A Strategy for the Arctic, Informed by Sound Science

Today, the Obama Administration released the first-ever National Strategy for the Arctic Region—an approach to protecting national security, promoting environmental stewardship, supporting native cultures, providing for appropriate economic development, and strengthening international cooperation in the Arctic region. The Strategy, which was developed by an interagency team of Administration experts with significant input from the State of Alaska and Alaska Native organizations, articulates several key objectives for Federal activity in the Arctic over the next decade—including increased scientific understanding of the region.

The Strategy is guided by the Nation’s interest in safeguarding peace and stability in the Arctic; ensuring that resource management decisions are based on the best available information; strengthening and forging public-private and international partnerships; and coordinating Arctic-based efforts with Alaska Natives. It also serves to focus our national efforts in the Arctic at a time when the region is undergoing rapid environmental change.

Fast-melting ice on land and at sea has important implications for natural Arctic environments, human well-being, national security, transportation, and economic development. For instance, in addition to contributing to further global warming, diminishing sea-ice changes the distribution of species found in regional ocean waters, which in turn can have profound effects on local economies. Waning sea-ice also changes ocean circulation patterns and navigation pathways, with significant impacts for commercial and military navigation.

Addressing these and other threats will require close collaboration with international and regional partners, as well as the continued collection and synthesis of the best available scientific information about the region.

That’s why the Strategy calls for focused attention on better understanding the role of land ice in changing sea levels; the role of sea-ice in the global climate; and the effects of warming permafrost on infrastructure and climate. It also recognizes that scientists stand to benefit from the knowledge and insights of indigenous communities living and working in the Arctic region.

Coupled with improved maps and charts of the Arctic region (vast areas of the Arctic Ocean remain unexplored), this strengthened understanding will foster more informed decisions about how to protect the Arctic environment, conserve its natural resources, and manage its productive and sustainable development.

Much of this scientific work is being coordinated by the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee—a team of experts representing 14 Federal agencies and departments who earlier this year released a new 5-year Arctic research plan that will support many of the science-related components of the new Strategy.

John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of OSTP

Brendan P. Kelly is Assistant Director for Polar Science at OSTP

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