Arctic amplification is a term coined by climate scientists that describes the particularly rapid changes in the Arctic environment associated with climatic change. Observations and models show higher rates of warming in the Arctic over the past century compared to any other region of the globe (IPCC 2013). Moreover, the rates of projected future increase in temperature in the Arctic are highly likely to outpace rates of temperature increase over the majority of the globe (IPCC 2013). Within the human dimensions of global change Arctic amplification means rapid changes in living conditions of people in the Arctic, testing vulnerability of various populations and driving the importance of diverse and robust adaptation strategies aimed at increasing the resilience of Arctic communities to environmental change. While considerable attention has been given in the 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2014) to identifying the potential adverse and beneficial impacts of environmental change of the well-being of people in the Arctic, discussion of adaptation strategies remains limited. Ford et al (2014) have addressed this gap by conducting a meta-analysis of existing peer-reviewed literature to develop an understanding of the state of climate adaptation across the Arctic.

An obvious but previously unquantified result of this study is that attention of the international community to a particular research questions leads to higher rates of accumulation of knowledge. Specifically, the authors report a large increase in the number of studies reporting on adaption initiatives in the Arctic following the International Polar Year (IPY: 2007–2008) in 2009 and later, as many studies matured, in 2011. It is interesting, however, that the geographic distribution of the reported initiatives is highly uneven: while it is not surprising that the overall number of initiatives reported in the English language literature comes from Canada and Alaska (56% and 28%, respectively), the low number of reported initiatives in Russia (5%) and Europe (9%) indicates a barrier in information flow and a strong dominance of a single perspective in development of adaptation strategies at present.

The local scale and community-based adaptation strategies focused on the indigenous populations comprise the lion's share of the reported initiatives. In many ways this reflects the large geographic variability in the type and magnitude of environmental change impacts in the Arctic as well as differences in the way of living of various native cultures and communities. For example, while the decline of wild caribou population in North America has raised a notable concern in communities dependent on caribou hunting, the populations of semi-domesticated caribou in Northern Eurasia have been stable and in some cases growing (IPCC 2014). The largely isolated indigenous populations are disproportionally impacted by the changing environmental conditions particularly due to their way of life and reliance on the subsistence activities. Not only are they exposed to direct impacts of climate-driven environmental impact on food availability, they may have very high (among highest in the world) exposures to some pollutants transferred through the food chain including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (Armitage et al 2011). Although there are large differences in specifics of environmental change impacts and vulnerability of different groups to those impacts geographically, many indigenous communities across the regions face similar problems ranging from emergence and spread of infectious diseases (Parkinson et al 2014) to increased rates of anxiety and suicide across various indigenous groups (IPCC 2014, Sumarokov et al 2014). The local-scale initiatives can be used to test various approaches to addressing the wide-spread common issues but should subsequently lead to a synthesized regional or state-level initiatives aimed at capturing a large proportion of affected population. Moreover, local and community-level adaptions are frequently insufficient to account for outcomes of regional and global drivers. Ford et al (2014) report that only 4% of initiatives were circumpolar in scope while many of environmental impacts associated with opportunities for economic development including mining, oil and gas extraction, and fisheries are multi-national by nature. Finally, the overwhelming focus on community-level adaptations for indigenous people leaves out the more populous group of urban inhabitants of the Arctic who experience some of the same (e.g. exposure to emerging infectious diseases) and some different (e.g. vulnerability to adverse outcomes from structural damage to dams and transportation structures) impacts of environmental change.

The status of climate change adaptation in the Arctic described by Ford et al (2014) present a geographically lopsided, topically skewed, and local-scale dominated distribution of adaptation initiatives. However, the fact that these initiatives are developing and that their number has been growing over time is a positive sign. As the body of knowledge in the field of adaptation to environmental change in the Arctic grows, there will be opportunities to synthesize the results of past experiences and to build a more robust multi-scale suite of adaptation initiatives. The biggest concern at present, raised by this study, is the lack of monitoring and evaluation tools along with the long-term strategy which would enable an effective synthesis of past experiences in the future. It appears that the people of the Arctic would benefit from amplification of the Arctic adaptation initiatives—another orchestrated burst of attention from the international community similar to the IPY; however, during this event the focus should shift toward a comprehensive long-term strategy representing a more balanced portfolio of multi-scale (local to circumpolar) initiatives targeting new opportunities as well as minimizing the adverse impacts of environmental change on the diverse and multi-cultural people of the Arctic.

For references, see Adaptation strategies to climate change in the Arctic: a global patchwork of reactive community-scale initiatives at environmentalresearchweb's sister journal ERL.