Editors: ARCUS Staff

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Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas that has supported fundamental convergence research across the social, natural, environmental, engineering, and computing and information sciences since 2017.

In a special report, NSF expands Arctic investment through the Navigating the New Arctic Initiative published in early September 2021, NSF announced the funding of 17 projects as part of its Fiscal Year 2021 awards for the NNA program. The awards, totaling $32 million, support 96 investigators across 38 institutions, as well as students, and postdoctoral scholars. The NNA program, with its focus on convergence research across the social, natural, and built environment, supports projects with the potential for meaningful engagement with Arctic communities. Summaries of the individual and collaborative research projects highlighted below include information excerpted from the project abstracts and list the Principal Investigators in each project.

NNA-CO: A Community Office for Coordination, Partnership, and Capacity-Building to Support Convergence Research in the Rapidly Changing Arctic

The Navigating the New Arctic Community Office (NNA-CO) provides leadership to support use-inspired convergence research that solves complex challenges related to the changing Arctic. This approach is crucial for addressing societal needs, such as food sovereignty, climate resilience, and environmental security. The NNA-CO builds awareness, partnerships, opportunities, and resources for collaboration and equitable knowledge generation within, between, and beyond NNA projects. The NNA-CO increases recognition of Indigenous knowledge and data sovereignty; promotes inclusive and collaborative research design and implementation; and coordinates effective knowledge dissemination, education, and outreach. The office builds capacity in early career researchers and provides unique opportunities to inspire and engage a wide audience toward a more holistic understanding of the Arctic—its natural environment, built environment, and diverse cultures and communities.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Matthew Druckenmiller, University of Colorado at Boulder.

Individual Reseach Projects

NNA Track 2: Developing Coordinated Monitoring networks across Alaska and Northwest Canada to evaluate and address rapidly changing environments

In the Arctic where, environmental conditions are rapidly changing, the need to monitor these changes is critical to inform natural resource management and land management, protect built infrastructure, reduce risk to human lives, and enhance community resilience for Arctic communities. Currently in Alaska and northern Canada there exist numerous environmental monitoring programs that are led and implemented by a diverse array of indigenous communities, government agencies, and research institutions, often with little coordination or connection to one another. Led by a diverse team representing dozens of entities, this project fosters the development of coordinated monitoring networks by linking existing programs across Alaska and northern Canada. This project aims to achieve the following objectives: 1) to better understand important phenomena and dynamics (e.g. long-distance wildlife migration patterns, shifting climate patterns, species and habitat shifts) that can only be observed by collecting information across large landscapes; 2) to provide individual programs with the opportunity to address shared needs, while reducing duplication of effort and leveraging limited capacity and resources; and 3) to support and strengthen community-based monitoring programs, which are led and/or implemented by indigenous communities.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Leanna Heffner, Alaska Conservation Foundation.

NNA Research: Permafrost Grown: Cultivating Convergence Between Farmers and Researchers to Foster Sustainability for Intensifying Permafrost-agroecosystems

Alaska, like much of the Arctic, is considered food insecure as roughly 95% of food is imported. With the rapid rate of northern latitude climate change, a new agricultural frontier has emerged in the discontinuous permafrost region. The future of northern cultivation depends on science and an informed knowledge base for a new generation of Arctic farmers. For northern agricultural expansion to be successful and solution-oriented, better understanding of the feedbacks between cultivation and permafrost is necessary. The Permafrost Grown project brings together researchers and permafrost-region farmers to better understand the feedbacks between farming and fertile, yet vulnerable permafrost soils. The Permafrost Grown project accelerates scientific discovery through promoting forward-thinking convergence among studies of the natural environment (permafrost, geomorphology, and ecosystems), the built environment (agricultural infrastructure), and social systems (economic, social, and cultural forces) by focusing on the interactions between permafrost and cultivation practices.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Melissa Ward Jones, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

NNA Research: The Greenland Hazards Project

As the Arctic warms, the environment is rapidly changing; ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers are thinning and receding; and permafrost is degrading. In some areas, such as southeastern Alaska and Greenland, these changes can trigger landslides, which in turn can generate localized tsunami-like waves when the landslides flow into fjords and other coastal waters. Since 1995, several coastal landslides have triggered tsunami-like waves, tragically resulting in the loss of lives, damage to infrastructure, and the abandonment of communities in western Greenland. This project is carefully mapping how Greenland is changing in response to ice thinning and is exploring the developing risk of landslides and other hazards. The research integrates local observations made by Greenlandic people in their communities with data collected through advanced remote sensing to learn how hazards evolve over time. The collaboration between US and Greenlandic scientists and Greenlandic residents will be critical to ensure that the research addresses community needs. This project is providing the first Greenland-wide analysis of unstable land and how hazards affect infrastructure and society, while prototyping a monitoring system that could provide warning of approaching large waves.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Michael Willis, University of Colorado at Boulder.

