National Science Foundation
National Science Foundation research is concerned with the entire Arctic region, including Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, the Arctic Ocean, and adjacent seas, the upper atmosphere and near space. Research falls principally within eight major scientific disciplines: atmosphere, ocean, biology, earth science, glaciology, social science, engineering and science education.
National Science Foundation research is concerned with the entire Arctic region, including Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas, the upper atmosphere and near space. Research falls principally within eight major scientific research areas: atmospheric science, ocean science, biology, earth science, glaciology, social science, engineering and science education.
The NSF supports a formal Arctic research program within the Office of Polar Programs (OPP). Other Divisions and programs throughout NSF, primarily in the Directorate for Geosciences and the Division of Environmental Biology in the Directorate for Biological Sciences, support research in and on the Arctic as part of their overall funding. Most research grants are awarded on the basis of unsolicited proposals and are merit reviewed.
In FY 97, NSF awarded funds for 358 Arctic research projects at 130 institutions in 38 states and the District of Columbia. NSF's support of Arctic research, including facilities support and field operations, over the past several years is shown below (in thousands of dollars).
The following sections present highlights of several major programs and selected projects. A complete listing of NSF Arctic funded projects can be found in the publication Arctic Science, Engineering, and Education Awards: FY 1997, available from the Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA 22230.
Arctic System Science
|Arctic Natural Science
|Arctic System Science Prog
|Arctic Social Sciences Prog
|Arctic Research Support
|Arctic Research Commission
|Other NSF Science Programs
* Included with other programs in FY 96.
The National Science Foundation established the Arctic System Science (ARCSS) (see note 1) program in 1989. ARCSS is structured to be a regional component within the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Administration of the program uses review expertise and financial support from the Office of Polar Programs, the Divisions of the Geosciences Directorate and other components of NSF as appropriate. ARCSS is coordinated and managed by the Office of Polar Programs. Through a series of workshops and interactions with a broad scientific community, ARCSS has developed goals and priorities aimed at understanding the role of the Arctic in global change and how the Arctic will respond to global change. ARCSS is an interdisciplinary program that examines the interactions within and between the climatic, geologic, biologic and socioeconomic subsystems of the Arctic. ARCSS is predicated on the knowledge that the Arctic system is sensitive to and important in global change.
ARCSS has six linked components. The original ARCSS program included the Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP2), Paleoclimates from Lakes and Estuaries (PALE), Ocean/Atmosphere/Ice Interactions (OAII) and Land/Atmosphere/Ice Interactions (LAII). Two new programs, Synthesis, Integration and Modeling Studies (SIMS) and Human Dimensions of the Arctic System (HARC), were established in 1994 and 1996, respectively.
Science steering committees (SSCs) for each component facilitate and enhance the ARCSS program and provide a focal point for communication with the scientific community. Recommendations for overall coordination and integration of the ARCSS components and individual projects are provided by the ARCSS committee. The committee includes representatives from each SSC, as well as an investigator not supported by ARCSS with disciplinary interest in that component of ARCSS to enhance the scientific breadth and experience of the group.
NSF/ARCSS has been particularly successful at establishing partnerships with other Federal agencies. In 1996 and 1997 significant cost sharing on Arctic ocean science for ARCSS projects came from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Considerable cost sharing with NASA, DOE, ONR and NOAA on current projects has occurred for projects dealing with Arctic climate and ocean processes and modeling research.
GISP2(see note 2) and PALE both contribute to understanding the past climate, atmosphere and ecology of the Arctic. This historical information gives valuable insight into understanding system interactions. Starting in FY 98 the paleoenvironmental components of ARCSS were incorporated into the NSF program called Earth System History.
The overall goal of GISP2 was to obtain a history of global climate and atmospheric chemistry from the Greenland Ice Cap. This very successful program began in FY 86, completed its field phase in FY 93 and completed most of the laboratory analyses of the ice core in FY 97. GISP2 results provided evidence of global changes in atmospheric circulation, chemistry and temperature that have changed our perceptions of the intensity and rapidity of climate change during the most recent glacial-interglacial cycle.
