The Arctic is engaged in a deep climatic evolution. This evolution is quite predictable at short (year) and longer scales (several decades), but it is the decadal intermediate scale that is the most difficult to predict. This is because the natural variability of the system is large and dominant at this scale, and the system is highly non linear due to positive and negative feedback between sea ice, the ocean and atmosphere. Already today, due to the increase of the GHG concentration in the atmosphere and the amplification of global warming in the Arctic, the impacts of climate change in the region are apparent, e.g. in the reduction in sea ice, in changes in weather patterns and cyclones or in the melting of glaciers and permafrost. It is therefore not surprising that models clearly predict that Artic sea ice will disappear in summer within 20 or 30 years, yielding new opportunities and risks for human activities in the Arctic. This climatic evolution is going to have strong impacts on both marine ecosystems and human activities in the Arctic. This in turn has large socio-economic implications for Europe.
ACCESS will evaluate climatic impacts in the Arctic on marine transportation (including tourism), fisheries, marine mammals and the extraction of hydrocarbons for the next 20 years; with particular attention to environmental sensitivities and sustainability. These meso-economic issues will be extended to the macro-economic scale in order to highlight trans-sectoral implications and provide an integrated assessment of the socio-economic impact of climate change.
An important aspect of ACCESS, given the geostrategic implication of Arctic state changes, will be the consideration of Arctic governance issues, including the framework UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea). ACCESS dedicates a full work package to integrate Arctic climate changes, socioeconomic impacts and Arctic governance issues.
Understanding Arctic climate change
Arctic climate change will have significant impacts on the region's natural environment, economy and local communities. An EU-funded initiative is therefore studying its effect on marine transportation (including tourism), fisheries, marine mammals, and the extraction of oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean.
The 'Arctic climate change, economy and society' (http://www.access-eu.org/ (ACCESS)) project is investigating the impact of climate change on key economic sectors in the Arctic. The initiative will increase understanding of the interplay between human activities and climate change.
One example is that sea ice has vanished faster than predicted by climate models and as a result new improved models are required. The ACCESS consortium is responding to this challenge by monitoring the current status and changes in sea ice to provide a baseline against which to compare future changes. They are also carrying out measurements to determine trends in changes to the ocean, ice and atmosphere.
ACCESS is developing computer simulations for up to 30 years into the future. This will enable scientists to study the development of sea ice, extreme weather events and potential changes to ocean currents due to increased activity in the Arctic. The data will be fed into the Earth system models, which form the basis of European policies and actions.
Researchers are studying the impacts of increased shipping and tourism in the Arctic, involving air pollution and the deposition of soot and black carbon on the ice. The effect of noise from shipping activities on sensitive ecosystems in the Barents Sea was investigated and a model of the region's cod fisheries developed.
The consortium has investigated the impact of oil and gas platform emissions and how climate change could affect the response to a possible oil spill. Computer models were also used to study the relationship between different economic activities, the Arctic environment, the marine ecosystem, the region's indigenous people and the world.
Work conducted by the ACCESS consortium will enable researchers to assess the risks of climate change to both humans and the environment. This will help to develop effective measures to mitigate these risks. Researchers are also building on work from the scientific and socioeconomic fields to identify how governance can be improved.