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Bringing together members of the Arctic social science and indigenous communities to reassess the goals, potentials, and needs of these diverse communities and ASSP within the context of a rapidly changing circumpolar North.

CHALLENGE: The National Science Foundation’s Arctic Social Sciences Program (ASSP) is the leading source of funding for U.S.-based social sciences research in the Arctic. Just as the Arctic has changed, arctic social sciences have experienced substantial growth and development, transitioning from an emerging field of research to a well-established multidisciplinary research area; yet the research priorities for NSF’s Arctic Social Sciences program were last updated in 1999.

OPPORTUNITY: Over the past 15 years, the Arctic has experienced substantial social and environmental transformations. Some of these changes are on pace with predictions of the late 1990s, but others have occurred much more rapidly than expected. Many of the documented and anticipated shifts in the Arctic are linked to environmental change: changing sea ice and snow cover, coastal erosion leading to displacement of modern villages and destruction of preserved archaeological sites, questions of subsistence food security, increased shipping and oil exploration, with their associated economic impacts (positive and negative) and risk of oil spills, to name just a few.

Many other changes in the Arctic are largely independent of changing climate: continued loss of Native languages, high rates of unemployment, domestic violence and substance abuse, and the increased influence of social media among and between isolated communities of the high north. Yet, while the North has always seemed remote and marginal to global or US national interests, Arctic people and environments are increasingly connected socially, economically, and environmentally to those living to the south.

The potential for an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean, for example, opens up possibilities for new shipping routes shifting economic costs and benefits for global markets, for expanded exploitation of the circumpolar basin’s fossil fuel and mineral resources, and for attendant new focus on the north as an economic and security zone of strategic and tactical importance.

All of these potential transformations have impacts not only on the United States’ northernmost communities, but also on the global and national economic, social, and cultural systems best studied by social scientists in interdisciplinary collaborations capable of providing information and strategies of need for policy development and community development.  

The Arctic Horizons project will bring together members of the Arctic social science research and indigenous communities to reassess the goals, potentials, and needs of these diverse communities and ASSP within the context of a rapidly changing circumpolar North.

A series of five topical and regional workshops held across the country will bring together approximately 150 western and indigenous scholars to discuss the future of Arctic social science research. Additional participation by the broader Arctic social sciences, indigenous science, and stakeholder communities will be solicited through an interactive web platform that will also share workshop and project outcomes, supported by special sessions at national and regional conferences. 

The results of the workshops and on-line input will be compiled at a final synthesis workshop with a report produced to describes the community's vision for the future of Arctic social science research. This re-envisioning process will help shape future Arctic social science research and inform Arctic economic, environmental, and political policy development.

Arctic Horizons Steering Committee:

Shelby Anderson, Portland State University

Virginia Butler, Portland State University

Michael Etnier, Portland State Univesity

Sveta Yamin-Pasternak, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Aaron Presnall, Jefferson Institute

Kevin Smith, Brown University

Stacy Rasmus, Univesity of Alaska Fairbanks

Andrey Petrov, Univesity of Northern Iowa