Socio-Ecological Systems Transformation in River Basins of the sub-Arctic under Climate Change (SESTRA)


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 part of that aim by addressing interactions among social systems and natural systems in the following NNA focus areas: Arctic Residents, Data and Observation, Education, Forecasting, Global Impact, and Resilient Infrastructure.

Certain parts of the globe are experiencing rapid environmental change coinciding with social and economic transformations. For example, given the vital role of water systems in cold regions, climate and socioeconomic changes have significantly impacted many riverine communities. Focusing on the Kuskokwim and Selenge river basins, located in remote parts of sub-Arctic Alaska and northern Eurasia (Mongolia), respectively, this project analyzes the changing interactions between climate, water, and society, with the goal of assessing their impact on people, ecosystems, and infrastructure. Researchers will also collaborate with impacted local and Indigenous communities to develop current and future adaptation options. Results from the project will be made available online for easy public access and so that impacted communities can make evidence-based decisions. Ultimately, this project will inform residents and policy makers on how changes in climate and water cycles impact people living in cold regions. Further, the results will recommend effective ways to deal with the current and future climate changes in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Project results will help navigate the current and arising challenges of climate change and lay the foundation for future international community-driven collaboration.

The Arctic and sub-Arctic are experiencing climate-induced environmental change alongside substantial social, economic, and institutional changes. This project seeks to analyze complex, dynamic linkages between different components of the changing hydroclimatological and social systems to improve our understanding of socio-ecological system (SES) interactions, assess their combined impact on human well-being, and co-develop current and future community adaptation options. This research, conducted by an interdisciplinary group, will advance understanding of linked hydroclimatic and human processes in the Arctic by: a) identifying and analyzing changes in hydroclimatological components of the natural system that affect human activities and ecosystem services, b) analyzing changes in riverine socioeconomic systems; c) conducting advanced community-engaged modeling based on the ecosystem services framework to understand interactions within the local and regional SES; d) exploring complex interactions and feedbacks within the SES; and e) providing scenarios for future SES changes and their impacts on ecosystem services and community adaptation options. The methodologies will combine transdisciplinary integration, engagement of Indigenous knowledge, multiscale analysis, and modeling, focusing on community- and stakeholder-engaged research, knowledge sharing, and implementing practical approaches to inter- and transdisciplinary challenges. This research will provide a set of plausible trajectories of human responses to climatic, social, economic, and political stressors developed for Alaskan and Mongolian regions and communities with implications for the broader Arctic and sub-Arctic. The project will involve Indigenous artists and develop an extensive training program for students and early career scientists.

Project PI(s)
Funded Institutions
University of New Hampshire
George Washington University
University of Northern Iowa
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Project Start Date
Sep 2023
Award Year