1. What is SAON?

The Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON) process was initiated by the Arctic Council (AC) and has been underway since early 2007. The initial background work for SAON was done by the SAON Steering Group (SAON-SG), and with the first meeting of the Board in January 2012, SAON was formally established. Its purpose is 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. SAON promotes the vision of well-defined observing networks that enable users to have access to free, open and high quality data that will realize pan-Arctic and global value-added services and provide societal benefits. Its goal is to enhance Arctic-wide observing activities by facilitating partnerships and synergies among existing observing and data networks (“building blocks”), and promoting sharing and synthesis of data and information. SAON also is committed to facilitating the inclusion of Arctic indigenous people in observing activities, in particular by promoting community-based monitoring (CBM) efforts.

2. What activities are outside the scope of SAON?

SAON itself will not undertake science planning, policy setting, observations, data archival, or funding of these efforts, which will remain the responsibility of the ongoing networks/sites/systems and data centers, the organizations that support them, or appropriate policy officials.

3. Why are sustained observations needed?

Climate change, contamination, biodiversity loss and changes to the physical environment of the Arctic have serious impacts both inside and outside the Arctic. Trends indicate that the severity of the impacts is projected to increase in the near future, subjecting Arctic countries and their peoples with new environmental, economic and societal challenges. Global activities affect the Arctic environment while changes in the Arctic environment have global consequences. Hence, the broader global community must be engaged in improved monitoring of the Arctic to better understand the changes and their effects, and must address the social and economic issues in Arctic observations. The need for comprehensive, sustained and interdisciplinary Arctic observations and data management was recognized at the initiation of the AC, and stressed again in more recent documents, such as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and the report of the International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP II), among others. Although the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY) provided an opportunity to implement new observing activities in the Arctic, most of those activities were of short duration, and many have already concluded.

4. What is the SAON approach and how will it work?

SAON will be organized as an independent activity under the co-sponsorship of the AC and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). It will be implemented as a Task-based activity allowing both bottom-up and top-down identification of needs. SAON will be constructed of several elements: SAON Task Teams supporting specific activities that advance the goal of SAON, SAON Board, SAON Secretariat, SAON Executive Committee, National SAON Coordinating Committees, and SAON Partners.

5. What is the role of the National SAON Coordinating Committee (NSCC), and how is it formed?

All countries are welcome to participate in SAON on an equal basis. The NSCC, or an equivalent existing national structure, is a key element in the success of SAON. It is internal to a given country and may be composed of representatives from national agencies or ministries that perform or finance environmental or social observations and/or data management related to the Arctic. It may also have representatives from sub-national governments, local and indigenous organizations, private organizations or other institutions engaged in observing. Each country will determine the composition of its committee. Each NSCC, or equivalent, will be aware of national activities and/or priorities for Arctic observing and data management, and the level of resources available to support the work of SAON.

6. What is the role of the SAON Board?

The SAON Board is composed of national representatives from the Arctic countries as well as other participating countries, along with representatives of the participating AC Working Groups (WGs) and Permanent Participant organizations (PPs), and the IASC. In addition, international organizations relevant to the work of SAON are invited to join the Board. Initially, the WMO is a Member of the Board, with other organizations added as appropriate. The Chair of the Board is selected by the AC, and the vice-Chair is selected the IASC. The Board is supported by a Secretariat drawn from both the AMAP and IASC Secretariats. The Board will be a coordinating and reporting mechanism, and will have an outreach function to engage with the broad community. It will review proposed Tasks and endorse those that meet the criteria (see 8. What are SAON Task Teams…). As needed, the Board may provide advice and guidance to Task Teams, and may encourage the development of new Task Teams to take on work deemed important by the Board.

7. What is the role of the PPs on the SAON Board?

Each of the AC PP organizations is invited to nominate a person to participate on the Board. PP representatives should be able to discuss observing and data management activities being conducted under their auspices or with their involvement, and also be aware of such activities being undertaken by the indigenous communities they represent. The PPs can develop their own tasks, advocate for SAON Tasks of importance to them, and can act as an intermediary promoting information exchange between indigenous communities and government agencies, observing networks, and other organizations.

