VOL. 74, SUPPL. 1 ( 2021) P. 56 – 68
Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks’ (SAON) Roadmap for Arctic Observing
and Data Systems (ROADS)
Sandy Starkweather,1 Jan R. Larsen,2 Eva Kruemmel,3 Hajo Eicken,4 David Arthurs,5 Alice C. Bradley,6
Nikoosh Carlo,7 Tom Christensen,8 Raychelle Daniel,9 Finn Danielsen,10 Sarah Kalhok,11 Michael Karcher,12
Margareta Johansson,13 Halldór Jóhannsson,14 Yuji Kodama,15 Sten Lund,16 Maribeth S. Murray,17 Tuukka Petäjä,18
Peter L. Pulsifer,19 Stein Sandven,20 Ravi D. Sankar,17 Mikko Strahlendorff 21 and Jeremy Wilkinson22
(Received 1 October 2020; accepted in revised form 21 August 2021)
ABSTRACT. Arctic observing and data systems have been widely recognized as critical infrastructures to support decision
making and understanding across sectors in the Arctic and globally. Yet due to broad and persistent issues related to
coordination, deployment infrastructure and technology gaps, the Arctic remains among the most poorly observed regions
on the planet from the standpoint of conventional observing systems. Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON) was
initiated in 2011 to address the persistent shortcomings in the coordination of Arctic observations that are maintained by its
many national and organizational partners. SAON set forth a bold vision in its 2018 – 28 strategic plan to develop a roadmap
for Arctic observing and data systems (ROADS) to specically address a key gap in coordination efforts—the cur rent lack of
a systematic planning mechanism to develop and link observing and data system requirements and implementation strategies
in the Arctic region. This coordination gap has hampered partnership development and investments toward improved
observing and data systems. ROADS seeks to address this shortcoming through generating a systems-level view of observing
requirements and implementation strategies across SAON’s many partners through its roadmap. A critical success factor for
ROADS is equitable participation of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the design and development process, starting at the process
design stage to build needed equity. ROADS is both a comprehensive concept, building from a societal benet assessment
approach, and one that can proceed step-wise so that the most imperative Arctic observations—here described as shared
Arctic variables (SAVs)—can be rapidly improved. SAVs will be identied through rigorous assessment at the beginning of the
ROADS process, with an emphasis in that assessment on increasing shared benet of proposed system improvements across
a range of partnerships from local to global scales. The success of the ROADS process will ultimately be measured by the
realization of concrete investments in and well-structured partnerships for the improved sustainment of Arctic observing and
data systems in support of societal benet.
1 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA and
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 325 Broadway, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA; email@example.com
2 Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program Secretariat, The Fram Centre, PO Box 6606 Stakkevvollan, 9296 Tromso, Norway
3 Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada, 75 Albert Street, Suite 1001, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5E7, Canada
4 International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2160 Koyukuk Drive, Fairanks, Alaska 99775, USA
5 Polar View ApS, Symfonivej 18, Herlev 2630, Denmark
6 Geoscience Department, Williams College, Wachenheim Science Center, 18 Hoxesy Street, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, USA
7 CNC North Consulting, Seattle, Washington 98101, USA
8 Department of Bioscience, Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University, Frederiksborgvej 399, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
9 The PEW Charitable Trusts, 111 SW Columbia Street, Suite 200, Portland, Oregon 97201, USA
10 Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology (NORDECO), Skindergade 23, 1159 Copenhagen, Denmark
11 Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Northern Contaminants Program, 15 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Québec J8X 4B3, Canada
12 Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Am Handelshafen 12, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany
13 Lund University, Sölvegatan 14, Hus 1, 223 62 Lund, Sweden
14 Arctic Portal, Ráōhústorg 7, 600 Akureyri, Iceland
15 National Institute of Polar Research, 10-3, Midori-cho, Tachikawa-shi, Tokyo 190-8518, Japan
16 The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Church, Imaneq 1, PO Box 1029, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
17 Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada
18 Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research/Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Helsinki, PO Box 64, 00014
19 Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada
20 Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, Jahnebakken 3, N-5007 Bergen, Norway
21 Finnish Meteorological Institute, Erik Palménin aukio 1, FL-00560 Helsinki, Finland
22 British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, United Kingdom
© The Arctic Institute of North America
ROADMAP FOR ARCTIC OBSERVING AND DATA SYSTEMS • 57
Key words: framework; roadmap; observing; data; Indigenous knowledge; societal benet; essential variable; shared Arctic
RÉSUMÉ. Les systèmes de données et d’observation de l’Arctique sont grandement considérés comme des infrastructures
critiques en matière de prise de décisions et de compréhension dans les divers secteurs de l’Arctique et d’ailleurs dans le
monde. Pourtant, en raison de problèmes importants et persistants en matière de coordination, d’infrastructure de déploiement
et de retards technologiques, l’Arctique gure toujours parmi les régions les moins bien observées de la planète pour ce qui
est des systèmes d’observation conventionnels. Les réseaux Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON) ont été mis en
œuvre en 2011 an de combler les écarts persistants en matière de coordination des observations dans l’Arctique, observations
effectuées par ses nombreux partenaires nationaux et organisationnels. Dans son plan stratégique de 2018 à 2028, SAON a
dressé une vision audacieuse en vue de l’élaboration d’un plan pour les systèmes de données et d’observation de l’Arctique
(ROADS) an de combler un écart important en matière d’efforts de coordination, soit l’absence actuelle d’un mécanisme de
planication systématique pour développer et interconnecter les exigences et les stratégies de mise en œuvre des systèmes
d’observation et de données dans la région de l’Arctique. Ce manque de coordination a nui à la conclusion de partenariats et
d’investissements donnant lieu à des systèmes de données et d’observation améliorés. ROADS a comme objectif de combler
cet écart grâce à la détermination des exigences d’observation et à des stratégies de mise en œuvre au niveau des systèmes pour
tous les partenaires de SAON grâce au plan établi. Un facteur de réussite critique pour ROADS consiste en la participation
équitable des peuples autochtones de l’Arctique au processus de conception et de développement, en commençant par le stade
de la conception an d’obtenir la participation nécessaire. ROADS est à la fois un concept exhaustif qui s’appuie sur une
démarche d’évaluation des avantages pour la société et un concept progressif permettant l’amélioration rapide des observations
les plus impératives de l’Arctique, ici décrites comme les variables partagées de l’Arctique (SAV). Les SAV seront déterminées
au moyen d’une évaluation rigoureuse au début du processus ROADS, l’accent de cette évaluation étant mis sur l’augmentation
des avantages partagés découlant des améliorations proposées aux systèmes dans le cadre de divers partenariats, tant
à l’échelle locale que mondiale. Au bout du compte, le succès remporté par le processus ROADS se mesurera en fonction
d’investissements concrets dans des partenariats bien structurés en vue du soutien amélioré des systèmes de données et
d’observation de l’Arctique pour favoriser les avantages qu’en tirera la société.
