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A Changing Arctic Demands Strategic Planning

Fran Ulmer
U.S. Arctic Research Commission Chair

The National Ocean Council is developing a strategic action plan, 'Changing Conditions in the Arctic,' for implementation in 2012. The plan's objectives are to develop a list of priorities for research that will, in the face of climate and environmental change as well as increased human development, improve understanding of the Arctic marine environment and better prepare for the future.

The co-leads of the team drafting this plan are John Farrell of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and Bob Winokur of the U.S Navy. This plan, which must ultimately be approved by the National Ocean Council, is one of nine being developed to implement the new National Ocean Policy signed by President Obama in July 2010. The plan can be viewed online at http://1.usa.gov/msEjlK.

In polar regions, the extent and pace of climate change far exceed that of any other region. Scientists tell us that changes in the Arctic previously predicted to take place in 2030 have already happened. The Arctic and the world face serious consequences from accelerated permafrost thawing and carbon release, reductions in Arctic sea ice, coastal erosion and global sea-level rise from melting glaciers and ice caps. An increasingly accessible Arctic Ocean will bring additional stressors that will impact marine and coastal ecosystems as well as human communities.

At the same time, diminishing sea ice also presents opportunities to develop valuable resources and to increase Arctic marine transportation. It is essential to work with all stakeholders, including the state of Alaska and Alaska Native communities, to develop scientifically informed plans to sustainably manage and encourage use of the Arctic while also continuing to protect its fragile ecosystems.

The draft plan includes an outline of potential actions and outcomes:

Improve Arctic environmental response management. Developing new management systems and procedures to help protect ecosystems, local communities and subsistence resources from the effects of accidents associated with resource extraction and marine transportation.

Observe and forecast Arctic sea ice. Observing and predicting the extent, thickness and age of Arctic sea ice will improve daily forecasts and decadal predictions to help support safe, secure and reliable marine operations and ecosystem stewardship.

Establish a distributed biological observatory. Integrating biological and other oceanographic data from a network of observatories in the Pacific Arctic will improve understanding of how climate and environmental change affects marine ecosystems and the communities that rely on them.

Improve Arctic communication. Improving marine communication networks and communication architecture will support research, reduce accidents, contribute to safe navigation and facilitate emergency response, search and rescue.

Advance Arctic marine mapping and charting. Developing accurate hydrographic surveys and biological/shoreline mapping of U.S. Arctic waters and the Alaskan coastline will improve the Arctic marine transportation system.

Improve coordination on Arctic issues. Clarifying the responsibilities of federal agencies and policy groups, including international entities like the Arctic Council, will achieve greater government efficiency by reducing duplication of effort and increasing the sharing of resources, knowledge and information.

In addition to these Arctic issues, the National Ocean Council is seeking comments and suggestions on all nine strategic action plans. As chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, I encourage you to weigh in at http://1.usa.gov/ikGCYm.

This effort presents a great opportunity to bring more coherent and comprehensive information and analysis to bear on important decisions that will be made by both the public and private sectors in the Arctic. This is an opportunity for you to help shape a process that could significantly impact the future of the Arctic.

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