Arctic Observing Systems Sub-team

Assessment, planning, and integration of environmental and socioeconomic observing to understand Arctic system change. This open team supports the US AON and meets periodically as the U.S. Committee to Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON).

Scope of activities

Observing ground squirrels

Photo by Alicia Gillean (PolarTREC 2013), Courtesy of ARCUS

The Arctic Observing Systems Sub-team (AOSST), first created under Arctic Research Plan 2013-2017, will continue operations under Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021. As a Sub-team of the Environmental Intelligence Collaboration Team,  AOSST's scope of activities will include implementation of Research Objectives and Performance Elements related to data under Research Goal 9. Learn more about the Enviromental Intelligence Collaboration Team here

Team leaders

Sandy Starkweather
University of Colorado, CIRES

Sally McFarlane
Atmospheric Radiation Measurement User Facility (Website)

William Ambrose
Coastal Carolina University

Craig Chythlook
Food Security Working Group

Performance elements from the Arctic research plan

9.1 Enhance multi-agency participation in new and existing activities to improve best practices, coordination, and synthesis of Arctic observations toward a fully integrated interagency "U.S. Arctic Observing Network" (U.S. AON).

  • 9.1.1 Coordinate U.S. agency and outside collaborators support for and participation in the international Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON) process.
  • 9.1.2 Work with the research community and other stakeholders to develop the concept of multi-agency research coordination networks to advance observational science and promote broad synthesis within thematic research communities.


Autonomous Ocean Flux Buoy System

Photo by Gerty Ward (PolarTREC 2008), Courtesy of ARCUS

Scientific Achievements

AOSST focused on developing a shared vision with the observing community about framework approaches to observing network development and the tools that support networked observing. To address the very broad goals of Research Objective 9.1, the team leaders developed a series of progressive discussion questions for which they sought input from the community. Each discussion was proceeded by an informative presentation that described related efforts in other communities (e.g. Ocean) or within the Arctic. These questions included:

  1. Essential Variable Approaches: How might an “essential variables”1 framework advance Arctic Observing? What communities could lead essential variable descriptions?
  2. Inventories of Observing System Activities: Why compile an inventory and what can we learn from it? What inventories already exist?
  3. Societal Benefit Framework for Arctic Observing: What kinds of questions would you like to have answered using this framework? Can this approach help in the development of a list of essential variables?
  4. Terrestrial Arctic Carbon Observations: What essential measurements are needed to understand the Arctic carbon cycle and what are the existing gaps in observations?

1Essential variables are prioritized observing parameters (e.g. sea surface temperature and height, sea ice, seawater nutrient content) based on their relevance to observing goals, feasibility of data collection and cost effectiveness. (Definition adapted from GOOS)

Each discussion tended to lead to the next question. For example, our review of programs like the Global Ocean Observing System, which employed an essential variable framework, led to more Arctic specific questions about the ‘key players’ and observations that might feed into an Arctic approach. This led to the discussion on the role of inventories of observing systems and their networks, such as those utilized by EU PolarNet, the NSF Arctic Observing Viewer (AOV) project, and Sustaining Arctic Observing Network (SAON), to understand if these types of summaries helped the community to self-organize. While many valuable observations were elicited from the group, there does not appear to be continuity in participation which hampered the development of such complex discussions. The AOSST will review the benefit of this approach in FY18.

Collaboration of Federal Agencies with the Research Community

PE 9.1.1 concerns coordinating U.S. participation in the international SAON process. In June, we focused our meeting on assembling the relevant agencies, the research community, and the key U.S. participants in order to solicit input for the June strategic planning meeting of SAON. While this discussion, based on participation, was not broadly of interest to the community, we did get a critical mass of agency representation to voice their concern about the need for a focused approach towards the implementation of SAON, and a better mapping between the scope of its goals and the financial resources that would be needed to accomplish these. These messages were carried forward by co-leader Ambrose into the retreat and contributed to a more streamlined and concise approach towards SAON.

PE 9.1.2 was partially addressed through seeking to acquaint the community with the potential of U.S. AON and to generate participation in U.S. AON tasks. The result of this and related outreach is that dozens of members of the broader research community have become familiar with the organizational structure and objectives of U.S. AON and are beginning to come forward to engage in implementing its tasks.

Stakeholder Engagement

Engagement is a noted deficiency of the AOSST collaboration meetings, but has been well pursued through U.S. AON directly. In May, U.S. AON was represented at both the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference in Dutch Harbor, AK where several native communities, NGO’s, State of Alaska representatives and industry were present. It provided an invaluable listening opportunity for understanding the operating context of Alaskan decision makers. Similarly, the Anchorage-based Climate Prediction and Application Science Workshop, where U.S. AON was presented, provided many more examples of the observational needs of Alaskan decision makers.

Additionally, one-on-one conversations with representatives from ICC Alaska, Aleut International, the Alaska Long-Term Monitoring Working Group, and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association all led to improved understanding of key concepts like the role of indigenous knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge co-production by team leaders. We hope that this improved context and understand will lead to meaningful progress in team discussion in the year ahead. We will also develop approaches to attract representatives of native communities and organizations that have an observing interest.

Plans for 2018

Our team will continue to follow the format we employed in FY2018. Our monthly calls have had excellent Federal representation. We will, however, endeavor to develop a strategy which leads to more continuity of discussion. This might include having a recurring theme. AOSST leadership will also reach out to native communities and organizations. The team is also under-represented by stakeholders from operational users of observing data. Those from that community who participate in the AOSST will consider how to remedy this deficiency.

2017 Performance Element Reporting Log (PE 9.1.1 - 9.1.2)

2017 Arctic Observing Systems Collaboration Sub-team Annual Report

2018 Performance Element Reporting Log

2018 Arctic Observing Systems Collaboration Sub-team Annual Report

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