Arctic Observing Summit Aims to Fulfill Long-standing Potential Between Arctic Governance and Research

By: Nate Bauer and Kristin Timm, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Arctic Observing Summit aims to fulfill long-standing potential between Arctic governance and research

In March, the third biennial Arctic Observing Summit (AOS 2016) will be held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), in conjunction with the Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW) and the Arctic Council's Senior Arctic Officials Meeting. Collectively, these events are being convened in hopes of advancing a cohesive agenda for the national and international Arctic research and policy communities. The Arctic Observing Summit is being convened to provide community-driven, science-based guidance for the design, implementation, coordination, and sustained long-term (decades) operation of an international network of Arctic observing systems.

"The rapidity and breadth of Arctic change is challenging existing, established response tools and mechanisms," explains Hajo Eicken, co-chair of the summit and Director of UAF's International Arctic Research Center. "The type of information needed at this point by those living in the Arctic and other decision-makers has to at least in part come from networks of sustained observations."

In a world of change, there are several roles for science in international policy and governance. Data and information are delivered from observations to serve as indicators of change and major transitions. Science also provides information about linkages across systems and regions, and data to shape adaptation actions and policy responses to rapid change.

Despite the value of this information, to date there has been a patchwork response to observing the Arctic. For example, in U.S. Arctic waters, sustained observations have been distributed across a diverse set of entities including academia, federal and state agencies, the private sector, local government, and foreign nations. In fact, a full third of sustained observations in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—the zone over which the nation has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources—have been conducted by foreign countries and through international collaboration. Data availability has been inconsistent. The National Science Foundation's Arctic Observing Network (NSF-AON) data has been the most accessible, building on the data policy established by the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH). However, a significant portion of the data is effectively unavailable or challenging to access.

Our Arctic research communities have also dealt with limited coordination of data acquisition and program design. Problem definition and information products have been forced to rely on data and information bottlenecks between stakeholders and researchers.

"In order for these observations to be meaningful and effective, we will need to build new partnerships between indigenous peoples, Arctic communities, the private sector, universities, government agencies, and many others," explains Eicken. "This is the path the Arctic Observing Summit is helping to pave."

There is clear and realistic potential for much greater breadth and collaboration across these stakeholder and research communities, based on their individual capabilities and histories of organization and innovation. Such efforts tie into broader international agreements supportive of collaborative research and exchange, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS; 1982), or efforts sustained by Arctic Council Working Groups and motivated by Arctic Council Agreements (e.g., Search and Rescue; Spill Response); official international agreements, including participation from the private sector (e.g., the International Maritime Organization, the International Organization for Standardization); and formal and informal co-management of living marine resources.

Collaboration between different national and international entities under the auspices of international agreements can help advance coordinated responses to the challenges of rapid Arctic change. Open access, co-production, and co-management of data helps ensure benefits for Arctic communities, stakeholders, and all humankind and can help break down traditional boundaries between operational networks and scientific research. To advance these goals requires engagement between science, government, and policy at a number of levels. For one, existing and functional groups, such as international scientific organizations or treaty systems as well as the Arctic Council and its Working Groups, must maintain stated and detailed collaboration agreements. Further, best-practice standards across these communities, together with their approaches to data co-management and collaboration, must come from the bottom up and develop according to conditions faced on the front lines of interaction.

"The Arctic Observing Summit provides us the opportunity to make progress in better leveraging existing observing efforts, jointly planning new ones, and making sure that those who need the information have access to it," said Eicken.

The Arctic Observing Summit presents a unique opportunity for new advancements and innovation. Based on recommendations from previous Summits, AOS 2016 will focus on six themes: 1) international and national strategies for sustained support of long-term Arctic observing; 2) technology and innovation for sustained Arctic observations; 3) contributions from the private sector and industry to sustained Arctic observations; 4) actor and stakeholder engagement and needs in sustained Arctic observations; 5) Arctic observations in the context of global observing initiatives; and 6) interfacing indigenous knowledge, community-based monitoring, and scientific methods for sustained Arctic observations.

In preparation for the Arctic Observing Summit, community input was invited in the form of white papers and short statements, poster presentations, and through town halls and other meetings. Over 100 articles have been submitted for public review and discussion in preparation for AOS. The thematic working groups have been preparing synthesis documents to report on the state of Arctic observing under each theme; to identify linkages among themes, remaining gaps, needs, and priorities; and to generate discussion around solutions, implementation, community engagement, and international cooperation.

AOS provides a platform from which to address urgent and broadly recognized needs for Arctic observing across all features of the Arctic system, including the human component. This meeting will foster international communication and the widespread coordination of long-term observations, aimed at improving understanding and responding to system-scale Arctic change. AOS also serves as an international forum for optimizing resource allocation, through coordination and exchange between those focused on long-term observing activities, while minimizing duplication and gaps.

The Arctic Observing Summit will take place from 15-18 March 2016 in Fairbanks, Alaska. The agenda and more information about the themes, white papers, and posters are available here.

Online registration is available through Tuesday, 1 March via the ASSW website, and there are special rates for students and early career scientists. On-site registration will be available at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Wood Center beginning at 7:00 a.m. (Alaska Standard Time) on Saturday, 12 March 2016 or on the morning of the event.

The plenary sessions will be live-streamed from the Arctic Science Summit Week website. Discussion and questions will be encouraged from online participants and via Twitter using the hash tag #ASSW2016 or #AOS2016.