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Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network (2006)

Chapter: 7 Overarching Recommendations

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Suggested Citation:"7 Overarching Recommendations." National Research Council. 2006. Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11607.

Overarching Recommendations

The Committee has developed two overarching recommendations and a third, multifaceted recommendation on steps toward realizing an Arctic Observing Network (AON) that builds on and supports existing efforts so that the many ways of observing the Arctic are better integrated and available in a usable form for those who need the information. These broad recommendations summarize and are supported by detailed implementation ideas presented in the previous chapter.1


Recent rapid environmental changes in the Arctic are so pronounced that they have been identified despite historical and existing observing capabilities that are incomplete and uncoordinated. Lack of adequate and coordinated pan-arctic observations, however, limits society’s capability to identify the geographic extent of ongoing changes, as well as the attribution of these changes. It limits society’s responses to these ongoing changes and its capability to anticipate, predict, and respond to future changes that affect physical processes, ecosystems, and arctic and global residents. An efficient, complete, and integrated AON is needed to address these limitations. Such a network would be founded on existing platforms and observatories, starting with a set of key variables that are already measured at many locations but are not often collated. These measurements 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, to 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 planned for the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008. During the IPY, there will be a burst of new and intensive monitoring for a two-year period that will help jump-start the AON. Experience, knowledge, and infrastructure (in particular, new data, new data measurement and management approaches, and new logistical support) gained through the IPY could provide additional resources to advance the AON beyond its existing core components (e.g., AMAP, EMEP, IABP, ITEX, etc). In addition, there are ongoing or planned activities including the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, the Study of Environmental Arctic Change, the International Study of Arctic Change, the Arctic Council’s Consortium for coordination of Observation and Monitoring of the Arctic for Assessment and Research that provide timely opportunities to enhance and coordinate the AON because they offer access to international partners and capabilities.

Recommendation 2: Work to design and implement an internationally coordinated Arctic Observing Network should begin immediately to take advantage of a unique window of opportunity created by a convergence of international activities during the International Polar Year that focus on observations.


See also Chapter 4 for supporting details in the case of recommendation 3.3 on data management.

Suggested Citation:"7 Overarching Recommendations." National Research Council. 2006. Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11607.


As conceived by the Committee, the AON would have four essential functions that operate in parallel, build on existing resources, and serve the interests of all participants:

  1. observing system development (which includes assessing complete coverage, system design and optimization, technology development, and sensor and observer deployment);

  2. data acquisition (including maintaining existing observational capabilities and filling critical gaps);

  3. data management, integration, access, and dissemination; and

  4. network maintenance and sustainability (which includes network and observation sustainability, personnel development, coordination and integration regionally and globally, and communication).

Parallel progress on all four of these functions is needed in part because different communities and disciplines are at different stages of development, but also because each function is critical to development of a comprehensive AON. Flexibility to accommodate technological improvements and changing sensor density is needed from the outset.

Observing System Development

There are existing platforms and observatories that can be built on and organized, although not all domains are equally developed (e.g., particularly poor coverage in the Arctic Ocean). Some elements of the AON already exist and provide a good starting point for its development, but these are generally not integrated spatially or across disciplines, and they frequently contain gaps in temporal and spatial coverage. Many of the AON components have not been optimized with respect to maximum observational efficiency, spatial and temporal coverage, or potential for interdisciplinary linkages and integration. Further, some critical elements of the AON require significant development (e.g., local observation networks). Although the Committee has provided a preliminary assessment of critical gaps in observing key variables for the arctic system, a more comprehensive, scientifically based, rigorous assessment is needed.

Recommendation 3.1a: A system design assessment should be conducted within the first two years of Arctic Observing Network development—that is, as a component of International Polar Year—to ensure a pan-arctic, multidisciplinary, integrated network. This effort should be undertaken by a diverse team, with participation and input from multiple disciplines, stakeholder groups, and those involved in related international observing activities. The assessment should use existing design studies, models, statistical approaches, and other tools.

The initial system design assessment, in conjunction with the pulse of new data from the International Polar Year projects, will provide valuable guidance for enhancing the AON and maximizing its potential utility, as will information on specific performance metrics and user feedback.

Recommendation 3.1b: The Arctic Observing Network should be continuously improved and enhanced by taking advantage of the findings and recommendations in the system design assessment and performance metrics and data provider and user feedback that will become an enduring component of the network.

Data Acquisition

Existing observatories and platforms will form the core of the AON if they are sustained. Furthermore, even though observing systems are deteriorating in some parts of the Arctic—especially noticeable in Russia—there is still some possibility to reverse this process and recover some of the infrastructure that was available recently.

Recommendation 3.2a: The first phase of Arctic Observing Network development will require sustaining existing observational capabilities (including those under threat of closure) and filling critical gaps.

The harshness of the arctic environment poses unique challenges to many types of data acquisition, distribution, and supporting infrastructure. Development of new tools will be important in overcoming these challenges and bolstering the AON.