Mots clés : cadre de référence; plan; observation; données; connaissances autochtones; avantages pour la société; variable
essentielle; variable partagée de l’Arctique
Traduit pour la revue Arctic par Nicole Giguère.
The initiation of the international Sustaining Arctic
Observing Networks (SAON) was motivated by the
collective challenges associated with coordinating,
improving, integrating and sustaining pan-Arctic
observations in the face of rapid environmental and
social change. SAON is a joint initiative of the Arctic
Council and the International Arctic Science Committee
(IASC), both of which recognized that the complex
organizational dimensions of Arctic observing activities
(i.e., multidisciplinary, transboundary, cross-sectoral,
overlapping mandates) called for a body like SAON to serve
as a regional facilitator toward shared goals (AC, 2011).
SAON has been recognized as a critical infrastructure in
the region to support sustainable development and decision
making (Berkman, 2015). Its intent as an open initiative
is to engage Arctic and non-Arctic countries, Indigenous
Peoples, academia, the private sector, and other key partners
in support of a comprehensive, integrated observing
network supported by interoperable data systems. Since its
formal inception in 2011, SAON has grown into a vibrant
and progressive collection of activities in support of data
interoperability and network synthesis. Recently, SAON
has been called upon to engage more directly in developing
planning approaches for the needed observing networks
and data systems (AOS, 2016; ASM2, 2018; ASM3, 2021).
Such an ambitious undertaking requires a clear outline of
the specic challenges and objectives that such planning
entails, which begins within the context of widespread
changes witnessed in the Arctic.
In recent decades, scientific, Indigenous, and local
observations of the Arctic system (Murray et al., 2010) have
revealed a pace, magnitude, and extent of change that is
unprecedented by many measures. These changes include
rapid melting and thawing of the cryosphere (AMAP, 2017a;
IPCC, 2019), and shifts in ecological communities that
threaten biodiversity (ICC-AK, 2015; CAFF, 2017; Lento et
al., 2019) and undermine food security and resilience across
northern communities (ICC-AK, 2015; AC, 2016). These
changes result in adverse impacts to natural and built Arctic
environments including increased coastal and riverine
erosion, storm surges, more numerous and severe wildres,
damage to infrastructure, and risks to fresh water supplies
(Ivanov et al., 2020, Lappalainen et al., in press). Observed
impacts from Arctic change are not conned to the region.
Melting Arctic land ice impacts global sea level and ocean
circulation (IPCC, 2019). Moreover, regional alterations to
sea ice, ocean surface waters, and the overlying atmosphere
may influence the severity of weather in midlatitudes
58 • S. STARKWEATHER et al.
(Overland et al., 2016). Migratory wildlife constitutes a living
connection between the Arctic and the rest of the world.
Sustained observations of the region, along with model
projections, provide critical insights to develop urgently
needed adaptation strategies (e.g., Knapp and Trainor, 2013;
AMAP, 2017a, b, c, 2018; Cuyler et al., 2020; Petäjä et al.,
2020), yet Arctic observations are currently too limited both
spatially and temporally and insufciently coordinated to
adequately inform them (e.g., Lee et al., 2019).
There are several intersecting challenges to collecting,
coordinating, and disseminating Arctic observations. The
physical challenges of polar conditions (e.g., polar night,
extreme cold, lack of conventional infrastructure, access,
and communications systems [Jeddi et al., 2020]) increase
conventional observing system costs, constrain coverage,
and limit real-time data dissemination. Coordination
challenges arise from the vastness, interdisciplinary
scope, and multilevel governance of the Arctic. Observing
activities involve diverse knowledge systems (Tengö et
al., 2014, 2021) and scientic disciplines and span national
boundaries and Indigenous homelands. Presently, a
heterogenous range of independently sponsored activities
collect and disseminate Arctic observations. Most activities
lack the Indigenous leadership or representation that
has been called for in northern research strategies and
critiques (e.g., ITK, 2018; Saami Council, 2019; Kawerak
Inc., 2020; Stone, 2020), even as locally embedded
observing strategies that include Indigenous observers
have been identied as resilient, safe, equitable (Petrov et
al., 2020), and low-carbon (e.g., IASC Action Group on
Carbon Footprint) ways to increase Arctic observations.
