Changing polar environments: Interdisciplinary challenges

Document Type


Date of Original Version



In the past few decades, there has been enormous growth in scientific studies of physical, chemical, and biological interactions among reservoirs in polar regions. This has come, in part, as a result of a few significant discoveries: There is dramatic halogen chemistry that occurs on and above the sea ice in the springtime that destroys lower tropospheric ozone and mercury [Simpson et al., 2007; Steffen et al., 2008], the sunlit snowpack is very photochemically active [Grannas et al., 2007], biology as a source of organic compounds plays a pivotal role in these processes, and these processes are occurring in the context of rapidly changing polar regions under climate feedbacks that are as of yet not fully understood [Serreze and Barry, 2011]. Stimulated by the opportunities of the International Polar Year (IPY, 2007-2009), a number of large-scale field studies in both polar environments have been undertaken, aimed at the study of the complex biotic and abiotic processes occurring in all phases (see Figure 1). Sea ice plays a critical role in polar environments: It is a highly reflective surface that interacts with radiation; it provides a habitat for mammals and micro-organisms alike, thus playing a key role in polar trophic processes and elemental cycles; and it creates a saline environment for chemical processes that facilitate release of halogenated gases that contribute to the atmosphere's ability to photochemically cleanse itself in an otherwise low-radiation environment. Ocean-air and sea ice-air interfaces also produce aerosol particles that provide cloud condensation nuclei.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal