GEO Update

Arctic Observing Summit 2016 – What happens in the poles doesn’t stay in the poles.

Weather station, Svalbard, Arctic Circle, August 2015Weather station, Svalbard, Arctic Circle, August 2015.

The Arctic is experiencing the fastest rate of climate change and related impacts on the planet and needs an observing system that harnesses indigenous knowledge - that’s the verdict from The Arctic Observing Summit 2016 Statement. Delegates noted that change in the arctic has national and global repercussions. This Third Biennial Arctic Observing summit was held in Fairbanks Alaska March 16 to 18 and attended by more than 450 delegates from 30 countries.

The summit was an outreach event of the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON), a process initiated by the Arctic Council 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
The summit featured the GEO Cold Region Initiative (GEOCRI) that aims to identify, address and fill observational gaps and improve networks through coordinated observation practices and information services worldwide. See the Statement on the GEO Cold Region Initiative (GEOCRI).

GEO’s participation in the summit also served to highlight many national Arctic observation efforts and examples of successful international coordination. Arctic observations have been improved by the work of International Arctic Systems for Observing the Atmosphere (IASOA), Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP), scheduled to take place from mid-2017 to mid-2019; and Global Cryosphere Watch (GCW), and coordination and data sharing enhanced by GEOCRI and GEOSS.

As well as emphasizing existing collaboration, sessions also identified areas for improvement. See the GEO-co-authored White Paper Advancing Arctic observing within the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) through a focus on Community-Based Monitoring.

The summit worked to create an Arctic observing system; with indigenous communities part of the process, contributing indigenous knowledge and taking part in evidence-based decision making. Recommendations from the summit included:

  1. Develop international guidelines for ethical research and use of indigenous knowledge
  2. Propose a comprehensive pan-Arctic observing system
  3. Create opportunities for stakeholder engagement and capacity building
  4. Coordinate a pan-Arctic observing system with regional and global observing initiatives through the leadership of the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON) initiative.
  5. Advance a strategy for raising awareness of Governments, including non-Arctic countries and building a business case
  6. Prioritize long-term observations and consider the Arctic as a global system, coupling social and environmental science
  7. Work through IASC-SAON Arctic Data Committee to develop a broad, globally connected Arctic observing data and information system of systems


  • GEO Secretariat Director Barbara Ryan describes the importance of international and national strategies for sustained support of long-term Arctic observing:
  • GEO expert on cold regions, Dominique Berod summarizes the results of discussions on international collaboration on Arctic Observations in the context of Global Observing Initiatives

Arctic Observing Summit in the press

Arctic Observing Summit urges coordinated system, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Delegates from 30 countries call for stepped-up monitoring of Arctic climate change, University of Calgary