Remarkably, there is no comprehensive planning
mechanism for linking and coordinating across current
observing and data management activities or identied
needs. This important gap leads to further challenges. For
example, fragmented research and observing activities put
a strain on Indigenous communities and are unlikely to
address the needs they have determined to support decision
making. Fragmentation also impedes investment decisions
within funding agencies, which are required to justify their
resource allocations in the face of these complexities.
SAON’s national partners have already invested a
considerable amount into Arctic in situ and satellite
observing and related data infrastructure in support of
operational needs and academic research; these investments
have been demonstrated to deliver economic benefits
exceeding their costs (Dobricic et al., 2018). Governments
at all levels, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities
sustain their own networks as well (Danielsen et al., 2021).
An important portion of these activities is independently
initiated through grassroots efforts, supported by proposal
writing and revolving grant awards. SAON’s vision is to
bring these parties into a connected, collaborative, and
comprehensive long-term pan-Arctic observing and data
system of systems that serves societal needs.
Collectively, sponsors and partners have turned to SAON
to guide Arctic observing and data system development, yet
it is important to recognize that SAON’s ability to inuence
partner actions through collaborative governance is non-
hierarchical and therefore contingent upon cooperation.
Ostrom (2010) would describe the SAON governance
model as polycentric, which describes governance systems
through which multiple centers of authority are working
toward a common goal. Morrison et al. (2019) noted that
“polycentric actors” like SAON might exert three types
of power: by design, pragmatic, and framing. Of these,
framing power is most applicable to SAON, where it can
lead on problem framing, setting norms, and inuencing
Reective of its role as a polycentric actor, SAON’s
strategic plan (SAON, 2018) outlined important guiding
principles to achieve its vision. Those principles include
a recognition that SAON values both research and
operational needs for Arctic observations and that the
needed observations will be implemented and sustained
through cooperative partnerships under a common SAON
umbrella. Because these partnerships are found across a
variety of organizational settings from governmental to
academic, SAON recognizes that the design and operation
of Arctic observing and data systems will be guided by a
balance between grassroots and top-down needs, priorities,
SAON’s partnerships with Arctic Indigenous Peoples’
organizations entail specic guiding principles for ethical
and equitable engagement in linking diverse knowledge
systems, including scientific, Indigenous, and local
systems, each of which holds unique perspectives on the
Arctic system. Indigenous knowledge is a systematic way
of thinking and knowing that is elaborated and applied
to phenomena across biological, physical, cultural, and
linguistic systems. Indigenous knowledge is owned by
the holders of that knowledge, often collectively, and is
uniquely expressed and transmitted through Indigenous
languages. It is a body of knowledge generated through
cultural practices, lived experiences including extensive
and sometimes multigenerational observations, lessons, and
skills. It is still developing in a living process, including
knowledge acquired today and in the future (IPS, 2020).
Local knowledge refers to skills and understandings
developed by groups of individuals in a specic local
setting, often informing decision making in day-to-day life.
In contrast with Indigenous knowledge, local knowledge
does not presuppose a broader, shared worldview, although
it often is associated with a shared local understanding of
context. Most local and Indigenous knowledge systems
are empirically tested, applied, contested, and validated
through different means in different contexts (Hill et al.,
2020; Eicken et al., 2021). These specic guiding principles
in SAON’s strategic plan aim to support equity in addition
to rigor, as fragmented science efforts that do not engage
these principles can lead to false conclusions (e.g., Ward-
Fear et al., 2019; Raymond et al., 2020).
Through following these principles in its strategic
plan, SAON aims to mobilize the support for sustained
ROADMAP FOR ARCTIC OBSERVING AND DATA SYSTEMS • 59
observations on time-scales from years to decades and also
from local to regional to global scales. Such aims require
robust planning approaches.
A ROADMAP APPROACH:RECOMMENDATIONS OF
SAON’S ROADMAP TASK FORCE
As part of its strategic plan, SAON identied the need
for a Roadmap for Arctic Observing and Data Systems
(ROADS) to set a course towards systematically dening
the needed observing and data systems and to specify how
the various partners and players are going to collectively
work towards achieving that system. SAON’s goal for its
roadmap was presented to and supported by the second
and third Arctic Science Ministerial processes (ASM2,
2018; ASM3, 2021). The joint statement from the Third
Ministerial called for a strengthening of SAON’s work,
recommending to “Encourage nalizing the Roadmap for
Arctic Observing and Data Systems (ROADS) through
the coordination and cooperation between national and
international programs, small and large projects, and
infrastructures, and prioritize implementation” (ASM3,
2021:5). ROADS is a critical tool to identify and integrate
requirements for observing and data systems along with
implementation strategies that support data interoperability.
