“When is your data not data…?”

I heard a joke the other day, and it started with something like that. This joke was funny to me, not because the punchline was perfectly timed and delivered with just right amount of dryness, but because this initial statement perfectly reflected the challenges we as Arctic researchers have been facing over the summer.

In spite of all the assistance from some incredible researchers scattered throughout the Arctic sphere, the struggle again and again has been the lack of usable raw data. Finding exhaustive numbers, from a broad enough stretch of time so as to show trends and representative of just the Arctic region, has turned out to be a monumental challenge. Since the boom of interest in the Arctic in the mid-2000’s, global economics and politics has trumped the melting of the sea ice as the driving forces of progress in the North.image

While the ice is still melting, and at a rate that seems to be continuing to increase, these global driving forces have stalled the development process across much of the Arctic. “What global driving forces?” you might ask. Global recession brought about by the 2007 American financial crisis. Huge drops in the value of crude oil due to the rise of shale oil production in the US and Canada. Political crisis over the annexation of Crimea, and the resulting sanctions leveled against Russian. These forces have proved much stronger than the potential value in Arctic resource exploitation, at least for the time being.

Canada has closed its only deep draft port. The US abandoned plans to convert an existing port into another deep draft port. The Obama administration has strengthened the regulations for drilling to the point that Big Oil companies have abandoned their exploration licenses. There is hope for limiting resource extraction impacts on the Arctic.image

All of this to say that data (in the form of numbers in spreadsheets) only paints a portion of a much larger picture. The importance of those numbers cannot be overstated, particularly for policy makers, but they cannot give a complete picture. More diversity in an ecosystem is a sign of health, and more diversity in the information gathered and presented in a report is a sign of fuller understanding. In the Arctic, this has not been accomplished yet but it is underway. Hopefully the work I and my colleagues have done will bring us just a little closer to seeing the complete picture of what is happening in the Arctic.
“Old data analysts don’t die – they just get broken down by age and sex.”

Leave a Reply