Project Description

4.1. Scientific problem in question


The project will be focused on the estimation and forecasting of the ongoing environmental changes in the Arctic and their impacts on the human wellbeing and infrastructure. This will help to develop a thoughtful strategy in anticipation of the natural and anthropogenic changes in the Arctic, in order to allow adaptation of the population to these changes, mitigation of major detrimental impacts of changes that cannot be avoided, and to lay down the pathways of sustainable development of the region.


4.2. Importance of the problem for a particular research area


The Arctic climate and environment have been rapidly changing. The projected rate of climate change in the Arctic is more than twice that of the global rate of temperature change and the consequences associated with these changes are likely to be serious and felt far beyond the Arctic region (ACIA 2005; IPCC 2013; Walsh et al. 2011a,b). To a great extent, the expected climate-induced changes in the Arctic are associated with warmer temperatures, changes in the hydrological cycle, reduction in ice extent, degradation of permafrost, and an accelerated rate of coastal erosion. Climate-induced changes in the Arctic are likely to affect human society by opening up economic opportunities and causing rapid social changes. For example most of the Arctic regions have the potential for onshore and offshore production and exploration of a variety of non-renewable resources. According to USGS estimates, about 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas resources and 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources may be found in the area north of the Arctic Circle (Gautier et al. 2009). Beyond fossil fuels, the Arctic has large reserves of minerals, ranging from gemstones to fertilizers. For these critical commodities the region’s role is likely to increase considerably in the future. Furthermore, at present the maritime activity in the Arctic is restricted by prevailing ice conditions and harsh polar meteorological conditions. Climate change is expected to increase marine access to the Arctic regions, especially with the possible opening of so far closed passages such as the North-West Passage (NWP) and the Northern Sea Route (NSR). Increased offshore/onshore natural resources activity will promote maritime and land transportation and the development of various types of infrastructure in many parts of the region. Nature-based economic activities in the Arctic are highly sensitive to climate change. However, the great uncertainty exists on the overall impact of changes in natural environments on the economic development in the Arctic. Although Climate change in the Arctic might make some economic activities in the region more profitable and potentially leading to overall improvements in welfare in the Arctic and beyond, the distributional impacts of climate-induce changes on development may be economically indifferent and/or environmentally hazardous.


The proposed research seeks to address this problem by providing a quantitative evaluation of the magnitude and the spatial pattern of ongoing and anticipated climate-induced changes which have potential to impact beneficially (detrimentally) the socio-economic development in the Circumpolar Arctic and therefore drafting recommendations how to use (mitigate the impact of) these changes. We will focus on the selected human activities in the Arctic including fossil fuels and mineral extraction, maritime and land transportation, and the required infrastructure development. These activities are of great importance to the Arctic region, highly sensitive to changes in climatic conditions and have large societal and environmental impacts. Geographically, we will consider coastal areas of the Circumpolar Arctic. For the purpose of this proposal the term “coastal areas” include the shelf of the Arctic Ocean, Arctic coasts and near-shore land. These areas contain a significant proportion of Arctic communities which are likely to be most affected by climate-induced changes and by ongoing and prospective development.


4.3. The objectives of the project


The project will be focussed on the following objectives:


  • Utilize all available observations and modelling products to quantitatively assess changes in meteorological, oceanographic and environmental variables that directly affect ongoing and future societal well-being and economic development in the coastal areas of the Circumpolar Arctic.


  • Quantitatively evaluate the impacts of climatic and environmental changes on the societal well-being and economic development of the Arctic coastal areas. These include fossil fuels and mineral extraction, maritime and land transportation, industrial fishing, and infrastructure development.


  • Quantitatively assess the magnitude and the spatial pattern of positive and negative climate-induced changes which have the potential to influence the economic development in the Circumpolar Arctic.


  • Prepare a suite of recommendations to mitigate negative climate-induced impacts to achieve a sustainable development that contributes to the highest possible quality of life in the Arctic and benefits both the region and the Arctic nations.


Our research will employ the analysis of observation and modelled data on climatic and environmental variables and socio-economic parameters. Methodologically, the research will consist of three interrelated tasks outlined below.