8. What are SAON Task Teams, how are they formed and how do they interact with the SAON Board?

SAON will be implemented as a series of Tasks that support the SAON Goal (See 1. What is SAON?). The task-based approach allows for countries and partners to engage in work that supports the SAON Goal and meets their own needs and priorities, thus making funding and participation from the countries and partners more likely. The work of SAON is conducted by Task Teams, composed of organizations actually involved in resourcing and/or conducting a specific task that contributes to the purpose of SAON. Various national agencies are likely to provide most of the resources needed for SAON, yet other partner organizations have much to offer and are welcome to join in supporting and/or conducting tasks. Initially, Task Teams were formed through initiatives stimulated by the SAON-SG members, existing networks, or other organizations with the encouragement of SAON-SG members. Over time, the Board will become more active in promoting certain tasks, while “bottom-up” ideas will continue to be encouraged. Early proponents of a task have the responsibility of seeking international partnerships to implement the task. The key criteria for creation of a SAON task are that it contributes to attainment of the SAON Goal, and that it has identified sources of funding/staffing. Task Teams will be asked to report on progress to the Board, and may receive guidance or suggestions from the Board.

9. How will the Board interact with the broader community?

The Board has the responsibility of maintaining awareness of current SAON tasks, and of determining the most useful path for future SAON tasks. The latter responsibility will require periodic consultation with a broad segment of the Arctic community. This can be accomplished in several ways, two of which are suggested here. The Board may invite certain individuals or groups to attend its meetings to provide specific information on possible future SAON tasks. Also the Board may host meetings (Arctic Observing Summit) or “town halls” in conjunction with other events or as stand-alone activities in order to capture efficiently the thinking of outside experts.

10. Who might be the SAON Partners?

The work of SAON will be conducted by a mix of partner organizations. National agencies are expected to be the core of SAON’s work, but involvement is to be encouraged from many other groups. Partners may be drawn from international organizations, regional governmental bodies, private industry, private foundations, etc. There is no type of legal organization that is categorically excluded from the ranks of potential partners. However, becoming a SAON partner requires active participation in work that supports the SAON goal.

11. What is the link between SAON and its co-sponsors?

SAON will be co-sponsored by the AC and the IASC. Each group will select a co-chair for SAON, who will have the responsibility of ensuring good two-way communication between SAON and the sponsors. The co-chairs will provide advice from the Sponsors on the nature of work being proposed for SAON to avoid duplication of work with either the AC or the IASC.

12. What is the SAON view on access to data, and data citation?

Given the SAON interest in free and open access to data, it is expected that several tasks will be undertaken to enable and enhance this process and to demonstrate the scientific and societal value that can be obtained from use of integrated data sets. SAON may propose some guidelines and best practices to improve access and exchange of high quality data. The IPY data management committee has endorsed the “Polar Information Commons” idea (www.polarcommons.org), which includes a way to link a data set to its creator so that proper notice and recognition is given when a data set is accessed or used.

Each country that participated in the recent IPY agreed to the principle that IPY data will be readily available, so SAON will operate on the assumption that such data are available, and work to ensure that access is possible with minimum effort. SAON will encourage that all data be available, not just those for the IPY period, and that data creators be recognized and cited in all publications or other products. It may be desirable to formulate a specific SAON task to develop details of how this could be accomplished. It  must be noted that SAON itself will not undertake data archival or distribution work.

13. How will costs for participation on the Board be supported?

Other than the Secretariat functions, which are provided by AMAP and by IASC, all other SAON activities are to be funded by the participants or by financial sponsors in response to proposals from the participants. SAON will not collect funds to support travel or any other activity. Thus participants on the Board will be responsible for covering their own expenses or for finding a funding source.

14. How will the SAON approach provide benefits?

Even though there are a wide range of ongoing observing programs, networks and observational platforms, many Arctic observing activities are still fragmentary and exist in varying stages of development. Most existing observations are managed by individual sponsors for specific purposes. Other observations are made on a project basis and may not be readily available. For some of the international networks, the networking aspects are voluntary and often not fully implemented. From the present fragmentary state, there is a need to fill spatial, temporal and disciplinary gaps in observing records, to strengthen the sustainability of observing programs, and make data more readily available. When common scientific interests exist, the benefits of sharing data are great compared to the cost of duplicative acquisition or analysis.

Many science interests in the Arctic require observations over both long time-scales and large spatial scales. International cooperation is often a necessity to blend data from diverse sources to create a more comprehensive, system-wide view of the Arctic and its connections to lower latitudes. Data applications that go beyond a narrow time or space view will benefit from enhanced sharing of data, through provision of more reliable and confident interpretation. Through data sharing and reciprocity arrangements, data providers will be able to achieve their aims at lower cost, and data users will get more reliable outputs.

15. What is the relationship between the SAON Board and the established monitoring networks?

The established observing and monitoring networks provide most of the long time-series Arctic data and are intended as major beneficiaries of the work of SAON. The SAON Board will communicate closely with these networks and anticipates inviting network leaders to join in Board activities. In many cases, the networks will have significant involvement in specific SAON Task Teams, and will provide valuable perspective on the need for additional Tasks that would benefit their work and the goal of SAON.

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