Northern deer. Photo: Oleg Kozlov/

The latest Arctic Report Card (ARC), released December 2012 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with contributions from the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), highlights “profound and continuing changes” in the Arctic marine ecosystem, a greening of the Arctic, and some alarming trends in shorebird species, along with other stories of how Arctic wildlife are responding to environmental changes.

The chapters in the report highlight meaningful detectable changes of regional, continental and global significance, suggest key factors responsible for the changes (be it climate, anthropogenic or both) and illustrate the connections between the Arctic marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

The terrestrial section has five chapters that focus on primary producers (vegetation), herbivores (lemmings and caribou/reindeer) and predators (Arctic fox). Another essay highlights changes in Arctic migratory wader (shorebird) populations, which introduces and emphasizes the influence of southern stressors and drivers on Arctic wildlife.

The marine section has six chapters discussing productivity and nutrients, benthos, seabirds, fish and fisheries, marine mammals and a focus on the Barrow Canyon as a region for change detection.

A greening Arctic 

Dryas octopetala. Photo: zimowa/shutterstock.comOver the past 30 years, the typically white landscapes of the Arctic have been turning green, a sign of increased plant cover as a result of warming temperatures. 

The North American Arctic has become 15.5 per cent more green while the Eurasian Arctic has increased 8.2 per cent, according to the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). The greatest “greening” has occurred in the southern most tundra, where biomass has increased 20-26 per cent. Shrubs, grasses and even some flowering plants are expanding their ranges into the Arctic, and the growing season is getting longer.





Sharp and alarming declines in some shorebird populations 

Shorebirds. Photo: Jan van de KammMore than 40 per cent of Arctic waders are in decline, with just nine per cent increasing, according to the report. 

Arctic shorebirds migrate to almost all corners of the world, along extensive migratory corridors, or flyways. When analyzed along their migratory paths, clear and worrying pictures can be apparent, especially as they are good indicators of overall global coastal ecosystem health.

The African-Eurasian flyway is the most stable, with one-quarter of the 46 shorebird populations in decline. In North America, 56 per cent of the 34 populations are in decline. In Central Asia trends are known for only three of 20 populations, and are thought to be stable. In East Asia, all populations with known trends are declining. Hunting, harvesting, pollution and habitat loss are contributing to these dramatic declines.

Unknown effects on Arctic land mammals

Arctic fox. Photo: Carsten Egevang/ARC-PIC.comThe ARC identifies that lemmings are a key species in the Arctic, as their numbers can dramatically alter the composition of the tundra food web, including the productivity of birds and mammals that depend on them for food. The regularity and predictability of lemming population cycles is decaying. Recent studies suggest a link between changes in the lemming population cycle and changes in the characteristics of the snow pack, e.g., duration and number of ice layers, and the subsequent impact on ground conditions, e.g., temperature and ice layers.

The Arctic fox is most directly affected by lemming population dynamics as it is a primary food source. In the European Arctic, the Arctic fox has declined to near extinction because it has not recovered from historical over-harvesting and recent lemming declines. Just 200 individuals remain, compared to over 15,000 in the mid-1800s. In North America, the Arctic fox is abundant. In both regions, the red fox has expanded northward into historic Arctic fox-only territories. The red fox, twice the size of the Arctic fox with about twice the home range area, affects the Arctic fox via competition for resources and predation. 

The ARC also indicates that caribou/reindeer populations appear to be within their natural ranges, and many herds that have experienced declines are beginning to stabilize or increase.


Effects of sea-ice loss 

Sea ice. Photo: Carsten Egevang/shutterstock.comThis year the Arctic summer sea ice extent hit a record low. Sea ice is an important regulator primary productivity, and affects the abundance and composition of algae and phytoplankton, the elements that kick-start the marine food web. New satellite observations suggest that previous estimates of annual primary production in waters may be about ten times too low in places.

Shifts in primary and secondary production have direct impacts on benthic communities. Recent findings include: species range changes in sub-Arctic seas and on inflow shelves; changes in feeding guild composition in the deep Fram Strait; reduction of benthic biomass in the Barents and northern Bering seas; and no apparent change in infaunal biomass in the Kara Sea. Recent sea ice declines have allowed gray whales to stay longer and feed on both benthic amphipods and zooplankton in the Barrow Canyon region of northwest Alaska.

Seabirds, long considered a valuable indicator of changing marine conditions, are showing changes in phenology, diet, foraging behavior and survival rates across the Arctic. Seabirds, it is believed, are responding, at least in part, to warming sea surface temperatures and concurrent changes in prey availability. 



Management and response

CAFF’s Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA) work is highlighted in another section of the ARC. It summarizes what is known about population sizes, trends and distributions for species that inhabit sub-Arctic and Arctic waters. The ABA will create a baseline of information which will be constantly fed by the CBMP to improve rapid detection of system perturbations and provide scientific understanding to support decision-making.

NOAA scientist conducting benthic sampling. Photo: Bodil Bluhm/NOAA

New programs are underway to more effectively measure, monitor and document changes in the marine ecosystem. The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) is an international change detection array for the identification and consistent monitoring of biophysical responses in the Pacific Arctic. One essay highlights provisional results from a production ‘hotspot’ in Barrow Canyon, which was investigated during the DBO pilot program.

