Melting ice a hot topic: Trust in sea ice information products essential to safely navigate a changing Arctic Ocean

Melting ice a hot topic: Trust in sea ice information products essential to safely navigate a changing Arctic Ocean
Study co-author Steffen Olsen (Danish Meteorological Institute) during an extreme event of flooding of sea ice by abrupt onset of surface melt in Northwest Greenland. The team was retrieving oceanographic moorings and weather station on sea ice. Photo credit: Steffen Olsen / DMI

As the world faces terminal loss of Arctic sea ice during the summer months, scientists are rushing to develop new ways to accurately map and predict sea ice presence in the Arctic Ocean. But what determines whether newly developed sea ice information and forecast products are trusted and adopted into operational use by marine sectors? Our new study confirmed seven prominent factors that foster trust toward new ice products. Producer reputation and endorsement of a new product by other users are among prominent factors. Increasing automation trends in forecasting services do not generate mistrust in users of ice information. Producers share a strong consensus with users about these seven factors, but the last mile to optimal user uptake of new ice forecast products faces a number of institutional and political obstacles.

On thin ice: Environmental forecasting for safe and sustainable maritime operations

Environmental conditions in the Arctic Ocean are becoming more dynamic due to climate change, while the range of human activities in the region is projected to increase. An increasingly unpredictable sea ice regime poses adaptation challenges for Arctic sectors and communities. Fishing and hunting communities need to know when and where sea-ice will be a stable platform for traveling across, much as you would use a highway. In contrast, marine shipping sectors need to know trends in open-water timing as they locate safe transportation corridors through ice-infested waters. These challenges have increased the need for salient sea-ice information for safe, sustainable operations.

Sea ice information products are constantly developed further by national Ice Services and other agencies. To make information relevant and usable, environmental forecasting services have been increasingly tailored to user needs, relying on co-production – a form of joint knowledge-creation with users. The attached photograph illustrates both co-production in action (co-author Steffen Olsen measuring ice thickness with Greenlandic hunters), and the sort of extreme event (in this case, sea ice surface melt flooding) that calls for an increased predictive capacity of Arctic environmental conditions.

Credit: Steffen Olsen / DMI

But improved ice mapping and prediction only has value if marine sectors adopt the new forecasts into operational use. Whether newly developed forecast products are adopted into use depends on a wide range of factors, including user trust. This study investigated which factors promote or hinder trust toward new sea ice products, and whether or not users and producers of ice information products are in agreement about these factors. If producers and users have consensus, this points to effective information-sharing within the co-production activities that have taken place.

Seven factors to promote trust in ice information products

Our online survey of producers and users of sea ice forecasting products was evaluated using a robust consensus analysis method. We show strong agreement between producers and users about seven factors that foster trust toward new ice products: producer reputation; product handling; control; transparency (e.g. about uncertainties); performance; onboarding; and endorsement by other users.

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Interestingly, users trust products from public entities more than those offered by private providers, and products that have been co-produced with users are trusted more than those that were not. Users are more likely to trust products when they are recommended by peers and colleagues, whereas a recommendation by a scientist is of less importance. Users are open to some degree of automation of ice forecast products, but are not ready to trust full automation. Users tend to stick to proven routines, products and sources and are not at ease with trying new ones. We also confirmed that there is a need for more sea ice information as currently available products do not offer adequate spatial or dynamic coverage of conditions to support Arctic maritime operations. Importantly, both users and producers strongly agreed that users are not sufficiently aware of the whole suite of sea ice products that are already available.

The last mile for sea ice information

Considerable efforts have been made to fund environmental forecasting products and services that are co-produced with users. In fact, the umbrella project under which our study was conducted too, had produced jointly with users, a number of ice information products for the Greenland and Svalbard coastal regions. These include an iceberg atlas, coastal sea-ice products, ice charts, and a subseasonal-to-seasonal sea ice forecast, just to name a few. And yet there often remains a gap between the provision of useful and usable forecast products and actual uptake by users. In our paper we argue that institutional (i.e. funding) and regulatory transitions are key to closing this gap. The producers and the users of sea ice forecasts agree on a number of identified enhancement possibilities that will facilitate uptake of new ice products. Maximizing the value of co-production now requires careful shifting of emphasis from a continued examination of misalignments in supply/demand (fact finding) to balancing investments in the implementation of necessary changes (acting on what we already know).

Blair, B., Gierisch, A. M., Jeuring, J., Olsen, S. M., & Lamers, M. (2022). Mind the gap! A consensus analysis of users and producers on trust in new sea ice information products. Climate Services, 28, 100323.

Berill BlairAssociate Professor of Sustainability, SKEMA Business School

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Steffen Malskær OlsenResearch Scientist, Danish Meteorological Institute

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Andrea M. U. GierischResearch Scientist, Danish Meteorological Institute

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Jelmer JeuringResearch Scientist, Norwegian Meteorological Institute

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Machiel LamersAssociate Professor in Environmental Policy, Wageningen University

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