Sustainability Science

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 91–102 | Cite as

The role of Indigenous science and local knowledge in integrated observing systems: moving toward adaptive capacity indices and early warning systems

  • Lilian AlessaEmail author
  • Andrew Kliskey
  • James Gamble
  • Maryann Fidel
  • Grace Beaujean
  • James Gosz
Special Feature: Original Article Weaving Indigenous and Sustainability Sciences to Diversify Our Methods (WIS2DOM)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: Weaving Indigenous and Sustainability Sciences to Diversify Our Methods (WIS2DOM)


Community-based observing networks (CBONs) use a set of human observers connected via a network to provide comprehensive data, through observations of a range of environmental variables. Invariably, these observers are Indigenous peoples whose intimacy with the land- and waterscape is high. Certain observers can recall events precisely, describe changes accurately, and place them in an appropriate social context. Each observer is akin to a sensor and, linked together, they form a robust and adaptive sensor array that constitutes the CBON. CBONs are able to monitor environmental changes as a consequence of changing ecological conditions (e.g., weather, sea state, sea ice, flora, and fauna) as well as anthropogenic activities (e.g., ship traffic, human behaviors, and infrastructure). Just like an instrumented array, CBONs can be tested and calibrated. However, unlike fixed instruments, they consist of intelligent actors who are much more capable of parsing information to better detect patterns (i.e., local knowledge for global understanding). CBONs rely on the inclusion of Indigenous science and local and traditional knowledge, and we advocate for their inclusion in observing networks globally. In this paper, we discuss the role of CBONs in monitoring environmental change in general, and their utility in developing a better understanding of coupled social-ecological systems and developing decision support both for local communities as well as regional management entities through adaptive capacity indices and risk assessment such as a community-based early warning system. The paper concludes that CBONs, through the practice of Indigenous science in partnership with academic/government scientists for the purpose of knowledge co-production, have the potential to greatly improve the way we monitor environmental change for the purpose of successful response and adaptation.


Adaptive capacity Adaptive capacity indices Arctic Community-based early warning systems Community-based observing networks Indigenous knowledge Indigenous science Social-ecological systems 



The authors are grateful to the National Science Foundation for awards ARC 856305 and 856774 in support of the Bering Sea Sub-Network, award ARC 1355238 in support of the Community-based Observing Network for Adaptation and Security, and award OIA 1208927 in support of the Alaska Adapting to Changing Environments program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lilian Alessa
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Andrew Kliskey
    • 1
  • James Gamble
    • 3
  • Maryann Fidel
    • 3
  • Grace Beaujean
    • 3
  • James Gosz
    • 4
  1. 1.Center for Resilient CommunitiesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  2. 2.Alaska EPSCoRUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  3. 3.Aleut International AssociationAnchorageUSA
  4. 4.Mountain Social Ecological Observing NetworkUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA

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