NNA Research: Development of a Nonlinear Reduced Order Modeling Framework for Marine Structures Operating in The Arctic and Sub-Arctic Regions

Due to rapid warming in the Arctic, sea ice is thinning and retreating, making more Arctic waters increasingly accessible to shipping and transportation, research and exploration, and other economic development activities. Increased maritime activities in the region pose potential risks to the Arctic environment, especially in areas used by fishing vessels, offshore oil, and gas industry and cruise liners. Marine structures operating in the ice-covered part of the region also lead to changes in the Arctic icescape. Using a combination of data from field experiments, models, satellites and observations, this project explores complex interactions between ice and marine structures in the Arctic to develop a conceptual framework for risk assessment and modelling to provide safe shipping and operations in the region. The knowledge acquired through the project benefits a wide range of stakeholders, such as residents, businesses, local, regional, and government agencies, and researchers who are invested in the well-being of the region to ensure a resilient and sustainable Arctic environment.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Ersegun Gedikli, University of Hawaii.

DISES: Environmental Tipping Points of Cultural Identity Extinction in Integrated Human-ecological Systems Represented by Small Fishing Nations

Small-scale fisheries are integrated socio-environmental systems essential for the food security of many communities. Anthropogenic pollutants degrade the health and quality of cultural keystone species, which can decouple the human and ecological system, resulting in loss of cultural heritage and eventually, leading to a cultural tipping point. The overarching hypothesis of this study is that acceptable levels of pollutant releases have been overestimated by society due to a failure to account for their impacts on culture. The investigators will construct an integrated systems-modeling framework, using the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic, a traditional whaling society, as a case study to analyze the dynamic impacts of global pollutant release on the health and culture of fishing communities. New methods for characterizing the cultural and social value of fishing activities will be developed by analyzing risk tolerance for high levels of pollutant exposures, or consumption of seafood beyond recommended health-based guidelines.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Elsie Sunderland, Harvard University.

NRT-NNA: Convergent Arctic Research Perspectives and Education (CARPE)

The Connecting Arctic Research Perspectives and Education (CARPE) NRT aims to train the next generation of professionals to tackle the complex socio-ecological challenges of changing seasonality in the Arctic using a convergence research framework imbued with a perspective that respects the viewpoints of indigenous communities. The primary objectives are to train graduate students and their faculty advisors to design and conduct convergence research projects focused on the impact of changing seasonality in the Arctic natural and human systems while building capacity to engage with Arctic Indigenous communities and local stakeholders. CARPE will prepare the trainees to pursue academic and non-academic careers to address grand challenges posed by a changing climate and the cascading impacts on society. In addition, the program will transform graduate training at UNH by integrating convergent approaches to research and preparing students to build reciprocal research programs with Indigenous and other community partners.

This project is led by Principal Investigator Ruth Varner, University of New Hampshire.

Collaborative Research Projects

Collaborative Research: NNA Research: Interactions of Natural and Social Systems with Climate Change, Globalization, and Infrastructure Development in the Arctic

Seasonality shifts, thawing permafrost, and the occurrence of extreme weather conditions in the Arctic today have led to cascading effects in the natural and human worlds. The goal of this project is to understand how the natural, social, and built environment systems within a tundra region are linked in their responses to stressors. This project examines how (1) tall vegetation impacts animals and reindeer herders, and feedback mechanisms conditioned on human activities; (2) changing snowpack influences food webs and animal population dynamics, and alters decision-making by reindeer herders and other stakeholders; (3) the built environment affects the reindeer herding system, as well as interactions between industrial workers and indigenous people and perceptions of the environment by these groups; and (4) reindeer management, social institutions, and markets for reindeer products affect community resilience, indigenous traditions and practices, and landscape structure. This project co-produces knowledge with various stakeholders representing the Indigenous community, regional government, and industry sectors in the Yamal region of Russia.

The seven collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators, Colin Wren, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; Desheng Liu, Ohio State University; Peter Ungar, University of Arkansas; Jingfeng Wang, Georgia Tech Research Corporation; John Ziker, Boise State University; Aleksey Sheshukov, Kansas State University; Valeriy Ivanov, Regents of the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor; and Mary Heskel, Macalester College.

