Polar Research Board Fall Meeting

The National Academies of Sciences convened its Polar Research Board in Washington, DC on Dec. 3-4 to review recent Arctic and Antarctic research.


Discussion with International Arctic Science Commission (IASC) Delegate and Working Groups


Larry Hinzman, interim Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, discussed the activities at the third International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III)—on the theme of “Integrating Arctic Research: A Roadmap for the Future”—which took place on April 23-30, 2015.


ICARP activities included workshops, writing team meetings, conference sessions, town hall meetings, and outreach and capacity building events that were organized around four themes: (1) Climate system transformations; (2) Societies and ecosystems; (3) Observing, technology, and service; and (4) Outreach and capacity building.


Hinzman also discussed the conference statement from the Arctic Science Summit Week in Toyama, Japan on April 23-30, 2015. The conference brought together nearly 700 international scientists, students, policy makers, research managers, indigenous peoples, and others interested in developing, prioritizing, and coordinating plans for future Arctic research.


The conference was a critical step in an international Arctic research planning process involving hundreds of scientists from 27 countries, all working to improve the understanding of the consequences of Arctic region changes and their connection to global, environmental, and social processes.


Hinzman reviewed events since the second ICARP, which—10 years ago—highlighted a paradigm shift to a holistic and multidimensional perspective in the Arctic. This perspective integrally includes the human dimension, indigenous insights, and a more complete integration of Arctic processes in the earth system.


He explained that ICARP III focused on new approaches to co-design solutions-oriented science, and thereby deliver products and services that address major Arctic sustainability challenges.


An IASC working group representative gave a presentation on the Atmosphere Working Group (AWG), which includes scientific research on understanding and predicting Arctic change, as well as the global atmospheric consequences of disappearing perennial sea ice.


AWG’s geographic scope includes the Arctic, the Arctic’s responses to global change processes (i.e. “Arctic amplification”), and the impacts of Arctic changes on northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation.


AWG currently has 35 members with Thomas Spengler as the chair and an annual budget of 20,000 euros. The three vice chairs are Kathy Law, Halldor Bjornsson, and John Cassano.


MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) was born out of AWG before becoming an IASC cross-cutting initiative.


Hinzman reviewed AWG’s 2015 activities and future plans:

  • February 2015 – Air pollution workshop held in Boulder, Colorado with 32 participants. The conclusions were that international initiatives on Arctic air pollution need to be developed, and that IASC AWG should focus on science and processes related to Arctic air pollution through sponsored workshops.
  • March 2015 – High-latitude dynamics workshop held in Rosendal, Norway with about 90 participants (10 percent of them from the U.S.). The topics covered included polar predictability, coupled processes, extreme events, and large-scale processes.
  • April 2015 – European Geosciences Union session on Arctic climate change and mid-latitude weather.
  • July 2015 – Year of Polar Prediction summit participation.
  • August 2015 – Polar climate and environmental change in the last millennium.
  • 2016 – Arctic air pollution workshop (in the preparation stage).


Proposed cross-cutting initiatives include Arctic radiation and fluxes, cutting the barriers in snow knowledge, and Arctic Ocean surface observations.


AWG is currently drafting a strategy plan with a focus on atmospheric dynamics in the Arctic and subarctic, a polar prediction project, and air chemistry and pollution


Arctic Science-Related Briefings


Bob Rich, executive director of the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS), said his organization is an association of the leading Arctic research organizations around the nation and the world. It consists of a dedicated team of 15 professionals from DC, Alaska and four other states. Using communications, coordination and collaboration, they connect the threads of Arctic Research in collaboration with four central partners – National Science Foundation, Polar Research Board, U.S. Arctic Research Commission, and ICARP.


By communicating through informal meetings and conservations, Rich said ARCUS can overcome the Arctic science community’s fragmentation and provide cross-boundary connections.


One collaboration initiative, the Study on Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), will generate and synthesize research findings and promote Arctic science and scientific discovery.


Other tasks include:

  • Identifying emerging issues in Arctic environmental change.
  • Providing scientific information to Arctic stakeholders, policy makers, and the public to help them understand and respond to Arctic environmental change.
  • Facilitating research activities with an emphasis on addressing the needs of decision makers.
  • Collaborating with national and international science programs that are integral to Study of Environmental Arctic Research Change (SEARCH) goals.
  • Regularly soliciting research community input.