The overall goal of PALE is to construct paleoclimatic history from the sediments of Arctic and subArctic bogs, lakes and seas. A variety of proxy indicators (such as pollen, diatoms, sediment chemistry and grain size) in the sediments yield vital information on the responses of terrestrial and marine ecosystems to climate and land use change. PALE is complementary to GISP2 and provides information on local, regional and global changes. An Arctic circumpolar network of sampled sites has been established to describe the regional variation of climate over the past 18,000 years. PALE has joined an international program, Circumpolar Arctic Paleoclimate Experiment (CAPE), to produce a reconstruction of the cir-cumarctic environment for three time slices: 2,000 years before the present (ybp), 6,000 ybp and 20,000 ybp. PALE has been accepted by PAGES (PAst Global changES) of the Interna- tional Geological Biological Project (IGBP) as a core project.
Contemporary and Process Studies
OAII(see note 3) and LAII are process oriented and rely more on experiment and less on description than GISP2 and PALE. An important goal of OAII is to investigate the effects of energy exchange on the structure of the Arctic Ocean and the interactions within the overlying atmosphere. Carbon sequestration, ecosystem dynamics, sedimentation and carbon deposition in the Arctic Ocean and its interactions with the surrounding land and river systems are also important topics of investigation. OAII currently is conducting the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) project from a ship frozen into the drifting ice pack in the Beaufort Sea. SHEBA is measuring the impact of clouds and albedo on sea ice for a full annual cycle.
An objective of the LAIIFlux study is to investigate feedback processes within the Arctic terrestrial system that modify global climate change, climate variability and fluxes of ice, fresh water, waterborne materials and greenhouse gases. LAII also assesses the effect of changing temperature and snow regimes on critical terrestrial organisms and their communities. LAIIFlux has discovered that the Alaskan tundra has shifted in the last 20 years from being a net sink of carbon dioxide to being a net source in winter. If this change is long term, it could lead to major positive reinforcing of global warming via the greenhouse effect. LAII-Flux has been accepted as a core project of IGBP. LAII has joined ITEX (International Tundra Experiment) of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program, which is a study of the effects of climate warming on circumpolar plant species and community dynamics.
LAIIFlux is testing, among other things, the following three questions:
Synthesis, Integration, and Modeling Studies
SIMS is an integrative program that links all of the ARCSS components to provide a suite of model simulations for understanding the behavior, feedbacks, dynamics and function of the interactive Arctic system. Models are at all scales appropriate to building connections between LAII, OAII, PALE, GISP2 and HARC research, but those that provide a regional synthesis are emphasized. These models are essential to the ARCSS goal of developing a model that will predict the natural responses to global changes that affect the human condition.
Human Dimensions of the Arctic System
Human Dimensions of the Arctic System (HARC), the ARCSS component of the NSF Human Dimensions of Global Change program, is a collaborative effort with the Arctic Social Sciences Program to integrate natural and social sciences research that will demonstrate the interactions of climate and human development with the use of natural resources. Arctic Native peoples have sustained themselves through hunting, fishing, whal-ing and wage employment derived from petroleum revenues. The continued sustainability of that culture and regional development could be affected by global environmental changes that may affect vegetation and marine productivity, yearround sea ice maintenance, and construction/land use practices. In the next five years, interdisciplinary groups will focus on developing models that predict natural responses to global changes. Research at the natural sciences-human dimension interface will increase policy makers' understanding of regional natural and social systems and build linkages between communities in the Arctic. Those linkages will enhance the knowledge base necessary for examining policy choices and risk assessments within the context of global and regional climate changes.
Arctic Natural Sciences
The National Science Foundation established the Arctic Natural Sciences (ANS) program in 1995. The program is unique in NSF in the variety of disciplines supported. ANS supports research in space sciences, atmospheric sciences, geology, biology, glaciology and oceanography in the Arctic. Arctic Natural Sciences uses review expertise from the Office of Polar Programs, the Divisions of the Geosciences Directorate and other components of NSF as appropriate. The Office of Polar Programs coordinates ANS. A few science highlights follow.
