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Inventory and Rescue of High Arctic Climate and Climate-related Data Sets

For more information, contact Dr Dave Atkinson.

Project Background

An assessment of climate variability and change in the Canadian High Arctic is complicated by sparse and unrepresentative data collection networks e.g. the AES permanent surface data network in the High Arctic consists entirely of coastal stations. Studies have shown that the climate of the interior of the islands can be considerably different than that on the coast and that the magnitude of the coastal-inland differences change with changing season, synoptic regime and topographical sheltering (Alt and Maxwell 1990; Woo et.al. 1991; Labine 1994; Atkinson 1994; Henry 1997; Alt et. al. 2000). Major precipitation events can slip through the widely spaced stations and go unnoticed (Cogley and McCann 1976). Thus the magnitude of past, present and future climate change of the land mass, glacier and ice covered/open water areas that make up the complex High Arctic archipelago cannot be properly evaluated from the existing permanent surface station network.

A substantial volume of “non-standard” data has been collected in the Arctic that can help address some of the gaps in the existing surface data collection networks. Since the late 1950's, High Arctic field parties from many disciplines (glaciology, hydrology, ecology and sea ice studies) collected weather and climate records as a routine part of their own program. A large portion of this research “data of opportunity” was collected during the summer months, but the summer season is the most important in terms of melt processes, hydrology and biological activity. Recently, year round autostations have become a standard component of High Arctic field programs. In a few cases, an effort has been made to make field data available on various multidisciplinary Arctic CDROMs (e.g. CALM, Hot Weather Creek). However, many records still exist in field books or old computer tapes and diskettes, and there is a real risk of losing valuable information as the generation of early Arctic researchers retires.

Therefore, the primary purpose of this proposal is to generate an inventory of High Arctic climate-related data that will contribute to existing digital data sets required for climate research and change detection, and in the process to identify key data and instrumental gaps.

A major data rescue effort is not feasible given the time constraints of this CCAF call. However, it is proposed to physically rescue data that are considered at risk of being lost or destroyed and, where possible, process particularly valuable digital data sets that are in a raw unprocessed form. The most urgent of the latter is the five year record from four year-round stations stretching from Alexandra Fiord through Sverdrup Pass to the Eureka area. Together with the data from Hot Weather Creek and the Sawtooth Mountains and the warming experiment data from Alexandra Fiord (Marion et al., 1997) they form a very valuable transect across Central Ellesmere Island. These data and the ground temperature data from the recent years of the warming experiment are however in a raw unprocessed form due to lack the necessary funds to perform initial processing and documentation. A working group is being held to address principal issues, which include:

  • Discuss the types of problems associated with rescue, archiving and preliminary quality control of the numerous diverse data sets available for the Canadian High Arctic.
  • Identify historical data worthy of rescue, including paper data which are "at risk" (due to retirement or reorganization), digital data which are still in a raw, unprocessed form and data that contribute to existing observational time-series or which represent important conditions such as extreme seasons or events.
  • Evaluate the distribution of the present field climate (autostation) and cryospheric monitoring sites in the High Arctic, identifying critical geographical and instrumental gaps and suggesting the means to fill these gaps.
  • Discuss ways to ensure that "high risk" data are at least physically rescued.
  • Examine ways in which field data sets from ongoing observing programs can be systematically maintained and made available.
  • Provide additional input into the inventory.

Project Objectives

  • Develop an inventory of climate-related digital and non-digital data sets relevant to the description of the spatial and temporal characteristics of climatic, cryospheric and ecological conditions in the complex mosaic of the Canadian High Arctic Islands (excluding Baffin Island) where the regularly archived surface climate stations network has been reduced to three staffed stations, all in coastal locations.
  • Identify historical data worthy of rescue, including paper data which are “at risk” (due to retirement or reorganization), digital data which are in are still in a raw unprocessed form and data that contribute to existing observational time-series or which represent important conditions such as extreme seasons or events.
  • Evaluate the distribution of the present field climate (autostation) and cryospheric monitoring sites in the high Arctic, identifying critical geographic and instrumental gaps and suggesting means to fill these gaps.
  • Investigate mechanisms to make past, present and future field data sets accessible for climate change research. Provide temporary location for storage of paper records for future rescue and begin the processing of raw digital data.

See locations of an example rescued dataset.

References Cited:

  • Alt, B.T., and B. Maxwell, 1990: The Queen Elizabeth Islands: A case study for Arctic climate data availability and regional climate analysis; In Canada's Missing Dimension: Science and History in the Canadian Arctic Islands, C. R. Harington (ed.); Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, v. 1, p. 294-326.
  • Alt, B.T., Labine, C. L., Atkinson. D. E., and P.M. Wolfe, 2000. Fosheim Peninsula: automatic weather station results, In Garneau, M., editor, The High Arctic Global Change Observatory of the Geological Survey of Canada: 5 years of multidisciplinary research on the climate change program: Ottawa, Canada, Geological Survey of Canada, Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 529.
  • Atkinson, D.E., 1994: Aspects of local- and regional-scale climatology in the Canadian Arctic Islands: coastal effect at AES Eureka. Program and Abstracts, 28th Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) Congress, Ottawa, Ontario, May 30 - June 3, 1994, p. 154.
  • Cogley, J.G. and S.B. McCann, 1976: An Exceptional Storm and its Effects in the Canadian High Arctic. Arctic and Alpine Research, 8(1), 105-110.
  • Henry, G.H.R. and U. Molau. 1997. Tundra plants and climate change: the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX). Global Change Biology 3 (Suppl.1): 1-9.
  • Labine, C.L., 1994. Meteorology and Climatology of the Alexandra Fiord Lowland. In Svoboda, J and Freedman, B., editors, Ecology of a polar oasis: Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Ialand, Canada. p. 23-39.
  • Marion, G.M., G.H.R. Henry, D.W. Freckman, J. Johnstone, G. Jones, M.H. Jones, E Levesque, U. Molau, xx. Molgaard, A.N. Parsons, J. Svoboda, and R.A. Virginia. 1997. Open-top designs for manipulating field temperatures in high-latitude ecosystems. Global Change Biology (Suppl. 1): 20-32.
  • Woo, M-K, S.A. Edlund, and K.L. Young, 1991. Occurrence of early snow-free zones on Fosheim Peninsula, Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories. In Current Research, Part B, Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 91-1B, 9-14



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