ID:51 State of the Arctic - Environment, Climate and Human Health

21 February 2023 | 16:00 - 18:00 (GMT+1)

Open Session - HYBRID


Room: Hörsaal 5


Session ConvenersFrits Steenhuisen (University of Groningen, The Netherlands), Lisa Grosfeld (German Arctic Office, Germany); Volker Rachold (German Arctic Office, Germany); Janet Pawlak (AMAP Secretariat)


Session Abstract

The state of the Arctic is strongly impacted by climate change, with the greatest impacts on ecosystems, wildlife and humans often arising from extreme events rather than changes in climatic means. This session will survey a range of extreme weather and climate events and some of their impacts on the cryosphere and terrestrial environment. Major changes in the Arctic may also serve as a potential driver of anomalous weather in the mid-latitudes; the complexity of such potential associations will be explored here. The use of climate models to project potential future conditions in the Arctic under various emission scenarios is critical to policy-making; evaluations of climate model (CMIP6) past simulations and future projections for the Arctic will be provided. The health of humans in the Arctic can be affected by the quality of their food, with some local or subsistence sources of food, such as some species of marine mammals, contaminated by chemicals such as mercury and organohalogens; nonetheless, these subsistence species are also the source of important nutrients. Recent information on this complex issue, together with new work to link studies of contaminants and their effects in wildlife and humans, will be presented.


  • unfold_moreIntroduction to the session

    Lisa Grosfeld, Frits Steenhuisen

  • unfold_moreBalancing the risks and benefits of consuming local, traditional and country foods

    Cheryl Khoury1, Pál Weihe2, Bryan Adlard1, Eva Cecilie Bonefeld-Jørgensen3, Melanie Lemire4, Maria Wennberg5
    1Health Canada, 2The Faroese Hospital System and the University of the Faroe Islands, 3Aarhus University, 4University of Laval, 5Umeå University


    For some Arctic human populations, the consumption of Arctic wildlife and marine animals can be a source of exposure for some environmental contaminants, such as mercury and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). High levels of environmental contaminants are found in populations from Greenland, Faroe Islands, and Nunavik (Canada). Despite this, the hunting and harvesting of these same foods have significant benefits to many Arctic Indigenous populations, including nutritional, social, cultural, economic and spiritual wellbeing. At the same time dietary transitions are changing the foods Arctic peoples eat, and country foods have an important role in supporting food security and food sovereignty. Some nutrients and trace elements found in these foods have been found to interact with mercury and may potentially provide some degree of protective effect. Studies of the interactions between nutrients and contaminants will help to provide balanced advice on reducing the intake of contaminants without losing the nutritional benefits of country, local and traditional foods, and imported foods. Understanding dietary transitions and developing initiatives to increase awareness of the benefits of country foods, the best kinds of country foods to consume (low in contaminants, high in nutrients), the development of programs to increase access to foods, and education around food handling and preparation are important to balancing the risks and benefits of these foods. These are among some of the findings reported in the 2021 AMAP Human Health Assessment Report.

  • unfold_moreHuman health in the Arctic: health implications of contaminant exposure

    Pál Weihe1, Cheryl Khoury2, Eva Cecilie Bonefeld-Jørgensen3, Melanie Lemire4
    1The Faroese Hospital System and the University of the Faroe Islands, 2Health Canada, 3Aarhus University, 4University of Laval,


    Contaminants found in the Arctic, such as mercury, lead, PCBs, and PFASs, have known or suspected adverse health impacts on humans – especially on developing fetuses and children. Lifestyle, diet and nutrition, and genetics can influence the risk of these impacts. Dietary exposure to some POPs, PFASs, and metals such as mercury can have negative impacts on the brain and immune system, increase the risk of childhood obesity, increase the risk of type 2 diabetes later in life, and negatively affect fetal growth and development. Associations between prenatal exposure to methyl mercury (MeHg) and neurobehavioral deficits in memory function were strengthened after fatty acid adjustment, thus suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids need to be included in analysis of similar studies to avoid underestimating the associations with MeHg exposure.

