About the Arctic Initiative

The rate of temperature increase in the Arctic as a whole has been twice the global average and, in some parts of the Arctic, three to four times the global average. In the period of accurate satellite measurements (which started in 1979) the extent and average thickness of summer Arctic sea ice has shrunk dramatically; the sea ice could disappear altogether as early as 2030. The land ice across the Arctic—most notably glaciers in Alaska and Canada and the great ice sheet that covers most of Greenland—has likewise been shrinking for decades, adding to sea-level rise. And the soils of the Arctic are warming, increasing emissions to the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and the even more potent greenhouse gas, methane. These changes are having impacts both within and beyond the region.

Within the region, climate change may spur expansion of some economic activities, such as energy and mineral development, while disrupting others, such as fisheries, forestry, and subsistence hunting. The region’s infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to melting permafrost and subsidence as well as storm surge and flooding. Native communities are being disrupted and indigenous cultures endangered. In addition, new territorial disputes between countries may emerge, which could affect shipping, mineral development, and commercial fisheries. Impacts of Arctic environmental change outside the region include the contribution of melting Arctic land ice to global sea-level rise, the contribution of Arctic greenhouse-gas emissions to the atmospheric temperature increases worldwide, and the effect of diminished Arctic sea ice and an altered pole-to-equator temperature difference on atmospheric and oceanic circulation.

Addressing these challenges requires the integration of science and policy as both scholars and public decision-makers grapple with change that is moving significantly faster than our knowledge base. The Arctic Initiative strives to contribute to the development of new programs and policies aimed at understanding what is happening in this critical region by initiating new research; by convening policy makers, scientists, and politicians; and by developing a new generation of public and private officials with a much greater knowledge of the factors that are affecting the Arctic ecosystems and their implications for the environmental, social, and economic systems around the globe.