The Role of Scaling in Societal Applications: Public and Private Infrastructure Vulnerabilities

Publication Type

Book Chapter

Date Published



The large number of examples paints the picture of an Arctic experiencing rapid, arguably unprecedented, and ongoing environmental change. Such change, from a biogeophysical perspective, cascades into many domains—land and coastline permafrost degradation, sea ice retreat, winds and waves leading to coastal erosion, changes in vegetation, longer ice-free seasons, "greening" of the Arctic, waterlogging of soils, more variable weather, including extremes of cold or warm, icing, flooding, droughts, and increased incidence of fire. These linked changes in the Arctic environment are fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature and require system-level, synthetic, and multi-scale thinking. But the change also reverberates into many societally relevant domains: damage to and loss of civil infrastructure due to permafrost degradation, reduction in ice-dependent transportation routes over land, coastal infrastructure battered by waves, northward migration of pathogens and vectors affecting human health, sea ice retreat leading to coastal erosion, fires and smoke affecting navigation and infrastructure, pest outbreaks, and loss of species, including traditionally hunted/fished species. Although there will be many, clearly positive, effects, including access to ocean shipping, resource extraction, and new fisheries, preliminary assessment indicates substantial negative impacts from climate change alone—of billions if not tens of billions of dollars for the State of Alaska to year 2030. Such estimates are generated by extrapolating site-specific damage assessments through spatial extrapolation to the domain of the entire state—fundamentally a scaling issue, but one with substantial uncertainty surrounding it, as will be discussed below. It is thus important to identify the readiness of the research and assessment community across a wide spectrum of applications. Identifying and filling key gaps in science and technology readiness today helps to forestall delays in acquiring policy-actionable knowledge upon which future climate change adaptation can be based. Focus again will be on climate change, as an overriding backdrop of Arctic system change and as a principal forcing that will challenge policymakers and managers. Seven societal applications are presented: Arctic human health, climate change mitigation and adaptation, infrastructure at risk, subsistence fisheries, non-renewable resource extractions, sea ice navigation, and oil spill response and restoration.

Book Title

Scaling Studies in Arctic System Science and Policy Support

Year of Publication



U.S.Arctic Research Commission


Research Areas: