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Paleoceanographic Perspectives on Arctic Ocean Change

The Arctic Ocean is presently experiencing changes in ocean temperature and sea ice extent that are unprecedented in the observational time period. To provide context for the current changes, scientists turn to paleo records of past climate to document and study natural variability in the Arctic system. Paleoceanographic records that extend limited Arctic instrumental measurements are central to improving our understanding of sea ice dynamics and ocean warming and for enhancing the predictive capability of models. By coupling paleoceanographic records with modern observations, scientists can also contextualize the rate and magnitude of modern change with the deep past.

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Collecting Environmental Intelligence in the New Arctic

Shortly after the beginning of the 21st Century, the Arctic began an environmental transition so extensive that it caught scientists, policymakers, and residents by surprise. The extent and duration of these transitions defines the New Arctic, characterized by the lowest winter maximum in sea ice cover on record for 2017, the persistent and record warming of sea surface temperatures across the Arctic, and the downward trend in total ice mass of the Greenland ice sheet, just to name a few. The unprecedented rate and global reach of these changes highlight the pressing need to prepare for and adapt to the New Arctic.

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Arctic Change – So What?: Linkages and Impacts

The Arctic is an integral part of the larger Earth system where multiple interactions unite its natural and human components. As is amply demonstrated in each annual installment of the Arctic Report Card, the domain is collectively experiencing rapid and amplified signatures of global climate change. At the same time, the Arctic system’s response to this broader forcing has, itself, become a central research topic, given its potential role as a critical throttle on future planetary dynamics (NRC 2013, 2014). Changes are already impacting life systems, cultures and economic prosperity and continued change is expected to bear major implications far outside the region (ACIA 2005, AMAP 2012, IPCC 2013, Cohen et al. 2014). Ongoing assessments of how the system is wired-together and how sensitive its environment is to change suggest that there are important interconnections and possible feedbacks but these remain highly uncertain (Francis et al. 2009a; Hinzman et al. 2013). We have entered an era when environmental management, traditionally local in scope, must confront regional, whole biome, and pan-Arctic challenges but also requires policy development that crosses scales and boundaries from villages to international partnerships.

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Faster Glaciers and the Search for Faster Science

During a 1979 research cruise in the Bering Sea, Conrad Oozeva, a Native hunter from St. Lawrence Island, shared dozens of Yupik words for sea ice (Fig. 12.1). I recently looked at my notebook from that period and realized that some of those terms—such as tagneghneq (thick, dark, weathered ice)—refer to types of sea ice that are rare or non-existent today. That some of those Yupik terms—probably in use for thousands of years—would become obsolete in just a few decades attests to the rapid pace of change in the Arctic and to the impacts on indigenous peoples (Berman 2004; Oozeva et al. 2004; Ford and Pearce 2010).

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Community-based Observing Network Systems for Arctic Change Detection and Response

Community-based monitoring (CBM) is a broad set of approaches that engage the capacity of community residents in observing and monitoring of a region, e.g., the Arctic (Arctic Council 2015; Johnson et al. 2015). CBM encompasses a continuum of approaches from community-based observing network systems (CBONS), citizen science and observer blogs (Table 11.1).

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Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Velocity: New Data Sets

Ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet (see Fig. 3.4 in the essay on the Greenland Ice Sheet) is a principal source of sea level rise. During 2009-2012, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost ~380 Gt of ice per year, contributing ~1.05 mm yr-1 to sea level rise (Enderlin et al. 2014), compared with a global mean sea level rise of ~3.2 mm yr-1 during 1993-2010 (IPCC 2013). Ice loss occurs through two primary processes: (1) surface melt and runoff from across the ice sheet, and (2) calving of icebergs into the ocean from marine-terminating outlet glaciers.

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