International network impacts Arctic research and monitoring
An EU-funded infrastructure project is enhancing international cooperation for research and monitoring in the Arctic. This is providing a better understanding of environmental change, and how to adapt to it.
© #183975637 | Author: Sergey - fotolia.com, 2018
The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world. This will have huge effects on the region, with global implications. Decreasing sea ice is opening up shipping routes, melting glaciers are contributing to global sea-level rise, and thawing permafrost is releasing additional greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. It is vital to have an accurate overview of these ongoing changes, to help people adapt to a changing world.
The EU-funded infrastructure project INTERACT is building capacity for identifying, understanding, predicting and responding to diverse environmental changes in the Arctic and adjoining regions, within an international network of research stations. It is providing environmental data on the Arctic of global relevance.
INTERACT is the first network to provide pan-Arctic transnational access to ensure that environmental change from all over the Arctic can be monitored. Thanks to EU funds, it has grown from a network of 9 research stations in 2001 to 83 in 2018, says project coordinator Margareta Johansson, of Lund University in Sweden.
Through INTERACTs transnational access scheme, we have put more than 650 scientists into the field, in all Arctic countries, she explains, The visits have resulted in new environmental data in many different disciplines and important new scientific findings.
In addition to filling important knowledge gaps, the project team is enhancing accessibility to data, reducing emissions from research stations that are often in remote and environmentally sensitive areas, monitoring biodiversity, developing disaster protocols, and working with local communities to help them adapt to predicted change.
INTERACT station managers and researchers have established international partnerships to improve the networks of sensors that measure environmental change, as well as enhancing data storage and accessibility. They have also pioneered the use of drones and other new technologies to improve the safety and efficiency of fieldwork in often harsh and dangerous conditions.
In the past, a number of Arctic monitoring stations with important datasets, some going back centuries, did not have modern data management plans. Now they are all part of the INTERACT network, with monitoring data becoming more standardised, comparable and accessible to researchers from all around the Arctic region.
The project has the potential to contribute data to ensure a rapid response to threats, such as nuclear disasters or severe pest outbreaks. We are currently developing protocols for observation, sample collection, analysis and communication to ensure that we can act quickly to provide an update on the extension of hazards in the Arctic, says Johansson. This provides an essential service to local communities, national governments and international agencies.
According to the project coordinator, Many INTERACT stations are located close to a village and we want to ensure that we work with local communities and indigenous peoples to help them adapt to future changes. Our project has three test cases running, one in Greenland with a fishing community, one in Scandinavia with a reindeer community, and one in Siberia with a forest community.
INTERACT operates in all Arctic countries, and adjacent alpine and forest areas, in Europe, Russia and North America, thereby making a valuable contribution to science diplomacy. This has received attention and support from various government embassies and has improved relationships between Russian and Western researchers and infrastructures, says Johansson.
The multidisciplinary project has provided new opportunities for researchers to travel to new countries and work in remote locations that are difficult to access, in fields such as glaciology, climatology and ecology. In turn, the enhanced exchange of knowledge and experience has benefitted the host research stations.
Finally, by developing educational materials and reaching out to young people in schools and universities, the project is also encouraging and recruiting the next generation of environmental scientists.