Citizen Science in the Arctic

By Stan Meiburg

Yesterday, science ministers and other government leaders from around the world, along with representatives from indigenous groups, gathered in Washington, D.C., for the first-ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial (WHASM). This important event was held in response to the urgent need for increased scientific collaborations to address the dramatic environmental changes that have occurred in the Arctic in recent decades.

I have the privilege of representing EPA on the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which was instrumental in the planning of the WHASM. The event focused on four key themes: understanding Arctic science challenges, strengthening and integrating Arctic observations and data sharing, building regional resilience, and promoting STEM education and citizen empowerment. We are playing an important role in supporting these themes through several ongoing or proposed projects.

Among our projects identified for closer cooperation and expansion are those supporting the Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network. This network of local environmental observers and topic experts, located in both Arctic and sub-Arctic areas, applies traditional and local knowledge, science and technology to document and understand significant, unusual events in Alaska. Through a cooperative partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), we helped deliver the LEO Mobile App, which puts the observation tools of the LEO Network into the hands of citizens in the field. This allows users to upload photos, audio, and text to make observations, thereby helping communities understand and document a range of environmental concerns. We also assisted with the launch of new LEO regional hubs in Northern California, Northwest Indian College, and in Canada (Northwest Territories and British Columbia). The WHASM aims to further facilitate LEO’s circumpolar expansion, helping remote communities across the Arctic to understand their environmental challenges and be part of the solution.

On the day prior to the WHASM, I had the honor of participating in a pre-Ministerial briefing with Arctic Indigenous Peoples. We had the opportunity to highlight our commitment to supporting indigenous communities in the Arctic, our support for the integration of traditional and local knowledge into decision making, and our WHASM projects that involve the LEO Network.

Although the environmental challenges facing the Arctic are serious and sobering, I was heartened by the extraordinary commitment of the global community to finding solutions through enhanced scientific collaboration and the empowerment of local citizens.

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