Monday, March 27, 2017

Objective 1

Strengthened oil-spill response capabilities

NOAA will play a scientific advisory and support role to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator during Arctic oil spill and clean-up responses, as it does in other U.S. regions. The need for this capacity is urgent due to increased Arctic offshore drilling and maritime transit activities, and events such as the Japanese tsunami.

R&D Targets:

  • Apply genomics- and proteomics-based markers of exposure to petroleum and its effects on animals at the molecular level, with emphasis on marine mammals and protected species

  • Develop coastal inundation maps for the Chukchi Sea based on anticipated storm-surge occurrences

  • Document the likely movement, weathering and fate of crude oil trapped under sea ice and its likely effects of coastal ecosystems

Objective 2

Improved characterization of Arctic marine ecosystems

Arctic ecosystems have evolved to cope with strong seasonal fluctuations in sunlight, presence of a permanently ice-covered deep ocean basin and seasonally covered marginal seas, episodic freshwater flows, generally low primary productivity, and low biological diversity. Similarly important are its connections with the Arctic and Pacific Oceans that enhance biological productivity in certain areas and serve as migratory corridors for marine mammals. The paucity of data on the Arctic ecosystem precludes knowledge of their organizational structure, energy flows and resilience. Predicting environmental consequences of climate change and industrial activities on the Arctic ecosystem is a major scientific challenge. Assessing the consequences of altered ecosystems on fisheries and wildlife resources, subsistence lifestyles, human settlements, regional economies and social fabric, and human health are key topics of study for the next five years.

R&D Targets:

  • Complete the pilot phase analysis and report on Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) activities and results

  • Characterize the distribution of biological resources and the associated key coastal habitats of the Chukchi Sea with maps of sediment distribution, background levels of oil and gas development-related contaminants, and potential toxicity

  • Identify areas of special value and vulnerability to offshore petroleum development and coastal infrastructure by applying NOAA’s Biogeography Assessment Framework

Objective 3

Improved impact assessments of changing sea ice

Rapidly changing environmental conditions in the Arctic have wide-ranging impacts, including effects of declining sea ice cover and longer duration of sea ice melting, and how such changes affect regional weather, biological productivity, and human communities reliant on coastal ecosystems. The current state of sea ice cover has fagh 2006. Reduced sea ice and snow cover also reduce the overall surface reflectivity of the region in summer – positive feedback – further moving the Arctic environmental systems toward a new state. As the ice-edge retreats, so do the phytoplankton blooms; relatively huge phytoplankton blooms are now observed beneath sea ice in Chukchi Sea, resulting in estimates of primary productivity that are 10 times greater than before. The ecological implications of such increased primary productivity, coupled with its northward extent, are not well known but they point to a shift in the pelagic-benthic coupling of food webs. In many parts of the Arctic this coupling is instrumental in delineating critical biological habitats, for example, the Chirikov Basin. The longer duration of open water also affects characteristics of sediment-laden ice, i.e., ice with coarse sediment, gravel and kelp uprooted of the seabed, and ice with fine-grained sediment (clay, silt, organic matter) that first appears near the top of the ice cover. In either case, sediment-laden ice drastically reduces light penetration below the sea ice cover and could have potentially strong consequences on coastal ecosystems. The U.S. Arctic is also becoming increasingly more favorable to routine maritime traffic, identified as an area for expanded oil and gas development in the near future, and would require changes in current oil spill response plans.

R&D Targets:

  • Assess the causes of the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice

  • Develop a sea ice forecasting testbed in the Chukchi-Beaufort Seas that tests and evaluates models from U.S. and Canadian agencies

  • Evaluate current and emerging technologies that could support navigation needs for trans-Arctic traffic, including ship-to-shore communications

  • Develop a sediment scavenging model that uses multiple sediment entrainment scenarios and factors that govern the entrainment, particularly fragile ice crystals, turbulence, storm events

  • Document changes in size and persistence of sea ice habitats, particularly recurring polynyi, landfast ice, and ice floes