Numerous investigations in recent years have shown
that the circumboreal region of the Earth has been warming up. One of
the results has been a gradual increase in vegetation lushness and length
of the growing season in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. However,
Eurasia appears to be especially impacted and greening even more than
North America, with more lush vegetation for longer periods of time.
Evidence is continuing to mount that the northern latitude warming during
the past few decades has been affecting the structure and function of
terrestrial ecosystems in high-latitude regions and may be affecting
regional and global climate systems.
Northern Eurasia is a major player
in the global carbon budget, particularly the boreal forests and peatlands,
as circumpolar boreal forest systems alone contain more than 5 times
the carbon of temperate forests and almost double the amount of carbon
in the World's tropical forests. Climate warming induces natural terrestrial
processes to release more carbon dioxide and methane, which is a particular
concern in the boreal zone where more than 60% of the carbon exists
as peat. Much of the peat is imbedded in permafrost, which may be melting.
Additionally, a warmer boreal zone climate is resulting in more frequent
and larger fires in all of the terrestrial ecosystems. Reasonable models
speculate that these effects could eventually lead to a "runaway
greenhouse" scenario. Aforestation and reforestation may not help
either, as recent research has shown that in large parts of northern
Eurasia, the decrease in surface albedo by forestation is as important
as carbon sequestration in its forcing of climate. As a result, forest
carbon sinks in these regions could exert a much smaller cooling influence
than expected, or even exert an overall warming influence.
As a result, interest within the global
change research community has grown dramatically in the past decade.
Northern Eurasia is a vast area about which relatively little is known
in the Western scientific world, and as the region where temperature
rise is expected to be the greatest, feedbacks to the atmosphere are
potentially large. These effects coupled with the dramatic political
shifts throughout this region in the early 1990's and the attendant
potential for rapid economic development, create the possibility for
large and significant biological, climatic and socioeconomically coupled
land use changes throughout this region.
Science issues for northern Eurasia are growing in
global importance not only in relation to climate change and carbon,
but also for aquatic, arid, and agricultural systems, snow and ice dynamics,
and human health issues among others. For example, these changes have
substantial implications for human livelihoods in high-latitude regions
and elsewhere through effects on subsistence resources (e.g., reindeer
populations and their movements), commercial fisheries resources, infrastructure,
and industrial activity; and they may have consequences for the functioning
of the entire Arctic System. Some of the potential effects include the
way that water and energy are exchanged with the atmosphere, radiatively
active gases are exchanged with the atmosphere, and freshwater is delivered
to the Arctic Ocean. Socioeconomic changes during the past 15 years
are found in the death rate of men increasing by more than six times
and of women by nineteen times with the current average life expectancy
of 37 years for the native peoples in the Russian part of northern Eurasia.
The International Geosphere Biosphere
Program (IGBP) reported
recently that the circumboreal region containing northern Eurasia is
one of the critical "Switch and Choke"
points in the Earth system, and proposed that what is needed for this
region is a "glue" to fit multidisciplinary pieces of research
together into a fully integrated, regional program. Generally, small
and/or "detached" research projects are conducted in this
huge, biologically, hydrologically, and climatically diverse and complicated
region, and the countries and institutions in this region generally
do not have the expertise and/or resources to independently conduct
and coordinate the needed research. At the 12th Meeting of the U.S.-Russian
Earth Science Joint Working Group (ESJWG) held in Moscow in October
2002, NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences formally agreed to work
together to develop a program of research that is called the Northern
Eurasia Earth Science Partnership Initiative, or the NEESPI. The mission
of the NEESPI is to ". . . identify the critical science questions
and establish a program of coordinated research on the state and dynamics
of terrestrial ecosystems in northern Eurasia and their interactions
with the Earth's climate system to enhance scientific knowledge and
develop predictive capabilities to support informed decision-making
and practical applications."
The agreement followed more than two
years of informal discussions and planning between U.S. and Russian
scientists and administrators across Russia and in the U.S. These discussions
culminated in the first formal NEESPI Workshop, which was held at the
Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow in February 2002;
and involved more than 50 participants from many Russian governmental
agencies and private organizations as well as representatives from the
U.S. and Canada.
Now (in July 2006), the Initiative became a truly international endeavour
with participation of scientists from
30 countries. The NEESPI provides a framework for currently funded
investigations (>50 studies during the past 3 years and a new crop
of recently started studies, the number of which is rapidly increasing)
to improve their sharing of resources and data and information, to facilitate
research collaborations and resolving regional bureaucratic issues for
foreign researchers, and to promote study integration and planning.
The NEESPI currently assists in seeking and providing funding for short
term research projects (over the next 2-3 yrs) and seeks to provide
the "glue" (longer term, multi-source funding) for developing
an integrated understanding of the Earth system for this part of the
Currently, the NEESPI leadership is working with national and international
agencies and scientists to implement a program of research to address
key science questions of global significance in Northern Eurasia outlined
in the NEESPI Science Plan. The goal is to have a full NEESPI Project
Implementation in two, three-year phases to begin in year 2006.