This paper briefly reviews the background, objectives, and results of the Arctic Transitions in the Land-Atmosphere System (ATLAS) Project to date and provides thoughts on future directions. The key goal of the ATLAS Project is to improve understanding of controls over spatial and temporal variability of terrestrial processes in the Arctic that have potential consequences for the climate system, i.e., processes that affect the exchange of water and energy with the atmosphere, the exchange of radiatively active gases with the atmosphere, and the delivery of freshwater to the Arctic Ocean. Three important conclusions have emerged from research associated with the ATLAS Project. First, associated with the observation that the Alaskan Arctic has warmed significantly in the last 30 years, permafrost is warming, shrubs are expanding, and there has been a temporary release of carbon dioxide from tundra soils. Second, the winter is a more important period of biological activity than previously appreciated. Biotic processes, including shrub expansion and decomposition, affect snow structure and accumulation and affect the annual carbon budget of tundra ecosystems. Third, observed vegetation changes can have a significant positive feedback to regional warming. These vegetation effects are, however, less strong than those exerted by land-ocean heating contrasts and the topographic constraints on air mass movements. The papers of this special section provide additional insights related to these conclusions and to the overall goal of ATLAS.
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Arctic transitions in the Land - Atmosphere System (ATLAS): Background, objectives, results, and future directions