While it is accepted that environmental change in the Arctic will have global implications, accessing accurate information from this remote region can be difficult. This is why an EU-funded project aims to build research capacity through connecting remote stations, developing new technology and making this harsh but beautiful wilderness accessible to as many people as possible.
Understanding, predicting and responding to environmental challenges facing the Arctic will help us to better protect one of the world's last remaining pristine wildernesses. This is why the EU-funded Interact project has been launched, with the aim of increasing our capacity to monitor and research what is happening to this fragile world.
Increasing access to information for researchers is central to the project. "A key prerequisite to expanding our capacities is developing partnerships between observers and research communities, particularly those using experimental approaches that focus on understanding and projecting future environmental changes," explains project coordinator Terry Callaghan. "Interact aims to generate increased research activity by enhancing access to the Arctic for researchers, and engaging the next generation of researchers in collaborative educational activities."
The project has already made significant progress. For the first time, 45 Arctic terrestrial research stations are networking together, a number which is likely to grow. A station managers' forum has been successfully established to facilitate dialogue on subjects such as best practices and standardised monitoring.
"The station managers' forum has produced a unique one-stop shop for information from all 45 research stations in an informative and attractive catalogue that is available in hard copy and on the Interact website," says Prof. Callaghan. "During the remaining period of Interact, the highest overall priority will be to ensure that this rapidly growing consortium has a secure future and legacy beyond the end of the current EU programme."
New monitoring equipment specifically designed to operate in harsh environmental conditions has also been installed. A fully compatible ICOS (Integrated Carbon Observation System) tower, for example, has been established at Zackenberg, North East Greenland, and ten energy exchange stations have been established at four major research platforms in the North Atlantic Region. To improve monitoring in general, new radio tools and models have also been tested.
Better climate data
This project has important implications for Europe. Better coordinated research stations will be able to provide more accurate scientific information, which will better inform decision-makers about potential changes to climate, biodiversity and land use. Indeed, environmental change in the Arctic could have profound implications for certain areas of the EU, such as low-lying coastal towns in the Netherlands. While input on environmental change from individual research stations can advise local stakeholders on adaptation measures, the whole network is required to provide information at a scale of relevance to the EU and the global community.
This project also presents Europe with opportunities. Currently, the Arctic is the focus of intense and growing geopolitical attention. Among the many reasons for this are the increasing possibilities for new trade routes, increased tourism, and better access to fossil fuel reserves and minerals. These issues are of great relevance to the EU, and the investment made in the Interact project will be handsomely repaid in the form of first-hand information on current environmental conditions across the whole Arctic region.
"By the end of this project, we will have significantly improved the way in which stations are managed and accessed, the way in which environmental monitoring is technically carried out and the way in which data are captured, processed and made available," says Prof. Callaghan. "Information flow from the Arctic to local stakeholders including those in European Arctic countries and to the global community will be further developed."