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About the Arctic Sciences Section

Section Head:  Simon Stephenson

Models indicate that the Arctic is among the most sensitive regions to environmental change. Climate records and human settlement spanning thousands of years, as well as vast landscapes and partially ice-covered oceans, provide a unique basis for integrated research on global systems and human adaptation.

The Arctic Sciences Section in the Office of Polar Programs (POLAR) supports scientific research in the Arctic, related research, and operational support. Science programs include disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and broad, interdisciplinary investigations directed toward both the Arctic as a region of special scientific interest and a region important to global systems.  Disciplinary interests encompass the atmospheric, biological, physical, earth, ocean, and social sciences. The Arctic System Science Program provides opportunities for interdisciplinary investigations of the Arctic as a system. Polar Programs also encourages research relevant to both polar regions, especially glaciology, permafrost, sea ice, oceanography, and ecology.

Increasing emphasis is being given to the integration of research and education. Scientific programs that partner with schools, students (K-12 and higher), and communities in the north and that improve the public’s understanding of science and basic research are strongly encouraged.

The Foundation is one of 12 Federal agencies that sponsor or conduct arctic science, engineering, and related activities. As mandated by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, Federal interagency research planning is coordinated through the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), which is chaired by NSF.

Because the Arctic is the homeland of numerous Native peoples, special attention must be given to all aspects of research and education that may potentially impact their lives. An interagency statement of "Principles for the Conduct of Research in the Arctic" has been developed. All arctic research grantees are expected to abide by these principles. (See the "Related Links" section on this page for the direct link to the inter.) Information that may help researchers comply with the Principles can be found in the "Guidelines to Improved Cooperation between Arctic Researchers and Northern Communities" at

The Study of Environmental ARctic CHange (SEARCH) is an interagency effort to study changes occurring in the arctic system ( NSF is among the agencies contributing to this effort, which is also gaining support as a major international effort as the International Study of Arctic Change (ISAC). SEARCH themes supported by the Division of Arctic Sciences will be guided by the research community through avenues such as the SEARCH Science Steering Committee and the SEARCH Open Science Meeting ( The Arctic Sciences Section has funded components of SEARCH research through special announcements of opportunity and expects to continue supporting the development of SEARCH through this mechanism, as well as through this announcement, as funding becomes available.


Students working at the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) site outside of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to understand the effects of warming on tundra ecosystems. (NSF photo by Renee Crain)