Recommendation 3.2b: The Arctic Observing Network should support development, testing, and deployment of new sensors and other network-related technology. In parallel with recognizing the importance of systems engineering and instrument validation and calibration, this will require supporting (i) expert groups to track advances in technology that satisfy overarching network needs and (ii) centers of excellence and a technology incubator program to adapt and develop needed technology.

Data Management, Integration, Access, and Dissemination

An abundance and diversity of arctic observing systems and programs already exists, but the infrastructure to integrate results from these resources is lacking. A comprehensive data management system is needed for a successful, international AON that seamlessly links arctic sensors, data, and researchers and other users across space and time. Building this infrastructure requires accommodating a broad

Suggested Citation:"7 Overarching Recommendations." National Research Council. 2006. Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11607.

spectrum of users ranging from those who build and deploy instruments that collect data for a specific purpose to those who intend only to examine data or value-added data and information products. Accommodating all of these users will require building a data management system that is independent of nation, language, background, expertise, or scientific interest—no small feat—but the successful completion of this task is the most significant contribution necessary to create a truly integrated network. Such a data management system would need to provide for data standards, metadata, dataset documentation, discovery (the ability to find data), data rescue, access, preservation, and value-added products.2

Recommendation 3.3: A data management system initially built on existing data centers and resources must be designed and implemented immediately by an Arctic Observing Network data management committee to support major functions of the network. This system should be accessible through a single portal that connects data across disciplines and themes and should seamlessly link information from arctic sensors, historical datasets, and researchers and other users across space and time.

Network Maintenance and Sustainability

The current problems with lack of complete spatial and temporal coverage of observations have arisen in part because of a general lack of sustained support for long-term observations, networks, and data systems by regional, national, and international funding entities. Enhancing the AON requires dedicated and long-term resources for sustaining observing platforms, for providing incentives for observatories to contribute data to the network, and for network coordination and integration, communication, and human resource development. The AON needs to be founded on interagency and organizational support at the international level, including an international, multiparticipant structure that takes responsibility for the AON.

Recommendation 3.4a: For the Arctic Observing Network to realize its potential, long-term, coordinated international resources and efforts should be dedicated to sustaining observing platforms, providing incentives for contributions to the network, network coordination and integration, communication, and human resource development.

Human dimensions research and local and traditional knowledge (LTK) play important roles in the AON and the AON can be an important resource for arctic residents. The Committee recognizes that a key to the success of the AON will be building strong partnerships among physical, natural, and social scientists, human dimensions researchers, and arctic residents. Additionally, collaboration with local communities and incorporation of LTK will take significant investment of time and resources and careful consideration of proper communication, data collection methods, and access and control of information. The role that LTK will play in the AON will need to be defined by early and ongoing dialog with representatives from local and indigenous communities. Enhancing cooperation among all the diverse contributors and users of the AON will require a commitment to communication and a willingness to understand and accept the various and evolving needs and perspectives from around the Arctic that will drive the AON.

Recommendation 3.4b: Arctic residents must be meaningfully involved in the design and development of all stages of the Arctic Observing Network. From the outset, the system design assessment should cultivate, incorporate, and build on the perspectives of human dimensions research and arctic residents. The Arctic Observing Network must learn what is needed to facilitate the involvement of local communities and create an observing network that is useful to them as well as to scientists and other users.


The Committee has drawn on many perspectives from within and outside the Arctic to formulate general and specific ideas about the design of an AON that evolves efficiently from the existing, somewhat disconnected and incomplete building blocks of networks, observatories, observers, data centers, etc., toward an integrated and complete network with intimate ties to global networks. The report presents many ideas in the hope that the arctic observation community and its stakeholders (i.e., data users) will begin to discuss these details and identify existing entities or consortia to refine and implement them. Some areas of the Arctic have more developed monitoring and information systems than others and for this reason it is critical to engage all arctic nations from the outset. The foundations of an AON already exist. The need to characterize the state of the Arctic and to identify, attribute, and respond to arctic change is acute. The time is right for major progress.


See Chapter 4 for implementation ideas on these topics.

Suggested Citation:"7 Overarching Recommendations." National Research Council. 2006. Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11607.
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Suggested Citation:"7 Overarching Recommendations." National Research Council. 2006. Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11607.
Page 97
Suggested Citation:"7 Overarching Recommendations." National Research Council. 2006. Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11607.
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Observable changes with regional and global implications, such as warming temperatures and reduced sea ice, are taking place across the Arctic. However, the record of Arctic observations suffers from incomplete geographic coverage and limited duration, and measurements are not well coordinated. This makes it difficult to comprehensively describe current conditions in the Arctic, let alone understand the changes that are underway or their connections to the rest of the Earth system.

The U.S. National Science Foundation asked for guidance to help design a pan-arctic observing network. This book outlines the potential scope, composition, and implementation strategy for an arctic observing network. Such an integrated, complete, 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 network would build on and enhance existing national and international efforts and deliver easily accessible, complete, reliable, timely, long-term, pan-arctic observations. Because many potential components of the network already exist or are being planned, and because of the surge of activity during the International Polar Year, there is an immediate opportunity for major progress.

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