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Adaptation Strategies in the Face of Climate-Driven Ecological Transformation: Case Studies from Arctic Alaska and the U.S. Great Plains

Climate Change-Driven Transformations in Human and Natural Systems: Case Studies to Accelerate Proactive Adaptation Responses


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Climate change is already affecting ecosystems, and will likely trigger significant and permanent changes in both ecological and human communities. Such transformations are already occurring in the Arctic region of Alaska, where temperatures are warming at twice the global average and causing some ecosystems to transition to new states. Arctic warming has led to coastal erosion that has forced human communities to relocate and a loss of sea ice that has forced marine mammals, such as polar bears and walrus, to adapt to a more terrestrial mode of living. Meanwhile, in the Great Plains of the U.S., past interactions between land and water use during the Dust Bowl and recent high rates of depletion of the Ogallala aquifer due to irrigation [...]

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Principal Investigator :
Molly Cross, Kimberly Hall
Co-Investigator :
Lauren Oakes
Funding Agency :
National CASC
Cooperator/Partner :
Martin Robards, Shelley Crausbay, Marissa Ahlering
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

Attached Files

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“Absaroka Range - Credit: Diane Renkin, NPS”
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Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueWe seek support from the National Climate Adaptation Science Center to develop and share case studies and lessons from real-world adaptation responses to climatedriven ecological transformations. We expect these cases, which will be developed with stakeholders, will help promote proactive planning and effective responses by these same stakeholders as well as resource managers in other regions. Using a combination of synthesis, interviews, and stakeholder/practitioner engagement, this work will focus on two geographies: the Arctic region of Alaska and the U.S. Great Plains. Arctic social-ecological systems have already experienced dramatic transitions in response to climate change, including those in ice or snow-free lands and waters previously managed for ice-dependent species and livelihoods, or in coastal communities that have been impacted by storm surges and coastal erosion. We argue that active adaptation responses by communities, industry, and resource managers in the Arctic can serve as models to help managers in other regions better prepare for dramatic changes. In the Great Plains, past interactions between land and water use during the Dust Bowl (1950s) and recent high rates of depletion of the Ogallala aquifer associated with irrigation for agriculture demonstrate how climate and human land and water use can dramatically change systems and resource availability, providing tangible parallels to the concept of ecological transformation. We suggest the massive scale of these past and anticipated impacts will motivate greater attention to the potential for climate-driven transformations, and promote anticipatory planning efforts that can help conserve and restore grassland biodiversity as these changes unfold. These two regions provide contrasts in the strengths of climate vs. human drivers of transformational change, with similarities in key risks, such as the potential for other stressors (e.g., development pressure, spread of invasive species) to increase as systems transform. Methods for synthesis and case study development will be tailored to each region, and will include literature review, semistructured interviews, focus groups, and informal meetings. Expected products include: 1) peerreviewed syntheses of lessons learned from these heavily-affected systems (1 per region); 2) storytelling of findings via digital and leveraged national media; and 3) assessments of key conservation approaches in transforming system that will not only inform the case studies, but also identify research needs for continued work in these two geographies.
projectStatusIn Progress

Budget Extension

typeAward Type
valueCooperative Agreement
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Absaroka Range - Credit: Diane Renkin, NPS
Absaroka Range - Credit: Diane Renkin, NPS


Spatial Services

ScienceBase WMS


  • National CASC
  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers



Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC c663005e-adb8-4612-ba61-97adf9ef39ae

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