Written by Christian Belcher, a Research and Social Media Intern with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In spring of this year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced plans to host the first-ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial. On September 28, science ministers from Arctic and non-Arctic nations alike will convene in Washington, DC. Joining them will be representatives from various indigenous groups that call the Arctic home. Together, the OSTP is hoping to “advance promising, near-term science initiatives and create a context for increased international scientific collaboration on the Arctic over the long term.” The Ministerial will revolve around four key themes: arctic science challenges and their regional and global implications, strengthening and integrating arctic observations and data sharing, applying expanded scientific understanding of the arctic to build regional resilience and shape global responses, and of particular significance to us here at the Commons Lab, arctic science as a vehicle for STEM education and citizen empowerment. Current citizen science projects in the Arctic both address this theme, and serve as powerful examples of the near-term initiatives the OSTP intends to highlight.
One doesn’t have to look hard to discover the abundance of citizen science projects already underway in the Arctic. Because it is often difficult or expensive to reach, researchers rely heavily on the input of citizen scientists. This dependency has contributed to the proliferation and long history of Arctic citizen science. One such initiative, the Kachemak Bay CoastWalk, dates all the way back to 1984. For more than 30 years, CoastWalk participants have helped remove debris from Alaskan beaches and record observations of flora and fauna. In fact, a CoastWalk team member was the first to spot oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill on the beaches of Homer, Alaska. And when it comes to keeping track of invasive species, one project has proven that no age is too young. “Early Primary Invasion Scientists,” an article published in Science and Children, highlights the contributions of a first grade class, who helped document how climate change is affecting invasive species in the far North.
While the Inuit may have more than 50 words for snow, Arctic residents haven’t forgotten about ice either. The SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook provides the scientific community, stakeholders, and the public with information on Arctic sea ice, and receives its funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ice Watch, coordinated by the International Arctic Research Center out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, serves as an open source forum for data on Arctic sea ice. By using their ASSIST software, anyone can collect, archive, and access Arctic sea ice data from around the globe.
Projects like these have cemented the role that citizen science plays in Arctic research, a field integral to monitoring climate change. With temperatures rising twice as fast as the global average, permafrost is thawing, and glaciers are melting, at an alarming rate. In conjunction with the Paris Agreement, the international collaboration displayed during the U.S.-Nordic Leaders Summit is invaluable to combating climate change globally, an issue with sobering local ramifications, especially for those in the Arctic.