Northern Eurasia Earth Science Partnership Initiative


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 globe.
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.