Cover Memo
To: North Slope Science Initiative Oversight Group
Through: John Payne, Executive Director
From: Bill Streever, Science Technical Advisory Panel
Date: September 23, 2009
Re: Submission of 13 Emerging Issue Summaries

The Science Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) is pleased to submit these thirteen final draft emerging issues summaries.

As a reminder, these summaries are the result of a process that included:

  1. Identification of important emerging issue topics by the Oversight Group.
  2. Development of management questions, concerns and needs related to each topic by the Senior Staff Committee.
  3. Meetings of subgroups from both the STAP and the Senior Staff Committee to “workshop” each emerging issue topic into notes, and in some cases outlines or initial rough drafts of the emerging issue summaries. Results from these subgroup meetings were then further worked by one or more members of each subgroup to develop a draft that could be circulated to all STAP and Senior Staff Committee members for comment.
  4. In all cases, draft summaries went through multiple iterations.
  5. Draft summaries were submitted to the Oversight Group for comments.
  6. Draft summaries were revised by a subset of STAP and Senior Staff Committee members to address comments provided by the Oversight Group.
  7. During the July STAP meeting in Deadhorse, draft summaries were revised once again in an attempt to ensure that Oversight Group comments were thoroughly addressed, that the summaries were to some degree standardized, and that those present at the Deadhorse meeting were satisfied with the content of each summary.
  8. The summaries were finalized and approved for submission to the Oversight Group during the September STAP meeting in Fairbanks.
  9. Throughout the process, Denny Lassuy (Deputy Director) and Bill Streever managed the comments and revisions, acting as both gatekeepers and editors, but always with the input and approval of STAP members.

In addition to these thirteen summaries, an emerging issue summary on arctic fish and fisheries will be drafted after completion of the International Arctic Fisheries Symposium (October 19-21, 2009) and the annual meeting of the Alaska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (November 2-6, 2009). Another emerging issue summary on socioeconomic structure requested by the Oversight Group has been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances and will be submitted as soon as reasonably possible.

The STAP understands that the Oversight Group may provide additional comments on these final draft summaries. The STAP welcomes these comments and looks forward to finalizing the summaries based on the next round of Oversight Group comments.

In reviewing these summaries, Oversight Group members are urged to bear in mind the following points:

  • At the request of the Oversight Group, each emerging issue summary begins with a few highlights, presents an overview and management relevance section, and ends with recommendations. Beyond this, the emerging issue papers vary somewhat in format. For instance, although some of the overview sections include a small number of citations to support specific statements, most do not. Several summaries also contain the original “questions, concerns and needs” provided to the STAP by the Senior Staff Committee, while others do not. Because of differences in the nature of each topic and in some cases the approach taken in drafting each summary, the STAP felt that minor differences in formatting were less important than an appropriate focus on content.
  • Review and revision by a professional technical writer will occur after incorporating the Oversight Group’s final comments. This review will ensure consistent usage, grammar, and spelling among summaries.
  • During the final revision and preparation, a representative figure may be added to each emerging issue summary.

Individual members of the STAP have suggested that additional Emerging Issue Summaries may be needed. For example, a paper on the restoration of disturbed habitat could provide useful guidance on a topic that is likely to become increasingly important in the coming years. While time constraints prevented broad discussion of this suggestion during the STAP meetings, I feel compelled to bring it to the Oversight Group’s attention. I urge the Oversight Group to encourage the STAP to consider this and possibly other gaps in the current list of emerging issues.
The STAP and Senior Staff Committee have also begun to consider a synthesis or “connectivities” paper, intended to summarize and link information and recommendations from among the emerging issues summaries. Even a cursory review of the emerging issue summaries suggests connections between topics. For example, an understanding of changes in climate will lead to improved understanding of changes in shallow permafrost, which has obvious links to changes in hydrology, lake drying, and land cover/vegetation change. Similarly, many of the recommendations in each summary complement one another. As an example, the development of predictive models for coastal salinization will benefit from the increased precision in our understanding of climate change that results from an improved weather network.

At least two broad recommendations appear in many of the emerging issue summaries. The first, improved coordination among researchers, is recommended repeatedly. For example, a concerted coordination effort is needed to improve the usefulness of the many meteorological stations scattered across the North Slope. Similarly, a coordination effort could inventory the many vegetation monitoring sites scattered across the North Slope and move toward development of standard methods to detect land cover/vegetation change. Second, improved data management is repeatedly recommended. Many of the emerging issue summaries recognize the need for centralized data management that will ensure data accessibility. Both coordination and improved data management are part of the NSSI mission, and their frequent appearance in the emerging issue summaries underscores the relevance of this mission.

While the STAP has provided some indication of priority within each summary by providing a shortlist of recommendations, the STAP has not thoroughly considered prioritization of recommendations between issues. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that the recommendations made in the Weather and Climate emerging issue summary—which primarily call for improved coordination—should be given a high priority. Improved weather and climate data will be relevant to all emerging issues and can be accomplished relatively straightforwardly by implementing the steps outlined in the recommendations section of that summary. In addition, it seems obvious that an assessment of development scenarios that “bookends” the most likely 20-year future for the North Slope is badly needed. That is, an assessment that describes the range—from least to most—of development scenarios likely to occur in the next 20 years is needed. This recommendation appears in the Increasing Marine Activities emerging issue summary, but will have relevance to all emerging issues if it is extended to terrestrial settings.

Lastly, on several occasions the STAP discussed recommended actions that could be pursued relatively easily to yield meaningful results. One example is development of an inventory of long-term vegetation sites and development of a database to archive data from these sites. Pursuit of recommended actions likely to yield meaningful and visible results in a short timeframe will add to the NSSI’s credibility and visibility.

The STAP looks forward to the Oversight Group’s comments and further direction.


Click here to download the Transmittal Memo in PDF format