During International Polar Year (2007-2009), the first coordinated, year-round sampling of underwater acoustic marine mammal habitats at two sites in the high Arctic documented the seasonal occurrence of both Arctic and sub-Arctic species in Fram Strait (Atlantic Arctic), but only Arctic species on the Chukchi Plateau (Pacific Arctic). The Fram Strait recorders also discovered that Spitzbergen’s bowhead whales were singing almost continuously through the winter, suggesting that this critically endangered population may be larger than previously thought and that Fram Strait may be an important over-wintering area for it.



Mike Gill


Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program

+1 867 334 3258

Mike EP_DOT gill EP_AT ec EP_DOT gc EP_DOT ca 


December 4, 2013, U.S.A.- The Arctic Council, through the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna’s (CAFF) Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (CBMP), has contributed to the Arctic Report Card, an annual report released today by the National Oceanic and Atmoshperic Administration (NOAA) that monitors the often-quickly changing conditions in the Arctic.

The peer-reviewed report contains contributions from 141 authors from 15 countries. For this year's issue CAFF’s CBMP developed and edited the terrestrial and marine ecosystem chapters in cooperation with others, while AMAP organized an independent peer-review process involving international experts.

The Arctic region continued to break records in 2012—among them the loss of summer sea ice, spring snow cover, and melting of the Greenland ice sheet. This was true even though air temperatures in the Arctic were unremarkable relative to the last decade, according to the report.

Major findings include:

  • Snow cover: A new record low snow extent for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June 2012, and a new record low was reached in May over Eurasia.
  • Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 set a new all-time record low, as measured by satellite since 1979.
  • Greenland ice sheet: There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97 percent of the ice sheet on a single day.
  • Vegetation: The tundra is getting greener and there’s more above-ground growth. During the period of 2003-2010, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.
  • Wildlife and food chain: In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction and vulnerable to the encroaching Red fox. Additionally, massive phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may be ten times too low.
  • Ocean: Sea surface temperatures in summer continue to be warmer than the long-term average at the growing ice-free margins, while upper ocean temperature and salinity show significant interannual variability with no clear trends.
  • Weather: Most of the notable weather activity in fall and winter occurred in the sub-Arctic due to a strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation. There were three extreme weather events including an unusual cold spell in late January to early February 2012 across Eurasia, and two record storms characterized by very low central pressures and strong winds near western Alaska in November 2011 and north of Alaska in August 2012.

The major findings listed above reinforce the findings presented in AMAP’s recent assessment of snow, water ice and permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA).

The Arctic Report Card was released today at a press briefing at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco, California. For more information on this year’s report please visit the Arctic Report Card 2012 webpage.



Mike Gill


Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program

Whitehorse, Canada (PST, -8GMT)

+1 867 334 3258





Linda Joy

NOAA Communciations

Silver Springs, Maryland (EST, -5GMT)

+1 301 734 1165

Inge Thaulow, Greenland and Ramsar Secretary General Anada Tiéga signing the Resolution of CooperationgaJuly 12, 2013- Bucharest, Romania- Today the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna and the Ramsar Secretariat signed a Resolution of Cooperation, at the 11th Ramsar Conference of the Parties, in Bucharest, Romania, bringing the two organizations together to raise awareness and promote the importance of Arctic wetlands.

The Resolution of Cooperation recognizes the mutual importance of Arctic wetlands to both organizations, and highlights potential opportunities to collectively build and share knowledge, create awareness and enhance capacity for understanding change in these important ecosystems.

Inge Thaulow, CAFF National Representative, Greenland and Secretary General Anada Tiéga signed the paperwork at a CAFF side event “For Peat’s Sake! Arctic Wetlands in a Warming World” that discussed the status, trends and conservation of Arctic wetlands.


During the presentation Inge Thaulow provided an introduction to CAFF and the Arctic Council, then Tatiana Minayeva of Wetlands International presented on the diversity and distribution of these unique ecosystems, highlighting threats and conservation activities. Lars Dinesen, representative of Denmark on behalf of the Faroe Islands then presented on the first Ramsar sites in the Faroe Islands, designated by Denmark in June . Tom Barry, Executive Secretary of CAFF then discussed CAFF‘s cooperation with international bodies including the Ramsar Convention and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). CAFF and the CBD already have a Resolution of Cooperation in place.

CAFF's side event on Arctic wetlands was attended by approximately 35 people. Photo: IISD

Later that day Tom Barry signed an additional Resolution of Cooperation with the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) to contribute to international cooperation and build capacity regarding the conservation of migratory waterbird species within the African-Eurasian flyways.

Bert Lenten, UNEP/CMS, and Tom Barry, CAFF, signed an agreement between the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and CAFF while Barbara Ruis, UNEP, looked on. Photo: IISD

For more information

CAFF has teamed up with the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) to provide early career scientists with an excellent opportunity to become involved in CAFF's Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP).

