Sustainable Modes of Arctic Resource-driven Transformations (SMART)

SMART: An IASS Transdisciplinary Research Project

Dossier (Sustainable Arctic Futures: A Regional and Global Challenge)


The goal of SMART is to contribute to the development of transformative pathways towards sustainable human-nature interactions in the Arctic and in the multi-faceted interplay between Arctic and non-Arctic regions. The Arctic is currently warming twice as fast as most other regions on Earth, vividly exemplified by the decreasing extent and volume of Arctic sea ice over the last decades. These transformations are expected to continue for many decades and the increasing accessibility of the Arctic entangles it more and more with global systems through complex temporal and spatial feedbacks with the dynamic economic, technological, social, legal and political processes within and beyond the Arctic.


The SMART project is unique in its aim of (1) understanding its research process as a tool-building collaborative process with stakeholders for addressing societally relevant topics and problems, and (2) of elucidating and disclosing the tightening connections or links between the Arctic and regional and global economic, technological, legal and political processes. With this understanding of the Arctic as embedded in regional and global processes, SMART aims to develop constructive relationshipsbetween Arctic rights- and stakeholders in and outside the Arctic, and contribute to planning for sustainable Arctic futures, taking into account the multitude of Arctic settings with different climatic, ecological, political, and economic conditions.


Approaching Baffin Island from Greenland © Ilan Chabay

Manifold changes occuring in the Arctic also affect regions beyond the Arctic Circle, such as Europe, North America and Asia. Examples include changing weather patterns in mid-latitudes and related effects on crop yields, air quality, and rising sea levels expected in the case of a significant melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Further, with increasing extraction of Arctic resources and related infrastructure and transport development, Short-lived Climate-Forcing Pollutants (SLCPs including black carbon, methane, and ozone) emissions will rise, which may further accelerate the co-transformation of Europe, Asia, North America and the Arctic. The next decade will be especially critical, as major political and economic decisions will be made despite significant uncertainty on how the Arctic landscape will actually develop.

In the context of these feedback mechanisms and interdependencies between Arctic and non-Arctic regions, investigating Arctic climatic, ecological, social, political, legal, and economic transformations triggered by climate change and mainly driven by resource utilization is highly relevant not just for the Arctic itself, but certainly also beyond the Arctic.

Against this background, the IASS has established a research focus on Sustainable Modes of Arctic Resource-driven Transformations (SMART). The research group consists of an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the social and natural sciences such as economics, political science, sociology, physics, and chemistry. The overarching goal is to contribute meaningfully to scientific understanding, participatory governance, effective decision making at multiple levels, and overall the sustainable development of the Arctic.

The project will be completed in December 2016.

A brief outline and summary of the SMART project SMART_Poster_GSS Phoenix 141008 is available.

Co-leading the research team are Dr. Kathrin Keil (Kathrin.Keil [at] and Professor Ilan Chabay (ilan.chabay [at]