, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 56–65 | Cite as

Detecting and Coping with Disruptive Shocks in Arctic Marine Systems: A Resilience Approach to Place and People

  • Eddy Carmack
  • Fiona McLaughlin
  • Gail Whiteman
  • Thomas Homer-Dixon


It seems inevitable that the ongoing and rapid changes in the physical environment of the marine Arctic will push components of the region’s existing social-ecological systems—small and large—beyond tipping points and into new regimes. Ongoing changes include warming, freshening, acidification, and alterations to food web structure. In anticipation we pose three distinct but interrelated challenges: (1) to explore existing connectivities within components of the marine system; (2) to seek indicators (if they exist) of approaching regime change through observation and modeling; and (3) to build functional resilience into existing systems through adaptation-oriented policy and to have in hand transformative options when tipping points are crossed and new development trajectories are required. Each of the above challenges is scale dependent, and each requires a much deeper understanding than we currently have of connectivity within existing systems and their response to external forcing. Here, we argue from a global perspective the need to understand the Arctic’s role in an increasingly nonlinear world; then describe emerging evidence from new observations on the connectivity of processes and system components from the Canada Basin and subarctic seas surrounding northern North America; and finally posit an approach founded in “resilience thinking” to allow northern residents living in small coastal communities to participate in the observation, adaption and—if necessary—transformation of the social-ecological system with which they live.


Arctic Ocean Climate change Biogeochemical systems Resilience Regime shifts 



We wish to recognize encouragement and intellectual inspiration from CS (Buzz) Holling, Brian Walker, Bob Dickson and Paul Wassmann. We are deeply grateful to our colleagues Koji Shimada, Bill Williams, Andrey Proshutinsky, Rick Krishfield, Sarah Zimmermann, Jane Eert, and Mike Dempsey, to our dedicated science teams and to the officers and crews of the CCGS Louis S. St‐Laurent and CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier. We acknowledge financial support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the US National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs (grant OPP‐0424864) and the Canadian International Polar Year Federal Program Office.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eddy Carmack
    • 1
  • Fiona McLaughlin
    • 1
  • Gail Whiteman
    • 2
  • Thomas Homer-Dixon
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Ocean SciencesSidneyCanada
  2. 2.Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Balsillie School of International AffairsUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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