CAFF has asked APECS to nominate representatives to participate in the CBMP, an international network of scientists, government agencies, Indigenous organizations and conservation groups working together to harmonize and integrate efforts to monitor the Arctic's living resources.

CBMP experts are developing four coordinated and integrated Arctic Monitoring Plans to help guide circumpolar monitoring efforts. Results will be channelled into effective conservation, mitigation and adaptation policies supporting the Arctic. These plans represent the Arctic's major ecosystems:

APECS is asked to nominate representative’s to help implement the Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Plan within each of the following expert groups:

  • Plankton
  • Benthos
  • Seabirds
  • Marine mammals
  • Fish
  • Sea ice biota 

Find out more about the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Plan.

The role of early career scientists would be to assist in the tasks of aggregating and analysing the data within each expert network which would then subsequently be published and presented in assessments with key findings to the Arctic Council.  Early career scientists would gain experience of working on an international level and also on bridging science and policy, gain experience and insight into how science can inform policy and muchmore.

If you are a PhD student or PostDoc working on one of the themes mentioned above and are interested in these great opportunities, then please email info EP_AT apecs EP_DOT is with a single PDF of a statement of interest, noting your research interests, experience and your CV by 10 November 2012

April 23, 2012, Montreal, Canada — International Polar Year 2012: From Knowledge to Action 

Seal on ice. Photo: Garry Donaldson CLICK TO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA USE

Arctic marine mammals, fish, and birds are undergoing some surprising trends that, in some instances, can be partially linked to climate oscillations and changes in commercial harvest, according to a new report released by the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), the cornerstone program of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the Arctic Council’s biodiversity working group. 

The report identified that pelagic fishes (those living close to the surface of the water, as opposed to those living near the ocean bottom) were strongly linked to a large-scale climate oscillation (the Arctic Oscillation). This includes such commercially important species as Pacific herring, ocean perch and Arctic cisco. 

“This was the thing that surprised us the most and illustrates the power of conducting large-scale analyses such as this,” says Mike Gill, Chair of the CBMP. “Understanding these linkages will improve management of these species.” 

Walruses. Photo: Garry Donaldson CLICK TO DOWNLOAD FOR MEDIA USE

This linkage was able to help account for a dramatic increase of vertebrate species in the Pacific Ocean, and an average decline in the Atlantic Ocean. Other factors, including commercial harvest, help account for these differing trends as well. 

The report is the result of new analysis of the Arctic Species Trend Index (ASTI), a tool that contains information on 890 populations of 323 species of Arctic vertebrates. The ASTI allows scientists to track broad trends in the Arctic’s living resources and identify potential causes of changes, whether they are responses to natural phenomena or human-induced stressors. 

“The ASTI is a valuable tool. It is helping to conserve and protect the Arctic by reducing the time between the identification of a threat, and an effective evidence-based policy response,” says Gustav Lind, Senior Arctic Officials Chair of the Arctic Council. “This is the type of work that makes the Arctic Council the preeminent and authoritative voice in the Arctic.” 



Other findings of interest 

  • Arctic marine species have increased overall, driven by rising mammal populations and dramatic increases in fish populations. 
  • Overall, the marine fish index dramatically increased, with trends in marine fish differing depending on ocean region. There is an unabated decline in the Atlantic. 
  • Overall marine mammals increased across all ocean regions, levelling off in the mid-1990s. Some mammals are recovering from historical exploitation, however, increasing populations of species like the gray whale, bowhead whale and Greenlandic walrus have not likely returned to historical levels. 
  • Marine birds slowly increased until the mid-1980s, then in 1998 began a slow and steady decline. This may be related to changes in climate, sea ice and food availability, but the causes may vary depending on the species, thus caution in interpreting the results is needed. 
  • The marine bird decline in recent years may be the beginning of a longer-term decline. It will be important to monitor this over the coming years. 
  • Three of the nine sea-ice associated species showed declines: ringed seal, beluga whale, and thick-billed guillemot. However, the data in the ASTI is not enough to calculate an overall trend index for sea-ice associated species. Given the lack of data, rapid changes in sea ice and concerning declining trends in some species, sea-ice associated species are a priority for targeted monitoring. 
  • The Atlantic Ocean is experiencing an average decline in vertebrate abundance thought to be driven, in part, by Arctic climate-driven regime shifts possibly operating in tandem with exploitation effects (commercial fishing). 
  • The Arctic Ocean is experiencing a small average increase in vertebrate abundance, driven by increases in fish and mammals since 1988. 
  • The Pacific Ocean experienced a dramatic increase in vertebrate abundance up until the early 1990s, likely driven by increases in recovering populations of mammals, and increases in pelagic fish strongly associated with changing marine conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures. 

These recent ASTI analyses were a collaborative effort between the CBMP, the Zoological Society of London, and the World Wildlife Fund. Further information can be found at  

For more images available for media use please click here.



Mike Gill, +1 867 334-3258, mike EP_DOT gill EP_AT ec EP_DOT gc EP_DOT ca 

Chair, Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program 











Tom Barry, +354 461-3350, tom EP_AT caff EP_DOT is 

Executive Secretary, Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna 


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