To initiate ROADS, the SAON Board empaneled a
Task Force to set forth guidelines for the community of
contributors to its roadmap. The Task Force identied the
following principles to guide the ROADS process:
• Indigenous Peoples’ equitable partnership and funding
for their active participation is critical to ROADS;
• All aspects of the ROADS process should support broadly
shared benet from the obser ving and data systems;
• The ROADS process should complement and integrate,
without duplication, the current planning approaches
used by existing networks (regional to global), activities,
• ROADS should support stepwise development through
a exible and evolving structure that allows grassroots
identication of themes, infrastructures, and regional foci.
The purpose of ROADS is to stimulate new multinational
investments around specic plans with clear societal value
propositions, to serve as a tool for linking observations
collected in support of different objectives and knowledge
systems, and to ensure maximal benets are delivered
from Arctic observing and data systems to their intended
users. The ROADS process is targeted towards policy
makers at all levels, Arctic Indigenous communities and
organizations, Arctic and non-Arctic states, academia, civil
society, and the private sector, as well as other multilateral/
international groups and organizations. To succeed at this
ambitious challenge, SAON must engage with new partners
and revitalize the terms of its engagement with existing
The Arctic Observing Summit (AOS) convenes many of
these partners in its biennial gathering (Murray et al., 2018).
The virtual AOS 2020 sessions involved 350 participants
from 29 countries and provided a critical opportunity for
SAON to engage a broad and diverse cross section of its
intended audience in deliberations about how the ROADS
process should proceed. The following descriptions of the
ROADS process reect these combined perspectives.
A Network that Serves Societal Needs
The ROADS process is first and foremost oriented
towards generating societal benefit within the Arctic
region, with an emphasis on the inclusion of Indigenous
worldviews in assessing that benet. Critiques of science
planning and conduct in the Arctic have shown that
when locally dened societal benet is not considered,
conventional observing systems fail to address community
priorities in the Arctic region, and the realized benets are
conned to the objectives of the research enterprise itself
(e.g., ITK, 2018; Carlo, 2020). Further, the underlying
worldview of Indigenous knowledge is holistic, whereas
hypothesis-driven science methodologies favor deduction
and reductionism, which constrains efforts to make use of
their conclusions in a more holistic decision-making context
(e.g., ICC-AK, 2020). For these reasons, Indigenous self-
determination in research and co-production of knowledge
approaches are emerging as necessary practices (CTKW,
2014; ITK, 2018; Behe et al., 2019) in Arctic research
planning, with an emphasis on building equity.
Equity has emerged as an important goal within
planning processes, particularly those related to sustainable
development, exemplified by the Aichi targets of the
Convention on Biological Diversity (McDermott et al.,
2013; CBD, 2020). Denitions of equity in relation to
sustainable development highlight three interrelated
dimensions that are also applicable to the development
of the ROADS process: distribution, procedure, and
recognition (McDermott et al., 2013). Distribution is
concerned with who realizes benefits or incurs costs
(Walker, 2012); procedure refers to how decisions are made
and by whom; recognition is about the status afforded
to different social and cultural values or identities and to
the social groups who hold them (De Jonge, 2011). These
considerations inform the type of assessment methods the
ROADS process should use to establish a communal and
inclusive view of societal benet across the intended user
base of Arctic observations.
One starting point for societal benet assessment is the
International Arctic Observations Assessment Framework
(AOF) (IDA STPI and SAON, 2017), an assessment
framework jointly created by SAON partners to support
multicriteria decision making for observing system
investments. The AOF identied 12 interdependent, Arctic-
specic Societal Benet Areas (SBAs) including Food
Security, Disaster Preparedness, Weather and Climate,
Human Health, and Fundamental Understanding of Arctic
60 • S. STARKWEATHER et al.
Systems. Critically, the AOF provides a mechanism to
identify intersections between common needs in the
observing system across spatial scales from local to global
and time-scales from days to decades. For example, global
networks and national hydrometeorological institutes fund
investments to support AOF objectives under its Weather
and Climate SBA to capture a comprehensive, real-time
global picture of conditions. These same products, if
adequately specied, could also inform AOF objectives
identified under the SBAs of Disaster Preparedness,
Food Security, and Fundamental Understanding in the
region. The AOF has already been applied to the EU’s
Impact Assessment on Long-Term Investment on Arctic
Observations project to demonstrate how the economic
value of Arctic observations compounds across application
areas like ship routing and sheries management (Dobricic
et al., 2018). AOF results were also applied to a value
tree for physical atmosphere and ocean observations in
the Arctic (Strahlendorff et al., 2019) to improve weather
and climate forecasts. Further work on the AOF is being
conducted in the U.S. to support improved forecasts and
climate assessments (Starkweather et al., 2020).
An important input from the AOS 2020 dialog was the
recognition that the AOF should not be the sole tool used
for assessing impacts of observing system improvements,
even as it should be further developed and adapted with
broader community input, including more extensive input
from Indigenous Peoples. The Indigenous Food Security
Working Group, one of the AOS 2020 working groups,
found the descriptions within the AOF, particularly under
the Food Security area, siloed and limited. They have since
undertaken an effort to establish an improved set of linked
objectives within the theme of food security (FSWG, 2020),
building upon previous work by the Inuit Circumpolar
Council-Alaska’s food security framework (ICC-AK,
2015). Given these considerations, and in support of its
guiding principle for the equitable inclusion of Indigenous
Peoples, the ROADS process must approach assessment
as an adaptive process, with the AOF and comparable
frameworks viewed as having equal value.
