As I wait for my flight at the Helsinki airport lounge, I reflect on the last three days of discussion with colleagues from around the world who are dedicated to a better understanding of the Arctic. There is endless opportunity for the Canadian Museum of Nature to contribute to the knowledge base and to the discussion. Actually, there is little involvement of natural-history museums in these Arctic-science discussions and I feel that needs to change. Natural-history museums have much to offer and I hope will get more engaged in these types of summits.

Helsinki, Finland.
Helsinki and its Lutheran cathedral. Image: Mikko Paananen © Mikko Paananen (used under license CC 3.0)

The Arctic Science Summit is a gathering of many Arctic-science networks, organizations, alliances and consortia. The groups include government, universities, NGOs, indigenous groups, research institutes, museums (us) and industry. What is heartening is the level of consensus on the importance of the Arctic now and in the future. All agree that we must get it right. All agree that none of us can deal with the challenges and opportunities in the Arctic on our own.

There were many recommendations coming out of the summit; a few immediately relate to our museum. First, there is a need for better coordination and sharing of data about the Arctic environment. Here is where natural-history museums can and should get in the game. We already digitize and share our data online and through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Since GBIF was not mentioned once as a source of data, we clearly have some work to do to ensure it is known and accessed.

Collage: A man collects plants on the Arctic tundra, and a man presses plants inside a tent.
Natural-history museums can make and important contribution to our knowledge of the Arctic. Above, two members of a botanical field team from the Canadian Museum of Nature during an Arctic expedition in 2012. On left: Jeff Saarela collects plants. On right: Paul Sokoloff prepares specimens for preservation. Images: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

Second, Arctic observing needs to include traditional knowledge. We know very well the value that indigenous people bring to our understanding of the natural environment of the North and its relation to the people who live, work and play there. Third, industry wants to be involved in the future of the Arctic from an environmental and economic point of view. Fourth, there are new funding opportunities being created to stimulate multi-disciplinary and multi-national research collaborations. Fifth, the next decade of Arctic research planning is being discussed through the Third International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III). We have been invited to participate in ICARP as the Canadian Museum of Nature and as a member of the Arctic Natural History Museums Alliance.

While in Helsinki, I had the pleasure of meeting the Director of the Finnish Natural History Museum and his team of dedicated professionals. They too operate in an older building that was recently completely renovated. Their approach to experience design and profiling their research (and researchers) has inspired some ideas for the Canadian Museum of Nature. This museum is one of the new members of the Arctic Natural History Museum Alliance that will have its first official meeting early May in Oslo. Our first public presentation opportunity is at the Arctic Biodiversity Congress hosted by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) in December of this year.

Collage: The Natural History Museum of Finland, and a life-sized cut-out of a man inside the museum.
The Natural History Museum of Finland, and a photo of Arto Luttinen, Ph.D. and conservator in geology, in one of the exhibitions. Images: Meg Beckel © Canadian Museum of Nature

At that event, the Alliance has been invited to outline its purpose, introduce its members and summarize its objectives and linkages with CAFF. We also plan to present the Canadian Museum of Nature’s giant floor map of the plants, animals, fossils and minerals of the Canadian Arctic. This will be the first pilot for the animation elements proposed for the map when it travels to schools across Canada.