About the authors:
Richard Thoman is a Climate Specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, USA, (see an earlier post by Rick here) and Gita Ljubicic is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. In this article, they describe the mismatch of scales and relevant indicators between national service providers of weather, water, ice and climate (WWIC) information and Northern user needs. They also provide examples of several northern and Indigenous initiatives being undertaken to make more relevant WWIC information available.
Weather, water, ice and climate (WWIC) information and services in the North American Arctic have historically been provided according to standards used in lower latitudes and/or geared to mid-latitude business or governmental activities and concerns (e.g. shipping or national defense). In contrast, the WWIC informational needs of Indigenous and northern residents are often very different from the southerly perspective. For example, across northern Canada and Alaska, near-shore sea ice is considered a barrier to marine activities, but its presence is a critical part of the ecosystem and human activities. Sea ice serves as a platform for travel, subsistence, and economic activities such as hunting and fishing. Similarly, terrestrial snow cover in the Arctic is a desired component of the landscape, enabling utilization of areas that during the warm season are inaccessible due to wet or rough terrain. A lack of snow cover during the cold season has ecological impacts and potentially produces human hardship.
Communication of Weather and Sea Ice Information
Anticipating rapid changes in weather (e.g. wind speed and direction) and ice (e.g. sea ice breaking off the floe edge) conditions over short time scales (minutes, hours or days), and over local or regional spatial scales, is important for community members making decisions about when or where to travel. The importance of these short temporal and spatial changes are not unique to the Polar Regions, but such variations are much more impactful than similar variations in more urban settings because with cold environments and limited search and rescue capacity it can be a matter of life and death. National service providers tend to provide weather and ice forecasts at daily, weekly or long-term (monthly/annual predictions), and national or circumpolar scales. They may also focus on different seasons (e.g. summer ice prediction supports Arctic shipping, but not the winter sea ice use by communities). In addition, modern communication of WWIC products and services is challenging in northern North America due to limited bandwidth and unreliable Internet connectivity. In some areas, there is widespread smartphone use among all but the elder generation, while in other more remote communities there is still no cellular service. As a result, traditional radio and newspapers are still important in many regions, and shortwave radio is still regularly used for intra-community communications and activities beyond the community.
Climate Highlight from February that touches on some of the important themes for western Alaska in KNOM Radio spoken by the author Rick Thoman:
Community and Regional Efforts
Because of the mismatch of scales and relevant environmental indicators between national service providers and northern user needs, a number of community and regional efforts have been initiated to make more relevant WWIC information available. These range from coordinated platforms for collecting and collating community based environmental events of many kinds such as the Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network (https://anthc.org/what-we-do/community-environment-and-health/leo-network/) to sophisticated local wind monitoring at Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada, (http://www.clyderiverweather.org/). In addition to local information relevant to communities, efforts are increasingly focused on utilizing avenues of communication that are most effective. For example, in western Alaska, where Facebook use is common via smartphones, a group has been established to provide a space for the sharing of WWIC information that is specifically relevant to the Seward Peninsula and Bering Strait region (https://www.facebook.com/groups/631657950559392/). Another example is around the Baffin Island region of the eastern Canadian Arctic, where satellite images of sea ice and weather forecasts are routinely printed and posted in municipal offices for hunters to consult. Some experienced bilingual hunters also play a critical role in translating national or international WWIC products (e.g. https://www.windy.com) into the relevant Inuktut dialect, and communicating these or sharing warnings over shortwave radio with people on the land.
What this means for the Polar Prediction Project (www.polarprediction.net) is that assessing the impact and value of improvements in physical understanding, modeling and forecasting must consider more than reducing numerical uncertainty. Improved weather and climate models will be of little value within the Arctic without similar improvements in production and dissemination of the kinds of information – in languages, formats and methods of access – that are of greatest concern for the disparate interests and peoples of the North American Arctic.
Some additional examples of community-based monitoring or tailored WWIC services include:
- Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub (AAOKH) – https://arctic-aok.org/
- Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO) – https://www.arcus.org/siwo
- Seasonal Ice Zone Observing Network (SIZONet) – https://eloka-arctic.org/sizonet/
- SIKU: The Inuit Knowledge Wiki and Social Mapping Platform – https://arcticeider.com/siku
- SmartIce – https://www.smartice.org/
- The Floe Edge Service – http://www.ccore.ca/floeedge/
If you have other examples to share, please contact the International Coordination Office for Polar Prediction firstname.lastname@example.org. We also encourage additional Polar Prediction Matters blog posts that share innovative ways of translating and sharing WWIC products and services to meet diverse user needs.