The United States is an Arctic nation—Americans depend on the Arctic for biodiversity and climate regulation and for natural resources. America’s Arctic—Alaska—is at the forefront of rapid climate, environmental, and socio-economic changes that are testing the resilience and sustainability of communities and ecosystems. Research to increase fundamental understanding of these changes is needed to inform sound, science-based decision- and policy-making and to develop appropriate solutions for Alaska and the Arctic region as a whole.
Created by an Act of Congress1 in 1984, and since 2010 a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council () in the Executive Office of the President, the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee () plays a critical role in advancing scientific knowledge and understanding of the changing Arctic and its impacts far beyond the boundaries of the Arctic. Comprising 14 Federal agencies, offices, and departments, is responsible for the implementation of a 5-year Arctic Research Plan in consultation with the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, the Governor of the State of Alaska, residents of the Arctic, the private sector, and public interest groups.
This 5-year plan—Arctic Research Plan FY2017-2021—has nine goals:
- Enhance understanding of health determinants and improve the well-being of Arctic residents;
- Advance process and system understanding of the changing Arctic atmospheric composition and dynamics and the resulting changes to surface energy budgets;
- Enhance understanding and improve predictions of the changing Arctic sea ice cover;
- Increase understanding of the structure and function of Arctic marine ecosystems and their role in the climate system and advance predictive capabilities;
- Understand and project the mass balance of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland Ice Sheet, and their consequences for sea level rise;
- Advance understanding of processes controlling permafrost dynamics and the impacts on ecosystems, infrastructure, and climate feedbacks;
- Advance an integrated, landscape-scale understanding of Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and the potential for future change;
- Strengthen coastal community resilience and advance stewardship of coastal natural and cultural resources by engaging in research related to the interconnections of people, natural and built environments; and
- Enhance frameworks for environmental intelligence gathering, interpretation, and application toward decision support.
Each Goal is associated with Research Objectives—specific actions intended to benefit from coordinated, multi-agency, and possibly international research efforts, which are themselves associated with Performance Elements—tasks with concrete, measurable outcomes that demonstrate progress made toward satisfying the Research Objectives.
The Plan’s nine Goals have a total of 34 Research Objectives and 123 Performance Elements. As with its predecessor—Arctic Research Plan FY2013-2017—this plan does not attempt to cover all Arctic research supported by the Federal Government. Rather, it addresses key topics for which an interagency approach is most likely to accelerate progress.
Consistent with U.S. Arctic Region Policy2 and the National Strategy for the Arctic Region,3 the Goals support U.S. policy across a range of scales, from Arctic people and communities to the global scale. The policy drivers for the Plan are:
- Enhance the well-being of Arctic residents;
- Advance stewardship of the Arctic environment;
- Strengthen national and regional security; and
- Improve understanding of the Arctic as a component of planet Earth.
The research conducted to implement these goals and support these policy drivers will be guided by four strategies: (1) support for basic and applied disciplinary research and broader systems-level, research- based modelling and synthesis; (2) sustainment of measurements supporting long-term observations and understanding of the Arctic System and mechanisms to provide timely and efficient access to data;
(3) inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge holders and northern residents versed in Local Knowledge as generators of and collaborators in research; and (4) international collaboration that strengthens research, provides opportunities for improved research access to the Arctic, and makes the most effective use of costly infrastructure and logistics.
Implementation will take advantage of the collaborative infrastructure— Collaborations4— developed to implement Arctic Research Plan FY2013–2017. Collaborations is a platform for the research community to share information, generate ideas, and report on performance elements and thus advance toward achieving Research Objectives. Collaboration Teams responsible for each of the Goals include members from Federal agencies as well as outside partners such as the State of Alaska, Alaska Native organizations and communities, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector. Collaborations is open to any member of the research or stakeholder community who wishes to advance scientific knowledge of the Arctic.