Permafrost Grown: Cultivating convergence between farmers and researchers to foster sustainability for intensifying permafrost-agroecosystems
Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas. NNA projects address convergence scientific challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. This Arctic research is needed to inform the economy, security and resilience of the Nation, the larger region, and the globe. NNA empowers new research partnerships from local to international scales, diversifies the next generation of Arctic researchers, enhances efforts in formal and informal education, and integrates the co-production of knowledge where appropriate. This award fulfills some of these aims by addressing interactions among social systems, natural environment, and built environment in the following NNA focus areas: Arctic Residents, Education, and Resilient Infrastructure.
Alaska, like much of the Arctic, is considered food insecure as roughly 95% of food is imported. With the rapid rate of northern latitude climate change, a new agricultural frontier has emerged in the discontinuous permafrost region. The future of northern cultivation depends on science and an informed knowledge base for a new generation of Arctic farmers. For northern agricultural expansion to be successful and solution-oriented, better understanding of the feedbacks between cultivation and permafrost is necessary. The Permafrost Grown project brings together researchers and permafrost-region farmers to better understand the feedbacks between farming and fertile, yet vulnerable permafrost soils. The project enhances education and workforce development for early career researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, and northern region farmers. Community engagement is fostered through the publication of field guides and outreach videos, workshops, and exhibits. The Permafrost Grown project fills important scientific knowledge gaps that will ultimately help improve national food security and economic resiliency.
The Permafrost Grown project accelerates scientific discovery through promoting forward-thinking convergence among studies of the natural environment (permafrost, geomorphology, and ecosystems), the built environment (agricultural infrastructure), and social systems (economic, social, and cultural forces) by focusing on the interactions between permafrost and cultivation practices. This highly coupled system is defined as the permafrost-agroecosystem, and the research focuses on how permafrost type and degradation affect agricultural infrastructure, how agriculture and cultivation impact different types of permafrost, and how the knowledge creation between researchers and the Arctic farming community can develop sustainable, adaptable, and resilient permafrost-agroecosystems. The project uses a combination of field data collection, remote sensing techniques, cultivar trials, existing agriculture experience, interviews, and socio-economic risk modeling to address the following four objectives: (1) investigating the feedbacks and interactions within the permafrost-agroecosystems by co-producing knowledge with farmers in Alaska; (2) understanding and quantifying the legacy effects of permafrost-agroecosystem interactions over the last 100 to 300 years; (3) evaluating the socio-economic trade-offs and providing decision tools related to the intensification of permafrost-agroecosystems in the Arctic; and (4) broadening public and farmer participation through education and outreach activities focused on advancing knowledge and fostering opportunities for improved food security in the Arctic. The Permafrost Grown project advances fundamental knowledge by providing a basis for predicting the combined impacts of climate change and cultivation on permafrost-agroecosystems.