NOAA Releases New Strategy for Addressing a Rapidly Changing Arctic

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Last week (16 March 2011), National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report on the Arctic, outlining NOAA’s vision and strategy for dealing with a rapidly changing environment and improving forecasts of the region's weather and sea ice conditions.

“Increasing air and ocean temperatures, thawing permafrost, loss of sea ice, and shifts in ecosystems are evidence of widespread and dramatic ongoing change. As a result, critical environmental, economic, and national security issues are emerging, many of which have significant impacts for human lives, livelihoods, and coastal communities,” states the report.

Wildlife and communities in the region are already experiencing major changes. Polar bears are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act partially because of climate change. In recent years, walruses have been forced ashore in unusually large numbers because of the declining Arctic sea ice.

Local Alaskan communities are also at risk as warmer temperatures melt permafrost and reduce sea ice extent, making communities more susceptible to coastal erosion and flooding. According to a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, 31 villages located throughout Alaska near rivers and coastal areas were determined as imminently threatened by flooding and erosion. At least 12 have decided to relocate.

©NOAA

The effects of a rapidly changing climate in the Arctic present obstacles and opportunities for U.S. national interests.  In order to properly prepare America, NOAA’s strategy seeks to better understand and predict Arctic change and its global implications.

Six priority areas for Arctic strategy include (as stated in strategy):

  1. Forecast sea Ice
  2. Strengthen Foundational Science to Understand and Detect Arctic Climate and Ecosystem Changes
  3. Improve Weather and Water Forecasts and Warnings
  4. Enhance International and National Partnerships
  5. Improve Stewardship and Management of Ocean and Coastal Resources in the Arctic
  6. Advance Resilient and Healthy Arctic Communities and Economies

However, implementing this strategy could prove problematic. NOAA needs an initial investment of $10 million for strategy implementation. The recently passed House of Representatives FY11 budget legislation (H.R. 1) cuts 14% ($450 million) from the president’s proposed FY11 budget. Proposals for deep budget cuts for FY12 are expected. If such reductions are enacted, NOAA’s ability to embark on new projects will be hindered, ultimately limiting NOAA’s capacity to understand and address the changing needs of the Arctic region.

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