Observable changes, many of which have regional and global implications, are under way in the arctic atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, and human sphere. Although the Arctic is not the only region on Earth affected by environmental change, it poses special problems and concerns. It is a region with a limited record of observations—low density, and with limited duration and coordination—and yet, despite these constraints, rapid and systemic changes have clearly been identified. The interconnectedness of physical, biological, chemical, and human components, together with the high amplitude of projected changes, make a compelling argument for an improved observation infrastructure that delivers a coherent set of pan-arctic, long-term, multidisciplinary observations. Without such observations, it is very difficult to describe current conditions in the Arctic, let alone understand the changes that are under way or their connections to the rest of the Earth system. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA, 2004) notes that “[r]econstructions of the past have been limited by available information, both proxy and instruments. The Arctic is a region of large natural variability and regional differences and it is important more uniform coverage be obtained to clarify past changes. In order for the quantitative detection of change to be more specific in the future, it is essential that steps be taken now to fill in observational gaps across the Arctic, including the oceans, land, ice and atmosphere.”
This report presents the potential scope, composition, and strategies for implementing an Arctic Observing Network (AON). Such a network would build on existing capabilities, span disciplines, nationalities, and cultures, and provide near real-time reporting of the state of the arctic environment and long time-series of observations. These observations will improve the capacity to detect and predict changes, especially given increased knowledge about how environmental changes interact with social, political, cultural, and economic drivers within and outside the arctic system. Data from this network will enable scientists, policy makers, resource users, and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions about how to prepare for, mitigate, take advantage of, and otherwise respond to the challenges created by changing arctic conditions.
This introductory chapter has three parts. The first part summarizes the need for arctic observations. The second part provides details about the focus, organization, and scope of the report. The third part presents context and the Committee’s vision for the AON, including its main functions and characteristics.
THE NEED FOR ARCTIC OBSERVATIONS
Rapid Arctic Change with Global Implications
Changes in the Arctic come in many forms—for example, those relating to climate, to pollution, and to social drivers (AMAP, 1998; ACIA, 2004; AHDR, 2004). Recent climate-related changes in the Arctic have attracted international attention (e.g., ACIA, 2004; Box 1.1). Drying soils and warming temperatures are increasing the prevalence of shrubs over tundra (Sturm et al., 2001) and creating a positive feedback for climate warming through changes in albedo (Chapin et al., 2005). In addition, increases in invasive plants, animals, and fish in the Arctic create new threats to endemic species and natural ecosystem interactions (Vitousek et al., 1997). Further, while reduced sea ice extent is likely to expand shipping, fishing, and oil extraction opportunities, the disappearance of seasonal sea ice could be devastating for polar bears (Derocher et al., 2004), ice-dependent seals (Kelly, 2001), and subsistence hunters who depend on these animals.
Many of the rapid changes being experienced in the Arctic have impacts on society and especially on people who live there (Krupnik and Jolly, 2002; Huntington and Fox, 2005). Arctic residents are economically, ethnically, and culturally diverse, and while the impacts of environmental change depend on local circumstances, the costs often have geographic and societal effects. For example, in communities
Temperature Across the Arctic
located along receding shorelines, increased coastal erosion is commonplace because of more frequent and severe storms and decreased protection by sea ice, with subsequent ecological and economic costs. Communities and industries (e.g., oil and natural gas extractors) that depend on winter ice roads are losing transportation flexibility as the length of the winter season shrinks (NRC, 2003). Thawing permafrost will damage roads and buildings over wide areas (Nelson et al., 2001, 2002).
Climate-related changes by no means provide the sole justification for an AON. Existing observation networks such as the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) have documented other needs, such as those created by unexpected and potentially dangerous long-distance dispersal and biomagnification of contaminants to high latitudes, including their effects on indigenous food resources (AMAP, 1998). In some cases, the highest human exposures on Earth for specific contaminants occur in the Arctic (AMAP, 2004).
Recent change has also come to human social systems including self-government in Greenland, economic collapse in much of the Russian Arctic, industrial development in the Alaskan Arctic, and establishment of Nunavut, Canada, a territory with a majority indigenous population. Thus, the climate-related changes in the Arctic that are arguably attracting the most attention are occurring in the context of changes to government and economic structures, concerns about pollutant transport and the long-term health of arctic peoples, and viability of subsistence food resources.
