The University of Alaska Fairbanks: a member of an Arctic GIS community
Geographically remote, yet increasingly an area of international concern, the Arctic is a dynamic natural environment and home to a diversity of human cultures. Many national and international research and operational programs center on learning about and understanding the arctic region. Other studies strive to understand the interdependencies between this area and the global system. Programs for collecting scientific data on the ground, under the sea and in the atmosphere are part of along-term effort to gain basic, quantitative data and information on the Arctic and to provide a baseline to study variation. Unraveling the complexities of the arctic systems often requires specialized investigations. As a result, many of our efforts are discipline-oriented and highly focused - to understand the whole, we are studying the pieces. But this focus does not always serve us well, for with it can come fragmentation of information and disconnection among the scientific community.
Yet, it is in the synthesis and sharing of our data and information (seeing the whole), that understanding of the systems that both drive and react to change will emerge. Equally, intensive analysis of the component parts should benefit from better exchange of data and information. Often, there are many sources of raw, summarized and derived data that would benefit our work. It is not knowing what we know that often stymies us - the inability to discover, evaluate and retrieve easily the data and information we require. The success of an Arctic GIS Network will be a function of our willingness to participate and our commitment to supporting the required infrastructure. Current GIS and database software, coupled with network technology, give us tremendous flexibility in the level of organization and technology prerequisites needed to belong. Interoperability gives us computer and software interdependency and open standards provides us a common language to describe our data, data models and interact with the Internet. National international data centers, regional geospatial data clearing house, agency or industry systems, University facilities and desktop participants can interact and share at whatever level is reasonable and appropriate. As a system of distributed users and contributors, we can take advantage of the availability of data and catalogs describing data. We can also benefit from offering our data and analysis services and finding assistance we may need.
Arctic science issues spanning the breadth of biological, engineering, social and physical sciences, indigenous northern populations, impacts on the Arctic's natural systems and inhabitants, and the Arctic's role in the global system are all studied at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In addition, a number of operational observatories, data centers, and satellite-receiving facilities collect vast amounts of data. Many of these activities are already actively utilizing geospatial techniques - geographic information systems, global positioning systems, spatial databases, geostatistics, and remote sensing - in their work. There are obvious candidates for membership in an Arctic GIS Community. With the University's emphasis on Alaska, the North and their diverse peoples, it can serve as one example of the scientific and student community that would participate in and take advantage of an Arctic GIS network.
In this talk, we highlight two circumpolar arctic projects, the Circumpolar Arctic Geobotanical Atlas and the SynCon Project, that are founded in the geospatial world. These projects were unrelated in their origin yet the opportunities offered by their development in a geo-referenced environment allow the possibility of discovering important new relationships and understanding.