Fram Straight September 2006. Photo: Sebastian Gerland © Norwegian Polar Institute.

There is increasing scientific recognition that changes to the Arctic freshwater systems have produced, and could produce even greater, changes to bio-geophysical and socio-economic systems of special importance to northern residents and also produce some extra-arctic effects that will have global consequences.  To address such concerns, a scientific assessment will be conducted that focuses on assessing the various Arctic freshwater sources, fluxes, storage, and effects.  Notably, most of these are directly or indirectly controlled by cryospheric components and processes.  The range of sources and fluxes to be assessed include atmospheric vapour transport, precipitation-evaporation, river flow, ablation of glaciers and ice caps, sea ice formation/ablation, and marine (low-salinity water) exchanges. Extra-Arctic sources/fluxes from lower latitudes will be included, given their relatively large influence on the overall Arctic freshwater budget, as well as potential flux regulators (e.g. flow from the Greenland Ice Sheet).

The relative temporal importance of the changing freshwater source components will also be evaluated, including aspects of key inter-annual variations (e.g., spring freshets) and regional differences, as well as the role of freshwater storage in the overall budget. In reference to storage, of particular interest for the terrestrial system are lakes and soil moisture, including the influential role of thawing permafrost. For the Arctic Ocean, the key area of interest is the storage of low-salinity water in marine basins and its magnitude/rate and vectors of release.

In considering the changes in the various freshwater components, synergistic roles among components, and the overall budget, the assessment will also evaluate their role in producing effects on: i) regional and global climate, ii) biological productivity and biodiversity, and iii) human and economic systems. As a prerequisite to assessing future changes to freshwater components and their effects, an evaluation of relevant climate-model projections will be conducted to contextualize component assessments.

The Arctic Freshwater Synthesis (AFS) is currently being developed with scientific and financial support from the World Climate Research Program’s Climate and Cryosphere Project (CliC), the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), and the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP).  Publications plans for the AFS include a number of reports tailored to the scientific foci of the individual participating organizations, and to a suite of scientific-journal review papers.  Research needs identified by the AFS are also to act as benchmarks for the upcoming International Conference on Arctic Research Planning III, planned for 2015.

Download the ‘Arctic Freshwater System in a Changing Climate’ Layman’s Summary Report