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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


July-August 2017

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Treating Arctic Ecosystems as Systems

Why should we be concerned about shipping in Arctic waters? What would be the consequences of commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean? How do we anticipate the effects of climate change in the far north?

If we are to conserve and sustain Arctic ecosystems, we need to approach questions of this kind in terms of systems. An ecosystem has no leader to orchestrate the actions of its many constituent parts. Instead, the way it functions arises solely from the interactions of its component species (humans included), habitats, and physical features as they affect one another, directly and indirectly. The complexity that emerges from these many modes of interaction may frustrate clear understanding, including the ability to predict the outcomes of human actions, but we must address it nonetheless. In large part, this means recognizing the limits of our knowledge and acting with caution and care.


Henry P. Huntington is a senior officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts, where he directs the science work of its Arctic programs.

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