Research in glaciology includes the study of all forms of naturally occurring ice and its history. Some examples are studies of past climates and atmospheric paleochemistry from ice cores, ice stream and valley glacier dynamics, glacial geology, glacial hydrology and the mass balance of mountain glaciers and ice sheets. The research takes place primarily in Alaska, Greenland, Arctic Canada, Svalbard, Arctic Russia and Sweden. In addition, some limited funding goes to support research in highaltitude and mid and lowlatitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
The program also supports research on new methods of studying glaciers and ice sheets, including the development of improved remote sensing capabilities, drilling methods and methods for analyzing ice cores. In addition a variety of theoretical, laboratory and data analysis projects are funded.
The U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL), located on the grounds of the Denver Federal Center in the same building as the U.S. Geological Survey's Core Research Center, is operated jointly by the University of Colorado and the U.S. Geological Survey. The NSF funding is from both the Arctic and Antarctic science programs.
The purpose of Arctic Glacier Studies projects is to increase understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the surge behavior of glaciers and the seasonal fluctuations of glacier flow. Work has focused on the role of subglacial water and basal water pressure, ice temperature, internal deformation, electrical conductivity and turbidity of meltwater. These parameters can be measured in boreholes in the ice at various places on the glacier. A multi-year study of the Greenland ice cover has shown that the ice-covered area around the Greenland periphery has decreased over the past decade.
Glacial Geological Studies
Among the largest uncertainties in ice volume changes during the late Quaternary are the areal and vertical extent of ice sheets over Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya and the adjacent seas (Barents/ Kara). Deglaciation of Franz Josef Land and the northern Barents Sea occurred surprisingly early, according to glacial geologists funded by the Arctic Glaciology program. Deglaciation of the Barents/Kara Sea ice sheet may have been initiated by a rapid global sea-level rise 13 thousand years ago. This sea-level rise would have destabilized this marinebased ice sheet, particularly in the deep troughs bordering the Russian Arctic seas.
Studies on natural climate signals in ice cores have relied on the information preserved in the ice caps about past atmospheric conditions. Over 50 chemical species and physical properties have been measured in ice cores and are used to reveal past climatic conditions. Significant progress has also been made in characterizing the atmosphere-to-ice "transfer function." For example, it has been shown that the transfer function is nonlinear and depends on temperature, water accumulation and the abundance of other species.
American scientists have been invited by European researchers to participate in NGRIP, a Greenland ice sheet coring project that is being conducted from a site several kilometers north of where the two previous deep ice cores (GISP2 and GRIP) were recovered. The U.S. teams will measure stable isotope ratios of snow and ice to infer climate change in the last millennium and will analyze the dust recovered from the ice cores to infer the dominant wind regimes associated with paleoclimates.
Several Investigators studied climate change, how it is characterized, and its consequences for the Arctic. The program supports research aimed at the physical understanding of the processes responsible for climate change as well as the processes affected by climate change.
The past four winters have seen the largest ozone depletions ever recorded in the Arctic, and each year has seen more ozone depletion than the preceding one. Arctic ozone depletions have been far more dramatic than had been anticipated by most scientists. The program goals were to measure stratospheric constituents and understand the processes involved in ozone depletion and to study the effect of the increased UV radiation on biological systems. Ozone is depleted during extremely cold conditions, and ozone concentrations reach their minima in the late winter and early spring. Stratospheric measurements of ozone and studies of the ozone depletion processes have revealed the importance of natural effects such as volcanic eruptions in ozone depletion processes.
Conditions in the magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere can influence the performance and reliability of both space-borne and ground-based technological systems. Arctic observations are essential to understanding the physical processes that govern space weather. NSF's program focuses on high-latitude observations aimed at understanding the coupling between the magnetosphere, ionosphere and upper atmosphere and predicting the weather in space. A specific emphasis of NSF programs is to understand Arctic and Antarctic conjugate phenomena. Conjugate studies provide a unique tool to trace time-varying magnetic field lines and determine large-scale current configurations in the magnetosphere.
