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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Anthropology

Arctic Studies Center

ARCTIC CRASHES is a cross-disciplinary research project with multiple scientific and social perspectives. The idea of this ambitious undertaking is to combine these perspectives to get a more congruent and comprehensive idea of the forces at work in interactions between different organisms in various arctic ecosystems. The understanding gained from ARCTIC CRASHES will be theoretical and practical, as well as historical and applicable to current needs.

In the past, conflicting interpretations of population crashes have been expressed by polar indigenous people, environmentalists, commercial hunters, biologists, and government conservation agencies. By combining disciplines and perspectives, ARCTIC CRASHES aims to create a more unified point of view of population change and the human-animal-habitat relationship.

Anthropology, the study of humankind, social and biological science: Drs. Crowell, Fitzhugh, Krupnik, and Loring will provide the anthropological perspective for ARCTIC CRASHES. By studying archeological sites dating back over the last 1000 years, the team will gain an understanding of the patterns and frequency of population fluctuations amongst arctic indigenous people. The anthropological perspective will play a key role in understanding the nature of human-animal relationships and their impact on population crashes.

Botany, the study of plant life, physical science: Dr. Adey will provide the marine botanical and paleo-environmental perspective for ARCTIC CRASHES. Studying the cycles of plant life recorded in coralline algae in the arctic over the period of study provides important insight into the habitat and ocean climate history that affected human and animal populations

Paleobiology, the study of fossils and current life, physical science: Dr. Pyenson will provide the biological and paleontological perspectives for ARCTIC CRASHES. It is necessary to analyze fossil records to understand population cycles, since the scale of ARCTIC CRASHES stretches far beyond the record of modern study and indigenous testimony. Knowledge of fluctuations from 1000 years ago and earlier is essential in determining whether current fluctuations are unprecedented and caused by modern influences as opposed to natural occurrences.   

Vertebrate Zoology, the study of backboned animals, physical science: Dr. Wilson will provide zoological perspective for ARCTIC CRASHES. Zoology will provide information on the animal side of the human-animal-habitat relationship. The dynamics of large arctic mammal populations are especially important, since they are essential to the subsistence of arctic people.

Science History, humanities: Dr. Madison will provide the history of science perspective for ARCTIC CRASHES. In order to create new research synergies among different disciplines, it is important to understand past methodologies and ways of thinking. Participation of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will help us understand management regimes and preservation efforts.

Environmental Studies, humanities: Dr. Ray will provide the ES perspective for ARCTIC CRASHES. Environmental studies are especially important for understanding population trends given the new paradigm of thinking that is prevalent among environmentalists. The return of the ‘extinction paradigm’ puts greater emphasis on human-induced climate change as a determining factor in the habitat-human-animal relationship. Creating a consensus on the impact of human-induced and natural climate change on arctic populations is a primary goal of ARCTIC CRASHES.

Indigenous Perspective: One of the innovations of ARCTIC CRASHES is the project’s reliance on indigenous knowledge testimony to gain a broader perspective on understanding the causation and consequences of animal population trends in both the terrestrial and marine arctic ecosystems. Laboratory science cannot give us the same in-depth perspective of these ‘full-time ecologists’ who, as a community, constantly dedicate their time to understanding their environment and the species that constitute their ecosystems.

 

Content prepared by Joshua Fiacco

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