Research Centers on Svalbard, Societal Benefits Extend Further

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Image of the Svalbard Science Center. Image via WikiArquitectura.
Image of the Svalbard Science Center. Image via WikiArquitectura.

The Svalbard Science Center. Image via WikiArquitectura.

Svalbard. Far into the Arctic circle, home of the polar bear, the northernmost part of Norway, separated from the mainland by the Barents Sea. This is where a multinational team of scientists will base their research for the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SIOS).

The SIOS is in the preparatory phase, coordinated by The Research Council of Norway, with the operational phase expected to begin toward the end of 2013.

Regional observation systems in the polar regions are needed to improve Earth System Models, scientists say. The SIOS will integrate and complement existing research and monitoring platforms for geophysical, biological and chemical studies. The SIOS will not operate alone, but will look outwards and build up close cooperation with other European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) projects in the European Arctic, existing regional research networks in the European Arctic and to pan-Arctic initiatives such as the Sustained Arctic Observing Network (SAON).

What benefits will the SIOS data provide? Increasing evidence indicates that environmental change is especially fast in the Arctic. In October 2012, NOAA described how Arctic summer wind shift could affect sea ice loss and U.S./European weather, illustrating how events in the Arctic can have a very real and direct effect on weather patterns in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.

SIOS will include the following areas of study and monitoring:

‰Û¢ Observations of upper atmosphere and solar-terrestrial coupling

‰Û¢ Active and passive atmospheric monitoring

‰Û¢ Cryosphere monitoring

‰Û¢ Ocean monitoring

‰Û¢ Ecosystem studies

‰Û¢ Solid Earth studies (such as stability of the seafloor, methane hydrates).

The monitoring of cold regions is just one part of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and was discussed during the recent GEO-IX Plenary Session held in Foz do Igua̤u, ParanÌÁ, Brazil, in November. As in the other aspects of GEOSS, the data will be used to benefit society.

Benefits to society from GEOSS include:

‰Û¢ Understanding environmental factors affecting human health and well-being

‰Û¢ Improving the management of energy resources

‰Û¢ Understanding, assessing, predicting, mitigating, and adapting to climate variability and change

‰Û¢ Improving water resource management through better understanding of the water cycle

‰Û¢ Improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems

‰Û¢ Supporting sustainable agriculture and combating desertification

‰Û¢ Understanding, monitoring and conserving biodiversity.

Of particular relevance now, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, are the goals of GEOSS to reduce loss of life and property from natural and human-induced disasters, and to improve the accuracy and reliability of weather forecasts and advisories, and warnings of severe events.

For example, one of the priority actions for GEOSS in its 2012‰ÛÒ2015 work plan is to work toward the implementation of the Global Interactive Forecast System (GIFS). An initial step in this will be to produce user-driven probabilistic products such as tropical cyclone tracks, heavy rainfall and strong wind distributions.

The GEO-IX Plenary Session was organized by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The Plenary, consisting of Members and Participating Organizations, governs the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). GEO coordinates efforts between different nations to build GEOSS.