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Observing the Arctic provides benefits beyond climate change insights

Scientists assessed ten case studies to identify the impact of insights gained from monitoring the Arctic
Scientists assessed ten case studies to identify the impact of insights gained from monitoring the Arctic
Nov 14 2018

The societal benefits of Arctic observation far outweigh the investment required to conduct it, according to a new study from the JRC.

Scientists assessed ten case studies to identify whether insights gained from monitoring the Arctic have a measurable impact on things like forest and fisheries management, or infrastructure adaptation.

They found that even in those selected cases, annual economic benefits from the information gained exceed the total Arctic observing system cost by at least 50%.

Over the next decade the report identifies overall observation-linked economic benefits of between 183 and 341 million euros per year, from required annual investments ranging from 70 to 135 million.

For example, observing the thawing of permafrost (normally frozen land) in the Arctic can highlight risks to buildings, pipework, railways and airstrips, supporting the strategic planning of future building work and identifying areas where adaptation and remediation are needed to protect existing infrastructure.

By quantifying the cost savings of these types of measures and identifying which actions can be directly linked to the information gained from observation activities, the scientists estimate that observation in this case alone accounts for annual benefits between 23 – 31 million euros per year.

Beyond economic benefits, the EU has identified priorities in its EU Arctic Policy that relate to the environment and increased human activities in this sensitive part of the Earth.

Observation activities, including Earth observation from satellites also strongly support the EU in its goals of the preservation of ecosystems, as well as providing information to help protect human health and reduce pollution.

/jrc/en/file/176679European Union policy for the Arctic

One such example the scientists analyse is oil spills.

Observing systems can significantly improve the reaction to these accidents, improving the response time and mitigation efficiency by supporting the identification and location of a spill and predicting its spread.

From disaster preparedness to managing natural resources, the study categorises a number of areas where insights from Arctic observation have a tangible societal benefit.

These insights had a positive impact on all categories identified across the case studies, demonstrating the wide span of societal benefits.

Of course all these activities do not come for free.

The study assesses the costs of these activities and directly relates them to their economic and wider societal benefits.

It's the first study ever for such a large observing system in which the scientists provide explicit evidence of why these investments are worth making.

Eyes on the Arctic

Observing the Arctic is important, not least because environmental changes in the region have far-reaching impacts.

The region acts as a regulator of the Earth’s climate, including the weather patterns in Europe.

One example of Arctic environmental observation using satellite data is the EU's Arctic monitoring forecast centre, managed under the Copernicus marine environment monitoring service.

Other activities include marine, atmospheric, airborne and under water observation to track environmental changes.

Observed environmental changes in the Arctic include:

  • large-scale near-surface warming;
  • sea-ice, ice sheet and permafrost melting;
  • changes in the level of pollutants present;
  • changes to flora and fauna in the region.

Responding to the challenges of rapid environmental change in the Arctic may call for increased investments in coming years.

On the other hand, with a changing environment the benefits to society may become even more significant in the future.

JRC scientists presented the results of the study at the Second Arctic Ministerial Conference in Berlin.

The Conference brings together 26 countries interested in the Arctic, in order to coordinate and advance research efforts.

This year it was jointly organised by the EU, Germany and Finland.

The study looks specifically at costs and benefits within the Arctic region, developing an analytical framework that can easily be further developed to analyse societal benefits of Arctic observing systems ranging from local to global scales.

Background

The study was carried out under the European Commission's Impact Assessment on a Long-Term Investment on Arctic Observations (IMOBAR) project.

The project provides a structured analysis of Arctic observing system costs and demonstrates their links to societal benefits – contributing towards the 'business case' for policy makers to sustain Arctic observation investments in the long term.

The study is an EU contribution for the Second Arctic Science Ministerial conference held in Berlin from 25 to 26 October 2018 producing a Joint Statement signed by representatives of 26 nations on international research collaboration in the Arctic.