Integrated Sensor Networks in Arctic Alaska

Integrated Sensor Networks in Arctic Alaska

Understanding the Changing Natural-Built Landscape in an Arctic Community

Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of The National Science Foundation’s 10 Big Ideas. NNA projects address convergence scientific challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. Arctic research is needed to inform the economy, security and resilience of the Nation, the larger region and the globe. NNA empowers new research partnerships from local to international scales, diversifies the next generation of Arctic researchers, enhances efforts in formal and informal education, and integrates the co-production of knowledge where appropriate. This award fulfills part of that aim by addressing interactions among social systems, natural environment, and built environment in the following NNA focus areas: Arctic Residents, Data and Observation, Education, and Resilient Infrastructure.

Arctic communities face many challenges as they grow and develop in the context of a rapidly changing environment. These challenges include coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, and ecosystem change. Arctic cities need to prepare for critical decisions in the future, which traditional scientific approaches alone are unable to address adequately. Instead, an interdisciplinary, community-based approach is necessary. Utqiagvik, the northernmost urban center in Alaska, is facing many of these common challenges and provides a model for other Arctic cities. This project is developing and deploying a network of environmental sensors collecting continuous information over a five-year period in terrestrial and aquatic locations within the community of Utqiagvik. Community members are deeply involved in the planning process for placement of the sensors, ongoing maintenance, and interpretation of the data. The education component of the project is extensive, providing training opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, two postdoctoral scholars, and community members in Utqiagvik. The sensor network yields an unprecedented dataset for examining the interactive effects of the natural and built environments. This project is improving the health and economic well-being of Utqiagvik and potentially other North Slope Borough villages in Alaska.

This research investigates two essential challenges for the Arctic city of Utqiagvik, Alaska: i) the impacts of existing community infrastructure practices on the surrounding tundra, coastal, and lagoon landscapes within and around the city, and ii) the impacts of a changing environment on the design and future planning of community infrastructure and buildings. The project has four broad objectives. First, community members and scientists are working together to plan and deploy an integrated sensor network in four target areas of the city. Second, environmental data are being used to assess how the infrastructure of the city interacts with the surrounding air, ground, and water. Third, this knowledge is informing management of infrastructure and planning initiatives for Utqiagvik and is useful for other Arctic communities as well. Finally, the process of co-production of knowledge among researchers and community members is being studied to better understand how these relationships can successfully build and maintain equitable sharing of knowledge and benefits for the residents of Utqiagvik. The ultimate goal of the project is to understand how the natural and built environments interact with social systems in an Arctic city.

UVA Research Computing is supporting this research by hosting computational services to ingest, process, transform, store, and serve sensor data over the life of the project. A scalable data service named HSDS runs within a containerized environment in the HPC networks to aggregate the collected sensor data. This service is backed by object storage, and is then served internally for research using a variety of data analysis tools.



PI: Howard Epstein, Chair, Dept. of Environmental Sciences.