Northern Test Case

Map of the Northern Test Case region.

The Northern Test Case focuses on Nuiqsut, a 400-person Inupiaq village located 18 miles from the Arctic Ocean that relies heavily on traditional subsistence resources. Nuiqsut faces change on multiple fronts: first, Arctic Alaska communities are experiencing the strongest climate signals in the United States, with increases in average surface temperature and fire frequency, thawing permafrost, changes in terrestrial hydrology, reduction of sea ice, increased storm surges, changes in vegetation, shifts in seasonality, and resultant changes in several important ecosystem services. Second, Nuiqsut is increasingly surrounded by oil and gas development.

As a result, Nuiqsut is subject to substantial amounts of land cover-land use change, as well as social changes. The consequences of hydrological and landscape change have already affected subsistence harvest patterns and heightened safety concerns for traveling for traditional harvests. Research objectives of the Northern Test Case are to:

  • Understand how hydrological, landscape, and land use changes are affecting ecosystem services.
  • Understand the consequences of changes on a village cash-subsistence economy.
  • Evaluate the capacity of North Slope households and communities to respond to changes.

Northern Test Case researchers are studying hydrologic and ecological implications of thawing permafrost in tundra polygons, and regime shifts in bedfast and floating ice lakes and their implications to ecosystems and ice roads. Researchers have refined a Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM), which predicts emerging plant assemblages in the test case region, and are using it to study the relationship between vegetation change and historic caribou populations. Researchers analyzed data on shrubs and browsing along an Arctic transect to understand changes in moose habitat and model future moose distribution. They also developed a prototype social-ecological systems model that examines the implications of climate change scenarios on moose distribution and abundance and local subsistence hunting of moose.

The test case recruited two cohorts of Nuiqsut hunters to use camera-equipped GPSes to document change they see as important. These data were entered into a StoryMap program to illustrate observations and hunters’ comments, and project input resulted in a follow-up study in which audio recorders are being used to record soundscape disturbance from aircraft. Researchers have produced a preliminary analysis of this data. 

The test case also developed an instrument to measure indigenous perceptions of risk and local control over risk-limiting mechanisms, and administered it to tribal council members in six communities. A student has undertaken a case study of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Subsistence Oversight Panel, evaluating the effectiveness of federal arrangements to incorporate traditional knowledge and shape decisions to meet community interests.

Research by the test case's Faculty Team and participating researchers has resulted in multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals and books. Project data acquired by the Northern Test Case, as well as relevant data compiled from other agencies and organizations, can be accessed at the Northern Test Case data portal, a collaboration with the North Slope Science Initiative.

 

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