Scope of activities

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

The Arctic is experiencing rapid, profound changes to its physical environment, but it is the responses of regional ecosystems to these changes that will largely determine their impacts on the people living and working in the Arctic.  Terrestrial ecosystems also feedback on, and in many cases amplify, variation and change in the physical environment.  As such, improving our understanding of terrestrial ecosystems is critical for meeting the overarching IARPC goals of contributing to a prosperous, sustainable, and healthy Arctic.  This better understanding of terrestrial ecosystems cannot be obtained without coordinated, multidisciplinary approaches involving numerous Federal agencies and both domestic and international collaborators.


Team leaders

Steve Gray

Jeremy Littell
Alaska Climate Science Center

Eric Kasischke
NASA Headquarters

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