A Smart Arctic Future

Between 4 and 6 million people live in the Arctic. Northern communities are diverse societies and face an array of possibilities and challenges. As with other parts of the world, there is great interest in planning for greater sustainability, accessibility, affordability and healthier cities, towns and villages. Arctic communities face particular challenges when it comes to relative isolation, infrastructural expense, harsh operating environments and environmental amplification and perturbation. Developments in automation, internet connectivity and terrestrial and marine electrification offer the promise of enhancing resilience in Arctic communities.

Terms such as ‘smart city’ have been used to direct policy and public attention towards habitable futures. Arctic Frontiers addresses the smart city concept and explores how, where and why it is applicable in the Arctic. Does it make sense for Arctic communities to adapt something that was developed and applied to ‘southern’ cities such as London, New York, Stockholm and Genoa? Is there something distinct about Arctic latitudes, ecosystems and communities that demands a different sort of ‘smartness’?

The concept of ‘smartness’ demands further interrogation, and we invite both the natural sciences, and the social and humanistic disciplines to reflect on the scope of and for Arctic adaptation. Ongoing innovations in education, culture, economic development and modern technology can be used to connect and strengthen the resilience and viability of Arctic communities. But the roles and obligations for national governments, the international community, business, and foreign investors to support local authorities and people so that Arctic societies are sustainable and resilient are not insignificant. Ensuring that a ‘smart Arctic’ aligns with consent and cooperation in sustainable social, urban and landscape development is not straightforward. Greater connectivity can enhance business investment, enable public participation and community agency, and may contribute to better living standards in northern societies.

None of this should be assumed to be obvious, desirable and/or inevitable. Giving citizens and communities the right kind of ‘connectivity’ does not necessarily mean that they adapt and become more resilient in the face of ecological and socio-technical change. Smart city utopia rhetoric might encourage business-led technological fixes at the expense of longer-term citizen-informed planning. The technical, social, political, economic and environmental aspects of ‘smartness’ have to be approached in an interdisciplinary and inter-connected manner.

This session will highlight the insights gained from recent research that has:

  • Developed cost-effective and efficient solutions to provide anywhere anytime communication connectivity across the Arctic. This is a challenging proposition. The extremely large coverage area with a very low density of users renders conventional terrestrial cellular wireless networks ineffective. Geosynchronous satellites can provide wide area coverage, but services to the Arctic suffer from the low elevation angles from polar locations toward the geosynchronous satellite orbit. Technological developments to address these challenges are critical due to the needs of isolated people and communities to stay connected with society, the needs to monitor and collect scientific data on changing Arctic terrestrial and marine environments, and the expressed desires by businesses and governments to exploit Arctic resources, to move through the Arctic and to manage planning and development.
  • Seen the emergence of Arctic Data Hubs and Data Processing Facilities. Arctic and sub-Arctic locations are proving popular for data hub processing. Cold air and seawater reduce operating expenses for companies as costs for mechanical cooling are lowered. Data centers have opened in Sweden, Iceland and Finland and governments are attracting new businesses from high volume processors such as Facebook and Google to specific corporate operators such as BMW and Verne Global. Data hubs are also generating new investment in fiber cabling in the High North.
  • Deployed technology and models to obtain a broader view of the Arctic. Robotics and mooring networks make virtually all areas of the Arctic accessible at appropriate observational scales. And complex ecosystem models are the only method to link field and laboratory studies to view systems at regional and pan-Arctic scales. Further developments in autonomous icebreakers, drones, robotics and underwater cabling are all contributing to domain awareness and data generation.
  • Investigated how to build and sustain resilient societies in the Arctic. Governments, citizens and other stakeholders are generating ever more data with corresponding storage needs. Our lives are being transformed by data generation and sharing, including data driven service provision. But using and storing data also requires smart technologies to ensure their safety and security. Building a smart Arctic requires investment in cyber-resilience as well as recognizing that greater connectivity also brings with it potential and challenges in terms of social and cultural change.
  • Combined disciplines in unique ways to obtain a more integrated picture of Arctic ecosystems and societies. Creative approaches are needed to secure a sustainable management and development of both ecosystems and societies. Disciplinary knowledge is being combined in innovative approaches such as ecosystem services in urbanism and place development, remote sensing technologies in mapping of ecosystems and landscape practices, critical territorial mapping, technology-based infrastructures for everyday practices in the Arctic, ethnographic methodologies and bottom-up approaches in community development.

We welcome abstracts that look at one or more of the topics named above and bring to the fore new approaches, which test current paradigms, develop new conceptual models, and enhance understandings of Arctic communities and ecosystems.

Scientific committee members:

  • Chunming Rong, University of Stavanger, Norway / IEEE Cloud Computing & IEEE Blockchain (lead)
  • Janike Kampevold Larsen, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Norway
  • Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University of London, United Kingdom
  • Victor C.M. Leung, The University of British Columbia, Canada
  • TBA, SINTEF Ocean, Norway


Alexey Pavlov Photo: Lars Olav Sparboe

Alexey Pavlov
+47 948 45 342

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