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Rapid Landscape Change and Human Response in the Arctic
An Interdisciplinary Meeting, June 15-17, 2005, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

First Circular April 30, 2004


Human development, especially over the last 11,500 years (the Holocene), has taken place against an environmental backdrop of climatic and geological instability. Sudden and dramatic climatic shifts and extreme biophysical events have always ensured that nature is in flux, not static balance. Evidence of contemporary climate and environmental change is clearly evident in the Arctic. The peoples of the region are witness to a range of effects on landscapes, ecosystems and on their traditional way of life, which has much in common with other hunter-gatherer societies. The Arctic region may, thus, yield important insights into basic human responses to rapid change, whether climate-induced or not.

How did past human communities adapt to and recover from an ever-moving and frequently harmful natural background? What lessons are there from the past to aid future adaptation to rapid change? And, most critically, how can we disentangle the environmental and cultural consequences of natural change from those of human actions?

These questions are at the core of a series of interdisciplinary meetings being jointly organized in 2004 and 2005 by the three international activities described below. Other sessions are focussing on arid, lacustrine, fluvial and coastal environments where major natural changes have had profound effects on people and ecosystems in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and South America.


The 3-day Yukon conference will review current research on the effects of climate and landscape change in the Arctic. It will bring together an interdisciplinary forum of geologists, geographers, archaeologists, climate scientists, ecologists, historians, anthropologists, and environmental philosophers to examine the past and present impacts of rapid environmental change on northern people and ecosystems.

Research presentations are encouraged that seek to reconstruct the environmental history of environmental and cultural transitions or to unravel the cultural history of major environmental downturns. Contributions with an emphasis on establishing high-resolution chronologies of environmental and cultural change are particularly welcome. Discussion sessions will work on ways to communicate lessons learned to both the general public and environmental planners and authorities. Participants will be encouraged to go beyond standard scientific research findings. Topics will include:

Holocene environmental change
Tracking current landscape change
Human pre-history and responses to changes on land and sea
The people's story - anthropology and legends
Human vs non-human drivers
Lessons for adaptation
Acknowledging natural change in thought and action
While the main focus will be the Arctic and sub-Arctic, presentations will also be welcome on catastrophic and rapid environmental changes in other regions.


Many participants will be from the earth and other natural sciences, but they will find themselves in dialogue with social scientists and scholars from the humanities. The goal is to identify insights valuable not only to the circum-Arctic region but also to other areas facing rapid environmental change.

Efforts will be made to ensure that young researchers are well represented, and that there is meaningful dialogue with representatives of northern peoples.


A field trip to key sites for climate change, paleo-environmental and archaeological research in the Yukon will take place immediately following the workshop.


Conference papers and a summary of the discussions will be published in journal and/or book form.


The registration fee is tentatively set at $100 Canadian. Funds to subsidize younger researchers will be available.


The meeting is being organized under the aegis of three international research projects. The ICSU/IUGS/INQUA* project "Dark Nature - Rapid Natural Change and Human Responses" and IGCP* Project 490 on "The Role of Holocene Environmental Catastrophes in Human History" are both working to refine the record of rapid environmental changes affecting physical environments and ecosystems during the Holocene, and to examine how past societies and communities reacted in the face of harmful change. The IUGS Geoindicators Initiative works to emphasize the importance of tracking rapid (< 100 years) geological change, especially in environmental and ecosystem assessment and reporting. All three activities are exploring the implications of rapid natural change for current environmental and public policies and practices.

Canadian sponsors include the Northern Node of the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Network (C-CIARN) and the Northern Climate Exchange.

Expressions of interest are welcome, with an indication of the titles of proposed presentations (as posters or oral papers). A Second Circular will be distributed in late 2004, with full information on costs, schedules, and deadlines.

As they become available, details will be posted on

Further information from Dr. Antony Berger, Co-Director IUGS Geoindicators Initiative, Victoria BC (

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