The changing conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic and the higher level of human activity in the polar regions have led to a stronger demand for weather and sea ice predictions on short and longer time scales. Backed by the UN-World Meteorological Organization (WMO) plans for a so-called Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP) as part of a wider Polar Prediction Project have been brought forward during a three-day conference in Geneva. The main focus is to optimize prediction skills through a two-year intensive period of coordinated observation, modelling and education activities in the context of various stakeholder and user aspects. 120 representatives from science, research, operational centres, politics, international bodies, organizations and funding agencies teamed up at WMO headquarters to advance the organizing of YOPP. Machiel Lamers, assistant professor of the Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, was among the participants.
What is the Year of Polar Prediction about? And what are its goals?
The goal of the Polar Prediction Project is to advance our knowledge on climate, weather and the physical environment in the Polar Regions to benefit different users and actors inside and outside the Polar Regions. The Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP) is an intensified period in which data collection and modelling activities will take place. YOPP has identified a range of goals, including enhancing our abilities to produce weather and climate prediction information, evaluation of benefits for user groups, verification methods, optimizing existing observation systems and additional observation areas, enhancing and integrating atmosphere, land, ocean and cryosphere modelling approaches, and improve knowledge on linkages between polar and lower latitude weather patterns.
From a social scientist's perspective, what are your expectations for the YOPP Summit and what is your role?
In the past months we have formed a group of social scientists who will be exploring who the potential users of enhanced polar prediction are, what the information needs of different actor groups in the Polar Regions are, what the information value chain looks like for forecasts on weather, climate and physical environment information in and outside the Polar Regions, and how the involvement and interaction of potential users and modellers and forecasters takes place and can be enhanced. My expectation is that we can get those social science questions and objectives across during the YOPP Summit and convince the different groups present of the importance of including these questions. My role is to help strengthen the social science dimension in YOPP and to develop ideas for our activities during YOPP.
Why do social scientists need to be involved in such initiatives?
The enhancement of polar prediction is ultimately done for making the Polar Regions a safer place for its inhabitants and for economic activities, to ensure economic activities in the Polar Regions are carried out in a sustainable way, and to better prepare societies at lower latitudes on extreme weather events related to the Polar Regions. Understanding the information needs of different actors is already an important area of research for social scientists (think about the role of social media).
Moreover, through their research foci on social, economic and political issues, and their methodologies, social scientists are actively interacting with user groups inside and outside the Arctic. These existing contacts and the expertise of social scientists is therefore an important asset in bridging between natural science driven observation and modelling, and the information needs of various actor groups. In addition, social scientists have a great interest in understanding the role of science in society, the role that knowledge plays in decision-making, and how knowledge is coproduced by researchers of various disciplines and societal actors in projects like YOPP. Both these instrumental and fundamental social science research interests can result in greater understanding on why we undertake projects like YOPP and organisational and practical lessons to assist processes like YOPP in the short and the longer term.
Do you have any recommendations for how to better involve stakeholders into projects such as YOPP?
A common misconception is to assume that stakeholders have to be involved at an early stage. Not every type of stakeholder is capable of being involved in terms of funding and time. Basically, is participation in projects like YOPP part of their job description? My own research in stakeholder participation in large European water management projects demonstrated that many stakeholders actually dislike being involved at a stage when it is not clear what is required from them; they need to be able to oversee costs and benefits of involvement. It is also impossible to include all stakeholders. Effective involvement of stakeholders in research driven projects like YOPP is thus a more complex issue that depends on many more factors. My advice would be to make a selection of stakeholder groups and to visit them to find out what their information needs are. Depending on the interests of stakeholder groups a fitting inclusion approach can be designed in collaboration with stakeholders.
Why should society be interested in an initiative such as YOPP?
Members of society inside and outside the Polar Regions are facing consequences of changing climate in their everyday activities and long term planning of future activities and investments. YOPP will enhance the ability of actors to make such decisions, both by enhancing the knowledge and by translating the knowledge in user relevant forms. We can however not force society to be interested; therefore the greatest chance for society to become interested is if we actively engage with societal actors in effective and meaningful ways in our research activities.
Interview: Stefanie Klebe from Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz-Centre for Polar and Marine Research