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Press Statement 13-002

National Science Foundation Statement By Acting Director Cora B. Marrett on the National Strategy for the Arctic Region

May 10, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is pleased to have participated in the development of the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region. The release of the Arctic Strategy is timely and builds upon existing governmental collaborations to identify and address priorities associated with environmental changes and implications for Arctic residents, the United States and the world.

One such effort is the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), which I chair as the NSF Director. In February 2013, the five-year IARPC plan was released in order to ensure effective coordination of 14 federal entities in much needed areas of Arctic research. Through leadership of the IARPC and a broad array of continuing investments in innovative Arctic research and logistics, NSF is strongly committed to supporting development of knowledge and STEM talent to inform the nation's Arctic future.

The researchers we support have been at the forefront of documenting changes to this vital region with significant contributions noted below.

The following are some recent NSF Arctic news stories about the results of that research:

May 9, 2013: Climate Record From Bottom of Russian Lake Shows Arctic Was Warmer Millions of Years Ago

April 21, 2013: Analysis of 2,000 Years of Climate Records Finds Global Cooling Trend Ended in the 19th Century

April 19, 2013: Sunlit Snow Triggers Atmospheric Cleaning, Ozone Depletion in the Arctic

April 8, 2013: New Models Predict Dramatically Greener Arctic in the Coming Decades

January 24, 2013: Analysis of Greenland Ice Cores Adds to Historical Record and May Provide Glimpse Into Climate's Future

December 4, 2012: NSF-supported Researchers Pinpoint 1,500-Year Cycle in Arctic Atmospheric Pattern

June 21, 2012: Siberian Lake Holds Clues to Arctic--and Antarctic--Climate Change

October 10, 2012: Freshwater Flows Into the Arctic and Southern Oceans Appear to Determine the Composition of Microbial Populations

October 13, 2012: National Science Foundation Launches Arctic Research Vessel

May 24, 2012: NSF Partners With U.S. and International Agencies to Foster Research on Sustainability in the Arctic

The following are some highlights of NSF-funded Arctic research relevant to the Arctic strategy:

Investigating the link between a warming Arctic and weather patterns in the continental United States.

Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University focuses on the relationship of changes in the northern hemisphere's weather patterns and the retreating Arctic sea ice.

She has discovered that as the Arctic has been warming at a faster rate than the mid-latitudes, the temperature difference between the two has been decreasing over the last several decades and so have the west-to-east winds in the jet stream.

The jet stream generally takes a wavier path in a north-south direction when its winds are weaker. A warmer Arctic also tends to stretch the northern peaks of those waves farther northward, which also increases the waviness.

The waves in the jet stream control our weather. They generate and steer both the low-pressure areas, which include storms, and the high-pressure areas of good weather. When the waves are larger, they tend to shift more slowly from west to east, as does the weather we experience on the surface that's associated with those waves. It seems like the weather gets "stuck" more often in a particular pattern when this happens.

So as the Arctic warms, the waves in the jet stream tend to get larger, and as a consequence, the weather patterns associated with them move more slowly, increasing the possibility of having more extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere.

Ice-loss in Greenland

G-NET is a network of 46 continuous GPS stations spread across Greenland. This network will map the rise of the landmass underlying the Greenland ice sheet associated with postglacial rebound and improve our understanding of ice-mass changes in Greenland, allowing scientists to quickly detect and analyze any abrupt changes in the rate of ice loss in this region.

G-NET, which is a project managed by NSF-funded researchers at Ohio State University, is a part of POLENET (The Polar Earth Observing Network), a global network dedicated to observing the polar regions in a changing world.

The project is focused on collecting GPS and seismic data from autonomous systems deployed at remote sites spanning much of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. GPS and seismic measurements together provide a means to answer critical questions about ice sheet behavior in a warming world.

Arctic Ocean acidification

In 2010, NSF awarded 21 grants under the Ocean Acidification theme of its Climate Research Investment. The projects were designed to foster research on the nature, extent and effects of ocean acidification on marine environments and organisms in the past, present and future--from tropical systems to icy seas.

Jeremy Mathis of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks was one of the awardees. His work will assess acidification in the western Arctic Ocean, particularly the key physical, chemical and biogeochemical processes influencing the saturation of aragonite and calcite. The study will develop algorithms for determining saturation state, and set the stage for assessing the potential effects of ocean-acidification on bottom-dwelling and near-bottom-dwelling communities of creatures.

North Pole Environmental Observatory

The NSF-funded North Pole Environmental Observatory tracks changes in freshwater distributions in the Arctic. Since the spring of 2000, an international research team supported by NSF, and led by Jamie Morison, at the University of Washington, has conducted annual April expeditions to the North Pole to take the pulse of the Arctic Ocean and learn how the world's northernmost sea helps regulate global climate. The team establishes a group of unmanned scientific platforms, collectively called an observatory, to record data throughout the remainder of the year on everything from the salinity of the water to the thickness and temperature of the ice cover.

Greening of the Arctic

An NSF-funded project led by Eric Post at Pennsylvania State University is collecting data on dynamics of plants in response to observed and experimental warming--at the species and community scales--at study sites in Kangerlussuaq and Zackenberg, Greenland. The focus of the data-collection is at Kangerlussuaq, where the team has expanded long-term monitoring plots and added some experimental warming plots to compare the spatial dynamics of various species responses to warming at small and larger scales. Simultaneously, the researchers observe populations of caribou and muskoxen at Kangerlussuaq and muskoxen at Zackenberg. Initial results indicate a continued mismatch between the timing of plant growth and calving by caribou in Kangerlussuaq, but a match for muskoxen at both study sites. The study will indicate how various species respond to an early flourishing of green plants as food in a warming Arctic.

Thawing permafrost

Andrew Jacobson of Northwestern University conducts research into the consequences of a warming planet on permafrost.

Permafrost, or, until recently, permanently frozen ground, covers approximately 20 to 25 percent of the land-surface area in the northern hemisphere, and is estimated to contain up to 1,600 gigatons of carbon, primarily in the form of organic matter. (One gigaton is equivalent to 1 billion tons.)

By comparison, the atmosphere now contains around 850 gigatons of the element as carbon dioxide.

Jacobson says a key concern driving his research is that permafrost carbon will oxidize to carbon dioxide as melting accelerates, causing a positive feedback to global warming.

So Jacobson and his colleagues collect river water and soil samples near NSF's Toolik Long-Term Ecological Research station, approximately 250 kilometers (km)--155 miles--north of the Arctic Circle.

His ultimate goal is to create baseline measurements to which future changes can be compared.

Carbon flux

The arctic landscape interacts with the global and regional climate by exchanging carbon dioxide, methane, water and energy with the atmosphere. Understanding how these exchanges are regulated and how they change is a key goal of the U.S. Study of Environmental Arctic Change and NSF Arctic Observing Network.

Katey Walter is a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), whose NSF-funded work involves year-round monitoring of carbon, water, and energy balance at two Arctic sites, Imnavait Creek in Alaska and Cherskii in Siberia. The work is collaboration among researchers from the Marine Biological Laboratory, UAF, Northeast Science Station, Russia, and the University of Michigan.

A second goal of the project is to develop the two sites as flagship observatories for research on arctic land and freshwater rivers. The main task here is to integrate the new carbon, water, and energy balance data with the already large, diverse, and growing data bases from other research done at these sites.

A third aim is to promote pan-Arctic comparisons and development of pan-Arctic databases.


Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7530, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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