Task 1: We shall analyse all data synoptic, cryospheric, oceanographic, and geophysical data (observational and reanalyses output) for the post-1950 period available in the study region for calculating the time series of socially important variables (SIV) important for the built environment, housing and transportation structures and human wellbeing (e.g., heating and warm and cold season degree days, near surface wind speed and sea waves characteristics, icing conditions, duration of the sea ice free period, rates of coastal erosion, etc.). We shall compare these time series with the output of the CMIP5 GCM model runs for the 1950-2010 period and select only those GCMs that reasonably well reproduce climatology and dynamics of these time series (e.g., mean, variance, trends). Thereafter, we shall use the output only of these reliable models (rGCMs) in our next step.


Task 2: We shall collect information on regions most perspective in terms of future economic development. For these regions we shall assess the current status of societal well-being of population of the settlements along the Arctic coast, servicemen at the built environment and sailors of transport and fishing fleets. We shall develop the most probable decadal projections of region- and sector-specific SIVs for each scenario of the climate change assessed by rGCMs.


Task 3: We shall utilize socio-economic data and analysis in conjunction with SIVs estimates and projections from Tasks 1 and 2 to assess the status of potential societal well-being resulting from increased development and climatic change. We will develop a suite of recommendations as how to mitigate the negative consequences of projected climatic and socio-economic changes for different sectors of Arctic economy, societies, and nations.


4.4. New aspects of the problem


The novelty of the proposed research is in an attempt to synergize the analysis of the climate, environmental and socio-economic conditions in the Arctic and their changes in order to provide a new vision/projection of the sustainable development of the living conditions and infrastructures in the Arctic for the present and future conditions. The main hypothesis of the proposed research can be formulated as following: While ongoing and future climatic changes in the Arctic coastal areas are likely to provide opportunities for further development in natural resource industries, transportation and associated infrastructure development, they also have a strong potential to impact the natural environment, all sectors of the economy, and the well-being of the Arctic residents adversely, in other words, to produce climate-induced hazards. Collectively socio-economic and climatic factors can greatly impact the sustainability of Arctic settlements thus promoting changes in land use, demographics, and development policies.


An important new challenge of the problem is the necessity to detect the observed changes using sparse observational networks. In the Arctic key variables (e.g., humidity, wind, precipitation, and upper air data) are reported with biases that have changed with time introducing inhomogeneities (Goodison et al. 1998; Groisman and Barker 2002; van Wijngaarden and Vincent 2005; Durre et al. 2006). Automation of synoptic observations introduced in the United States during the past 20 years and in Canada during the past decade adds to these inhomogeneities (e.g., decimated complexity of in situ observations of cloudiness which made them incomparable with manually reported cloud reports). The availability of data from these networks is time-dependent and generating spurious trends and biased climatologies (Wang et al. 2012).


Another novel aspect is the focus on the synergy between the observational data and the results of modern GCMs which do not yet well reproduce several critical aspects of the Arctic cryosphere dynamics, in particular the sea ice changes. One potential reason for this underestimation lies in ignoring the role of marine storminess in the sea ice decline. The initial decline of the sea ice extent under the influence of increasing temperatures results in the increase of the open water area in the Arctic Ocean basin. Even with no change in the wind speed, this results in increasing the fetch and potentially in more intense surface wind waves (both sea and swell) precluding mechanically the formation of stable young sea ice during e.g. autumn when temperatures drop. Positive feedback of this effect with growing temperatures may damp the effectiveness of forming seasonal sea ice during the winter cycle and contribute to sea ice decline. Changes in circulation patterns and the strength of surface winds which are likely to occur over Arctic (e.g. Wu et al. 2012) would further contribute to the sea ice decline. Nonlinearity of the Arctic System changes is further expected when the Arctic sea ice becomes seasonal and its extent declines further. It may well be that some of the GCMs, which performed decently in simulation of the Arctic changes during the past 60 years, fail miserably at the next tipping point of the Arctic System change.


The novelty of the project is also in the use of environmental and socio-economic data along with those of climate data models for the description of ongoing and the projection of anticipated Arctic environmental changes. In particular, we are going to use the data about the coastal erosion, while these data are still rather sparse and spatially irregular. Average rates of coastal retreat are usually 0.5-2 m/year, however can be up 30 m and higher in some locations (Forbes et al. 2011). Coastal retreat rates are highly variable due to variations in geomorphology, lithological and permafrost conditions (Lantuit et al. 2011).