From 1995 through 1999 U.S. Navy submarines were and will be deployed to the Arctic Ocean (the SCICEX submarine cruises) for unprecedented missions to support unclassified oceanographic research conducted by and for researchers from academic institutions in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. These missions are dedicated to providing an improved understanding of the Arctic Ocean and the nature of its seasonal variations.
The Arctic Ocean is the last frontier in oceanography. Important issues are related to the global carbon cycle and the distribution of biota, freshwater balance, circulation, heating, transport of sediments and pollutants, and spreading of the seafloor, as well as the volume, flow and properties of sea ice. Present emphasis is given to using Navy nuclear submarines as a platform. Future emphasis will involve the USCGC Healy research vessel under construction.
The SCICEX submarine cruises have provided a unique synoptic snapshot of the configuration of the Arctic Ocean. They have revealed changes in ice thickness distribution (which plays a major role in determining the overall heat and mass balance at the surface of the ocean). The front that separates Atlantic and Pacific waters appears to have moved from a position close to the Lomonosov Ridge to the Mendeleev and Alpha Ridges. This translates into a 20% increase of the area dominated by the Atlantic waters. In parallel the upper ocean temperature has increased greatly, by 1C in some regions. These observed changes in Arctic Ocean circulation and temperature may be due to an increase in the temperature and volume of the incoming North Atlantic water.
Gakkel Ridge, the active spreading center in the Arctic Ocean, is the slowest spreading portion of the mid-ocean ridge system. Gravity surveys carried out by the SCICEX program have revealed that the crust is very thin, probably less than 4 km.
Researchers have confirmed that a hot mud volcano on the seafloor between Greenland and Norway is oozing mud, seeping gas and spewing gas-laden plume of warm water into the North Atlantic. Frozen methane hydrate caps the volcano, whose slopes are inhabited by a species of tubeworm most closely related to a group found in Antarctica.
Construction of a side-scan swath bathymetric sonar and a high-resolution sub-bottom profiler has started. This instrument, the Seafloor Characterization and Mapping Pod (SCAMP), will provide an unprecedented opportunity to map the deep Arctic Ocean. SCAMP will provide the data sets necessary for the accurate digital terrain mapping required for modeling ocean circulation. It will also provide detailed mapping of the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge and of periglacial features (such as iceberg plow marks on the continental shelves), which are needed to understand the Holocene history of the Arctic.
Research topics span a broad range of biological disciplines, with several projects multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary in design. The biological sciences component of the Arctic Natural Sciences Program supports research in all aspects of Arctic biology, including topics in biological oceanography and marine ecology as well as terrestrial and freshwater ecology.
The two largest projects are the ongoing Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects on tundra, freshwater and taiga ecosystems in Alaska. The Arctic (Toolik Lake) and Bonanza Creek LTER projects continue the successful pursuit of their individual project objectives and their participation in the national network of LTER sites. The LTER network and individual LTER projects are actively developing research collaborations with scientists supported by other agencies and scientists in other countries who share research interests.
The Arctic LTER is a major interdisciplinary project located in the foothills of the Brooks Range on the North Slope of Alaska. Funding has supported a large group of biologists, ecologists, limnologists and hydrologists from major universities and research centers in the U.S. to study terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. In conjunction with the LTER program, this project has developed a multidisciplinary team approach to ecosystem studies.
Four other ecosystem projects were supported during FY 96 and 97. One of these ecosystem projects was designed to test the importance of geomorphology in determining food web (trophic) structure. This research, termed the geomorphic-trophic hypothesis, postulates that landscape characteristics, including lake outflow gradient, lake depth and lake area, determine the distribution of fish species, which in turn controls the benthic and pelagic trophic structure. This proposed work has four major components:
A second project was designed to improve the understanding of how carbon-nutrient interactions in soils might affect the responses of Arctic tundra ecosystems to global environmental change. This research was conceived in a global warming context that predicts that a global temperature increase would affect carbon-nutrient interactions at the ecosystem level. The central idea is that the primary production in Arctic ecosystems is often strongly nutrient limited, with virtually all of the nitrogen made available to vascular plants in tundra ecosystems coming from microbial mineralization of soil organic matter.