Arctic environmental changes are likely to have global influence, primarily through coupling in the atmosphere and oceans. An example is the connection between runoff into the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation (Peterson et al., 2002). Increases in freshwater runoff are expected to affect ocean stratification, circulation, and global climate processes because of the potential of freshwater to reduce vertical thermohaline circulation (Schiller et al., 1997; Weaver et al., 1999; Otterå et al., 2003). Melting glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland Ice Sheet also contribute to global sea level rise. Accelerated wastage observed in the 1990s in Alaska alone accounts for as much as half of the current 1 mm per year rise in global sea level that is due
to glacial retreat worldwide1 (Arendt et al., 2002). This slow rise could increase if the mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet is affected by additional warming (Krabill et al., 2000). Changes in land, lake, and sea ice cover, in addition to changes in seasonal snow cover, also impart a strong albedo feedback that is quickly transmitted to the global atmosphere. Finally, there is the potential impact of reduced arctic sea-ice extent on trans-arctic shipping routes, with far-reaching effects that will influence decisions to expand the Panama Canal and international investments in ship building and ports.
Models Inadequate to Represent the Arctic
Observations and models show the Arctic to be one of Earth’s most sensitive regions to climate change. Nonetheless, most general ocean and atmospheric circulation models are not as effective as they could be in representing northern regions. There are two reasons. First, the models do not have sufficient observational data to adequately reproduce the state of the Arctic Ocean, sea ice, and atmosphere. Second, the models do not adequately incorporate critical system-level feedbacks or reflect the chaotic physics of arctic climate. These deficiencies highlight the need for (i) observational data for model calibration and validation, and (ii) model improvement by inclusion of new processes, feedback mechanisms, and assimilation of observational data by reanalysis. In addition, models could be improved by incorporating underused sources of observations, such as the local and traditional knowledge of arctic residents.
Low Density and Limited Duration of Observations
The insufficient duration and density of measurements mentioned earlier in the quote from ACIA (2004) stems in part from logistical challenges presented by sea ice, winter darkness, and harsh climatic conditions. The basic infrastructure for supporting scientific observations in the Arctic is also weak. For infrastructure components such as river gauges, for example, funding support has waned and there has been a widespread loss of hydrological monitoring networks over the past 15 years in the United States, Canada, and Russia (Shiklomanov et al., 2002). There is also a paucity of coastal marine laboratories and only a small number of land-based stations that operate on a year-round basis. In addition, there is no running seawater system2 designed for marine biological experiments anywhere on the coasts of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas—a capability taken for granted at most Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic coastal marine laboratories belonging to the National Association of Marine
Humans have been observing and responding to changing conditions in the Arctic for thousands of years, beginning with localized bodies of knowledge (Figure 1.1). Arctic observations began to be linked into a network with knowledge transfer through the oral traditions of indigenous cultures, written records of the Viking era, and accounts of whalers and trappers. Such local observations and knowledge are now increasingly complemented by an expanding array of semi-permanent monitoring sites and automated sensors linked to sophisticated computer systems and digital databases.
Laboratories.3 The marine station at Ny-Ålesund (on Svalbard) is possibly the only arctic scientific facility with running seawater at in situ temperatures. On a broader scale, the World Ocean Circulation Experiment—the most recent and ambitious internationally coordinated ocean measurement program—did not occupy stations in any of the deep basins of the Arctic Ocean beyond Fram Strait or north of Nunivat Island in the Bering Sea.4 From a biological perspective, observations in the Arctic have been so limited that the wintering area for the entire world population of the spectacled eider was unknown until the mid-1990s (Petersen et al., 1999).
Observations have, nonetheless, been made for many millennia (Box 1.2). A major incentive for the Committee’s work came from Schlosser et al.’s (2003) report, which states that improvements in research access, communications, sampling, and observational capabilities within the Arctic over the past decade are at least “partially responsible for the scientific evidence documenting the rapid environmental changes occurring in the Arctic.” Some excellent observational data are now being collected from various platforms across the Arctic. To advance the observing network toward a state of seamless data integration, it is critical that current observational systems be continued, critical gaps are filled, and observations from established and maintained instrumented platforms such as satellites, ocean buoys and moorings, weather stations, and other observational methodologies become integrated across disciplines, nations, and cultures, including linkages to local and traditional knowledge.
REPORT PURPOSE AND STRUCTURE
The National Science Foundation, through its Office of Polar Programs, asked the National Academies to appoint an independent committee to provide guidance to help design an arctic land, atmosphere, and ocean observing network. The Committee was asked to provide thoughts on the overarching philosophy and conceptual foundation for such an international network and, where possible, provide concrete advice to move the concept toward implementation. Specifically, the Committee was asked to:
Provide an overarching philosophy of design for a comprehensive AON and identify key variables that must be monitored.