Collaborative Research: NNA Research: Global Changes, Local Impacts: Study of Glacial Fjords, Ecosystems and Communities in Greenland

Fjords are long narrow inlets that connect glacier-covered land to the ocean. The release of meltwater and sediments from the glaciers makes these waters nutrient rich. These conditions support healthy marine ecosystems with high densities of seabirds, marine mammals, and fishes. As a result, many Arctic settlements whose livelihoods depend on fishing and hunting are located near glacial fjords. Arctic warming is driving the retreat of glaciers, resulting in a warming of the ocean waters that has decreases the prosperity of fjord ecosystems. In addition, human activities such as commercial fishing, resource extraction, and tourism increasingly influence coastal regions. The goal of this project is to understand how the combined impact of these changes affect the greater fjord system comprised of the ice, the fjords, the marine ecosystem, and the local communities that rely on them for their livelihood. This goal will be achieved through a detailed study of physical, biological, and social system interactions in Greenland fjords by an interdisciplinary team of oceanographers, glaciologists, climate scientists, environmental historians, fisheries, and ecosystem experts.

The six collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators Helene Seroussi, Dartmouth College; Patricia Matrai, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; Mark Carey, University of Oregon Eugene; Lorenzo Ciannelli, Oregon State University; : Fiammetta Straneo, University of California-San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography; and Christopher Little, Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc.

Collaborative Research: NNA Research: Developing Capacity for Planning and Adapting to Riverbank Erosion and its Consequences in the Yukon River Basin

Arctic warming is causing landscape change that is affecting Arctic communities. Rivers and floodplains are particularly susceptible to a warmer climate due to permafrost thaw that can lead to accelerated erosion. This erosion threatens critical infrastructure and disrupts community life, including by sometimes displacing entire Alaska communities. Yet the response of erosion to warming, and its implications, are not well understood. In addition to imperiling infrastructure, erosion exposes frozen floodplain sediment that contains potential contaminants including heavy metals, such as mercury, along with nutrients and pathogens, all of which can imperil water quality and ecosystem health. By affecting community infrastructure and water quality, Arctic river erosion sits at the nexus of multiple problems that impact society. Greater understanding of bank erosion and its water quality impacts will be critical to supporting sustainable Arctic communities. Equally important will be understanding regional adaptive capacity challenges and opportunities to allow for the adoption of scientific knowledge into actionable plans and policies. This project unites a research team from the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, University of Alaska Anchorage, California Institute of Technology, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Southern California, and three Indigenous partner communities in the Yukon River basin that are threatened by riverbank erosion.

The two collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators A. Joshua West, University of Southern California and Marie Lowe, University of Alaska Anchorage.

NNA Research: Collaborative Research: Socio-ecological Considerations for SustainAble Fuel Treatments to Reduce Wildfire Risk (SAFRR)

The boreal forest, a belt surrounding the Arctic south of the tundra, represents about 30% of the global forest area and provides critical food, shelter, and other needs to local and Indigenous peoples and wildlife, as well as key economic opportunities at the local, regional, and global scale. Wildfires occur naturally in boreal forests, but they have become increasingly dangerous as the climate warms. The area of boreal forest burned each year in Alaska and western Canada has doubled since the 1990s, and the region has experienced some of the most deadly and costly wildfire events in the last decade. The project team is working with public land and wildfire practitioners; Indigenous organizations; and communities on the Kenai Peninsula, in Interior Alaska, and Anchorage, and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to co-produce an integrated assessment of fuel treatments. The team is following a co-produced approach to an integrated social-ecological evaluation framework. The project includes workshops and interviews with land managers and wildfire practitioners to identify preferred strategies, barriers to implementation, and key policies regarding fuel treatments and promote the exchange of knowledge and collaboration.

The three collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators Jennifer Schmidt, University of Alaska Anchorage; Michelle Mack, Northern Arizona University; and Hannah Brenkert-Smith, University of Colorado at Boulder.

NNA Research: Collaborative Research: Fate of the Caribou: From Local Knowledge to Range-wide Dynamics in the Changing Arctic

The most abundant large animal in the Arctic is caribou (Rangifer tarandus). Caribou have significant influences on social and natural systems. These animals perform the longest terrestrial migrations on Earth in herds of up to half a million individuals. Caribou are central to the spiritual and material culture of Indigenous peoples across the North. In many communities, food security depends directly on caribou presence. Caribou are also an important part of Arctic ecosystems through their impact on forest and tundra. It is therefore extremely concerning that global caribou numbers have declined over recent decades, with some herds collapsing by over 95% since 1990. These declines are likely related to the many environmental changes occurring in the Arctic, but the true causes are unknown. This research follows the leadership of Indigenous communities and other stakeholders to directly address the future of caribou across northern Alaska and Canada. This project tests hypotheses that relate specific climatic and ecological relationships to the movements of populations of migratory caribou. The hypotheses are directly informed by local observations and the immediate concerns of affected communities.

