Community-based observing networks and systems in the Arctic: Human perceptions of environmental change and instrument-derived data


Many papers have addressed the differing approaches to observation by scientists collecting instrumented data and by community or local knowledge-based observations. Integrating these ways of knowing is difficult because they operate at different scales and have different goals. It would benefit both scientists and communities to integrate community-based observations and instrumented data, despite obstacles, because it would expand scales of observation and because gauged data in the Arctic are sparse. This requires development of a protocol to integrate these knowledge systems to maximize reliability and validity. We used survey data from a community-based observing network in the Bering Sea and examined the correspondence of community-based observations with instrument-derived data for air temperature, sea ice break-up and freeze-up, and vegetation changes. Results highlight that there is a high correspondence between community-based observations for sea ice and vegetation change and instrumented data, but there is an inherent conflict in scales of observation for air temperature data. This helps to elucidate the benefits of community-based observing as a process for understanding and responding to change in the Arctic.

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We would like to thank the residents of the villages of Nikolskoye, Tymlat, Kanchalan, Togiak, Sand Point, Savoonga, and Gambell for their contributions to BSSN and CONAS observing networks on which this study is based. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (awards #0856774, #0856305, #1355238, and #1642847). The views of the authors are an official finding of the Center for Resilient Communities but do not reflect those of the National Science Foundation, Aleut International Association, the Native communities who participated in this study, the Alaska Center for Conservation Science, or the University of Alaska. We acknowledge support of the Arctic Alaska Observatory and Knowledge Hub through Community Service Payments made by a corporate defendant convicted of Federal environmental and maritime crimes. This study is also funded by Alaska EPSCoR NSF award #OIA-1208927 and the state of Alaska.

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Correspondence to Paula Williams.

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Williams, P., Alessa, L., Abatzoglou, J.T. et al. Community-based observing networks and systems in the Arctic: Human perceptions of environmental change and instrument-derived data. Reg Environ Change 18, 547–559 (2018).

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  • Community-based observing
  • Community-based observing networks
  • Local place-based knowledge
  • Perception
  • Environmental change
  • Instrumented data