Briefly review the purposes and extent of existing and planned global observing systems and platforms, highlighting critical spatial, temporal, or disciplinary gaps of importance to the Arctic.
Describe the infrastructure and approach needed to create a comprehensive AON, including advice on types, number, and the distribution of network components; where observations might be effectively made; and the role that remote sensing and novel technologies might play. This discussion should explore two levels: an “ideal” network and a “minimal” network to help illustrate choices that may need to be made during implementation.
Comment on how to ensure sound data and information management and access in this type of network, using perspectives from data managers, those generating data, and those who use or might use the data.
Recommend a strategy to ensure efficient, coordinated implementation and operation of an AON, including methods to ensure that data products from different sensors are spatially and temporally consistent, processes that could be used to design the optimal mix of observations and test for data redundancies, and approaches that could be used to keep the network current and cost effective.
The structure of this report tracks closely to the order of the Committee’s tasks. The Committee lays out a design philosophy (part of Task 1) in the remainder of this chapter. Because this responsibility for system design is complex, the Committee found it useful also to include functions and characteristics of the AON within the umbrella of system design. These examples and outcomes are used to understand how the observing system should be philosophically designed (i.e., operationally the “look and feel” of the completed AON). The second part of this task, identifying key variables, is discussed in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 summarizes global and other major networks and identifies critical observation gaps (Task 2). Chapter 4 discusses data management and access (Task 4, with aspects of Task 5)—the “backbone” of the network. Chapter 5 covers network design (Task 3 with aspects of Task 5) and Chapter 6 provides detailed implementation steps that could make the network function efficiently (Task 5). Chapter 7 collects the Committee’s overarching recommendations. Each of these recommendations is supported by the specific implementation steps in the preceding chapter.
COMPLEXITIES FOR OBSERVING NETWORK DEVELOPMENT
Inclusiveness of the AON Concept
Because of the way the Committee views the AON—that observations in the Arctic have been made for thousands of years and existing networks have gradually matured with occasional accelerated growth or improved interconnectedness—the AON concept is inclusive of all arctic observations and related supporting activities and people.
Accepting the Complexity of the Arctic
Although the Arctic is often mistakenly viewed as a simple ecosystem with fewer species and less dense human populations than other regions of the globe, in fact, it represents a sophisticated complex of physical, biological, chemical, and human elements connected to other regions as well as global processes. For that reason, a subset of observation activities cannot be simply categorized as the AON. As a result, the Committee undertook its study with the assumption that the complexity of the Arctic can only be truly understood with an investment in new, sustained efforts with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and broad synergistic strategies.
Human Dimensions Observations
The vision of the AON, through its inclusiveness, encompasses monitoring of not only environmental variables, but ultimately also human dimension variables including basic demographic information and information relating to health, education, the economy, governance, adaptation, and resiliency. This inclusive vision of the AON is desired by many arctic residents who view their environment in a holistic way. This Committee respects that desire and acknowledges the importance and value in developing a comprehensive observing network. However, the Committee, as it is constituted, did not have sufficient expertise to develop recommendations on the socio-economic aspects and human dimension elements of a monitoring network within the AON. This report therefore provides more of a starting point for outlining the work needed to incorporate such observations.
Depth of Treatment
The Committee is tasked to “where possible, provide concrete advice to move the concept [of the AON] toward implementation.” This statement reflects the fact that the many aspects of implementation (e.g., developing new sensors, developing relationships with arctic residents and indigenous organizations, siting new platforms and observatories, coordinating activities on an international level, and managing and distributing data) are not uniformly mature. Consequently, the Committee has dealt with each of these aspects of implementation to different depths in this report. The Committee avoided describing these implementation aspects in a prescriptive manner. Rather, it presents ideas to stimulate community discussion and action.
Value Added by the Report
Myriad networks, programs, measurement sites, and observational platforms already exist or are proposed for the Arctic. Some of these focus on specific thematic measurements; others are broad or focus on coordination rather than data acquisition. Many of these networks and their related communities have gone through extensive planning and implementation steps,5 such as identifying key variables. It is not the intent of this Committee to duplicate or pass judgment on these efforts but rather to build from these documents. The challenge for this Committee is to add value to the enormous efforts that have already occurred, are ongoing, and are proposed for the future.