  • unfold_moreQuestions and discussion
  • unfold_moreSocietal implications of climate change

    Vera Hausner
    University of Tromsø


    Climate change is driving rapid changes that impact Arctic communities and livelihoods, especially for Indigenous peoples. Changing environmental and ecological conditions are having negative impacts on health and well-being, food security, transportation, livelihoods, industries, infrastructure, and the availability of safe drinking water. Among the livelihoods most closely entwined with changing physical and ecological features related to climate change are subsistence-based hunting and foraging activities, pastoralism, fisheries, and aquaculture, among others. Cryosphere changes, including permafrost thaw, coastal erosion, and changes in snow and ice conditions, interact with other drivers to impact societies and livelihoods. In addition to the impacts of gradual climate change, extreme events such as wildfires, flooding, and extreme weather events have outsized impacts on communities and Arctic peoples. Societal impacts of extreme events include significant economic loss from property damage as well as physical and mental health impacts. Climate change also induces a range of feedbacks and accelerating changes that can impact socio-ecological systems in the Arctic.

  • unfold_moreExtreme Events in the Arctic

    John Walsh
    International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks


    The greatest impacts of climate change on ecosystems, wildlife and humans often arise from extreme events rather than changes in climatic averages. Extreme events can also be responsible for threshold exceedances or tipping points. In a recent assessment of extreme events in the Arctic, occurrences of extreme temperatures, sea ice loss events, and Greenland melt events ranked at the high end of the spectra of evidence for change and confidence in future change. However, recent events to be highlighted here point to emerging signals in other types of extreme events: coastal storms, heavy precipitation, freezing rain and wildfire. These events have had major impacts in Alaska and are consistent with expectations for the rest of the Arctic. Research priorities identified on the basis of this review include further work on attribution as well as the quantification of impacts on ecosystems and humans.

  • unfold_moreResponse of midlatitude weather and climate to a changing Arctic

    James Overland
    NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory


    Pronounced changes in the Arctic such as loss of sea ice and warmer temperatures add a new potential driver of anomalous weather in midlatitudes that affect billions of people. These include stalled severe weather events, persistent hot-dry extremes/drought, and cold air outbreaks. At present, there is controversy in the meteorological community on the degree to which observed Arctic changes have increased linkages to severe midlatitude weather and climate. Part of the uncertainty is due to the intermittency of the connection through the jet stream and polar vortex. The Arctic may or may not reinforce different existing weather patterns.

    We provide a positive observational example. Three interactive physical processes are involved: 1) internal atmospheric jet stream/polar vortex processes that add to the persistence of a wavy jet stream; 2) warm and humid air transport into an existing longwave atmospheric pattern; and 3) local thermodynamic surface forcing, often associated with loss of sea ice. All three atmospheric processes were active in a 2017 North American case study that impacted sea ice loss and the entire marine ecosystem food chain, and resulted in downstream cold air transport into midlatitudes. Thus global warming influences can be more than local heating; it can follow a chain of events involving disruption of the jet stream through surface weather to ecosystem and societal impacts.

  • unfold_moreArctic ocean and sea ice seen from CMIP6 models

    Muyin Wang1, James E. Overland2, Qi Shu3, Shizhu Wang3
    1University of Washington; 2NOAA/PME; 3First Institute of Oceanography, Ministry of Natural Resources


    The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change. Rapidly changing temperatures, sea ice, and ocean conditions will continue as global warming continues. Projections of future atmospheric, oceanic, and ice conditions in Arctic are important not only for the climate change studies, but also for stakeholders and decision makers. In this paper we investigate how the most up-to-date climate models (CMIP6) simulate the present-day Arctic climate and what their future projections are under different emission scenarios.

    Overall speaking, the CMIP6-era models show considerable improvement from its precursors, CMIP3 and CMIP5. Compared with the observational records, the CMIP6 multi-model mean (MMM) overestimated the March and September sea-ice extent and underestimated the trend of September sea-ice cover in the last 20 years. For ocean surface salinity and freshwater content in the upper 250m, the MMM reproduced a reasonable agreement with the observed pattern. Late-summer (September) sea ice stabilizes at more than half its present value under SSP1-2.6, while the first incidence of ice-free Arctic (a threshold of 1 million square kilometers of ice extent) could be reached by the middle of the 21st century under all other scenarios. A dipole-change pattern of the salinity and freshwater content is projected by the MMM: saltier in Eurasian Basin, and fresher in the Amerasian Basin. The warming in the Arctic will continue to be amplified under all scenarios, with the largest warming projected to happen in winter.

  • unfold_moreQuestions and discussion