Changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 50 years: Bridging the knowledge gap between the scientific community and the Alaska Native community.

Executive Summary
Marine Mammal Commission Workshop
on the Impacts of Changes in Sea Ice and Other Environmental Parameters in the Arctic.
Girdwood, Alaska,
15–17 February 2000.

Sponsors: University of Alaska's North Pacific Marine Research Initiative
National Marine Fisheries Service
NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

Marine Mammal Commission
4340 East-West Highway, Room 905
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

The Workshop
To bring together scientists and indigenous experts to discuss the many signs of change in the Arctic environment, the Marine Mammal Commission held a workshop on Impacts of Changes in Sea Ice and Other Environmental Parameters in the Arctic. The combination of multi-disciplinary science and traditional knowledge made a strong and urgent case for addressing the challenges posed by environmental change in the Arctic. Although the workshop focused largely on the Alaskan Arctic, its implications are international in scope, as all Arctic regions face similar challenges related to environmental change.

The workshop was held 15–17 February 2000 in Girdwood, Alaska. The number of participants in the workshop was limited, and chosen to provide a balance between scientists and indigenous experts, and among areas of expertise. The purposes of the workshop were:

This final report contains the conclusions and recommendations of the workshop, a summary of the discussions held by break-out groups during the workshop, and papers describing various aspects of environmental change in the Arctic.

In Arctic Alaska, there are many indications of significant environmental change over time. Such changes are not merely curiosities from a remote area. They have severe impacts on the lives of residents of northern Alaska, most of whom are Alaska Natives pursuing traditional ways of life deeply rooted in the local environment. The changes seen in the Arctic are the early signs of changes in climate that are likely to affect much of the world in the next several decades. The impacts to Arctic residents and the lessons those impacts have for the rest of the country and the world are ignored at our peril. It is clear that more attention is needed to assess the risks that we face and to identify actions that can be taken to minimize those risks.

In considering what is known today and what needs to be done, workshop participants made a number of observations on the state of our knowledge and its applicability to the responses that might be made to the impacts of climate change:

A common thread to these and other discussions during the workshop was that climate change is a far-reaching threat to coastal communities. It is essential that such communities be involved in research and policy concerning environmental change. In this regard, workshop participants had a number of observations on the process of research:

Workshop participants listed a number of recommendations in several categories, listed below, plus two overarching recommendations emerged:





Courtesy Dr. Henry Huntington, Huntington Consulting and Dr. Rob Mattlin, Marine Mammal Commission, 4340 East-West Highway, Room 905, Bethesda, Maryland