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NSF Press Release


Embargoed Until 1:15 p.m. Eastern Time
NSF PR 03-125 - October 28, 2003

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 Peter West

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 Neil Swanberg

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Meeting to Address Scientific Evidence of Arctic Environment Change

ARLINGTON, Va.—Dramatic declines over the past 30 years in sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean appear to be part of a complex and interrelated set of environmental changes that already are affecting traditional ways of life, according to researchers attending a landmark scientific meeting in Seattle this week.

The changes may have far-reaching consequences beyond the Polar Regions, they add.

Scientists attending the meeting are presenting evidence that environmental changes are occurring in the Arctic. They also hope to formulate new research strategies to understand those changes.

More than 400 people are expected to attend the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) open science meeting being held in Seattle, Wash., from Oct. 27 to 30. The meeting is the first and largest scientific gathering ever held to discuss a federal interagency initiative to analyze and understand trends in Arctic environmental change.

"We don't know the full extent or future course of Arctic environmental change," said James Morison, the National Science Foundation-funded researcher at the University of Washington who heads the SEARCH Science Steering Committee. "But we think we can understand it because the recent observations of the changing environment have given us new insights into how the Arctic system functions."

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Office of Polar Programs is sponsoring the meeting, along with additional support from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), a non-governmental organization that encourages and facilitates cooperation in all aspects of Arctic research.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5 billion.

Other federal participants in SEARCH include NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Smithsonian Institution and the Interior, Energy and Defense departments.

U.S. organizers said they hope the meeting will serve as an international forum in which researchers can addresses the basic premise of SEARCH — that a complex of interrelated changes encompassing terrestrial, oceanic, atmospheric and human systems are taking place across the Arctic. The meeting also is aimed at identifying unresolved scientific issues and future research opportunities.

"Among other things, we want the meeting to be an opportunity to hear what more our foreign colleagues think about SEARCH and how it might be implemented," said Morison. "We hope this meeting marks the start of a sustained, systematic program of large-scale observation and analysis of environmental change indicators in the Arctic."

Researchers said that four large-scale hypotheses under gird SEARCH investigations:

  • Arctic environmental change is related to change in the atmospheric Polar Vortex, a large-scale cyclonic circulation in the atmosphere centered generally in the Polar Regions.

  • Arctic environmental change is a component of a more widespread change in climate.

  • Feedback between the ocean, the land and the atmosphere are critical to the change process. The amount of ice, for example, or the lack of it, directly affects the amount of energy reflected back into atmosphere or absorbed by the ocean.

  • Such physical changes have large impacts on the Arctic ecosystems and society.

Peter Schlosser, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, who joined Morison at a media briefing during the meeting, said an observing system that would keep tabs on conditions on the land and in oceans areas of the Arctic is critical to any strategy for understanding Arctic environmental change. Implementation of such an observing system, he said, would require an international effort with close collaboration among federal agencies.


Other contacts:
LJ Evans, Arctic Council of the U.S. (ARCUS): (907) 474-1600,
Sandra Hines, University of Washington: (206) 543-2580,
Jana Goldman, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: (301) 713-2483,
Elvia H. Thompson, NASA, Washington, (202) 358-1696,

For more information about SEARCH, including a list of participating federal agencies, see:

For specific information about the open science meeting, see:


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