NSF to support study of environmental warming in the Arctic

Freshwater changes are initial research focus

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today it will back a study of environmental changes in the Arctic that indicate a marked warming of the atmosphere.

In fiscal 2002, NSF designated $30 million to be allocated over five years for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) project. In addition, the agency has requested $1 million per year to start in fiscal 2003.

Scientists have found that in recent decades permafrost zones have melted, the extent and thickness of sea ice have decreased, glaciers are melting more rapidly and air temperatures are warmer. Other changes include different varieties of plant communities, warmer subsurface ocean currents and different precipitation patterns. All of these affect animal habitats and migration routes.

Native populations have also been affected. The environmental changes have been named Unaami, the Yupik word for tomorrow, because the rapidly changing environment makes it difficult for native residents of the Arctic to predict their future living conditions.

The SEARCH project is intended as an interdisciplinary study of the interrelated atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial changes in the Arctic and their potential impacts on the environment, regional societies and economies. In funding the study, NSF is acting on the Arctic Research Commissions recommendation for a long-term study of the causes and consequences of the changes.

Initially, NSF will support a five-year study of the freshwater cycle in the Arctic. Ten percent of the global freshwater runoff runs into the Arctic Ocean, where it affects the supply of nutrients and the overturn of ocean surface water that recycle nutrients. The volume of freshwater also helps to determine the volume of new sea ice created each year on the broad continental shelves of Ru

Contact: Peter West
National Science Foundation

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