4.5. The present state of research in the area


A large amount of theoretical and observational evidence of rapid climate and environment changes have being accumulated up to date. For example, trends in surface air temperature and sea ice extent, two well-monitored characteristics of the Arctic environment, indicate a significant warming over the last two decades. Moreover, many studies suggest that the Arctic warming will continue at a rate twice that of the global temperature change (ACIA 2005; IPCC 2007; Walsh et al. 2011a,b; cf., Figure 1).



Figure 1. Summary of the observed Arctic climate signals. (a) Two independently evaluated observed Arctic annual mean surface air temperature anomalies from the surface temperature dataset compiled by the Russian State Hydrological Institute (RSHI-T, blue, Groisman et al. 2006, updated to 2011) and the the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (CRUTEM3, red; Brohan et al. 2006) together with the ensemble of 20th-century simulations with the CMIP3 models using both anthropogenic and natural radiative forcing (after Semenov et al. 2010). The ensemble mean is given by the thick black line; the shading shows the range in which 90% of the individual model realizations lie. Model data were masked (in respect to missing values) as the CRUTEM3 observational data. (b) Zonally averaged trends in surface air temperature for the period from 1951 to 2010 (Hansen et al. 2010). (c) Areal changes in the September Arctic sea ice extent during the last 30 years (106 ×km2), implying a more than 35% decline in the sea ice extent according to the Arctic sea ice extent data compiled by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (Fetterer 2002). In 2012 this extent was the lowest since the 1980s.


Results from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) indicate that while all General Circulation Models (GCMs) which account for all known external forcing show quantitatively correct tendencies they cannot accurately reproduce observed changes in the Arctic sea ice during the last decades. For example, IPCC AR4 and AR5 model ensembles, on average, estimate the present rate of reduction in Arctic sea ice to be half of the observed (Strove et al. 2007, Kattsov et al. 2010). However, it is quite possible that the decline of sea ice extent projected by the new models will be somewhat underestimated (Stroeve et al. 2012). Aside from the reduction in sea-ice extent and longer ice-free conditions in the warm season, especially in the Eurasian Sector of the Arctic, observational analyses indicate significant structural changes in the Arctic sea ice such as a reduction in thickness and an increase in the fraction of the year-old ice (Rothrock et al. 1999; Kwok and Untersteiner 2011). These ice changes are accompanied by an increased frequency of unusual atmospheric circulation patterns in the Atlantic Sector (Petukhov and Semenov 2010) and an anticyclonic circulation pattern in the Pacific Sector of the Arctic (Proshutinsky et al. 2012).


Projected changes in cyclonic activity indicate that the total number of cyclones will not change significantly with warming and is more likely to decrease (Loeptien et al. 2008, Ulbrich et al. 2009). Also the number and intensity of polar lows will likely decrease (Zahn and von Storch 2008). However there are two important factors to consider when projecting Arctic climate: (i) enhanced poleward deflection of cyclone tracks, i.e. northward (counter clockwise) turn of the major North Atlantic storm track as a result of projected weakening of the meridional temperature gradient over mid-latitudes due to amplified Arctic warming; (ii) increasing number of rapidly developing very deep cyclones (Trenberth et al. 2007; Loeptien et al. 2008, Ulbrich et al. 2009). Due to the decrease in sea ice extent, large areas of open water may become exposed to the direct interaction with the atmosphere, providing diabatic heating and resulting in the intensification of the existing storm tracks and generation of new cyclones. This effect has been investigated by Serreze and Barrett (2008) and Simmonds and Keay (2009) who argued for the formation of a previously unidentified robust summer storm track in the Eastern Arctic during the last decades. The potential changes in cyclonic activity and their impacts on moisture transport and changes in local storminess is still poorly understood and yet to be quantified in both models and reanalyses (Wang et al. 2012). Analysis of cyclonic activity, its relation to changing sea ice conditions, and associated ocean’s impact on the low level baroclinicity contribute to further understanding of the amplification of the Arctic warming (Screen et al. 2012) and the intraseasonal changes in the Arctic heat balance (Screen and Simmonds 2010).


