About BSSN

BSSN is a means for remote indigenous villages around the Bering Sea to communicate their observations on the environment and subsistence harvest. Their perspective, based on a keen understanding of the local environment and how it affects their well being, improves our understanding of coupling of social and bio-physical environment at a local scale. BSSN brings together researchers and local residents in co-production of science, which is place-based and relevant to the societal needs.
The health, economic well-being and ways of life of the local communities are inextricably linked to the Bering Sea and the resources it provides.

The socio-economic development of coastal villages around the Bering Sea depends on maintaining ecologically sustainable conditions in the region. The recent rapid changes in the environment, driven by climate change and human activities, present serious threats to the food security and well being of arctic and sub-arctic communities.

A better understanding of the biophysical environment and of its interaction with socio-economic processes is needed for society to respond with relevant policies. Indigenous and local knowledge possess a holistic understanding of this interaction and are indispensible in understanding change and its impact at a local scale. In addition, better understanding of the biological and physical environment requires spatial and temporal observations recorded locally. BSSN was formed to address these needs in a structured network.

Victoria Gofman developed the concept and presented it in a number of arctic focused forums (UNEP-GRID Arendal (2003), Arctic Council (2004), International Bering Sea Forum). In addition, the concept was further discussed with indigenous experts and government officials. The International Polar year 2007-08 Joint Committee expressed great support for the creation of a community-based monitoring network and endorsed the concept.

In 2005, Gofman teamed with Alaska Native Science Committee (Patricia Cochran and Larry Merculief); Resilience and Adaptive Management (RAM) group of the University of Alaska, Anchorage (Lillian Alessa and Andrew Klskey); and UNEP-GRID Arendal ( Joan Eamer ) in developing a successful funding proposal to the National Science Foundation. BSSN was implemented by the Aleut International Association, where Gofman served as the executive director in 2002-2012, and the RAM group of the University of Alaska, Anchorage under the leadership of Gofman and Alessa as respective principal investigators.

The overall goal of BSSN is to advance our knowledge of the environmental changes occurring in and around the Bering Sea that are of significance to understanding Pan-Arctic processes. This enables scientists, Arctic communities and governments to predict, plan and respond to these changes with policies that enhance local community resilience.
BSSN began as a pilot project in 2007, as an endorsed project of the International Polar Year 2007-08. The first phase was completed in 2009. The five-year phase II was launched in September of 2009 and will continue until August 2014. BSSN team is working on continuation of the network and preparing a new funding proposal for submission to the U.S. National Science Foundation in the fall of 2012.

BSSN observations are gathered in a semi-structured survey of local residents of the eight member-communities. Survey is purposive and is focused on interviewing experienced hunters and fishermen with at least 15 years of uninterrupted harvesting in the area. The interviews are conducted by local BSSN-trained CRAs (Community Research Assistants). Some of the CRAs are bi-lingual and interview people in their native languages, then translate and record answers in English or Russian. Russian language surveys are translated in English. All entries in data sets and analysis are in English.

The survey instrument consists of three questionnaires designed to capture baseline information and seasonal harvest observations. Questionnaires for harvest locations (places of harvest during one’s lifetime) and for the environmental observation during the last 15 years or more are filled out once.

The questionnaire for seasonal harvesting is completed biannually capturing observations for two preceding seasons (summer-spring and fall-winter). Community members selected up to five species important for subsistence. The limitation was arbitrary and was established for practical purposes. While comments may be recorded about other species, BSSN aggregates data only on these selected species.

The questionnaires are designed for mixed-method research and contain a variety of questions: open-ended, close-ended and multiple choice. Questionnaires have maps where respondents mark locations.

BSSN office in Anchorage receives all paper questionnaire and electronic versions in Word format from CRAs. The files go through several levels of quality control. The answers are entered in three data sets: quantitative – in SPSS, qualitative – in NVivo, and maps in GIS using kernel density mapping technique. Excel is also used as an intermediate sorting step.

BSSN data are currently archived with NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center) in collaboration with ELOKA (Exchange for Local and Indigenous Knowledge in the Arctic). Pilot phase data summaries are available. BSSN Phase II data are in the process of data entry, clean up and preliminary analysis. Please, check with the BSSN office to find out what is available. Note that some of the products, such as selected maps with sensitive information, may require community clearance prior to the release of such data. A Data request form will be available soon.