Without Siberia, it’s hard to keep track of Arctic changes | Polarjournal
Russia, one of the eight member countries of the Arctic Council, has the largest area of the Arctic and vast boreal forests. Image: Max Wilbert

The cooling of relations between the West and Russia is having a major impact on the study of changes in the Arctic, affecting the ability to monitor climate change. This is in addition to the disappearance of the memory contained in the ice due to global warming.

In Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, we find critical essays (for the time) on the seeds of war: “Following the law of coincidence of causes, thousands of small causes were found to correlate with this movement.” Today, thousands of small causes are accumulating to form the changes we observe in the Arctic, which have their own effect on the global climate. But to realize this, we still need to be able to observe them, and the invasion of Ukraine has dealt a definite blow to scientific monitoring in the Arctic.

On January 22, Aarhus University environmental scientist Efrén López-Blanco and his colleagues published a short paper in Nature Climate Change which shows that the breakdown in exchanges between the West and Russia is leading to a significant loss of understanding of changes in the region, hampering companies’ ability to project and adapt to a changing climate.

Of the sixty or so stations observing Arctic ecosystems, 21 have stopped supplying the international scientific community. This corresponds to half of the stations in the International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic(Interact) network. The loss of this data gives too much importance to Western observations. “The greater the bias, the weaker our ability to track and describe changes in the Arctic,” explains Dr. Efrén López-Blanco.

The boreal ecosystems of Russian Siberia account for half the land area of the Arctic. Here, rain, snow, temperature fluctuations and changes in plant biomass are continuously monitored. Using this information, researchers can, for example, estimate the proportion of carbon stored or released by forests, the modification of permafrost, or the northward migration of the tree line.

“With analyses similar to those we carried out for this study, we can identify places in northern Canada or Scandinavia where the amplitudes of climate and ecosystems are comparable to certain sites in Siberia, in terms of temperature, precipitation, biomass and soil composition,” explains the researcher. But this is only a short-term solution. “We need to recover the Siberian stations to understand this complex and heterogeneous ecosystem.”

The study used the Interact station network to estimate the impact of the loss of Russian information on the Arctic ecosystem monitoring system. Image : Interact

For better projections into the future, “we need open access to the data collected, with standard protocols so that the flow of information is maintained between Russian and non-Russian colleagues, and in the scientific community in general”, says Dr. Efrén López-Blanco.

How can we relaunch the process of reopening the exchange of scientific data? Perhaps through the Arctic Council. The latter was also affected by the conflict, but the handover of the presidency between Russia and Norway took place last year.

In an article published in The Moscow Times on January 12, we learn that the practice of science in Russia has become difficult for researchers, who no longer have access to certain scientific journals. They also find it difficult to obtain visas or attend international conferences. The article explains that there is a distrust of potential patriotic science under the control of Kremlin slogans. Some scientists are in prison, while others have fled and are working abroad.

Conflict is not the only source of loss in monitoring climate change. Another study published in The Cryosphere shows that climate signals preserved in the ice are gradually disappearing in Svalbard. For example, signals from 2012 were no longer accessible in 2019. This phenomenon is even more pronounced in mountain glaciers. Cores dedicated to long-term preservation are destined to be archived in Antarctica in the Ice Memory sanctuary.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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