Photograph courtesy of NASA
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U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy travels in the Beaufort Sea, northeast of Barrow, Alaska, 2011
Photograph courtesy of NASA

Arctic Development Is Ramping Up: What Do We Urgently Need to Know?

As shipping and energy activity increase in the region, what do we urgently need to learn more about? Vote and comment on the list.

The Arctic is currently changing in ways we are still trying to grasp, but it is already dramatically, undeniably different than it was just 30 years ago. The white cover of sea ice that blankets the Arctic is receding dramatically in the summer months. Satellite data show the September minimum has shrunk by more than 11 percent per decade since 1979, researchers say.

As the volume and frequency of open water in the Arctic grows, so too does activity by oil and gas, shipping, mining, and other industries. Ship transit through the Bering Strait, the gateway from the North Pacific Ocean to the Arctic, more than doubled between 2008 and 2012, and sea traffic throughout the region continues to grow exponentially as it provides a shorter cargo route between Asia and Europe. At the same time, several companies seek to mine reserves that could contain as much as 22 percent of the world's undiscovered conventional oil and gas. (See related video: Experts use three words to describe the Arctic at The Arctic: The Science of Change live event.)

Questions, too, are mounting along with the activity. The Arctic nations—the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark (including Greenland), Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden—now face unprecedented dilemmas over resource development, ecosystems protection, emergency response infrastructure, geopolitical boundaries, and many other effects of a changing northern climate.

Amid all these facets of the transforming Arctic, which of these areas do you think needs the most attention? What should we all be focusing on? Rate the options below and share your thoughts in the comments.