Public Release:  NSF, with interagency and international partners, makes first round of grants to understand Arctic sustainability

Arctic science, engineering, and education for sustainability grants go to 12 institutions and include 8 nations

National Science Foundation

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IMAGE: Arctic Native people, such as these two Yupik Eskimo students from Chevak, Alaska, will be actively involved in ArcSEES research. view more

Credit: Craig Ely, US Geological Survey

The National Science Foundation (NSF), in cooperation with interagency and international partners, recently made the first round of awards under a program that supports multi- and interdisciplinary science important to understanding the predictability, resiliency and sustainability of the natural and living environment, built environment, natural resource development and governance of the Arctic.

Six projects have been funded as part of the Arctic Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (ArcSEES) program. The projects are located at 12 institutions, and include collaborative investigators from the United States, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. ArcSEES grants support academic, management, indigenous and industry scientists.

"Twenty years ago, the Arctic Council emphasized the need to engage science for sustainability in the high north," said Erica Key, ArcSEES program manager in the Division of Polar Programs in NSF's Geosciences Directorate. "In that time, the Arctic environment and population has changed considerably. ArcSEES is a timely approach to understanding and mitigating the impacts of environmental change on Arctic people."

NSF's Division of Polar Programs; Geosciences Directorate and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) contributed funding to the first round of awards, as did the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), an organization within the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

"The participation of CNRS through this new partnership with NSF and other U.S. institutions saw the selection of a project that includes French teams, and I am happy with this result," said Jean-Francois Stephan, director of the National Institute of Earth Sciences and Astronomy at CNRS.

CNRS coordinates the new French Arctic Initiative in which international cooperation occupies a privileged place, he added.

BOEM, in partnership with NSF, will fund two studies in the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf:

One will measure and assess the long-term cumulative impacts of increases in the oil-and-gas-industry infrastructure in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska, with the goal of reducing the impacts of future development in the region.

The other study will examine the vulnerability and resilience of the walrus population off Alaska's North Slope. This will enhance the Bureau's understanding of the complex interplay between climate change; walrus population dynamics and structure; health, habits, feeding ecologies; foraging locations and harvesting by Native-Alaskan subsistence hunters. "BOEM welcomes the opportunity to partner with NSF and other world-class scientific organizations looking at Arctic sustainability," said Tommy P. Beaudreau, BOEM director.

The premise of ArcSEES is that fundamental research is needed to understand the integrated Arctic system in this era of rapid change, how sustainability is defined the context of rapid change, whether necessary data and statistical techniques are available to make the desired assessment and to understand the stability and predictability of the Arctic system state.

The program recognizes that there are gaps in the scientific understanding of the rapidly changing environmental, social, economic, built and managed systems in the Arctic as well as their complex interactions and, as result, deficiencies in the science that guides policymaking.

The suite of projects supported by the first round of grants reflects the diversity of research necessary to inform sustainability science and co-develop relevant policy, mitigation and adaptation strategies with Arctic residents.

Submissions to NSF's ArcSEES solicitation program drew the interest of more than 250 scientific collaborators from 10 countries as well as management entities from local and multi-national levels.

Established by Congress through the Arctic Research and Policy Act, the U.S. Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) consists of more than 15 agencies, departments and offices across the Federal government. NSF's director chairs IARPC.

The following grants were made in the first round of ArcSEES funding:

Collaborative Research: Water, Energy, and Food Security in the North: Synergies, tradeoffs, and building community capacity for sustainable futures (Sustainable Futures North)

Principal Investigators: Philip Loring, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Henry Huntington, Huntington Consulting, Eagle River, Alaska; Lawrence Hamilton, University of New Hampshire; Shari Gearheard, University of Colorado at Boulder

The Sustainable Futures North project addresses the question of whether synergies can be found among the related goals of food security, water security, energy security and resource development in the North American Arctic. Historically, development in one or more of these areas has presented trade-offs in others.