A third project, a Terrestrial Ecology and Global Change (TECO) research award, elucidated the short- and long-term responses of Arctic tundra ecosystems to climate change and associated changes in soil water content and active layer depth. Physical changes associated with an increase in average annual temperature in the northern latitudes (an increase in growing season length, a decrease in surface soil water content, and a decrease in the extent and distribution in snow and ice cover) have altered Arctic ecosystem function. This could result in a significant positive or negative feed-back to global atmospheric carbon dioxide con-centrations. This project will conduct net carbon-dioxide exchange measurements over the annual cycle to determine both the warm- and cold- season contributions to annual net carbon dioxide exchange in Arctic tundra ecosystems.
A fourth project, another TECO award, was designed to develop a predictive understanding of the major classes of feedbacks from boreal fire to climate as a basis for improved understanding of the changing role of the boreal forests in the Earth's climate system. The goal of this project is to understand certain processes that remain outside of current general circulation models(GCMs). These processes reflect "surprises" that reduce the reliability of GCMs for predicting climate change because of limited understanding of the role of biotic and ecosystem feedbacks to regional and global dynamics. In addition to studies of paleoecological dynamics and fire and climate modeling, this project involves an integrative, large-scale field experiment in the boreal forest. Measurements of forest dynamics following burning, soil processes, trace gas fluxes and paleoecological reconstruction of vegetation and climate will be integrated in the project. This research will be conducted in association with the Bonanza Creek LTER program in Alaska. This project represents one of the few extensive and integrative assessments of the feedbacks between fire in boreal forest and global climate dynamics.
The purpose is to understand the relationship between physical and chemical processes as they relate to the unique character of the Arctic environment. Research projects in this area include the history, biology and dynamics of Arctic fauna and flora, the physical and biological geography of Beringia and the Arctic coastal regions, the microbial processes responsible for mineralization cycles such as carbon and nitrogen fluxes, biological adaptation to the Arctic environment, and the hydrography of freshwater drainages.
Climatic data obtained by Arctic Natural Sciences researchers studying changes in the permafrost indicate that Alaska is currently warming at a rate of about 2.4C per century. Some of the discontinuous permafrost south of the Yukon River in Alaska has warmed by as much as 1.5oC.
The continental shelf break of the Bering Sea, which extends diagonally across the Bering Sea basin, is the site of some of the most productive water in the North Pacific. During the 1997 field season, researchers detected very anomalous conditions that included sea surface temperatures 3C above normal, the first-ever-described phytoplankton blooms in the Bering Sea, unusually large numbers of whales and an unusually large die-off of short-tailed shearwaters ranging between hundreds of thousands to millions of birds. Researchers are now investigating the probable causes of these changes in the Bering Sea.
The flora and fauna of tundra soils are among the least known components of Arctic biodiversity. Tundra soils are unique because of the presence of permafrost, highly acid or alkaline conditions, and repeated cycles of freezing and thawing. The soil biota are generally small and difficult to identify or even detect, but recent evidence suggests that the bulk of the biological activity in the Arctic is due to these organisms. Researchers have developed a rapid and innovative molecular-based technique that promises to characterize bacteria and viruses by probing unique sequences of their DNA. Special probes are bonded to a microchip and buried in the soil for a short time; subsequent laboratory analysis enables comparisons between known microbial DNA and that of microbes that live in the tundra.
The Earth Sciences Program supports research in a wide range of fields of geology, including paleoclimatology, glaciomarine sedimentology, surficial processes, paleontology, petrology, tectonics and solid earth geophysics. These projects focus on unraveling the history of Arctic glaciation and understanding the past Arctic environments by examining the sedimentary and paleontological record of terrestrial coastal plain, continental shelf and deep marine sediments.
Arctic Social Sciences
In FY 96 and 97 the Arctic Social Sciences Program supported traditional social science fields such as anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and sociology, in addition to less traditional interdisciplinary studies. The Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted a project documenting the history and contemporary practices of Greenlandic sealing and whaling in its November 8, 1996, issue. This research shows the importance of local knowledge and resource use in the international context of conservation concerns. It also demonstrates the trend of establishing interdisciplinary linkages between social scientists and natural scientists to produce policy-relevant research results.
