Scope of activities

Photo by Regina Brinker (PolarTREC 2014), Courtesy of ARCUS

The Terrestrial Ecosystems Collaboration Team, first created under Arctic Research Plan 2013-2017, will continue operations under Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021. The team's scope of activities will include implementation of Research Objectives and Performance Elements listed under Research Goal 2, which is described as follows in the Plan:

Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are rapidly changing in response to a variety of forcing factors, including a changing climate, alterations in natural disturbance regimes, and human-caused perturbations (Bernhardt et al. 2011; Bunn and Goetz 2006; Chapin et al. 2010; Epstein et al. 2010; Hill and Henry 2011; Johnstone et al. 2010; Jorgenson et al. 2010; Kim et al. 2012; Myers-Smith et al. 2006, 2011). In turn, these environmental changes are altering a number of important goods, services, and other contributions Arctic ecosystems provide to society, including critical plant and animal populations and their habitats, biotic resources essential to subsistence lifestyles and cultures, and feedbacks to regional and global climate systems (Joly et al. 2006; Kofinas et al. 2010; Noel et al. 2004; Tape et al. 2016). Of particular interest are the broader impacts of ongoing changes to the natural fire regime (Higuera et al. 2008; Jones et al. 2013; Kasischke et al. 2010; Kelly et al. 2013), the potential feedback of these changes to climate (Kasischke and Hoy 2012; Mack et al. 2011; Randerson et al. 2006; Rocha et al. 2012), and impacts on the health and well-being of Arctic residents (Yue et al. 2015). Continuing investment to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of changes to terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems provides needed information for all four IARPC policy drivers, as they are a key component of the Arctic environment (Stewardship and Security), provide important feedbacks to the climate (Arctic-Global System), and provide key ecosystem services that contribute to the health and well-being of Arctic residents (Well-being).

A wide range of ongoing research, inventory, and monitoring activities across Federal agencies in the Arctic focuses on understanding how ecosystems and humans are responding to recent environmental changes. In many cases these activities are being carried out to address priority management needs. Understanding how the growing extent and intensity of environmental changes will impact Arctic ecosystems and societies requires continued and expanded research in three areas:

  1. Understanding of and ability to model feedbacks and interactions among causes of environmental change and the responses of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, particularly hydrologic, permafrost, and disturbance dynamics;
  2.  Knowledge of how changes to ecosystems alter animal and plant populations and subsistence opportunities;
  3. Evaluation of the effects of changing fire regimes on rural and urban communities and atmospheric carbon budgets and other climate feedbacks.

The Terrestrial Ecosystems Goal will facilitate the improvement of important process modeling activities currently being supported by a range of Federal agencies through its focus on research that includes long-term monitoring activities, collection and analysis of field-based observations for specific projects, and creation of geospatial data products, especially from airborne and spaceborne remote sensing data. These agencies are also conducting critical monitoring and research activities to understand the impacts of ecosystem changes to ecosystem services.

The three Research Objectives for this Goal and the Performance Elements identified for them provide a framework for coordinating Federally sponsored research and monitoring activities. The Performance Elements are based upon extensive, longer-term research, inventory, and monitoring activities supported by Department of the Interior bureaus (Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs), U.S. Department of Agriculture bureaus. 

(U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service), NSF, and a number of shorter-term research activities sponsored by these and other Federal agencies (DOD, DOE, NASA). The Performance Elements also incorporate opportunities for coordination, integration, and synthesis of research across agencies, including activities to support the Arctic Council, the Department of Energy’s Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment-Arctic (NGEE), the Department of the Interior’s Alaska Climate Science Center, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), and North Slope Science Initiative (NSSI), the Joint Fire Science Program’s Alaska Fire Science Consortium, NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), NOAA’s Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), and NSF’s SEARCH Permafrost Action Team. This latter group of projects and programs include significant interactions with key State of Alaska agencies, including the Departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Game. From an international perspective, research and monitoring activities that address the Terrestrial Ecosystems Goal are being coordinated through the activities of the Arctic Council as well as agreements between.


Team leaders

Eric Kasischke
NASA Headquarters

Steve Gray

Jeremy Littell
Alaska Climate Science Center

Performance elements from the Arctic research plan

7.1 Improve understanding of and ability to model feedbacks and interactions among the large-scale processes causing change (climate, natural disturbances, and human-caused perturbations) and the responses of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

  • 7.1.1 Carry out and synthesize results from field-based research and monitoring needed to improve understanding of important ecosystem processes and feedbacks, including their responses to environmental changes.
  • 7.1.2 Carry out and synthesize research on and monitoring of the disturbance processes responsible for changes to key landscapes, including fire, warming permafrost, insects and pathogens, and human activities.
  • 7.1.3 Facilitate and harmonize the production, integration, and distribution of key geospatial datasets from remotely-sensed and other data sources that are needed for monitoring key ecosystem processes and landscape changes and for model initialization, calibration, and validation.
  • 7.1.4 Improve existing and develop advanced models for integrating climate, disturbance, above- and below-ground dynamics and interactions and feedbacks to characterize and predict Arctic landscape and ecosystem change.

