Meetings >> Report of CEON Planning meeting >> Disciplinary Interests

Section 4.2: Potential disciplinary interests of CEON

The development of CEON has attracted interest from a wide range of disciplines. This session spanned a comprehensive range of these and offered tremendous insight into the potential scientific merit associated with their potential integration into a sustained and multidisciplinary network like CEON.

Oleg Anisimov highlighted various patterns of climate change identified in the Arctic by the IPCC (the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001). The pronounced rate of these changes in the Arctic relative to other regions on Earth was emphasized and three key questions that continue to challenge climatologists were outlined:

  • Are the observed climatic and environmental changes in the Arctic within the range of natural variability or are they governed by anthropogenic factors?
  • What degree of connectivity exists between changes in temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, river runoff, snow, ice, permafrost, and vegetation in the Arctic?
  • Is it possible to predict climatic and environmental changes in the future, and what observational data are necessary to validate these predictions?
A comprehensive data assimilation system that synthesizes observations and modeling is needed to address these questions. Anisimov closed by suggesting that although the principal structure of such an observation system is relatively well understood, it is yet to be developed.

Ole Humlum highlighted ongoing activities within the International Permafrost Association (IPA). The IPA fosters the dissemination of knowledge concerning permafrost and periglacial processes and promotes cooperation among persons and national or international organizations engaged in scientific investigation and engineering work in permafrost and periglacial environments. The IPA encompasses ten working groups and includes networks such as the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P), the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) programme (part of GTN-P), and the Arctic Coastal Dynamics (ACD) programme supported in part by IASC. Activities ongoing in these working groups and networks include mapping, pooling of common datasets, modelling, synthesis and standardization of monitoring methods. CEON could provide monitoring platforms that have a greater disciplinary breadth of interest than current IPA activities, which would serve to build the potential for integrated environmental change assessment.

Torben Christensen represented the IASC working group Feedbacks on Arctic Terrestrial Ecosystems (FATE). The most significant question challenging FATE is whether the Arctic is a sink or a source of carbon to the atmosphere and how will this alter with climate change. A recent synthesis workshop in Skogar, Iceland examined the current and future status of carbon storage and ecosystem-atmosphere exchange in the circumpolar North. Conclusions of this workshop formulated the following consensus statement on arctic carbon source/sink dynamics:

  • The available flux data show large inter-annual variability. Arctic terrestrial ecosystems are heterogeneous, with some regions being sources of carbon to the atmosphere (mostly dry and mesic ecosystems) and some regions sinks (mostly wet tundra). Current indications suggest that the extent of source areas exceed that of sink areas.
  • The available data indicate that when considering both CO2 and CH4 flux, the Arctic region is positively enhancing atmospheric radiative forcing.
  • Contrary to the data from ground-based measurements, current global carbon models indicate a small carbon sink in the Arctic. This apparent discrepancy is, however, within the range of variability in ground-based observations and uncertainty of model outputs.

A good understanding of local controls of carbon flux across the land-atmosphere boundary does not necessarily help in explaining large scale and long term patterns of change. Instead, there is a strong need for comparable measurements along large scale gradients. A CEON based land-atmosphere interactions programme is needed because:

  • Land-atmosphere associated feedback mechanisms in the Arctic are significant at the global scale.
  • Continuously running land-atmosphere study sites are under-represented in the Arctic.
  • Responses of land-atmosphere processes to climate change will vary signficantly between regions of the Arctic.

Scientific foci of a CEON based land-atmosphere interactions program should include measurement of carbon cycling and trace gas flux, permafrost temperature and active layer dynamic, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs), aerosols, various measures of land cover/biodiversity (albedo etc), fire frequency and intensity, deposition of mineral dust and sulphates.

