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Five-year Arctic research plan released

A five-year Arctic Research Plan outlining key scientific areas that the federal government will pursue to better understand and predict environmental changes in the region has been released by the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee.

The plan, drafted by experts representing 14 federal agencies and released on 19 February, identified seven research areas considered important for the development of national policies and well-positioned to benefit from interagency collaboration. They include human health; sea ice and marine ecosystems; terrestrial ice and ecosystems; and atmospheric studies of surface heat, energy, and mass balances.

On human health, the report pointed out that indigenous peoples in the Arctic have shorter life expectancies and greater infant mortality rates than their respective national populations. They also experience a high prevalence of both infectious diseases and health impacts associated with exposures to environmental pollutants and climate change.

In terms of plans for human health research, the interagency committee said the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Indian Health Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the US Arctic Research Commission will focus on four areas. These include expanded circumpolar surveillance and research for infectious non-communicable diseases, trauma, injury, sanitation services and indoor air quality to help prevent morbidity and mortality.

The other three human health research areas identified involve continued interagency collaboration to monitor the impacts of climate change and environmental contaminants on human health and wildlife, further support for investigator-initiated research in major health priority arenas like mental health, as well as additional engagement of indigenous communities and tribal groups in research activities and projects in the Arctic.

“The Arctic environment is undergoing rapid transition as sea and land ice diminish, with tremendous implications for natural environments, human well-being, national security, transportation, and economic development,” White House science adviser John Holdren concluded in a letter to members of Congress accompanying the report.

“The United States and the other Arctic nations require strong, coordinated research efforts to understand and forecast changes in the Arctic,” he added.