The North Slope Arctic Scenarios Project (NASP): Envisioning desirable futures and strategizing pathways for sustainable healthy communities

Principal Investigator: Amy Lovecraft, University of Alaska Fairbanks

This proposal for the North Slope Arctic Scenarios Project (NASP) involves multiple organizations and stakeholders in collaboration to explore options for sustainable development in the North. NASP employs proven and advanced approaches to engage North Slope communities in developing and analyzing scenarios visions for the future and plausible pathways--for effective strategic planning and implementation of policy.

WALRUS--Walrus Adaptability and Long-term Responses; Using multi-proxy data to project Sustainability

Principal Investigator: Nicole Misarti, University of Alaska Fairbanks

The Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) is one of many species affected by recent environmental change in the Arctic. This project aims to integrate several disciplines including archaeology, ethnology, biology and ecology using diverse sources of data including DNA, stable isotope, steroid and trace element analysis as well as to ascertain long-term trends of walrus feeding ecology, foraging location and stock genetics over the last two millennia. This time-frame includes large climatic anomalies such as the Medieval Warm and the Little Ice Age, thereby presenting scientists with the possibility of understanding how walruses adapt during times of stress and change. The project is jointly funded by NSF and the Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Collaborative Research: Sustainabiity of critical areas for eiders and subsistence hunters in an industrializing nearshore zone

Principal Investigators: Tuula Hollmen, Alaska SeaLife Center; Henry Huntington, Huntington Consulting, Eagle River, Alaska; James Lovvorn, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale; Neesha Stellrecht, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Throughout the Arctic, indigenous people are faced with difficult choices between the cash benefits of industrialization versus potential degradation of subsistence hunting. Subsistence hunting often provides a large fraction of foods and may be more reliable in the long term than a cash economy based on nonrenewable resources. Subsistence hunting for certain species may also have cultural significance that far exceeds their dietary contribution. Researchers will model habitat requirements and map viable prey densities for formerly hunted, but now threatened species, such as Spectacled Eider and a commonly hunted species, King Eider, in the Chukchi near-shore zone and determine long-term variability in the eiders' access to those areas through the ice. They will refine the maps with traditional ecological knowledge on conditions and areas where hunting for King Eider typically occurs. They will also estimate probabilities that different eider feeding areas that are accessible through the ice and conducive to hunting would be eliminated during migration by oil spills from pipelines built along four alternative routes. They will use the information as part of structured decision-making workshops to be held in the native community. These workshops will help create a local vision for sustainability, in terms of potential risks of different pipeline routes to subsistence and cultural values of eiders, relative to cash benefits of local construction projects.

Collaborative Research: Holistic Integration for Arctic Coastal-Marine Sustainability (HIACMS)

Principal Investigators: Lawson Brigham, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Paul Arthur Berkman, University of California-Santa Barbara

This three-year research project will develop and demonstrate an international, interdisciplinatry and inclusive process to enhance the practice of governance for sustainability in Arctic coastal-marine systems, balancing: (a) national interests and common interests, (b) environmental protection, social equity and economic prosperity and (c) the needs of present and future generations. The researchers believe that the sustainability process developed and demonstrated in this project focusing on the Arctic Ocean will have implications everywhere on Earth where resources, human activities and their impacts extend across or beyond the boundaries of sovereign states. The project is jointly funded by NSF and France's National Centre for Scientific Research.

Cumulative effects of Arctic oil development--planning and designing for sustainability

Principal Investigator: Donald Walker, University of Alaska Fairbanks

This project devises a sustainable approach to assess cumulative effects of oil exploration though combining detailed ground studies, local community input, industry involvement and an international perspective. It will use a three-pronged initiative:

  • A case study of the cumulative effects of industrial infrastructure at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, will focus on infrastructure-related effects associated with gravel mines, roads and other areas of gravel placement.
  • An Arctic Infrastructure Action Group, consisting of local people who interact with development infrastructure, permafrost scientists, ecologists, hydrologists, engineers, social scientists and educators, to bring issues to greater prominence in the international Arctic research community.
  • An education/outreach component will train students in arctic systems and introduce them to the issues of industrial development and adaptive management approaches during an expedition along the Elliott and Dalton highways in Alaska.

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