Assessment methods can take many forms. The
AOF, for example, lends itself well to value-tree style
assessments (IDA STPI and SAON, 2017), which link
observations to value-added products and services. Within
the ROADS process, systematic assessment of observing
networks should assure that the developed requirements
are consistent with a network that broadly serves societal
needs and provide the rationale for sustained investments
and engagement in Arctic observing. ROADS will
ultimately translate relevant societal benet objectives into
requirements for the observing and data system and estimate
the resources that will be needed to implement them.
Organizing Around Essential Variables
Given the complex breadth of the Arctic system, the
ROADS process requires an organizational strategy for
requirements and implementation strategies that supports
planning by parts, but does not generate planning silos,
which is considered one of the persistent failings of Arctic
research planning (Carlo, 2020). SAON’s Task Force
reviewed network-building approaches employed by a
variety of global and regional observing networks, including
the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) Framework for
Ocean Observing (FOO, 2012), Global Climate Observing
System (GCOS), Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring
Programme (CBMP), Arctic Monitoring and Assessment
Programme (AMAP), Group on Earth Observations
(GEO) agships (including Global Water Sustainability,
GEO Biodiversity Observing Network, and GEO Global
Agricultural Monitoring), and the World Meteorological
Organization’s (WMO) Integrated Global Observing
System. The Task Force also reviewed planning guidelines
and frameworks provided by Indigenous organizations
(ITK, 2018; Saami Council, 2019).
The essential variable strategy, which goes by many
names, emerged as a good practice for supporting network
design and development. An essential variable strategy is
used to parse a system into conceptually broad observable
phenomena (e.g., sea ice or precipitation) that are critical for
characterizing a system and its changes. Ideally, the scope
of each essential variable should strike a balance between
breadth and specicity to achieve the desired outcome of
integrating the observational expertise and harmonizing the
methods of related communities of practitioners, without
proliferating organizational complexity. The ROADS
process supports a view that taking the Arctic system as
a whole is vital in supporting robust adaptation strategies,
decision making, and scientic understanding, but parsing
it into smaller planning units is a necessary organizational
step. As the highly connected Arctic system cannot solely
be understood from the standpoint of the magnitude of
different state variables, it may help to further characterize
the system through a related set of essential processes. In
the context of ROADS, an essential variable or process
approach can support the guiding principle of building on
existing planning efforts as many SAON partners already
use some version of essential variables; it also supports the
guiding principle of proceeding step-wise. Ultimately, even
a partial collection of essential variables or processes would
support a broad view of observing and data infrastructure
needs. With these considerations in mind, the Task Force
concluded that an essential variable or process approach is
robust, provided there are strong, overarching mechanisms
in place to avoid siloed approaches.
A fully defined essential variable, including
requirements and strategies for data sharing, should be
codeveloped by all of those who would share the benet
of the information. The AOS Indigenous Food Security
Working Group recommends taking a co-production of
knowledge approach (CTKW, 2014; Behe and Daniel,
2018; Norström, 2020) in dening variables to ensure the
equitable inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and knowledge
systems from the beginning. Support for coproduction of
ROADMAP FOR ARCTIC OBSERVING AND DATA SYSTEMS • 61
knowledge entails nancial support for sustained inclusion
of Indigenous Peoples, who too often are not funded for
their participation in research. AOS 2020 deliberations
emphasized this important gap, as well as the broad need
for Indigenous Peoples to have access to capacity-building
opportunities (as they have identied) within Indigenous
communities and organizations to support equitable
partnership in ROADS (Wheeler et al., 2020).
The ROADS guiding principle for shared benet was
underscored and enhanced through deliberations at the
AOS 2020, in particular to emphasize the need for cross-
disciplinary and cross-sector integration of observations
that ideally tie into global observing frameworks. AOS
2020 participants recommended adopting the term “shared
Arctic variables” (SAVs) (Bradley et al., 2021) for the
essential variables or processes developed under ROADS
and underscored that a key criterion for SAVs would be
cross-sectoral use. Specifically, observations and data
systems that warrant the level of effort associated with the
ROADS process should serve multiple sectors and data user
groups and ideally address priorities at the intersection of
Arctic community-identied needs, regionally identied
cross-sectoral needs and those of the global observing
programs (Fig. 1). For example, a SAV might address
information needs expressed by Arctic coastal communities
from a coastal hazards perspective, serve Arctic research
interests focused on long-term trends and variability in
the state of the coastal seas, and preferably also tie back to
one or more essential climate variables in the context of the
GCOS. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme
is already reviewing the tness of GCOS essential climate
variable requirements for Arctic applications. In contrast,
observations of an essential variable that has been
prioritized by a global observing program and is tracked by
a narrow group of constituents is not contingent on high-
level, cross-sector, international coordination. While the
language “variable” is being adopted, SAVs might also
center on processes.
The Task Force recommends that ROADS should focus
on a select list of highly impactful variables that would
be broadly benecial and are not currently well-specied
by the regional or global networks, rather than seeking to
identify every possible phenomenon in the Arctic system. A
noteworthy caution is that GOOS and GCOS, with 31 and
54 essential variables respectively, have struggled to develop
requirements and implementation strategies for each.