One of the most important effects of climate-induced changes on the Arctic economy is the improved accessibility to natural resources. This change corresponds to the increase in the global demand for energy and the production decline in well-developed Arctic areas (e.g., Prudhoe Bay Oil Filed, Alaska and Medvezhye Gas Field in Russia). Although resource exploitation and extraction is not new to the Arctic, the last decades show a significant increase in the number and scale of newly-proposed projects. For example, test drilling has been recently permitted in the Beaufort Sea in Alaska; submission of bids for Exploration Licenses has been launched in Canada for areas in the Beaufort Sea & Mackenzie Delta; Russia adopted its Arctic strategy (Zysk 2010) and intense negotiations are in progress on the development of the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea. Such increased activity in the Arctic is attributable not only to climate change-related factors but also to improvements in offshore technology, oil-price development, and to the stable political region in the Arctic promoting long-term investments. The fossil fuel resources of Arctic coasts and shelf might serve as a driver for a further economic prosperity for the region and for the entire Arctic nations. However, such development presents significant technological, socio-economic, and ecological challenges. Recognition of these challenges has promoted a growing discussion on sustainable Arctic development (e.g., Duhaime et al. 1998; Caulfield, 2000), which protects and enhances the environment and the economies, culture and health of Indigenous Peoples and Arctic communities while improving economic and social conditions of Arctic residents. Recently a Sustainable Development Working Group has been established under the auspices of the Arctic Council. Climate change is likely to challenge the petroleum industry in many ways. Offshore exploration and production is likely to benefit from less extensive and thinner sea ice, although equipment will likely be costlier as it will be required to withstand increased wave forces, icing, and ice movement. Onshore, the impact of climate change is likely to lead to increased costs, as described below, but offshore the consequences of climate are uncertain and will probably vary. Therefore, it is important to identify and quantify possible hazards associated with offshore petroleum development in the changing climate and develop recommendations for adaptation and mitigation strategy.




Figure 2. Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage compared with currently used shipping routes


Seasonal variation in shipping activities (both transportation and fisheries) is controlled primarily by prevailing ice conditions. In areas of lower or no ice coverage, transportation activity has a more regular pattern. Climate change is expected to increase marine access to the Arctic regions, especially with the possible opening of presently closed passages such as the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route (north of the North American and the Eurasian continents, respectively). A navigable Northwest Passage could shorten the shipping route from Europe to the West Coast of the United States by 30-40% in comparison to the current route through the Panama Canal and from Europe to Asia by more than 40% in comparison to the current route through the Suez Canal (Figure 2). One benefit of the opening of new passages is that it can make it easier to transport mineral resources, including oil and gas via the new, open sea routes. In addition, increased offshore and mining development will increase maritime activity in the region. Figure 2 shows the present navigation routes in the Arctic, the Arctic fishing grounds (stripped areas), and the approximate boundaries of the oil and gas fields (encircled by blue lines) as they were known in 2000 (source: Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group of the Arctic Council). Currently, new perspective oil/gas fields have been outlined along the eastern Eurasia shelf seas (Bird and al. 2008; Malyshev et al. 2011). Therefore, accurate forecasting of the ice conditions and climate tendencies in the Arctic region for the next few decades is critically important for the whole economic infrastructure of the Arctic region, including oil and gas industry, off-shore engineering and especially transportation along the NWP and NSR, as well as fishing navigation (cf., Wassman and Lenton 2012). In the distant future, trans-Arctic commercial routes in all directions via geodesic lines through the North Pole may become a reality further shortening the distances and impacting the world economy and wealth. The perspectives of an easier ocean access to transport and resources will generate increased shipping, but also new climate-induced hazards. Impacts of climate changes on these activities, such as increasing storminess or atmospheric humidity, are likely to have significant consequences that have to be quantified.


Observed and projected climate change has major impacts on Arctic land and costal infrastructure. Out of approximately 370 Arctic settlements, more than 80% are located in the coastal zone (Anisimov et al. 2010). Climate-induced changes in permafrost temperature (Romanovsky et al. 2010) and increased rates of coastal erosion (Forbes et al., 2011) may have detrimental impacts on arctic coastal communities. The areas underlined by ice-reach permafrost, such as Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, Chukchi and Beaufort Sea coasts are most vulnerable. Ongoing climate change already affecting the infrastructure in Russian permafrost regions which was developed over 1950s-1980s period to support NSR navigation and natural resources development. More than 75% of this infrastructure is constructed according to the passive principle, which promotes equilibrium between thermal regime of permafrost and structure through the foundation bearing capacity (Shur and Goering, 2008) and are not designed to withstand changes in climatic conditions beyond natural variability (Khrustalev et al., 2011). According to some estimates (e.g. Kronic, 2001), over the last decade of the 20th century the rate of building failures has increased by up to 90% in some Russian Arctic settlements and buildings with deformations of the total number of buildings varying from 10% in Norilsk to 80% in Vorkuta. In the North American sector of the Arctic several coastal villages are threatened by the coastal erosion. While some communities adapting to the new changes by building the protective dams (e.g., Barrow), others are considering costs for relocation (e.g., Newtok, Kivalina in Alaska, Tuktoyaktuk in Canada).


