Arctic Observing Assessment - FAQ

What is the U.S. Inter-agency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC)?

The Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) was established under the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984 (ARPA).  The committee consists of principals from 14 agencies, departments, and offices across the US Federal government.  IARPC is charged with enhancing both the scientific monitoring of and research on local, regional, and global environmental issues in the Arctic.  In February 2013, the IARPC 5-year plan was released for federally sponsored research in the Arctic region.  The plan identified seven research areas that will inform national policy and benefit significantly from close interagency coordination.  One of these seven areas was observing systems, which includes consideration for data access and community engagement.

What is Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON)?

Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON) is an independent activity under the co-sponsorship of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).  Its purpose is to support and strengthen the development of multinational engagement for sustained and coordinated pan-Arctic observing and data sharing systems that serve societal needs, particularly related to environmental, social, economic, and cultural issues. SAON is governed by an Executive Committee, which includes representation from both the Arctic Council and IASC, as well as by the SAON Board, which consists of national representatives from Arctic countries, other participating countries, international organizations, Arctic Council working groups, Permanent Participant organizations, and IASC members.

How does the AOA relate IARPC and SAON activities?

The IARPC 5-year plan includes in its goals for observing systems research and coordination the following:

  • integrate and continue to deploy a national Arctic observing system and promote international cooperation to create a circumpolar Arctic observing system
  • facilitate observing system design for the arctic
  • assess local resident priorities for addressing change
  • improve data access
  • engage indigenous observers and communities in monitoring environmental parameters.

To meet these goals, the AOA has identified with broad community input a set of societally significant priorities.  The assessment will create a relational inventory of those priorities, including a listing of available products and environmental, social, economic, and cultural observations that inform these products.  The database will be made available through an online search and visualization tool to allow users to identify strengths and gaps in observing, product development, interoperability and accessibility of information, available web services, data integration tools, and source documents.  
Observations and information are universal.  In the Arctic, they are a crucial link between regional and national programs that seek to better understand environmental and social change.  SAON is the international body for enhancing national cooperation and coordination of observing and information sciences.  The assessment provides a needed inventory that will identify target areas for observing coordination while also highlighting strengths and deficiencies in information systems for Arctic data and product development.

What is being assessed in this activity?

This activity is focused on the local, regional, national, and international inputs to societal priorities that rely on observations of the environment, economy, culture, and social structures to enable decisions and provide for a secure, sustainable future.  The effort will inventory not only key information streams relevant to Arctic societal priorities, but also the products and tools that allow for information to be shared across disciplines, to be integrated, and to be accessed for the benefit of users and decision makers.
The resulting relational database will have an online user interface that will allow for cross-cuts related to geography (from the local to the international), theme (e.g., fisheries, freshwater, subsistence), or data provider (including agencies, institutions, communities).  Users will be able to create visuals based on the information within their scope of interest.  Funders will be able to identify areas where needed information or entire products are missing, where interoperable information is flourishing and where it is lacking, where web services are meeting user needs and where there are critical gaps.  

How does this differ from other observing assessments, such as those of  the US Group on Earth Observations, AMAP, USGCRP, WMO Global Cryosphere Watch, and others?

There are many assessments ongoing at this time.  Some have open comment, while others are limited to a target community, such as the federal inputs to the US GEO assessment, or the scientific scope of the AMAP and WMO Global Cyrosphere Watch assessments.  As well, some of these have particular national foci that look at a single country’s contribution to a pan-Arctic issue.  In the Arctic Observing Assessment, inventory of information and products will allow for local to international inputs from all countries.  The activity is scoped by a set of Arctic societal priorities which have been identified in collaboration with the community.  Information and products relevant to the selected priorities are being mined from international sources, while crowdsourced information submitted to the ArcticHub will also be used to populated the relational database.  The intent of the process is to be as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the contributions from all levels of governance and all interested persons observing in the Arctic. The end results will look at the synchronicity of Arctic observations and where these observations are best meeting the Arctic societal priorities and where there are gaps in both observing and information capabilities that are affecting decision making for a sustainable future.

There are already many priority documents that capture input from a broad spectrum of stakeholders.  Why did you solicit new priorities?

There are numerous vision, strategy, and priority documents which discuss arctic observations.  Most of these are targeted towards a specific nation, association, or agency, or to a scientific theme or study region.  This effort is international in scope and originates in societal priorities.  While there are commonalities in available priority plans which could well double as the Arctic societal priorities, input from an open comment helped to both clarify which of those national, agency, or scientific themes are most critical to societies in the Arctic and also provided new options which made for a broader, more complete set of Arctic societal priorities for the inventory.  The final thirteen priorities that were identified from this open process reflect key concerns of the community living and working in the Arctic.

What is the assessment process?

As described, the initial phase of the assessment was sourcing of potential Arctic societal priority areas.  This has been accomplished through an open comment period.  The final set of 13 Arctic societal priorities – food security, freshwater security, health and well-being, sustainable economic development, regulatory and organizational change, built infrastructure, coastal and riverine vulnerability, environmental safety, ecosystem health, information access and security, environmental awareness, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and teleconnections -- will be inventoried.  The inventory includes multiple tiers – essential products identified as crucial for decision making about the Arctic societal priorities, information which informs those essential products, and the location and funding source for the information and/or products.  Each of these tiers is supported by available documents that underscore the utility of these components.  It is possible to contribute to each of the tiers through a crowdsourcing tool on the ArcticHub.  Individuals will be able to contribute information about available and needed products, information streams, and information tools relevant to each of the Arctic societal priorities.  These tiers of information and their supporting documents form a relational database, which can be mined or visualized using an online graphics tool that allows users to display information or cross-cut and create graphics that meet their particular scope of interest.

What are the end products or expected outcomes of such an assessment?

The information contained within the relational database will allow for very rich explorations of our current Arctic observing and information capabilities.  Certain information and products will be identified that have critical relevance to a number of Arctic societal priorities.  The activity may also underline the preference of certain decision-makers to utilize certain products in their process despite several options being available.  At its most basic, the assessment will identify the information needs that allow for planning a resilient Arctic.  Observing and information gaps and showcases where integration and product development has provided return on investment will be made clearer through the assessment.