A key objective of this report is to convey the rationale and vision for a pan-arctic, international, interdisciplinary, and long-term perspective of the AON. In addition, this is an opportunity to provide a resource for diverse users by gathering the experiences of many who have been observing in the Arctic and elsewhere. Finally, the Committee is particularly focused on efficiencies and impacts—what efforts will make the biggest difference to the user communities in terms of efficient data collection, quality control, discovery, sharing, and network coordination. These efforts are characterized as “essential functions” of the AON, and the Committee provides recommendations on the necessary implementation steps to fulfill this vision on an international basis.
VISION FOR THE ARCTIC OBSERVING NETWORK
The Committee initiated its work with the assumption and rationale that society needs an integrated AON that provides easily accessible, complete, reliable, timely, long-term, pan-arctic observations that detect conditions and fundamental variations in the arctic system, can easily be compared and analyzed, and help improve understanding of how the arctic system functions and changes. What will the AON look like? The Committee envisions that the AON will be a system of observational infrastructure, including human observers, that will collect, check, organize, and distribute arctic data and observations while taking the necessary measures to continuously adapt and improve the network.
This vision includes observational systems to document ecological events such as oceanographic and climatic regime shifts, including changes in coastal storm activity, variability, and patterns in time (e.g., animal population cycles) and space (e.g., localized versus regional differences). Of particular interest are observations to document increased pollution of the Arctic, largely due to contaminant transport from non-arctic regions, and its effects on the health and lifestyles of arctic residents. For that reason and others, a comprehensive AON also considers human dimensions and documents changes in such variables as health, education, demographics, and resource use, as well as changes in local, regional, national, and international policies that interact with environmental changes. With efficient information flow from the AON, local residents, scientists, industry, managers and policy makers, regulators, and other stakeholders will be better informed and equipped to assess, respond, and adapt to change.
The AON will be integrated and bolstered in stages (most imminently during the upcoming 2007-2008 International Polar Year [IPY]), and, taking into consideration technological feasibility, operational efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, this pan-arctic network of observing systems will ultimately provide information at all appropriate spatial and temporal scales. A comprehensive network with a multitude of observing platforms, measurement variables, and analytical capabilities is optimal, but may not be realistic in the near future given funding limitations. For that reason, it is crucial that a core set of variables and sites be identified to provide pan-arctic coverage. It is also important that a core set of “essential functions” be identified and acted upon that are mostly discipline-neutral and could benefit all AON participants.
This vision will evolve over time and should adapt with society’s concerns in response to arctic and global environmental change, taking advantage of technology advances and methodological improvements as these arise. The network’s impact and benefits will derive from a synergistic sum that is greater than its parts.
Essential Functions and Characteristics of the Network
The AON will necessarily build on existing efforts and yet will require new resources (including dedicated personnel) to fuel its incremental development. The details of who should take responsibility for such efforts are outside the Committee’s purview. Instead, the Committee presents four fundamental activities—essential functions—that must
See, for example, the extensive list of planning documents in Appendix A of SEARCH, 2005 (http://www.arcus.org/search/resources/reportsandscienceplans.php).
be organized at the heart of the network, will need constant and focused activity, and operate in parallel.
The first essential function is observing system development. This includes assessing complete coverage by identifying geographic, thematic, and temporal gaps and prioritizing which gaps to fill first; system design and optimization; technology development; and sensor and observer deployment. The second essential function is data acquisition, which includes maintaining existing observational capabilities, and filling critical gaps. The third function covers data management, integration, access, and dissemination, including use of a single portal that has the capacity to search and access all arctic data and monitoring activities. The final function is network maintenance and sustainability, which includes improving network and observation sustainability by building support among users, personnel development within and on behalf of the network, coordination and integration among network participants regionally and globally, and promoting improved communication among all network participants—and especially data providers and data users.
In addition to the essential functions, it is critical that the AON be established with these characteristics:
is pan-arctic and inclusive, reflecting an international partnership with a broad mix of participants (government, academia, arctic residents, nongovernmental organizations, industry);
builds on participation from existing networks and long-term observation sites and platforms, while adding value to these existing networks through better linkages, including linkages from arctic to global observations;
involves arctic communities in true partnership from the outset and recognizes that the inclusion of local and traditional knowledge and community-based monitoring will require a significant new investment and appreciation of local language, multiple literacies, and intellectual property rights;
can incorporate new variables over time, especially variables identified and prioritized by arctic communities, and can be adapted to incorporate new networks, observation sites, and technologies;
includes terrestrial, ocean, atmosphere, and human dimension observations;
includes a variety of observations: past as well as present and future, real-time and less immediate, and current as well as contextual data (e.g., historic, archaeological, paleoclimatic, local and traditional knowledge); and
provides an end-to-end system from observations to data management to communication services that interfaces effectively with the separate data analysis function. (Data analysis is not just in the purview of scientific research, but also among those who use it for policy development, economic decisions, etc.)
