Navigating weather, water, ice and climate change information for safe polar mobilities
The Polar Prediction Project (PPP) was conceived and initiated in 2012 by the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO), through its World Weather Research Programme (WWRP),
in response to rapid environmental change in the Polar Regions. The primary goal of the PPP is
to advance scientific knowledge such that society, both within and outside of the Arctic and
Antarctic, may benefit through applications of improved weather and climate services. This
includes improved understanding and prediction of physical parameters and the ways people
use the available information. To this end, the Polar Prediction Project Societal and Economic
Research and Applications (PPP-SERA) working group was established in 2015.
This report represents the foundational work of PPP-SERA and aims to explore how weather,
water, ice and climate (WWIC) information is currently being used and produced in the Polar
Regions, by whom, and for what reasons. The report also identifies, frames and articulates
important areas of research related to the use and provision of environmental prediction
services that should be prioritized and further developed during, and beyond, the Year of Polar
Prediction (YOPP, 2017-19).
The concepts of information value chains and human mobilities are used in this document to
conceptualize the complex interaction between the production and use of environmental
prediction information. This approach facilitates: (a) the exploration of WWIC-related risks that
affect physical movement of people, goods and services between places (i.e. mobilities);
(b) an examination of the demand for, and production and mobilization of, WWIC knowledge
and information that can inform user decisions (i.e. value chain).
We identify that WWIC information provision occurs through a variety of actors, from formal
state institutions, to private and community-based organizations, to Indigenous and local
knowledge obtained by a range of individual actors or groups, positioned in an increasingly
complex value chain of information provision and use. The constitution, functioning and
implications of these increasingly complex WWIC information value chains are currently not
fully understood. Value chains used to describe linear processes whereby WWIC information
was transferred directly from providers to users. Today, users not only consume WWIC
information but they also co-produce data, information, and decisionmaking products. This has
largely been facilitated by technological advancement and improved communications via the
Internet, which promotes a decentralization of WWIC information services. Consequently, it is
difficult to discern whether or not user needs are being adequately identified and addressed by
providers and whether WWIC services are adding value to users.
Our analysis indicates that human activities and mobility sectors operating in the Polar Regions
vary widely in size and scope, and are diverse in terms of operational contexts and practices.
Despite the challenge of mapping the temporal and spatial dimensions of human activities in
the Polar Regions, due to a paucity of consistent information, we discuss relevant
characteristics and future prospects of a range of distinct mobility sectors including: (a)
commercial transportation (shipping and aviation); (b) tourism: (c) fishing; (d) resource
extraction and development; (e) community activities; (f) government activities and scientific
research. Most activities are on the rise and human activities in the Polar Regions are
becoming increasingly diversified. Users appear to be increasingly dependent on specialised
WWIC information services and technology needed to access these. More detailed, specialized
and near-real-time weather and climate services are required to provide relevant information
for a diversity of contexts and practices. While higher-quality WWIC information and greater
resolution of data is necessary for some, it is insufficient for all. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’
data product needed to assist the variety of users. Furthermore, the existence of more and
improved WWIC information does not necessarily mean that it will be used. For WWIC data to
be valuable and used, they must be trusted, easily understood, accessible, and packaged for
easy transmission to remote areas with limited Internet bandwidth.
There is also a need for systematic documentation regarding particular uses of existing WWIC
information services, and thus more work is needed to collect data necessary to situate human
activities and their mobilities within their spatial-temporal contexts and decisionmaking
To respond to these knowledge gaps, we identify that in-depth qualitative and quantitative
research is needed which explores: (a) user information needs, behaviours and preferences;
(b) the relationship between users and providers of WWIC information, including the
co-production of services; (c) factors that enable or constrain access to, or provision of, WWIC
information services; (d) infrastructure and communication needs.
PPP-SERA, and social scientists involved in research that focuses on the Polar Regions more
broadly, can contribute to addressing some of the knowledge gaps outlined in this document.
We have compiled an initial database of sources for WWIC information that is of relevance for
different user sectors and across different regions, and we envision broader and ongoing
contributions to this effort. We also identify a need for categorization of users, decision factors,
services sought and providers tailoring products for specific mobilities. This will highlight the
complexity and interconnections between users, providers and decisionmaking contexts across
the Polar Regions.
The Polar Regions are undergoing dramatic environmental changes while seeing a general
growth and diversification of human activity. These changes imply that WWIC services not only
need to respond to rapidly transforming environmental parameters, but ought to be salient in
the diverse contexts in which users engage with them. While it is still largely unknown how
WWIC information services are currently being used, and to what extent they influence
decisionmaking and planning, improved access to, and quality of, WWIC information is
considered as significant for reducing the risks related to human activities in dynamic polar