In keeping with the ROADS principle of complementing
current efforts in a non-duplicative approach, relevant
global linkages should be identied from existing catalogs
of essential variables associated with global networks
(e.g., essential ocean variables, essential climate variables,
essential biodiversity variables), regional programs (e.g.,
AMAP and CBMP), and with reference to gaps analyses
like the European Space Agency’s Polaris assessment (Polar
View Earth Observation Limited, 2016). A global variable
should only be directly adopted by ROADS as a SAV if it is
found to be critical across sectors, and the global denition
is inadequately serving Arctic needs. In these cases, the
ROADS process should extend the requirements (e.g.,
adding requirements for land-fast ice observations to global
variables for sea ice) and implementation strategies of the
global networks where necessary to account for Arctic
conditions (e.g., ice-covered ocean) and opportunities (e.g.,
community observers [Johnson et al., 2016; Danielsen et
al., 2021]). While some global variables might not reach
the level of a SAV, the ROADS process could still serve
as a mechanism for improving the requirements and
implementation of Arctic-relevant variables. Each SAV
under ROADS should fully specify the observing and
data system requirements from acquisition through high-
impact information dissemination; these specications
should support consistency and interoperability across
the network. The vehicle for identifying, dening, and
implementing SAVs is the subject of the following section.
FIG. 1. Followi ng rigorous assessment of societal benet, Shared Arctic
Variables (SAV), which characterize a fundamental aspect of the Arctic
System, are identied at the intersect ion of benet reali zation from at least
two broad constituencies of use. An ideal SAV would realize community-
identied benets in Indigenous commun ities (lig ht red), support
fundamental understanding of Arctic systems and regional decision-making
needs (blue), and inform science and decision-making needs at the global
scale and integrate with operational global networks (green). Observing and
data system implementat ion strategies for SAVs would then nd support
from these broad constituencies as well. For example, community-embedded
observing strategies that are organized within the context of Indigenous
data sovereignty would be best suited to suppor t community identied
requirements within an SAV.
62 • S. STARKWEATHER et al.
SAON sits at the intersection of a complex of research
governance entities that are active across scales from the
community to the global level, with science and policy foci
from broad (e.g., global weather and climate) to specic (e.g.,
ocean noise), making polycentric governance approaches
a good model for SAON and ROADS. In consideration
of the progress made under the Framework for Ocean
Observing (FOO, 2012) and the Circumpolar Biodiversity
Monitoring Programme’s ecosystem assessment studies,
both of which share polycentric governance challenges, the
Task Force recommended adopting a similar governance
approach, using a single Advisory Panel working across a
collection of regional or thematic Expert Panels. While
SAON itself will appoint the Advisory Panel, it is envisioned
that Expert Panels will initiate from SAON’s network
of partners, developing one or several SAVs within their
purview. Participation in the panels must be as inclusive
and relevant as the scope of the panels’ proposed efforts,
drawing subject matter experts from academia, Indigenous
organizations, northern communities, operational agencies,
partner organizations, the private sector, and government.
Comprehensive subject matter expertise should include
experts on value delivery such as data managers and
information end users. It is critical to underline that
ROADS Expert Panels are envisioned to have a scope that
is consistent with a funded (or in-kind) effort, and SAON
will encourage adequate support for panels to assure timely
progress and equitable outcomes.
The intersecting model for SAVs suggests that
Expert Panels could originate from any one of the three
conceptual constituencies represented in Figure 1, while
the advisory process would assure that all constituencies
are fully engaged. For example, the World Meteorological
Organization has initiated a series of regional projects
to improve monitoring of freshwater systems (HYCOS),
and the Arctic HYCOS group would make an excellent
candidate to initiate a SAON Expert Panel on freshwater. In
this case, the advisory process would extend invitations to
Indigenous and regional organizations with shared interests
and expertise. In another scenario, Arctic Council expert
groups could initiate Expert Panels to augment and extend
their efforts through formalizing relevant monitoring
strategies under ROADS. For example, the Arctic Council’s
AMAP working group regularly empanels experts to
address critical issues, like Arctic cryospheric change or
litter and microplastics. In addition to these global and
regional examples, initiating an Expert Panel is also open to
Indigenous networks and working groups (e.g., Indigenous
Knowledge Social Network, and the AOS Indigenous Food
Security Working Group), infrastructures (e.g., Svalbard
Integrated Observing System [SIOS] and International
Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the
Arctic [INTERACT]), research consortia (e.g., Canada’s
ArcticNet), and regional activities (e.g., Alaska Ocean
Observing System [AOOS]).
Using an Expert Panel approach entails that the success
of the ROADS process relies upon partnership, so ROADS
must add critical value to current planning approaches
to succeed. While many Arctic observing networks and
SAON partner institutions (e.g., WMO) have their own
processes for identifying observing system priorities, there
is currently no meta-structure to tie these efforts together
into a systematic, pan-Arctic view. The grassroots Arctic
Observing Summit (AOS, 2016; Murray et al., 2018)
and the Arctic Science Ministerial processes (ASM2,
2018; ASM3, 2021) have both upheld the need for such a
structure, as well as SAON’s role in shepherding it forward.
Partnership with SAON continues to be a critical success
factor for grant proposals. It was a requirement for the
EU Horizon2020 award to the Arctic PASSION (Pan-
Arctic Observation System of Systems) project and was
voluntarily pursued by the recently awarded U.S. proposal:
Research Networking Activities in Support of Sustained
Coordinated Observations of Arctic Change (RNA CoObs;
NSF-OPP 1936805). Both projects have aligned to provide
direct or indirect support to the ROADS process, including
funding support for engagement by Indigenous Peoples.
