Introduction

Vulnerability of Cryospheric and Socio-Economic Systems was an Exploratory Workshop funded by a grant from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia awarded to Principal Investigator Olav Slaymaker, Department of Geography.

The circumpolar environment is subject to two major driving forces: climate change and land cover change. These are polar specific instances of world-wide accelerated environmental change. Climate change has received the most intense investigation over the past decade. Land cover change and associated anthropogenic processes have received less attention. This workshop responded to one of the three recommendations contained in the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment: to assess the vulnerabilities to disturbance of major cryospheric and socio-economic systems in the circumpolar world.

The workshop emphasized terrestrial processes because these have been neglected compared to coupled atmosphere-ocean processes; the interaction between people and environment is most evident on land, where the 3.6 million residents of the circumpolar world live; and the system at risk is the integrated 'atmosphere-ocean-land-people system.' This system needs to be assessed in terms of the current and progressive state of degradation, with attention to the possibility, at some point, of ecological collapse. The major cryospheric systems (snow, river and lake ice, glaciers, permafrost, ice sheets and sea ice) and socio-economic systems (communities, economies, cultures and political groups) in the circumpolar world was discussed and debated in relation to their sensitivity to disturbance and their current status in relation to global environmental change.