Rapid Changes in the Arctic Threat to People and the Environment

The international research project ARR – which stands for the Arctic Resilience Report – has identified many important changes in the Arctic region. The observed development increases the risk of exceeding various threshold values, which may result in permanents alterations of Arctic ecosystems and communities.

A combination of several relatively dramatic changes is pushing the Arctic region’s social and ecological systems to their limits, according to the ARR’s first report, which was presented at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden on 15 May. The almost 40 indigenous groups in the region often live close to nature and are therefore more vulnerable than other communities, yet communities with good infrastructure are also affected by the recorded changes.

Ulf Molau, professor of plant ecology at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, has been in charge of the biophysical part of the project.
’We have gathered a lot of material related to the biophysical processes in the Arctic. Some critical values have already been exceeded and some are at serious risk. One thing that the report is clear about is that the process is not a result of increasing temperatures alone – there are also indirect changes that can be attributed to melting permafrost,’ says Molau.

LARGE AREAS OF THE ARCTIC LANDSCAPE are covered by shallow lakes. When the permafrost under the lakes melts, the lakes disappear, and this process happens very fast. What used to be a great mosaic of lakes not long ago has become a landscape full of dry flats. The Arctic summer ice is another example of an ecosystem that is approaching critical threshold values. Since the first measurements in the 1970s, the levels have never been as low as in August 2012.

For more information: www.arctic-council.org/arr