Expert Report

Toward an Integrated Arctic Observing Network (2006)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

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, through its Office of Polar Programs, asked for guidance to help design a pan-arctic observing network. This report outlines the potential scope, composition, and implementation strategy for an arctic observing network (AON). Such an integrated, complete, dynamic, 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. The AON would be a system of observational infrastructure -- including satellites, terrestrial observatories, ocean buoys and moorings, weather stations, hydrologic monitoring stations, ecological sampling networks, arctic residents, and other data sources­­ that will collect, check, organize, and distribute arctic observations while taking the necessary measures to continuously adapt and improve the network. 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.

Key Messages

  • An integrated, complete, dynamic, 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.
  • Because many potential components of the network already exist or are being planned, and because of the surge of activity during the IPY, there is an immediate opportunity for major progress.
  • The AON would have four essential functions: (1) observing system development; (2) data acquisition; (3) data management, integration, access, and dissemination; and (4) network maintenance and sustainability.
  • The data flowing from this network 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, adopt adaptation and mitigation measures.