IARPC Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) Collaboration Team, led by Sue Moore (NOAA) and Jacqueline Grebmeier (UMCES), has completed a decadal DBO Implementation Plan. The Plan focuses on the period 2015-2024 and provides a framework for the preparation of Periodic Assessments of the State of Pacific Arctic Marine Environment (PARMA) at three-year intervals starting in 2018. The PARMA will be based on analyses and modeling using DBO-generated data and data from projects supported by NOAA, NSF, BOEM, NASA, the North Pacific Research Board and other sources.
Figure 1: Number of wildland fires and acres burned in Alaska annually since 1939. Courtesy of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
Wildland fire is the dominant ecological disturbance in boreal forests and also affects tundra environments. In Alaska, the number of acres burned each season varies dramatically but accumulating evidence indicates that climate change is increasing the extent of fire and contributing to extreme events such as the 2015 Alaska fire season, when over 5.1 million acres burned, or the 2016 conflagration in Ft McMurray, Alberta. The Alaska Fire Science Consortium is one of 15 regional fire science exchanges supported by the federal Joint Fire Science Program to accelerate the awareness, understanding, and adoption of wildland fire science information by stakeholders within ecologically similar regions.
The 33-acre HAARP antenna array near Gakona, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Todd Paris of UAF.
The High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), is the world's most capable high-power, high-frequency transmitter for study of the ionosphere. Operation of the research facility was transferred from the United States Air Force to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in August of 2015, allowing HAARP to continue with exploration of ionospheric phenomenology via a land-use cooperative research and development agreement. The HAARP program is committed to developing a world-class ionospheric research facility.

U.S. Arctic Research Commission

Commissioner Richter-Menge. Photo courtesy of Andrew Roberts, U.S. Naval Post Graduate School)
In August 2016, President Obama appointed Ms. Jacqueline A. Richter-Menge, research civil engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire, to a four-year term on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress. Richter-Menge replaced Charles Vörösmarty, Director, City University of New York Environmental Cross-Roads Initiative at the City College of New York, who served on the commission for eight years.

Polar Research Board

Figure 1: Fran Ulmer, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, discusses Arctic science at the forum. Photo courtesy of the Polar Research Board.
Following the first-ever Arctic Science Ministerial hosted by the White House, on 28 September 2016, the National Academies of Science'Polar Research Board invited several of the representatives from the Ministerial and other speakers to continue the conversation in a public event hosted at the National Academy of Sciences NAS building. The ambition to contribute to Arctic science is different for each nation. Shrinking glaciers, receding sea ice, and coastal erosion are directly impacting the eight Arctic nations, but countries far away from the region are also feeling the consequences of a changing Arctic. For example, a warmer Arctic may be contributing to more extreme weather outbreaks around the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

A Note From the ARCUS Executive Director

Robert H. Rich, Ph.D., CAE
September was a watershed in Arctic research, with the first-ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial taking place in Washington, D.C. Associated with this meeting of high-level government officials from 25 countries, ARCUS provided the primary public forum for the broader Arctic research community to engage with the Ministerial's themes. Following those meetings, our D.C. office also hosted a wide range of hands-on activities, opportunities for educational resources, and other outreach tools that engaged local and national educators, officials, and other stakeholders.
This historic event brought together leaders from the eight Arctic nations and many others, 25 in all, along with circumpolar indigenous groups and top U.S. Arctic officials. It was chaired by Presidential Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren and co-chaired by Fran Ulmer, Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. The meeting focused on four key themes, to which the organizers asked U.S. agencies and participating governments to suggest possible areas for cooperation, including: Arctic observing; community resilience; and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

From the ARCUS Board

Meet Carolina Behe
Carolina Behe serves on the ARCUS Executive Committee as Member-at-Large. Behe is the Indigenous Knowledge/Science advisor for the Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska. Her work within the Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska is diverse and ranges from topics within climate change to management and policy. Internationally, Carolina acts as the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Head of Delegation on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna working group under the Arctic Council.


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.


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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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Executive Director: Dr. Robert Rich

Editors: Betsy Turner-Bogren and Helen Wiggins

Contributors J. Amundson. R. Anandwala, K. Arzayus, S. Baker-Yeboah, M. Beedle, C. Behe, B. Bodenhorn, J. Burton, K. Casey, M. Dennin, M. Druckenmiller, J. Farrell, L. Frisch, L. Geller, J. Grebmeier, L. Hamilton, M. Jones, B.P. Kelly, M. Kramshøj, S. Moore, B. Myers, R. Rich, R. Rinnan, C. Rosa, N. Rozell, K. Ruck, C. Schädel, L. Sheffield Guy, J. Stroeve, O. Ulturgasheva, E. Whitney, H. Wiggins, A. York, J. Zolkos

Witness the Arctic is published by the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS), a nonprofit organization that advances Arctic research and education. Witness the Arctic is funded through a Cooperative Agreement with the National Science Foundation (PLR-1304316). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.