The ROADS Advisory Panel is intended to provide
a neutral and collaborative standing body to assure
that each SAV is identified, defined, and follows an
implementation strategy that is consistent with ROADS
principles. In addition to assuring an inclusive process, the
Advisory Panel will have the mandate to foster integration
across panels, mobilize international participation and
collaboration with global networks, and work to cultivate
consensus approaches across panels. The ROADS Advisory
Panel should also work with relevant funding agencies
and organizations, as well as the Arctic Funders Forum
(AFF, 2020), to advance support for Expert Panel efforts,
including their implementation strategies. These panels will
interact following a multiphase process described next.
A Facilitated Process from SAVs to Implementation
The Task Force outlined a multiphase process for the
initiation and progression of Expert Panel work under
ROADS (Fig. 2) and the interactive facilitation of the
ROADS Advisory Panel, which will review each step of the
process. The steps of the ROADS process are:
• Initiate – Each proposing Expert Panel is invited to
write a brief proposal to the ROADS Advisory Panel
outlining a scope of assessment and relevant participants,
highlighting the anticipated impacts on decision making
and new knowledge. The Advisory Panel will have the
opportunity to assure alignment with ROADS principles,
like the equitable inclusion of Indigenous experts. It will
also identify linkages with existing Expert Panels. While
it is not necessary for each panel to have funding, SAON
will encourage and support panels in seeking resources for
community meetings (virtual or in-person), coordination
of documentation, and any necessary cyberinfrastructure.
ROADMAP FOR ARCTIC OBSERVING AND DATA SYSTEMS • 63
• STEP 1 – Convene relevant participants (as identied at
the Initiating step) in sufcient community meetings to
identify critical SAVs for the panel’s scope of interest.
Criticality of SAVs should be systematically assessed as
described above. Case studies for tracking the impact of
anticipated SAV benets should be identied. Results
should be reported back to the Advisory Panel at this
stage for review and approval to proceed to the next
phase. It could occur that more than one panel is working
on different aspects of the same SAVs for different
outcomes. The Advisory Panel will facilitate cooperation
in these instances.
• STEP 2 – Convene relevant participants in sufcient
community meetings to specify the requirements and
harmonization needs for each relevant SAV for the
scope. These descriptions should be comprehensive
of data collection, data management (in keeping with
the Statement of Principles and Practices for Arctic
Data Management [IASC, 2013], FAIR in Wilkinson
et al., 2016 and CARE [Research Data Alliance
International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest
Group, 2019] principles), analysis, system management,
and dissemination. Systematic approaches to design
development, such as observing system experiments,
are highly encouraged where viable. The relationship
between requirements and anticipated outcomes should
be clearly outlined along with metrics for their tracking.
Results should be reported back to the Advisory Panel
for review and agreement to proceed to the next phase.
• STEP 3 – Convene relevant participants, in collaboration
with relevant funding agencies and partner
organizations, to outline strategies for implementation
and engage commitments for their sustainment,
including technical, organizational, nancial, and of
human capacity. This process should describe which
infrastructures (physical and virtual) and organizational
and human professional resources are essential for
current implementation. Implementation strategies
should address the optimized joint use of satellite earth
observation programs; community-embedded, -driven,
and -led observations; terrestrial stations; vessels;
aircraft; and various autonomous platforms providing
observing systems. Implementation should also describe
how these infrastructures will be integrated into value-
added services and products and the strategy for their
dissemination. This phase of work should also identify
FIG. 2. In this future-looking vision, we demonstrate that the ROADS process will proceed at the intersection of subject-driven Expert Panels (as illustrated by
the light horizontal bands) and the ROADS Advisory Panel, which will advise each step (as illustrated by the darker vertical bands). Three examples of different
types of Expert Panels are shown as it is expected that Expert Panels will self-organize in diverse ways, for example around regions, topics or issues that are
broad enough to address at least one SAV. Each Expert Panel will move through the steps of t he ROADS process; symbols in the gure illustrate that Expert
Panels will proceed asynchronously from each other, with some completing tasks before others. The Advisory Panel will in tur n weave together the related
aspects of the individual Expert Panels at each advising step to prevent siloing of outcomes.
64 • S. STARKWEATHER et al.
technology development needs in order to improve
readiness of future generations of the observing system
and strategies to advance them.
The assessments, requirements, and strategies collated
throughout the multiphase ROADS process should
be accessible, transparent, and aligned across partner
organizations to avoid conicting or wastefully duplicative
results. The WMO’s Rolling Review of Requirements
provides a model for good practices and is suggestive of
the type of cyberinfrastructure that the ROADS process
will ultimately require. SAON and the Advisory Panel’s
ongoing role will be to knit together the results of the
ROADS process into a coherent whole so that actions of
broadest societal benet can be prioritized. Mechanisms
for evaluating the benecial impact of plans should be
developed in each phase of the process in close partnership
with those who will use observations in decision-making
contexts. The ROADS process must proceed in a spirit of
continuous improvement, such that SAVs and the process
as whole are the subject of evaluation and review on a
Given the multicomponent and progressive nature of the
proposed ROADS process, it will be critical to regularly
evaluate its elements and effectiveness. The Task Force
recommends a full-process evaluation following the rst
two years of pilot efforts, potentially in collaboration with
AOS 2024 and its working groups. The U.S. RNA CoObs
award includes funding for evaluation of its success within
the ROADS process. The experiences and the outcomes of
the Arctic PASSION project will prove extremely valuable
to rening ROADS for ongoing success. Evaluation of the
degree to which equity and other desired objectives are
achieved in the process from an Indigenous point of view
will be critical.