7.2 Advance understanding of how changes to ecosystems alter animal and plant populations and their habitats and subsistence activities that depend on them.

  • 7.2.1 Coordinate the development of maps from remotely-sensed data and synthesize available data to document changing plant, fish, and terrestrial animal populations and their habitats.
  • 7.2.2 Compare trends in aquatic and terrestrial animal populations and movements with changing patterns of vegetation cover, lake, pond, and wetland extent and characteristics to determine whether and how shifting habitats are influencing animal behaviors and population dynamics.
  • 7.2.3 Incorporate scientific observations and the perspectives of IK and/or LK knowledge holders into assessments of how changing Arctic ecosystems, flora, and fauna are affecting important subsistence activities, lifestyles, and well-being of northern residents.

7.3 Evaluate how changes in fire activity are impacting rural and urban communities, and atmospheric emissions and carbon budgets and other feedbacks to climate.

  • 7.3.1 Evaluate how changing fire regimes have and are likely to impact northern communities, via impacts to infrastructure, health, and subsistence opportunities.
  • 7.3.2 Coordinate research on the observations, geospatial dataset generation, and model improvement needed to estimate emissions from wildland fires and the potential for those emissions to affect atmospheric carbon budgets and climate feedbacks.


Photo by Regina Brinker (PolarTREC 2014), Courtesy of ARCUS

Under Arctic Research Plan 2013-2017, TECT accomplishments included a) closeout of all milestones from the Arctic Research Plan 2013-2017, b) transitioning leadership from the former co-chairs to new ones, c) adapting monthly meeting formats to reflect recent changes in focus and needs of Arctic terrestrial ecosystem science, and d) contributing to scoping, authorship and vetting of the new Arctic Research Plan: 2017-2021. Of the eleven TECT milestones, six were outstanding at the beginning of the year, and all milestones were completed or deactivated as of September 30, 2016.

The new co-chairs reviewed the TECT monthly meeting format in preparation for 2016. In recognition of emerging challenges in a) scaling of systems-based science, and b) scoping, coordinating, and funding more sophisticated, collaborative interagency research, a dual-speaker format was adopted to increase attendance and audience engagement while better addressing these needs. Paired speakers provided dynamics such as competing viewpoints, and complementary spatial scales. Our IARPC-wide seminar in June paired an integrative science talk with Program Manager commentary to frame proposing, coordinating, and executing collaborative research in context of larger agency funding priorities and congressional mandates. To date, feedback on the new format has been very positive. 

Much of our TECT content was directly applied to the new Arctic Research Plan: 2017-2021, for which TECT co-chairs and TECT members were authors. In so doing, Permafrost emerged as a topic meriting its own chapter in the new Plan, and perhaps its own collaboration team in the future. It should be noted that much of this recognition came as a result of activities answerable to TECT Milestone 3.2.3.f. 

Priorities for 2017

TECT will open a new chapter of interagency coordination through the new Arctic Research Plan: 2017-2021. The plan’s Terrestrial and Freshwater Ecosystems Research Goal updates the vision to include three primary Research Objectives, each of which defines a focus, and then presents specific, measureable, Performance Elements to ensure progress and promote coordination.

The new research objectives for FY2017 – 2021 emphasize a strongly coordinated, systems-cognizant, scalable approach which will better address changes to terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems at multiple scales, and provide needed support to IARPC policy drivers, as these changes: a) are key components of the Arctic environment (Stewardship and Security), b) provide important feedbacks to the climate (Arctic-Global System), and c) provide key ecosystem services that contribute to the health and well-being of Arctic residents (Well-being). A full accounting of these Research Objectives and Performance Elements is presented in Arctic Research Plan: 2017-2021. Performance elements supporting the three objectives are led by agencies within Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and include participants from many other agencies with diverse, complementary missions within Arctic research.

Request an account

Join scientists from Federal, State, academic, NGO, and industry organizations working to accelerate the progress of Arctic research.

Membership in IARPC Collaborations is subject to approval and adherence to the codes of conduct.


Sara Bowden, IARPC Executive Secretary
(703) 447-7828

Please direct website questions to Jessica Rohde, Web Manager, at