Figure 3. Annual anomalies of the average thickness of seasonally frozen (permafrost) depth in Russia from 1930 to 2000. Each data point represents a composite from 320 stations as compiled by the Russian Hydrometeorological Stations (RHM) (upper right inset). The composite was produced by taking the sum of the thickness measurements from each station and dividing the result by the number of stations operating in that year. Although the total number of stations is 320, the number providing data may be different for each year but the minimum was 240. The yearly anomaly was calculated by subtracting the 1971–2000 mean from the composite for each year. The thin lines indicate the 1 standard deviation (1σ) (likely) uncertainty range. The line shows a negative trend of –4.5 cm per decade or a total decrease in the thickness of seasonally frozen ground of 31.9 cm from 1930 to 2000 (Frauenfeld and Zhang, 2011) (reproduced from IPCC AR5 report).


According to IPCC AR5, an estimate based on monthly mean soil temperatures from 387 stations across part of the Eurasian continent suggested that the thickness of seasonally frozen ground decreased by about 0.32 m during the period 1930–2000 (Figure 3) (Frauenfeld and Zhang, 2011). Inter-decadal variability was such that no trend could be identified until the late 1960s, after which seasonal freeze depths decreased significantly until the early 1990s.


A potentially dangerous situation is emerging with respect to transportation routes and facilities (Streletskiy at al. 2012c). Across the Arctic, railroads, paved roads and runaways built on permafrost suffer from subsidence associated with thawing of the ground ice (cf., Grebenets et al. 2012; NRC, 2008; US Arctic Research Commission, 2003). Arctic countries, especially Russia and Canada, rely heavily on winter roads and drivable ice pavements to supply communities in remote areas. Climate warming has caused a reduction in the operating period of winter roads as well as a reduction in the bearing capacity of roads both in the Russian and the American sectors of the Arctic (Lonergan et al. 1993; Streletskiy et al. 2012b). The Russian North is the most severely affected because there, in contrast to Alaska and Northern Canada, air transport is poorly developed. A serious situation was also observed in the conditions of oil and gas pipelines. Approximately 35000 pipeline accidents are reported in the region of West Siberia alone. Ensuring pipeline operability due to changes in permafrost costs up to 55 billion rubles annually (Anisimov et al. 2010). Erosion is threatening oil terminals located in Varandei (Yamal, Russia) and may affect proposed gasprocessing facilities in Yukon and NWT Provinces of Canada. It is clear that for commodities extraction, for marine activities, and for coastal and land infrastructure the climatic change will be important and in ways that are relevant not only for the Arctic regions. A thoughtful strategy should be developed, in anticipation of the natural and anthropogenic changes in the Arctic, in order to allow adaptation of the population to these changes, mitigation of major detrimental impacts, and to lay down the pathways of sustainable development of the region for its population, and the entire Arctic nations. Such strategy should be based on quantitative assessments of the effect of climate-induced changes on socio-economic development.


4.6. Competing partners


Currently several research groups in the world perform research in the area of integrated climate impacts in high latitudes. We can particularly mention The Arctic and Antarktic Research Institutions (St. Petersburg, Russia), The Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (Norway, Prof. Noel Keenlyside) and The University of Alaska, Fairbanks (USA). Also many groups develop research in particular areas associated with the proposal. For instance, monitoring of the ice and snow conditions from in-situ observations and space is perfomed by the NOAA National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC, Dr. Mark Serreze, Boulder, USA). Detailed hindcasting of atsmopheric conditions over the Arctic is developed at The Byrd Polar Research Center (BPRC) at The Ohio State University (Prof. David Bromwich, Columbus, USA) under the project on Arctic System Re-analysis (ASR). Arctic climate modelling is developed at a number of centers, including GEOMAR (Kiel, Germany), NCAR (Boulder, Colorado), and University of Washington (Seattle, USA). We stay in a close co-operation with most of these groups and centres and are going to continue this co-operation under the proposed project.

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