Improving future assessments of climate change impacts in the Arctic

May 7, 2012, 4:30 pm

This is Section 18.5 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Lead Author: Gunter Weller; Contributing Authors: Elizabeth Bush,Terry V. Callaghan, Robert Corell, Shari Fox, Christopher Furgal, Alf Håkon Hoel, Henry Huntington, Erland Källén, Vladimir M. Kattsov, David R. Klein, Harald Loeng, Marybeth Long Martello, Michael MacCracken, Mark Nuttall,Terry D. Prowse, Lars-Otto Reiersen, James D. Reist, Aapo Tanskanen, John E.Walsh, Betsy Weatherhead, Frederick J.Wrona


A critical self-assessment of the ACIA shows achievements as well as deficiencies. Regional impacts were only covered in an exploratory manner and are hence a priority for future assessments. The ACIA did examine climate and UV radiation impacts in the Arctic on (1) the environment, (2) economic sectors, and (3) on people’s lives. Impacts on the environment were covered very extensively, but the assessment has only qualitative information on economic impacts, and this must be a priority for future assessments. Impacts on people’s lives covered indigenous communities but had little information concerning other arctic residents. Integrative vulnerability studies were only covered in an exploratory manner (in Chapter 17) and need attention in the future.

Regional impacts

While the ACIA was successful in many respects, it mostly addressed impacts at the large-scale circumpolar level. An attempt to differentiate between impacts within the four ACIA regions was exploratory and did not cover these regions in depth. There is a need to focus future assessments on smaller regions (perhaps at the landscape level) where an assessment of impacts of climate change has the greatest relevance and use for residents in the region and their activities.

Economic impacts

There are many important economic sectors in the Arctic, including oil and gas production, mining, transportation, fisheries, forestry and agriculture, and tourism. Some will gain from a warmer climate, others will not. In most cases, only qualitative information about the economic impacts (in monetary terms) of climate change is presently available. It is essential to involve a wide range of experts and stakeholders in future climate impact assessments to fill this gap and provide relevant information to users and decision makers.

Assessing vulnerabilities

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to or unable to cope with adverse effects of multiple and interacting stresses. Climate change occurs amidst a number of other interacting social and environmental changes across scales from local to regional and even global, and includes industrial development, contaminant transport and effects, and changes in social, political, and economic conditions. In this context it has become important to assess the vulnerabilities of coupled human–environment systems in the Arctic.

To undertake improved assessments on these three research topics a suite of improved observations and process studies, long-term monitoring, climate modeling, and impact analyses on society are necessary. These require new research efforts and studies funded by the various arctic countries.

Observations and process studies

To improve future climate impact assessments, many arctic processes require further study, both through scientific investigations and more detailed systematic documentation of indigenous knowledge. Priorities include collection of data ranging from satellite, surface, and paleo data on the climate and physical environment, to rates and ranges of change in arctic biota, and to the health status of arctic people.

Long-term monitoring

Long-term time series of climate and climate-related parameters are available from only a few locations in the Arctic. The need for continuing long-term acquisition of data is crucial, including upgrading of the climate observing system throughout the Arctic and monitoring snow and ice features, the discharge of major arctic rivers, ocean parameters, and changes in vegetation, biodiversity, and ecosystem processes.

Climate modeling

Improvements in numerical modeling of potential changes in climate are needed, including the representation in climate models of key arctic processes such as ocean processes, permafrost–soil–vegetation interactions, important feedback processes, and extreme events. The development and use of very high-resolution coupled regional models that provide useful information to local experts and decision makers is also required.

Analysis of impacts on society

Critical needs for improving projections of possible consequences for the environment and society include development and use of impact models; evaluating approaches for expressing relative levels of certainty and uncertainty; developing linkages between traditional and scientific knowledge; preparing scenarios of arctic population and economic development; and identifying and evaluating potential mitigation and adaptation measures to meet expected impacts.


Chapter 18: Summary and Synthesis of the ACIA
18.1. Introduction
18.2. A summary of ACIA conclusions
18.3. A synthesis of projected impacts in the four regions
18.4. Cross-cutting issues in the Arctic 
18.5. Improving future assessments
18.6. Conclusions








Committee, I. (2012). Improving future assessments of climate change impacts in the Arctic. Retrieved from


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