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1. Background and scientific challenges
The Arctic Ocean (AO) is experiencing major transformations. The sea ice is receding
and thinning, enabling an increasing human presence and industrial activity. These
developments put pressures on ecosystems and existing communities, and raise new
challenges for sustainable management of the AO. The flagship will cover research that
deals with all key aspects of these processes. This distinguishes our research agenda from
several thematic programmes both in the EU and the Norwegian Research Council.
The reduction in extent, thickness and age of the AO sea ice is a visible sign of climate
change. The direction of change has been predicted by global climate models, but the
speed of change has been underestimated (AC 2011a). The Arctic sea ice has a prominent
role in the global climate system and in the regional climate on the northern hemisphere.
Knowledge about its changing conditions is relevant both for global climate negotiations
on mitigation, and for regional adaptation to changing climate conditions.
The opening up of areas that until now have been almost inaccessible for commercial
activities is another major development following the retreat of the sea ice. The growing
interest in Arctic shipping is driven by prospects of increased extraction of resources
from the region, and cruise tourism. In the future, intercontinental transit may also reach
high levels (AC 2009). Fisheries will be affected by profound shifts in the Arctic Ocean
ecosystems due to changing ocean climate and a new ice regime. However, there is great
uncertainty regarding the future productivity of the ecosystems, the transfer of energy
from primary production to commercial species, and the distribution of fish stocks also
across maritime zones (Fossheim et al 2014, Stenevik and Sundby 2007). The Arctic oil
and gas potential has attracted considerable attention (AC 2010). So far the activities
have mainly been land-based, but the maritime resource potential is larger (Bird et al
2008), and increasing offshore operations are expected as technologies improve. The
ongoing expansion will also raise the attention, impacts and industrialization processes on
the archipelago Spitsbergen. It is important to map and analyse how these activities
develop, how they interact, what the major driving forces are, and conditions for their
expansion.

The prospects of a changing Arctic have spurred a debate about Arctic governance in the
academic literature, between governments and many stakeholders (Bankes and Koivurova
2014, Heininen 2011, Koivurova 2008, Young 2011a, WWF 2010). Management of the
AO takes place in an institutional interplay between national initiatives and international
treaties and collaborative arrangements (AC 2011b). Decisions are taken at many levels,
involving public, private and non-governmental organisations (Poelzer and Wilson 2014,
Stokke 2011). It is thus vital to analyse the capacity and capability of existing
arrangements to address the challenges emanating from the new developments and to
identify the potential for improvements. The use of scientific advice in political processes
concerning possible opening and regulation of new areas for commercial activities is
another topic that could be studied.
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The harsh environment, lack of infrastructure and large distances impose a unique set of
requirements for research and development in the AO. Improvements in technologies for
research and monitoring can improve the availability of new data from larger and remote
regions, reduce the environmental impacts and improve cost-efficiency.
In 2012, the flagship program for the first five-year period was evaluated by an expert
panel organized by the Norwegian Research Council. The panel recommended to increase
the focus on truly interdisciplinary studies and to expand the program by including more
international partners. It was also noted that the ecosystems part of the program was not
sufficiently developed. Since then, the program leadership has strived to address these
concerns through more targeted calls for proposals. The present plan, however, should
more significantly improve the situation. The expert reviewer panel also noted that the
original program was overly ambitious in scope given the modest funding available.

 

Full scientific program ArcticOcean_ScientificProgramme_2016-2020+(10.2019)

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