The three collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators Mark Hebblewhite, University of Montana; Eliezer Gurarie, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; and Logan Berner, Northern Arizona University.

NNA Collaboratory: Collaborative Research: Arctic Cities: Measuring Urban Sustainability in Transition (MUST)

Arctic cities face multiple challenges from social and economic transformations, deteriorating infrastructure, a changing environment, and pressures on their governance systems. To respond effectively, mayors, city councils, agency leaders, local citizens and residents, and other stakeholders need a clear set of indicators to help them understand changes in Arctic conditions and provide guidance in devising infrastructure and governance strategies to achieve future prosperity and spur sustainability. This NNA Collaboratory project assesses numerous issues of urban sustainability and compiles a set of metrics on Arctic conditions that provides data about changes in several issues, including the natural environment, energy, and socio-cultural issues. With these indicators, policymakers and stakeholders can develop effective governance systems and design and build infrastructure to meet the challenges of a shifting natural environment and economy in Arctic urban areas.

The four collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators Robert Orttung, George Washington University; Matthew Berman, University of Alaska Anchorage; Matthew Jull, University of Virginia; and Andrey Petrov, University of Northern Iowa.

Collaborative Research: NNA Research: Capturing Indigenous Knowledge to Co-Design more Effective Operations, Maintenance and Management of Water Infrastructure

A challenge for rural water infrastructure systems in the Arctic is how to operate, manage, and maintain them successfully. Operations, maintenance, and management (OMM) that ensures continuous water access is difficult in these remote areas for many reasons, such as limited access to technical resources and to training across a broad range of skills. Building local workforce capacity and training has been recommended to address this OMM gap. However, underlying these recommendations is the assumption that the knowledge used to build the water systems matches the local knowledge of people operating and interacting with said systems. In rural Alaska, this is not always the case. This project seeks to bridge this gap between expected engineering know-how and the actual know-how of the local community. The approach supports local operators through developing water system OMM training material that is better grounded in local knowledge.

The two collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators Kasey Faust, University of Texas at Austin and Daniel Armanios, Carnegie-Mellon University.

NNA Research: Collaborative Research: Displacing Wood Use with Electric Thermal Storage Heating to Improve Ambient Air Quality

In Arctic regions, space heating is often a necessity, but burning fuel to heat living spaces has substantial financial and environmental costs. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), Alaska, for example, most households use heating fuel oil as their primary source of space heating and firewood as a secondary heating source. Wood-burning heating devices are the largest source of fine particulate matter with a size of 2.5 microns or less, (PM2.5), in the borough, but wood is a relatively low-cost fuel compared to heating fuel oil. The FNSB is classified as a nonattainment area for PM2.5, which is associated with negative impacts on cardiopulmonary health. Electric thermal storage heaters (ETSH) could help solve the PM2.5 problem by replacing the firewood currently used for residential space heating. This research aims to determine whether the use of residential ETSH can mitigate ambient PM2.5 air pollution and fuel poverty in Interior Alaska.

The three collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators Raghu Betha, Texas Tech University; Joseph Little, Northern Arizona University; and Dominique Pride, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

NNA Research: Collaborative Research: Frozen Commons: Change, Resilience and Sustainability in the Arctic

This project applies convergent methodologies to study the Arctic Frozen Commons (FC), defined as the ice, snow, and permafrost landscapes collectively used and governed by communities and numerous non-local stakeholders. While significant knowledge exists around biophysical characteristics of the cryosphere, this remains largely separate from its cultural and social understandings among local and Indigenous communities, culminating in poor integration around the use and governance of Frozen Commons in a rapidly changing Arctic. An enhanced understanding of interacting processes in the social, cultural, technological, environmental, and governance domains for frozen commons is critical to framing sustainable Arctic futures. This project advances transdisciplinary research by converging Arts, Science, Local and Indigenous Knowledge systems (ArtSLInK) for developing a deeper understanding of FC resilience and sustainability. ArtSLInK encompasses synchronous, equitable, co-productive engagement across the social and natural sciences, the arts and place-based local and Indigenous knowledge systems, each with their distinct modes of exploration and expression.

The six collaborated projects funded in this collaborative research effort are led by Principal Investigators James Temte, Alaska Pacific University; Alexander Kholodov, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Shauna BurnSilver, Arizona State University; Alexander Shiklomanov, University of New Hampshire; Vera Kuklina, George Washington University; and Andrey Petrov, University of Northern Iowa.

More information about Navigating the New Arctic, as well as a full list of NNA awards made in FY 2021 can be found at NSF.gov.