To evaluate the elements of ROADS, the Task Force
recommends that the collection of approved SAVs and their
underlying descriptions be evaluated every ve to seven
years as the requirements and strategies for observing will
be subject to change. The pace of Arctic change suggests as
much, but there is also recognition that our scientic and
societal needs of an observing system will change over time
and that the observing system will need to be exible to
meet these needs.
Evaluating the impact of ROADS on its overall objective
to support societal benet is critical, but it is anticipated
that evidence of this impact will take longer to emerge. The
multiphase process to develop SAVs thus includes explicit
actions to identify means to demonstrate the impact of
SAVs on decision making. This type of evaluation should be
considered an important deliverable to the Arctic Science
WHERE WILL ROADS TAKE US?
ROADS is both a comprehensive approach, building
from the systematic approach of SAON’s societal benet
framework, and one that can proceed step-wise so that
the most imperative Arctic observing system elements
can be rapidly improved under a model of benet sharing
that crosses scales. For each SAV identified, ROADS
will produce well-specied requirements for observing
and a strategy for their implementation and timely data
dissemination. ROADS is envisioned to be an inclusive
and transparent process that is proceeding in collaboration
with funding agencies and observing organizations, as
represented by the membership of the SAON Board.
The use of Expert Panels will generate strong grassroots
ownership of plans across a range of partners. Active
advising from SAON will provide overarching insights to
weave the system of SAVs together. If successful, ROADS
will unify the communities of Arctic observing, data
management, and decision making across scales through
its structured requirements and implementation strategies.
Funding agencies and governments will recognize the
merits of an integrated and systematic process with
coordinated international engagement, while global
networks will recognize the value of regional facilitation
through SAVs that extend the denitions and utility of their
Here, it should be underscored that Arctic Indigenous
Peoples need to be recognized as rights holders and
knowledge holders in the Arctic, and research in their
homeland needs to be conducted in partnership with them.
Governance of and progress under ROADS shall be shaped
by and benet greatly from this critical consideration.
ROADS shall proceed in accordance with guidelines on
ethical research (e.g., IARPC, 2018; ITK, 2018) provided
by Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the various locations. It is
important to acknowledge that many of the long-standing
issues that have resulted in tensions between knowledge
systems or diverging principles toward data access (e.g.,
sovereignty versus open access) have roots in colonial
histories that persist as systemic barriers for Indigenous
people to this day (Wong, 2020; M’s ɨt No’ k m aq et al.,
2021). In its current form, ROADS does not provide an
immediate remedy to these issues, but it does seek to build
partnerships and conceptual tools that will support the
urgent need to decolonize research practices, including
The SAON Strategy covers a 10-year timeline from
2018 to 2028 (SAON, 2018), but progress on ROADS is
expected to advance more swiftly. Activity under the
ROADS process will be one measure of its success, but
the extent to which ROADS realizes societal benet and
improved decision making in the Arctic through enhanced
observations and data systems is the most powerful
measure of success. The former is more readily measured
than the latter and both should be tracked. Activity under
ROADS can be measured by the number of societal
ROADMAP FOR ARCTIC OBSERVING AND DATA SYSTEMS • 65
benet areas that have been translated through SAVs into
a coherent system of observing requirements and resource-
estimated implementation plans. Collaboration with AOS
working groups and funded proposals working on ROADS
will provide critical vehicles for this progress. Each AOS
will provide an opportunity to measure this progress. For
example, it is proposed that two to four SAVs will be fully
developed by AOS 2024.
ROADS development will support each of the three
goals outlined in SAON’s strategy. It will directly result in
the roadmap called for under Goal 1; it will support ethical
access to Arctic data called for under Goal 2 through well-
dened data management strategies, co-developed with
Indigenous partners tied to each SAV; and it will ensure
the sustainability of the Arctic Observing System called for
under Goal 3 through an integrated system of community-
endorsed observing targets and strategies that are justied
based on their broad societal and economic value.
SAON has matured since its inception into an
organization with a clear mandate, compelling vision, and
robust partnerships. With the recent attention of the Arctic
Science Ministerial process, the convening power of the
AOS, and the increasing effectiveness of its Board and
committees, SAON is poised to deliver a roadmap that will
mobilize substantial sustained investments in well-dened
and coordinated Arctic observing. If successful, ROADS
will yield more than a strategic investment strategy for
observing and data system funders and organizations, it
will build an inclusive, polycentric community of practice
prepared to move forward together, equitably, in support of
shared benet. We call upon SAON’s partners in networks,
infrastructures, and observing activities to take up this call
to join the ROADS process.
The authors would like to thank the following programs
for their support in participating in the framing of the ROADS
process: NOAA’s Arctic Research Program (Starkweather); EU
H2020 projects INTAROS and CAPARDUS (grants no. 727890
and no. 869673, Danielsen and Sandven), and EU H2020 project
Arctic PASSION (grant no. 101003472). We would like to thank
our two anonymous reviewers in addition to those who provided
comments on earlier versions of this draft: Will Ambrose,
Christine Barnard, Carolina Behe, Nicole Biebow, Etienne
Charpentier, Cathy Coon, Roberto Delgado, Lauren Divine,
Attillio Gambardella, Jackie Grebmeier, Thorsteinn Gunnarsson,
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