New research on climate change and pollution impacts, and adaptation in Arctic coastal communities

Dr. Joan Nymand Larsen in Disko Bay
Dr. Joan Nymand Larsen in Disko Bay

New funding for fieldbased research on climate change and pollution will expand research on the human dimension of climate change at the Stefansson Arctic Institute (SAI). Joan Nymand Larsen, senior scientist and research director at SAI, and professor, faculty of social sciences, University of Akureyri, has received new funding for the next four years for her participation in two newly funded EU projects – ILLUQ (Permafrost – Pollution – Health) led by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and ICEBERG (Innovative Community Engagement for Building Effective Resilience and Arctic Ocean Pollution-Control Governance in the context of Climate Change) led by the University of Oulu. One of the objectives is to study climate change and pollution impacts and adaptation measures in Arctic coastal communities in South and West Greenland, Northeast Iceland, Svalbard, and Arctic Canada. The research (project start January 2024) involves close collaboration across disciplines and sciences among many international partner institutions, and the use of citizen science to work in co-production with local residents and stakeholders.

The total share of the EU funding for the research led by Joan at SAI is 586,000 EUR (86,851,000 ISK), under the Horizon Research and Innovation Actions, with 45,648,680 ISK for ILLUQ and 41,202,380 ISK for ICEBERG. The total consortium grant sum for ILLUQ is 6 million EUR, and for ICEBERG approximately 6 million EUR also.

Jón Haukur Ingimundarson, senior scientist at SAI, and associate professor at University of Akureyri, will be working with Joan, and their team will expand further when the field work gets underway later this year. Joan and Jón Haukur have conducted field-based research in West and South Greenland for many years, and in the Disko Bay region on climate change impacts, adaptation strategies, and social indicators in close co-production with local stakeholders. The newly funded research will enable them and their international collaborators to take important new steps forward in identifying adaptation strategies in close engagement with local communities. Their work in the related EU Horizon 2020 project Nunataryuk has just ended,

Permafrost underlies 22% of the Northern Hemisphere's exposed land surface and is thawing at an alarming rate as a direct consequence of climate change. Permafrost thaw releases large quantities of organic matter and contaminants into the environment. Contaminants, including heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and microbiological agents locked in permafrost, are a risk for both human and animal health. In addition, permafrost thaw dramatically impacts infrastructure in local communities with wide-ranging consequences for health, economy, and society. Yet the social, physical and health components of permafrost thaw have traditionally been studied in isolation, leading to inadequate policy options that ignore the holistic nature of the threat.

In the ILLUQ project and together with their international partners Joan and Jón Haukur will collaborate with local and Indigenous knowledge holders in co-production to study the non-monetary impacts on Arctic communities of past, present and future permafrost degradation, and adaptation and mitigation measures. Case study regions include Disko Bay, West Greenland, Svalbard, and the Mackenzie River Delta in Canada. Joan will also be co-leading work to facilitate mechanisms and processes by which Arctic communities can make informed decisions and can find solutions for adaptation to permafrost thaw.

In the ICEBERG project, which will include field sites in South Greenland and Northeast Iceland, the team investigates the multifaceted and complex effects that pollution, climate change and human activities have on the coast and ocean in the Arctic, posing significant threats to the ecosystem and human health. The project will assess sources, types and distribution of pollutants and study the interconnected effects of human-induced pollution and climate stressors in the Arctic. Joan will be co-leading work together with University of Oulu and others on risk assessment and local resilience strategies for ecosystems and communities in response to pollution and climate factors. The research also involves assessing the perceived and locally observed impacts, risks, and vulnerabilities of stressors on ecosystem health, food security and safety, human health, and well-being. The research consortium is highly interdisciplinary with close collaboration between social and natural sciences and local stakeholders.

ILLUQ: Project duration, January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2027

ICEBERG: Project duration, January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2026

For more information: Joan Nymand Larsen at