Polar science threatens to crack under pressure from Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Crucial science projects in the Arctic lie in limbo – and their progress is at risk – as Russia isolates itself from the world for its invasion of Ukraine.

Why is it important: These research collaborations provide key insights into the effects of climate change, ocean health, and geology — and they underpin cooperation between the United States, Russia, and others in geopolitical hotspots around the world. Arctic and Antarctica..

Driving the news: Scientific projects and collaborations are on hold around the world as sanctions and severing ties with Russian research institutions prevent scientists in the United States, Europe and elsewhere from working with their colleagues and students in Russia.

  • The effects of the war are being felt hard by scientists working in the Arctic, where the summer research season is about to begin.
  • Last week’s Arctic Observing Summit, bringing together international scientists monitoring the impact of climate change on the Arctic, was closed to researchers from Russian institutions and organizations, Hakai reports.
  • Last month, seven of the eight members of the Arctic Council, whose remit includes research cooperation around sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic, suspended all activities with Russia, the eighth member of the council and current president.

Details: About 53% of the Arctic Ocean coastline belongs to Russia. The unique access to this land and sea makes the country a key partner for international research on biology, ecology and conservation.

  • The country is also home to the majority of Arctic permafrost, and in recent years there has been growing concern about the rate and extent of thawing and the upsurge in forest fires in Siberia.
  • Urgent projects to understand Arctic fires, carried out under the auspices of the Arctic Council, are in a state of suspended animation.

Yes, but: While the impacts of lost research opportunities will compound over time, a months-long hiatus is unlikely to be particularly damaging, according to Malte Humpert, principal investigator and founder of the nonprofit Arctic Institute.

  • Humpert compares the situation to what businesses were facing at the start of the COVID pandemic, saying the Arctic Council is asking, “How do you keep working when the world enters a new ‘normal’?”
  • Still, a longer delay could be much more consequential, he says.
  • “A ‘break’ of a few weeks or a few months is one thing, but how will this work be organized and continue if the [Arctic Council] remains missing for years? said Humpert.
  • He notes that much of the science and policy work within the council could be transferred to other organizations and universities if tensions continue to rise. “I think over time new avenues for doing Arctic research outside the auspices of the Arctic Council will emerge,” he says.

At the other end of the earthAntarctica is dominated by scientific activities.

  • It is too early to determine the effects of the war on research on the continent as it heads into winter and reduced operations, says Alan Hemmings, polar scientist and assistant professor at the Gateway Antarctica Center for Antarctic Studies & Research from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. , New Zealand.
  • He adds that major international scientific programs on Antarctica could continue such as the ISS.

Russia, Ukraine, the United States and other countries are members of the Antarctic Treaty, which was negotiated in 1959 to promote international scientific cooperation on the continent.

  • Russia is a “big player and has immense capabilities” on the Antarctic continent, where it has five active research stations, Hemmings said.
  • Ukraine also operates a station – Vernadsky – on the mainland, which Hemmings said could be difficult to sustain because the invasion could prevent ships from turning personnel from Ukraine to the station. A support ship, Noosfera, left for Antarctica in January, ahead of the invasion.
  • “One imagines that other Antarctic programs can help the Ukrainian program, but these are dark times for those currently at Vernadsky or aboard Noosfera, watching their country’s onslaught from afar,” he said. recently written.

The big picture: China, India and other countries are maintaining – and in some cases moving forward with plans to strengthen – their scientific ties with Russia, Nature reported this week.

  • This follows a general trend of China’s growing international collaboration, they write.
  • Neither China nor India supported Western sanctions against Russia.

What to watch: Existing projects are strained, but the war could already shape the future of polar science.

  • A spokesperson for the National Science Foundation, which leads most US Arctic research, urged researchers “to consider whether now is the best time” to carry out projects in Russia or with scientists from Russian institutions or whether their “research goals can be achieved through other means.”
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