Interactions of environmental and land surface change, animals, infrastructure, and peoples of the Arctic
This project will bring together earth system scientists, engineers, ecologists, and anthropologists to develop a plan to document and explain changes in ecosystems and their effects on the plants, animals, indigenous peoples, and industrial infrastructure of the Arctic region. It will emphasize interactions between these elements to help understand, inform, and plan for changes to come. Researchers will focus on the Yamal Peninsula, which presents a continuous gradation of habitat types from forest in the south to tundra in the north, a rich diversity of endemic and invasive plant and animal species, a large population of traditional peoples, and economically critical natural resources. Yamal serves as a small-scale and manageable model for the Arctic as a whole, wherein changes in climate and their effects on temperature, precipitation, landform, plants, animals, peoples, and infrastructure need to be understood and related to one another. The project will contribute to the curriculum development for a collaborative, transdisciplinary online inter-institutional undergraduate and graduate course to train the next generation of scientists to take a holistic approach to problem solving. The team will directly engage Indigenous knowledge holders and other stakeholders throughout the research project.
The project aims at developing a convergence research team to study the Yamal region as an ideal natural laboratory for transdisciplinary work to understand the complexity and adaptation of Arctic biotic and abiotic systems to climate change, and the feed-forward and feedback mechanisms modulating the co-evolution of human society and natural systems. The participants will focus on developing research ideas and approaches for testing the hypothesis that displacing Arctic systems from their historic state of dynamic equilibrium under changing environment stimulates further changes to abiotic, biotic, and socio-cultural elements, particularly when combined with the spread of industrial infrastructure, to increase the role of feed-forward and feedback mechanisms. Two transdisciplinary research "transects" will be considered as main determinants of the Arctic system with two contrasting scenarios: gradual warning and extreme weather events. Planned activities will include two workshops, monthly virtual conferences, international research capacity building, and a synthesis paper.
This large Track 2 NNA collaboration is comprised of the following: Ivanov (1928014, LEAD, UMich), Ungar (1927793, U of AR), Sheshukov (1927820, KSU), Liu (1927840, OSU) and Wang (1927861, GA Tech). This project will support activities to develop a compelling Track 1 (NNA) proposal for the study of Yamal region of northern Russia, which presents an ideal natural laboratory for research to facilitate comprehensive understandings of effects of climate change on environmental, social, and built environment systems of the Arctic. Planning project only, no fieldwork will be conducted.
This grant supported a Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) Track-2 planning project aimed at building an interdisciplinary team of earth system scientists, engineers, ecologists, and anthropologists to develop a larger proposal for funding to document and explain the impacts of climate change and the expansion of industrial infrastructure on the plants, animals, and indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
The team worked together to review expert knowledge in specific scientific fields and to outline interactions among the key elements of the Arctic systems of interest: abiotic, biotic, social, and built environment. The team aimed to bridge disciplinary and international boundaries to develop together a convergence research approach to study the Yamal region of western Siberia – an ideal natural laboratory that presents a continuous gradation of habitat types from boreal forest in the south to high Arctic tundra in the north, a rich diversity of endemic and invasive plant and animal species, a large population of traditional peoples (the Nenets), and economically critical natural resources. Yamal was considered as a small-scale and manageable model for the Arctic as a whole, wherein changes in climate and their effects on temperature, precipitation, landform, plants, animals, peoples, and infrastructure need to be understood and related to one another.
Due to COVID restrictions, our group met biweekly online for the entire duration of the project, culminating on a week-long online workshop and one in-person workshop held in Chicago. In the end, the team generated, submitted, and had funded an NNA Track I grant proposal for transdisciplinary convergence science research to be conducted in Yamal. Unfortunately, before our research was set to start, war broke out in Ukraine, so we spent the remainder of our Track II grant time and effort not just writing up our activities, but also developing a plan to pivot from Yamal Peninsula in Russia to the Varanger Peninsula in Arctic Norway. Varanger has many of the same issues as Yamal (expansion of energy infrastructure, climate change in a tundra setting, impacts on plants, animals and indigenous reindeer herders), and the fundamental core goals were preserved.
The Intellectual Merit of this project included establishment of a team of scientists with very different backgrounds and traditions (both disciplinary and national) to work together on questions related to impacts of climate change in the Arctic. The approaches to collaboration developed provides a framework for future convergence science work. We chronicled our activities and approaches in a presentation given at the 2022 American Geophysical Union meeting and in a manuscript currently being considered for review by editors at Nature Climate Change. A second area of intellectual merit resulting from the establishment of these new collaborations was initial pilot studies that led to a new method for using teeth of endemic Arctic animals (e.g., foxes and rodents) to infer aspects of diet and food choice in different habitats and under different conditions. This resulted in a presentation at the International Arctic Fox Biology Conference in 2022 and four publications (in Polar Biology, Mammalian Biology, and the Canadian Journal of Zoology).
Broader impacts of this project included several key elements. An inter-institutional , international, and interdisciplinary online “Arctic Climate Change Forum” course team-taught by project investigators and other researchers across the US, western Europe, and the Siberian Arctic was developed and offered twice, with students registered at the University of Arkansas, Boise State University and Macalester College. This course introduced students to the impacts of climate change on the Arctic in the past, present, and future and used the Yamal Peninsula of Western Siberia as an example demonstrate how global warming and extreme weather impact high-latitude plants, animals, and traditional people. In addition, several graduate students and undergraduates were mentored and trained during the course of this project (from the University of Arkansas, University of Michigan, and Boise State University). Finally, the team also developed (led by the University of Michigan PI) media products targeted toward broad audiences: a film “Cultures of Ice” tying together Arctic science and Michigan winter outdoor life was developed as a “teach-out” activity for the 2020 Earth Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YY7J5Uj56s.