contemporary observing systems, methodologies, and networks,2 in addition to the body of local and traditional environmental knowledge, are all potential components of a pan-arctic network, which, in turn, can fit into a global-scale observing network.

Despite the long history of arctic observations, long-term records are incomplete, and there are measurement gaps in all domains. It is also difficult to compare data across disciplines. Many voids exist because measurement programs are inadequate or because of technological limitations created by the harsh conditions and remoteness. In addition, some areas have lost measurement capabilities as gauges and observatories have been decommissioned due to lack of resources. Declines in surface-based observations erode the capability to validate satellite imagery, thus also undermining the usefulness of that data source. Finally, many of the observational data that do exist come from specific research projects that collected data in limited areas for short periods of time. As such, continuity in time and space is rarely the result of a larger plan. Most existing science planning efforts address specific questions, processes, time scales, or regions, and they gather just the data needed for the specific project. The overlay of a comprehensive AON could supply the wide-area, long-term observations needed to track the state of the Arctic and understand how the system functions as part of the global environmental system.


The U.S. National Science Foundation, through its Office of Polar Programs, requested guidance from the U.S. National Academies3 to help design a pan-arctic observing network. Given the nature of this task, the study committee appointed to conduct the work was international in membership, and many efforts were made to include international input during the study and report review. The Committee was asked to develop an overarching philosophy and conceptual foundation for an AON and, where possible, provide advice to move the concept toward implementation. Because the network would necessarily build on existing efforts rather than duplicate them, the Committee was asked to review the purposes and extent of existing and planned global observing systems and platforms and to highlight critical spatial, temporal, or disciplinary gaps. In addition, the Committee was asked to identify key variables of importance to the Arctic, describe the infrastructure and approach needed to create a comprehensive network, comment on how to ensure sound data and information management and access, and recommend a strategy to ensure efficient, coordinated implementation and operation of the network.

To conduct its work, the Committee met five times over 15 months to gather information, deliberate, and write this report. The Committee held two workshops. The first was in Anchorage, Alaska, and focused on North American perspectives. The second was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and sought more international perspectives.

The Committee’s report has seven chapters and begins with a summary of the motivations for an AON and the vision and context for the network. Chapter 2 then describes a process for identifying key variables to measure in the network and presents a list of 31 variables spanning physical, biogeochemical, and human domains. Chapter 3 contains an overview of existing observational activities and gaps, and is supported by an extensive annex that illustrates the range of programs, observatories, networks, satellites, data centers, and coordination activities upon which the AON could build. Chapter 4 presents a data management strategy for the AON and a series of implementation recommendations for data management. Chapter 5 covers options and strategies for network design, including philosophical considerations, network components, measurement approaches, principles and strategies for deciding where to make observations, and the role of technology. Chapter 6 presents detailed ideas and recommendations for implementing the AON, organized under four functional themes that work in parallel to enhance the network. These detailed ideas are summarized in the Committee’s overarching recommendations in Chapter 7.


An integrated, complete, dynamic, and multidisciplinary environmental observing network will improve society’s understanding of and ability to respond to ongoing systemic changes in the Arctic and its capability to anticipate, predict, and respond to future change both in the Arctic and around the globe. The data flowing from this network could contribute to a wide range of programs and activities, including research studies, decision-support tools, and integrated environmental assessments that help decision makers understand what is happening and, as appropriate, adopt adaptation and mitigation measures.

Recommendation 1: An Arctic Observing Network should be initiated using existing activities and with the flexibility and resources to expand and improve to satisfy current and future scientific and operational needs. In its initial phase, the network should monitor selected key variables consistently across the arctic system.

A number of important internationally coordinated efforts with relevance to observing the arctic system are being


For example, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP), International Arctic Buoy Programme (IABP), International Tundra Experiment (ITEX), Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), etc.


The National Academies is the comprehensive term used to encompass the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.

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