Although the AON will not by itself provide analysis and synthesis of the observational database, reasonable downstream outcomes that can be expected from an integrated observational system include the following significant improvements over current capabilities:
more comprehensive information than currently available for the public, resource managers, industry, residents, and others to use to respond and/or adapt to changes;
an enhanced synoptic view spanning local to regional to global scales that will help users determine if change is isolated or being observed elsewhere in the Arctic, and learn from the experiences of others who may be seeing change earlier in their region;
improved capabilities to predict future changes and potential need for responses;
insights into developing observation networks with arctic communities and linking local and traditional knowledge with more traditional scientific observations;
improvements to models, concepts, and theories; and
development of methods for ensuring arctic data can be easily found, accessed, and seamlessly exchanged and integrated, as well as preserved for future use.
In addition to building from existing networks and programs, the AON will need to be developed in conjunction with emerging global observation efforts. Increasingly, a global consensus is developing that most of Earth’s environmental observational networks need to be improved and better coordinated to serve scientific and societal needs. Those charged to establish the AON will also need to take advantage of opportunities presented by the IPY (Box 1.3), the International Conference on Arctic Research Planning II, and other such periodic catalysts. For example, the arctic observation components being developed for IPY in 2007-2008, once solidified, could be incorporated into the AON.
The AON must assist and use focused international and national networks and programs (e.g., AMAP, ArcticNet, CAFF, CEON, CliC, COMAAR, EMEP, GCOS, GOOS, GTOS, IABP, IASC, IEOS, ISAC, ITEX, NEON, SCANNET, SEARCH—see Appendix C for a list of acronyms). Many of these are well established and provide an opportunity to build upon existing assets and augment their utility. Others are emerging and present new opportunities for coordination and cooperation.
A key to successful linkage among these and other programs will be to share common goals or projected benefits. For example, planners of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS; see Box 1.4) have identified nine such benefit categories. A globally linked AON not only has scientific value, but also would contribute societal benefits in each of these areas. There may be observational
There have been a number of major international science initiatives in polar regions since the first International Polar Year (IPY) in 1882-83 (see Figure 1.1) and all have had a major influence on the understanding of global processes. Many of these initiatives involved intense periods of multidisciplinary research, collected a broad range of measurements, and provided snapshots of the state of the polar regions.
The last such initiative—the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58—involved 80,000 scientists from 67 countries. It produced unprecedented exploration and discoveries and fundamentally changed how science was conducted in the polar regions. Fifty years on, technological developments such as Earth observation satellites, autonomous vehicles, and molecular biology techniques offer opportunities for a further major step upwards in observing and understanding polar systems. The next IPY, in 2007-2008, affords an opportunity to engage the upcoming generation of young Earth system scientists, educate the public on the global influence and current state of the polar regions, and inject momentum into (and supplement) ongoing observing activities.
In response to the need for improved access to environmental information, over 60 countries have endorsed a 10-year plan to develop and implement the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Nearly 40 international organizations also support the plans. GEOSS has identified nine societal benefit categories where an integrated and coordinated system of earth observing networks would provide help. These are disasters, health, energy, climate, water, weather, ecosystems, agriculture, and biodiversity.
Commenting in 2005 on the 10-year Strategic Plan for the U.S. component of the GEOSS, John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and presidential science advisor, stated:
“GEOSS will allow scientists and policy makers in many different countries to design, implement and operate integrated Earth observing systems in a compatible, value-enhancing way. It will link existing satellites, buoys, weather stations and other observing instruments that are already demonstrating value around the globe and support the development of new observational capabilities where required.”
data that would be primarily of local interest—for example, the distributions of animals used as subsistence food resources in the Arctic by local populations, or changes in the distributions of shrubs and trees in local landscapes—but the AON must be developed as an organic, integrated component of both national and international emerging Earth observation efforts that typically have weak arctic representation.
As GEOSS gains traction, it may provide a unique opportunity for the AON to assert itself as the arctic contribution to GEOSS. However, to do so, the AON will need to ensure its connections to other global networks that will be key contributors to GEOSS such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS), and the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).