Other ARCUS collaboration activities are the Sea Ice Prediction Network, the Sea Ice Outlook, and Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook. Sea Ice Outlook has received ever-increasing record numbers of submissions each month. Webinars are held on stakeholder needs and priorities for sea ice prediction, and post-season reports are published.


The collaborative PolarTREC provides invigorating polar science education by bringing K-12 educators and polar researchers together. It has a strong track record for positive impacts on researchers, teachers, students, and the public.


Discussing efforts to broaden the ARCUS network, Rich said new member benefits and a new office in D.C. have been established. ARCUS has also renewed its commitment to support all Arctic research stakeholders.


ARCUS and PRB’s cooperation includes an Arctic seminar series in D.C. To be launched in January, it will feature the leading Arctic researchers interacting with the Washington science and policy communities. PRB helped with the scoping survey for this project. ARCUS will also organize a table of interactive activities as an exhibitor at the Arctic Matters Workshop, which ARCUS is helping to promote.


Danielle Dickinson, Senior Program Manager of the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) discussed “Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Research,” saying that the board is building on the success of integrated ecosystem research programs in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.


With an $8 million budget, NPRB’s funding partners are the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Collaborative Alaskan Arctic Studies Program.


U.S. agencies are funding 22 existing projects and knowledge sharing will increase with better coordination. Principal investigators will attend annual meetings and use a secure portal to share data among collaborators.


Funding decisions will be made by May 2016 on the physical, biological, and social sciences, and on modeling. A coordination meeting will be held in June 2016 to provide an opportunity to share vessel time, collect samples, and deploy or recover equipment. Field seasons are planned for 2017, 2018 and 2019. A synthesis of the data collection has been funded.


Updates on Ongoing Arctic Studies


Andrey Petrov, an Associate Professor of Geography & Geospatial Technology at the University of Northern Iowa and director of the Arctic Social & Environmental Systems Research Lab, and Sven Haakanson Jr., Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, gave a presentation about the priorities and activities of the IASC social and human science (SH) working group report.


The group’s scientific focus is on:

  • The Arctic in a global context;
  • Natural resource use, exploitation, and development in the past, present and future;
  • Histories and methodologies of Arctic sciences and arts;
  • The dynamics of mitigation and sustainability for Arctic residents;
  • Human health and well-being;
  • Perceptions and representations of the Arctic; and
  • Security, governance, and law.


Their cross cutting work involves:

  • Human health, wellbeing and ecosystem change;
  • People and coastal processes;
  • Perceptions and representations of Arctic science;
  • Collaborative community research on climate change; and
  • Competing forms of resource use in a changing environment.


Discussing the “Understanding Sustainability in the Arctic” workshop held in Charleston, South Carolina on Feb. 6-11, 2015, they said the goal was to develop an ICARP III White Paper on Arctic Sustainability Research. Their approach was to conduct a writing-intensive workshop to form the preliminary draft. After reviewing the first draft and accepting comments from other scholars, the paper was presented at ICARP III. Using feedback from that conference, the paper will be completed and published.


The paper elaborates on the current state of knowledge about sustainability and sustainable development in the Arctic. It also identifies related knowledge gaps and needs for the next decade and includes a historical overview of the concepts and sustainability in global and Arctic contexts. Finally, the report develops recommendations regarding key priorities for Arctic sustainability research for the next decade.


During special sessions on “Resources, quality of life, and sustainable development in the Arctic,” the International Geographic Union Regional Conference, held in Moscow in August 2015 was discussed. Collaborations occurred between IASC, the International Arctic Social Sciences Association, Arctic-FROST (Frontiers of Sustainability) and International Geographical Union Cold Regions Environments Commission. Presenters were from Russia, the U.S., and Australia.


Newly approved “Revitalizing Principled Humanitarian Action” working group activities were announced:

  • Gender Asymmetry in Northern communities: Building a research network for the Nordic countries, the Baltics and Russia;
  • A European Arctic Policy: The Role of EU non-Arctic member states in early 2016;
  • The tenth Siberian Studies Conference featuring, “Passion for Life: Emotions and Feelings in the North and Siberia;” and
  • A synthesis and feedback workshop in Bodo, Norway during the fall of 2015 on “Adaptation Options in the Barents Region.”


