A new study finds research gaps in en­viron­men­tal science dis­cip­lines across the Arc­tic

Press release from the University of Helsinki

Global warming is driving rapid environmental change in the Arctic. “To understand these changes, field measurements that adequately represent environmental variation across the Arctic as a whole are crucial”, says PhD student Anna-Maria Virkkala from the University of Helsinki.

A new study by researchers from University of Helsinki and Lund University shows that northern Arctic regions remain under-sampled and provides detailed maps of potential new sampling locations for each environmental science discipline across the Arctic.

Representativeness of fiel sampling locations in the Arctic
MODIFIED FROM VIRKKALA ET AL. (2019).   The representativeness of Arctic field sampling locations (>66.3 N). Yellow color signifies areas where conditions are well-studied, while violet color signifies areas where conditions lack sampling locations. The green points represent INTERACT stations north from the Arctic Circle.

The changing Arc­tic re­quires a sampling strategy for the fu­ture

Doing field work in the harsh Arctic conditions is not easy. Resources and accessibility strongly constrain Arctic research. Understanding what kind of conditions and regions remain under-studied is important when researchers plan new field campaigns.

However, studies dealing with the representativeness of sampling have been conducted mainly for very specific fields, or in smaller regions. Thus, the current state of field sampling across broad environmental science disciplines across the Arctic has not been fully understood.

A lit­er­at­ure data­base and open spa­tial data sets as a tool to map the rep­res­ent­at­ive­ness of sampling

“We utilize an existing literature database of around 1 800 field studies across the Arctic”, says Dan Metcalfe, a senior lecturer in Lund University. This database contains information about the field sampling locations and citations, including their primary discipline/s within environmental sciences featured in the article.

Open spatial data sets describing topography, vegetation, and soils were used to characterize the environmental conditions of each sampling location. “The availability of these data sets has increased during the past decade which allows us to explore the environmental coverage of Arctic field sampling comprehensively”, says a Post-Doc researcher Hakim Abdi from Lund University.

New field stud­ies are needed in the north­ern­most Arc­tic re­gions

The study shows that more research is needed particularly in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, northern Greenland, northern Taimyr, and central and eastern Siberia. These under-sampled regions are characterized by cold soils and climate and modest vegetation cover. Many of these regions are predicted to experience rapid permafrost thaw and vegetation shifts due to global warming in the future. The lack of data from these conditions suggests that we do not necessarily understand the whole range of changes that the global warming might cause.

Dif­fer­en­ces in sampling across en­viron­men­tal science dis­cip­lines

There are differences in the representativeness of sampling locations across environmental science disciplines. Sampling locations in Botany and Biogeochemistry cover environmental gradients the best, and Microbiology, Meteorology, Geosciences and Geographic Information Systems / Remote Sensing / Modeling have the largest research gaps across the Arctic. Although northern Alaska and Fennoscandia remained the best sampled regions, research gaps were found even in central Arctic Alaska or southern Arctic Fennoscandia in some disciplines.

Let’s keep ex­plor­ing the Arc­tic to­gether

Luckily, many of these under-sampled regions are close to existing infrastructure, so making a change is possible. “We hope these results will help prioritize future research efforts across all environmental science disciplines, thus increasing our knowledge about the Arctic environmental change”, summarizes Professor Miska Luoto from University of Helsinki.

Reference: Anna-Maria Virkkala, Hakim Abdi, Miska Luoto and Dan Metcalfe. Identifying multidisciplinary research gaps across Arctic terrestrial gradients. Environmental Research Letters. doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab4291.

Literature database and the maps: https://figshare.com/s/cee6070c4598c4d85700, https://doi.org/10.25412/iop.9162191.

Field of science: Geosciences

Date of publication: 2 Jan 2020

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