The Arctic Council Working Group CAFF recently announced a major milestone in scientific cooperation in the Arctic – the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to guide national mapping organizations from the Arctic states toward production of a harmonized map, covering the entire Arctic region, with data on climate, biodiversity and other themes.

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The Arctic has been recently subject to increased analysis. As a result, a wide array of data has been generated which has a spatial component. The approach to managing much of this data has largely been national, or issue-specific; as a result, many of the existing datasets are distributed between many organizations. Once completed, the Arctic Spatial Data Infrastructure (Arctic SDI) will help harmonize, combine and integrate these diverse data sets.

The Arctic SDI will also contribute to improved sharing and analysis across the Arctic. It will be an essential tool in helping to understand the impacts of climate change on nature, biodiversity management issues, and the adaptability and sustainable use of all living resources in the Arctic. To develop this resource, the national mapping organizations of the eight Arctic Council states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (as of February 2014) to address the development and maintenance of the Arctic SDI.

Prashant Shukle (Director General, NRCan, Mapping Information Branch, Canada) said of the signing, “This is really a significant moment in Arctic science cooperation. The MoU represents a great deal of work and excellent collaboration by everyone involved. As the Arctic SDI matures, it could be a core Arctic Council information management program.”

Spatial data can be used in the Arctic as a tool for integrated planning; for example, this could include balancing environmental concerns, cultural heritage sites, and natural resource development activity. Four primary user categories have been identified for the Arctic SDI, including: the Arctic Council Working Groups themselves; scientific groups engaged in Arctic research; governmental authorities involved in decision-making concerning the Arctic; and the broader public, including the private sector, NGOs and media.

The national mapping organizations involved in the project are: the US Geological Survey (United States); Natural Resources Canada; the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Mapping (Russia); the National Survey and Cadastre (representing Denmark and the Faroe Islands); the Ministry of Housing, Infrastructure and Transportation (Greenland); the National Land Survey (Finland); the National Land Survey (Iceland); the Norwegian Mapping Authority; and the Swedish Mapping, Cadastre and Land Registration Authority.