IASC Cryosphere Working Group (CWG)


  • Information highlights from this session included: MOSAiC will receive the Polarstern icebreaker to serve as the primary platform, provided by the Alfred Wagner Institute (AWI).
  • The U.S. Department of Energy will provide an ARM Mobile Facility for radiative fluxes, aerosols, clouds, and other atmospheric properties, with field operations planned for fall 2019. In addition, the Science Plan is available for review.
  • Quantifying albedo feedbacks and their role in the mass balance of the Arctic terrestrial cryosphere is a priority.


The CWG identified observation and modeling needs, and developed several science questions that need to be addressed. They included:

  • Variability in sensitivity of albedo to climate forcing;
  • Data availability and calibration/validation;
  • Modeling needs for snow, glaciers, and lake ice; and
  • Organic/inorganic particulates and living organisms.


IASC’s initiatives that are underway include:

  • Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Sea Level (ISMASS), co-sponsored by Climate and Cryosphere (CliC) and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research;
  • Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMEIE);
  • Marine Ice Sheet-Ocean Model (MISOMIP), led by CliC; and
  • Ice Sheet MIP (ISMIP6), led by S. Nowicki. The goal of this initiative is to integrate and evaluate ice sheet models for CMIP6.


The three initial CWG science-focused studies will be:

  • Sea-ice boundary layer dynamics. A workshop was held in June 2012, which supported MOSAiC planning;
  • CWG supports the International Permafrost Association, and several workshops have been held on this topic; and
  • Tidewater glacier dynamics. A workshop on glacier calving was held in June 2014, and a summer school on the subject in Norway’s Svalbard islands in September 2012.


CWG’s new focus will be on “Snow on sea ice, on land, on glaciers and ice sheets,” an IASC cross-cutting snow project. It will involve IASC’s Cryosphere, Atmosphere, and Terrestrial Working Groups.


The research efforts—approved by IASC on Nov. 23—will focus on cutting down the barriers in snow knowledge. The goal is to facilitate a network to enhance research interactions on snow-related questions in the Arctic. This could potentially tie-ins to U.S. snow research activities.


The activities would include observations and modeling, terrestrial snow and snow on sea ice, interdisciplinary communication and outreach improvements, and a crosscutting workshop to discuss future plans.


The motivation and goals for the Forum for Arctic Modeling and Observational Synthesis (FAMOS), held at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts on Nov. 4-6, 2015, was discussed. They included:

  • Coordinate Arctic Ocean modeling experiments nationally and internationally;
  • Research Arctic Ocean marine circulation based on measurements and modeling with high and very high temporal and spatial resolution; and
  • Enhance the understanding, diagnostics, and forecasting of the small-scale processes influencing Arctic change.


Other goals were to improve Arctic modeling, employ very high resolution models, develop and test new Arctic monitoring and observing systems, and improve predictions of Arctic environmental parameters with reduced uncertainties.


Meeting themes were: sea ice observations, predictions, and modeling; small scale processes like eddies, internal waves, and mixing; large scale processes like general circulation; bio-geo ecosystem modeling and observing; data for modeling; and planning future FAMOS research.


Some of the discussions at FAMOS 2015 were about the future of accurate sea ice predictions and why people should care about this. Other discussion points included:

  • The present and future challenges for biogeochemical modeling and high-resolution observations;
  • The unsolved problems of large scale regional Arctic Ocean modeling so that a better understanding can be achieved for circulation and hydrography changes; and
  • The meaning of “high resolution” modeling and observing, and what resolution is needed for small-scale and climate-scale studies.


Currently, a meeting report is being compiled. All materials, including recordings of all presentations and discussion can be found here.


The last discussion about the Arctic was given by Lee Cooper, a U.S. delegate for the Marine Working Group. This group’s scientific focus includes:

  • Predicting and understanding rapid changes to the ocean system;
  • Understanding biological and ecosystem processes in the Arctic and sub-Arctic seas;
  • Understanding geochemical processes in the Arctic and sub-Arctic seas;
  • Understanding sea ice structure dynamics in the Arctic system; and
  • Enhancing and improving access to the paleo record of the Arctic Ocean through scientific drilling.


Lee said that in 2015-15, MWG committed its support for two external Arctic Ocean related workshops. “The Role of Ice in the Sea” took place in July 2015. MWG allocated funding for a second workshop on “Coordinating Biogeochemical Studies in the Transpolar Arctic Ocean.”


Offering his own U.S. perspective, Lee said in conclusion that there needs to be more transparency, more input from constituent communities, and more active engagement of the full working group.