In another project the investigator accompanied Yup'ik elders to a Berlin museum to investigate and record the elders' comments on the Yup'ik artifacts collected from southwestern Alaska in 1882-83 by Johan Adrian Jacobsen. Transcripts of the elders' commentary will add immeasurably not only to the documentation of this extensive collection of artifacts but also to a broad understanding of Yup'ik knowledge and oral tradition.
The economic, political and spiritual ways of the Attuans, peoples who once inhabited the western Aleutian Islands, formed the subject of another study. This project combined oral histories of the last Attuans and their descendants with findings from archaeological excavations. During 1997, archaeologists on Buldir Island uncovered and excavated the only scientifically reported "house" built of whalebones found in the Aleutian chain. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the house was built in the mid-fifteenth century.
The Arctic Social Sciences Program has also cooperated with the ARCSS program to support social science components of multidisciplinary projects such as the study of changes in caribou populations and movements and the associated social changes in Alaskan and Canadian villages whose members depend on caribou harvests. An important aspect of this project is the exchange of knowledge between community experts and university-trained researchers. Indeed, a special feature of the Arctic Social Sciences Program has been the partnership between research and local communities established, for example, through the Alaska Native Science Commission. Additionally Arctic social scientists have fostered community involvement through educational activities and joint research efforts. These partnerships have not only strengthened the quality of research but also established the connection between new knowledge and its service to society.
NSF has linked research and education through curriculum development, research experiences for undergraduates (REU) and teacher preparation and enhancement. In FY 97 NSF reached out to millions of students and teachers in preparation for National Science and Technology Week, April 1998, which focused on polar regions. Undergraduates at several REU sites have conducted remote-sensing studies of glaciers and ice sheets and environmental and ecological studies specific to high latitudes. An Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS) workshop held in 1997 assembled 60 educators, curriculum specialists and scientists to integrate education and research and develop collaborative projects. Projects such as the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, Partners in Science, and Polaris integrate science and education by building partnerships among students, teachers and individual researchers. Finally the Alaska Native Science Commission (ANSC) has provided the primary link between the scientific community and Alaska Natives. In its first year the ANSC has organized and participated in workshops on traditional knowledge, science education and community involvement in science. These workshops have helped educate scientists about the needs and desires of Alaska Native communities and educated Native groups about the needs and conduct of science.
Arctic Research Coordination
NSF supported a program of polar information and advisory services, provided support for the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, provided funds for the Arctic Research Commission, and supported conferences, workshops and studies to further develop and implement Arctic research planning and policy.
As required by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, a comprehensive Arctic Research Plan was prepared by the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee and submitted to the President, who transmitted it to Congress in July 1997. The fifth revision to the United States Arctic Research Plan included two major sections. The first of these presented the Integrated Interagency Research Plans:
The second major section was Agency Programs, which represents the objectives of Federal agencies, focusing on the period covered by this revision (1998-2002). They were presented in seven major categories:
The Interagency Committee also addressed issues related to logistics support for Arctic research. The biennial revision of the U.S. Arctic Research Plan serves as guidance for planning by individual agencies and for coordinating and implementing mutually beneficial national and international research programs.
NSF supports many other interagency planning and coordinating activities. Coordination with global change programs is an integral part of Arctic program development and implementation. Improved communication at all levels is encouraged through newsletters and journals.
Engineering and Technology
The Engineering, Geosciences, and Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorates support research in engineering, material sciences and permafrost. Research includes studies of the mechanical properties of ice, the hydraulic conductivity of frozen soils, metamorphism of dry snowpacks, threedimensional analyses of ice, and permafrost.
NSF also sponsors a program for sciencebased and high-technology small business firms, the Small Business Innovative Research Program (SBIR) in the Engineering Directorate. SBIR is interested in research on advanced concepts in scientific or engineering areas, particularly where the research may serve as a base for technological innovation.