Arctic initiative on schedule

The four project leaders: Sverker Sörlin, Birgitta Evengård, Yongqi Gao and Øystein Holand.

Arctic initiative on schedule

The joint Nordic initiative on Arctic Research, “Responsible Development of the Arctic: Opportunities and Challenges – Pathways to Action”, held its first annual meeting in Umeå, Sweden on 13–14 June. All four Nordic Centres of Excellence were represented with over 50 participants who, in addition to sharing their experiences from their first year of operation, presented an update on the status of activities so far.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Katrine Riklund of Umeå University welcomed the participants before the NCoEs offered insights into what they sought to achieve and the way forward. Members of the joint initiative’s programme committee and Scientific Advisory Board were also present, and posed some very interesting questions.  

The Nordic Centre of Excellence CLINF (Climate-change Effects on the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases and the Associated Impacts on Northern Societies) includes close to 50 scientists from eight different countries and is studying how climate change in the Arctic may give rise to new medical and social health issues.

“The basis for our work at NCoE CLINF is that climate changes in the Arctic are altering the spread of plant and animal life all over the world, because plants and animals are changing along with the climate. This means that ecosystems are changing too, and in the Arctic this is happening three times faster than anywhere else,” explains Birgitta Evengård, professor/chief physician at the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Umeå University.

The Nordic Centre of Excellence ReiGN (Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – Resilience, Adaptations and Pathways for Actions) is an interdisciplinary cooperation between 11 Nordic research institutions and encompasses a wide range of subject areas, from genetics and evolutionary theory to ecology, resource management and legislation.

The researchers from NCoE ReiGN explained that reindeer husbandry is affected by climate change and globalisation, as well as by a number of other regional factors such as the construction of cottages, mining operations, other grazing animals and various political decisions. 

“The overall objective of NCoE ReiGN is to gain insight into how climate change and other processes in the Arctic will affect reindeer husbandry in Finland, Sweden and Norway. We will also examine ways in which reindeer husbandry can adapt to the changes taking place,” explains project leader Øystein Holand, professor in Animal and Aquacultural Sciences at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

The Nordic Centre of Excellence ARCPATH (Arctic Climate Predictions: Pathways to Resilient, Sustainable Societies) is examining the rapid rise in temperature in the Arctic, which is posing new challenges for northern communities already under pressure. The decline in sea ice has resulted in more shipping activity which, combined with oil and gas exploration, may have an impact on both fisheries and marine mammals.

“Activities at NCoE ARCPATH focus on socioeconomic changes in specific coastal communities on Iceland, Greenland and in North Norway and incorporate both natural science and social science perspectives. The objective is to combine improved regional climate prognoses with a deeper understanding of interactions between environmental, social and economic factors within these communities in order to generate new knowledge and approaches to ensure responsible development in the Arctic,” explains project leader Yongqi Gao, Research Director at the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC) in Bergen.

NCoE Arcpath involves 11 research institutions in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, China, the US, Russia and Canada.

The Nordic Centre of Excellence REXSAC (Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities) involves the participation of approximately 75 researchers from 15 research institutions in Nordic countries as well as Canada and Russia. NCoE REXSAC is headed by Professor Sverker Sörlin of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

There is a long history of extraction of natural resources in the Arctic, and NCoE REXSAC is taking a closer look at the profound influence of this activity on societal development as well as the environment.

“The lower price of oil has reduced interest in new oil and gas activity in the north. Mining operations are also less extensive than they were a few years ago. But there are always plans on the table for new activity and we will look at how natural resources can be extracted in a sustainable manner,” Professor Sörlin explains.

“It is often hard to decide what will be most beneficial for the development of a community and it is not a given that all resources should be extracted. This kind of problem emerges, for example, when new mining operations conflict with reindeer husbandry needs. These are difficult questions which we would like to examine more closely in order to redefine our positions and target thinking towards the future. Our ambition is to generate research findings that benefit the population in the region,” says Dr Sörlin.

The Research Programme “Responsible Development of the Arctic: Opportunities and Challenges – Pathways to Action” was launched in 2016 to expand knowledge about opportunities for and challenges facing the region. The programme has an overall budget of NOK 116 million.

Read more about the programme 

Text: Tor Martin Nilsen

Photo: Terje Heiestad and Tor Martin Nilsen


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