The primary objective of the Arctic Research and Policy Act, enacted by the US Congress in 1984 (and amended in 1990), is to define US national priorities and goals in the Arctic and to serve as a comprehensive policy and planning device for the expansion of US federal scientific activities in this region. The Act encompasses applied scientific research on "natural resources and materials, physical, biological and health sciences and social and behavioral sciences," and cites a wide range of research fields: weather and climate; national defense; renewable and nonrenew-able resources; transportation; communication and space-disturbance effects; environmental protection; health, culture and socioeconomic factors; and international cooperation.
The legislation designated the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the lead US federal agency in Arctic research. The legislation established two new bodies. The first, an Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), consists of representatives from 12 US federal departments and agencies, which would develop a national Arctic research policy and an Arctic research plan for implementing this policy. On a working level, each of the member departments and agencies appoint staff representatives for IARPC and for any working groups that may be required. The second body was an Arctic Research Commission composed of seven members appointed by the President of the United States to develop recommendations on Arctic research policy. While members of IARPC are all public officials, the membership of the Arctic Research Commission is recruited from academia, indigenous residents, and private industry. The Commission issues a biennial statement outlining goals and priorities that could be used in the development of the plan.
Although the United States, through the state of Alaska, has a large geographic presence in the Arctic region, the polar activities of the US government have been divided between the Arctic and Antarctica. Many NSF scientists, for instance, handle both Arctic and
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Antarctic research; few are dedicated solely to Arctic issues. The passage of the legislation, therefore, created an impetus toward ensuring US federal coordination on Arctic issues, by highlighting such gaps in research as the need for a stronger infrastructure of logistical support. The first United States Arctic Research Plan was published in 1987; this plan is revised every two years.
One consistent theme in the reports of both of the above-noted bodies created by this legislation is the need for international cooperation with other Arctic nations. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of avenues to multilateral cooperation, this has presented the United States with a number of opportunities, such as the International Arctic Science Committee, first established in August 1990, the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy established in June 1991, and the intergovernmental Arctic Council established in 1996. IARPC agencies have played a key role in the establishment and work of each of these bodies.
The Arctic Research and Policy Act has been an effective instrument in highlighting the need for a coordinated US federal role in Arctic research, in conveying the need for such research to the American public and, as international circumstances changed with the end of the Cold War, for ensuring that the United States has been able to participate effectively with other Arctic nations and nongovernmental organizations in a newly emerging Arctic region.
See also Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS); Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation
Arctic Research of the United States. This journal, published since 1991 by the National Science Foundation, publishes biennial revisions to the United States Arctic Research Plan as is required by legislation. It also summarizes meetings of the IARPC and the Arctic Research Commission
Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, United States Arctic Research Plan, Washington, District of Columbia: National Science Foundation, 1987
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