Sustainable Economies and Livelihoods

Observing and understanding the Arctic’s natural, social, and built systems to promote sustainable economies and livelihoods.

Scope of activities

Arctic communities and ecosystems are experiencing change at an unprecedented rate—from loss of permafrost and coastal erosion to shifting demographics and economic uncertainty. Such rapid changes present challenges for built systems, natural resource management, food security, and Indigenous ways of life, all critical to the well-being and security of the Arctic, its residents, and our nation as a whole. Sustainable economies and livelihoods require both fundamental and actionable research to support informed decision-making building upon an enhanced understanding of the Arctic's natural, social, and built systems.

Arctic marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems provide critical natural resources from subsistence foods to fisheries of global economic importance. Changes in sea surface temperatures, contaminant levels, and migration patterns affect fish, marine mammal, and seabird populations, as well as Arctic residents who depend on these species. Changes to Arctic ecosystems also impact state, national, and global economies by affecting global shipping, access to natural resources, and fish and seafood stocks. Maintenance of healthy and productive ecosystems requires research to establish baseline data, understand the sources and impacts of observed change, understand the critical role of subsistence in sustainable economies and livelihoods, and inform management decisions so Arctic residents may enjoy food, energy, and livelihood security.

Community well-being and security also depend on reliable infrastructure, including roads, airstrips, bridges, and harbor and port facilities; energy, water, and telecommunication systems; and housing, education, healthcare, and local and national security facilities. However, building and maintaining Arctic infrastructure is expensive and logistically complex. These built systems require monitoring and maintenance to meet current demand, and research to inform adaptation to future environmental, demographic, and geopolitical shifts. Current areas of concern include poorly constructed and maintained roads, airstrips, and waste sites and systems; inadequate housing; lack of access to clean water; and maintenance backlogs at educational and healthcare facilities. To respond effectively, federal and state agencies and other decision-makers need research to provide accurate, up-to-date data on existing facilities, assessments of future needs, and decision-support tools to design and construct systems capable of supporting local and regional economies and mitigating the impacts of future climate change on critical infrastructure. Research to support the development of renewable, low-cost energy technologies, for example, is needed to offset the unreliable and high-cost systems currently in place in many communities and to address climate and health issues associated with current dependence on petroleum products.

Over the next five years, coordinated federal action will facilitate effective observation and understanding of Arctic natural, social, and built systems and the challenges these systems face within the context of rapid climate change. Basic and applied research informed by community priorities, such as food and energy security, healthy fisheries and marine mammal populations, and inclusion in federal marine transportation policy planning can address critical challenges to livelihoods and infrastructure. Such research can also inform planning and management decision-making on critical resources such as petroleum, economic minerals, and commercial fisheries.


To be added in 2023.