Mads Forchammer illustrated the utility of time series analysis for disentangling the causality and mechanisms behind temporal patterns in ecosystems by identifying trends in phenology, populations and interactions between these and various environmental parameters. The use of time series analysis in global change biology is founded on the notion that there is a cause-effect relationship between biota and their environment such that changes in biology are expected to parallel changes in climatic parameters. The demonstrated integration of basic biology with long term observational data using time series analysis to improve designs of monitoring programs and net-working was particularly relevant to CEON. Take home messages from Forchammer's presentation were:

  • Scaling is important and the data collected or analyzed must reflect the biology of the organism/s under study. Population and phenology data often have an "internal dependence" that needs to be accounted for in analyses. In this sense, time series analysis makes no sense without an ecological framework.
  • Statistical dimensions of time series indicate the number of trophic interactions present.
  • Interactions can occur between environmental parameters and these 'hidden indirect effects' may be important for detecting time series trends.

Magdalena Muir presented the Arctic Council working group CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna). CAFF's primary role is to advise Arctic governments (Canada, Denmark/Greenland/Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States) on conservation and sustainable use issues of international significance and common concern. Under the 2002-04 work plan, CAFF with the Circumpolar Seabird Group, the Circumpolar flora group and Circumpolar Protected Areas Network are establishing circumpolar expert monitoring networks on species, species groups and habitats important to ecological, economic and national interests. This effort builds on networks that have been established for vascular plants, Arctic char; reindeer/caribou; waders, geese, wetlands; seabirds; ringed seal; and polar bear. CAFF are also involved in the ACIA and the ECORA project, which aims to develop an integrated ecosystem management approach to conserve biodiversity and minimize habitat fragmentation in three model areas in the Russian Arctic. CAFF has developed a significant capacity for policy development and international relations.

Lars-Otto Reiersen represented the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), a working group of the Arctic Council. Reiersen discussed recent findings of AMAP and future research and monitoring needs within AMAP. In recognizing the dietary and cultural importance of Arctic flora and fauna to the indigenous peoples of the north, AMAP's objectives are:

  • To monitor levels, trends and biological effects of pollution, including the effects on humans.
  • To assess the state and changes in the Arctic environment with regard to pollution and climate.
  • To present status reports to ministers and decision makers.
  • To document major sources and processes important for the transport, precipitation and accumulation of pollutants in the Arctic.

AMAP includes an assessment strategy, a monitoring programme, a quality assurance and quality checking programme, five thematic data centres, national implementation plans, special projects, and a project directory. AMAP aims to continue monitoring in 10 key areas of the Arctic where contemporaneous measurements can be undertaken on humans and in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystems. Measurements will include spatio-temporally relevant observations from the following ecosystems, namely:

  • Effect studies on biota, especially combined/cumulative effects.
  • Human health programmes focused on trends and effects.
  • Improvement of emission and discharge information.
  • Impact of climate change and UV/ozone on humans, biota and contaminants.
  • Improvement of modelling and pathways explanations.

John Crump presented an overview of the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat (IPS). The IPS is composed of six indigenous people's organizations that are permanent participants on the Arctic Council. These include the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), the Saami Council, the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabascan Council and the Gwich'in Council International. The IPS has been involved in the ACIA and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which bans the use of the 12 most dangerous POPs and is the first international environmental accord to specifically mention the Arctic and its indigenous peoples. These activities fit within the mandate of the IPS, which:

  • Facilitates and assists the Permanent Participants of the IPS to prepare and submit proposals relevant to the work of the Arctic Council.
  • Gathers and disseminates information, and provides/ lists sources of different forms of knowledge.
  • Facilitates presentation of Indigenous Peoples' perspectives in the Arctic Council's working groups and in meetings of Senior Arctic Officials and Ministers.
  • Raises public awareness of Arctic issues addressed by the Arctic Council through an integrated communications plan based on the needs of the Permanent Participants.
  • Facilitates meetings and communications between the Permanent Participants.
  • Provides opportunities for co-operative and co-ordinated activities among the Permanent Participants and IPS.
Crump closed by emphasising the wide range of environmental changes indigenous peoples in the north have observed and the role native communities can play in a monitoring program like CEON.