Mush! The only race in town this past week was the Yukon Quest, a grueling dog sled endurance race of 1,000 miles from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. Our WWF team, however, was in Alaska for a different kind of expedition – consulting with some of the world’s leading interdisciplinary science and social science researchers on Arctic climate change.
Co-authored by Hussein Alidina, Peter Ewins and James Snider
Enter the world of RACER – a project of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme that seeks to identify important places in the Arctic in the face of rapid climate change. RACER stands for (deep breath) Rapid Assessment of features and areas for Circumarctic Ecosystem Resilience in the 21st Century.
For the past 18 months, a RACER team of WWF staff from Norway, Russia, USA and Canada have been reviewing key papers, consulting with experts, commissioning analyses, holding workshops, compiling digital maps and crunching data – all to develop the analyses that will identify some of the key places that will remain important for the well-being of arctic ecosystems and human communities as we experience climate change.
Our premise has been that if such places can be identified and given conservation attention when making decisions on land and marine use, then healthy arctic ecosystems will stand a chance of being conserved and therefore be able to better adapt to rapid climate change. The conservation community describes it as “building resilience.”
On this trip our team met with close to 20 arctic experts. We presented to them our approach and preliminary analyses, together with what we had identified as important areas in two of our pilot regions – the Beaufort Sea continental shelf and the Central Canadian Tundra.
Our road trip began with a session at the University of Alberta, followed by a 2-day stop in Anchorage for a session hosted by US colleagues at WWF’s Alaska Programme Office, culminating with several meetings at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
While on the road, we ‘skyped’ regularly with our colleagues in Norway, Russia and the US, discussing our findings, adjusting our presentations with updated information and analyses almost daily. We worked early mornings and late nights.
Our meetings with the experts were fruitful. We learned a great deal and received good feedback as well as new information for our assessment. At times our work raised new questions, and sometimes it felt we had to take a step back to move forward. We got confirmation of our approach and encouragement to finish what many felt was an important and needed assessment. It was revealing when it became clear that questions we were asking (for instance related to future marine productivity in the Arctic Ocean) were also the subject of a simultaneous meeting of leading scientists.
It is then that we realised that we were really on the very leading edge of synthesising and applying science to arctic conservation. The experts we met were generous with their time and most of them have offered to further help us and review our final products. It said a lot about how they perceived the need for RACER. We were proud to wear our panda stripes.
In the course of our work, terms and acronyms like GCMs, sea-ice dynamics, NPP, DEM heterogeneity, pelagic-benthic coupling, CAVM, geophysical drivers, climate forcing and SES have become part of a second language, to the point they can assume a life of their own!
However, in this sometimes overwhelming sea of knowledge and complexity, it has been important for us to keep our focus on completing an objective approach that can identify those crucial places for arctic resilience. After this trip, we think we are there, and we look forward to sharing the results of this cutting-edge work in the near future. We are deeply indebted to the many experts and friends along the way who generously shared their time, expertise and encouragement for what WWF’s RACER project seeks to do.
It wasn’t all acronyms and graphs, though. Some of the lighter moments included running into a moose in downtown Anchorage, casually trotting down the street. And we didn’t need convincing to don our sweaters for National Sweater Day’s -36 c in Fairbanks. We explored local restaurants and gazed at the stunning aurora borealis.