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NEWS 17.01.2011

At this moment Government of the Unites States of America and Russian Academy of Sciences are working on developing a Russian-American cooperative project in the framework of the US-Russia Presidential Commission. During its meeting in Moscow on December 9th, 2010, the Working Group on Clean Energy Technology proposed six areas of cooperation with one of them being titled "Arctic Permafrost". Academican Vladimir Melnikov were designated to serve as a coordinator for this area from the Russian side. Academician Melnikov is a very well internationally known scientist. He is also a coordinator of all permafrost-related programs in the Russian Academy of Science.

Introduction

Arctic landscapes are influenced to a considerable extent by the presence of permafrost. Regions dominated by permafrost encompass ca. 25% of land in the Northern Hemisphere and represent an important, but climatically sensitive, feature of the high-latitude systems. Degradation of permafrost due to rising temperatures and disturbance can intensify thermokarst formation, causing localized but dramatic influences on ecological, hydrological, and biogeochemical properties and processes. These impacts at local scales can have cascading effects on drainage networks; carbon, nutrient and sediment fluxes, and vegetation distribution across the broader landscape. Coupled processes, feedbacks, self organization, and emergent behavior are important characteristics of the permafrost subsystem, which is itself a component of the complex Arctic ecosystem. Thus, understanding the current and future state of permafrost and active layer dynamics is a necessary step toward accurately projecting changes in tundra and boreal ecosystems and their implications for regional and global climate. Equally important is to address societal impacts of permafrost degradation both on indigenous communities and on industrial activities in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic.

 

Research collaboration plan

Improving climate change prediction in high latitude systems requires an accurate understanding of both continuous and threshold-dominated permafrost dynamics and their impacts on the soil biogeochemistry, vegetation dynamics, land-atmospheric interactions, and landscape processes. A joint US-Russia workshop will be organized to identify critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of permafrost-dominated landscapes. Given the potential breadth of this topic we will focus on terrestrial and ocean processes with direct links to land surface-climate feedbacks and interactions. Subject matter experts from US, Russia, and the larger international community will be invited to discuss the following topics:

  • Thermal state of permafrost and its dynamics on inter-annual, decadal, and centennial time scales.
  • Microbial dynamics in the active layer and the upper 5 to 20 m of permafrost.
  • Relic shallow gas hydrates in permafrost and their role in carbon fluxes to the atmosphere.
  • Thermokarst, thermal erosion, and other land surface processes in climate change.
  • Sub-marine arctic permafrost.
  • Developing new circum-polar permafrost map that will reflect recent changes in climate.

The workshop will be held in summer, 2011 at the International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Invited speakers will provide an overview of permafrost dynamics in the Arctic and Sub-arctic and then breakout sessions will discuss each of the topics listed above. A session will prioritize permafrost-related research topics and develop a research agenda that could be undertaken as part of a future US-Russia collaboration. A whitepaper authored by US and Russian scientists will document the findings of the workshop. The whitepaper will be highlighted as a roadmap for future activities.

This document will be delivered to contacts at the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Tentative timeline, outcomes, and deliverables

January – February 2011         Teleconferences; development of workshop goals and objectives; and selection of organizing committee.

March – May 2011                  Teleconferences; invitations extended to workshop participants from Russia, DOE national laboratories, and universities; identification of session leaders; development of workshop agenda; and agreement on outcomes and deliverables.

June – July 2011                    Teleconferences; agreement on final agenda.

July 2011                                 Host workshop at the University of Alaska; exchange ideas and prioritize research needs of the Arctic science community in areas of permafrost and climate change; consideration should reflect important terrestrial and oceanic processes and where appropriate ties to the needs of high-latitude communities.

August – September 2011        Teleconferences; completion of workshop deliverables; agreement on research priorities; distribution of deliverables to workshop participants.

September 2011                       Teleconferences; complete editing of workshop deliverable; submit final deliverable to U.S. and Russian program and/or institutional managers by end of month.

2011 and beyond                     Outcomes and deliverables from the workshop will serve as roadmap for future interactions and collaborations, including site visits to respective U.S. and Russia research organizations; one possible out-year activity could be the development of a new circum-polar permafrost map that reflects recent and future projected changes in climate.

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