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Impressions from Arctic Frontiers 2022

11 May 2022

Arctic Frontiers brings together hundreds of scientists, policy makers, community stakeholders, and business community members each year to share knowledge, discuss, and debate key issues relating to sustainable development of the Arctic. The theme of this years event was “Pathways” – a moniker that symbolises several important issues related to near term development of the Arctic, including the implementation PolarRES.

The four-day event was separated into two key blocks: Science, where academics share information with a wider policy and business community; and the Big Picture, where panel discussions and debate take place together with policy-makers, business community members, and key members of international organisations that invest in research and innovation activities in the Arctic.

Key takeaways for PolarRES

During the Big Picture sessions, the Pathways theme was discussed in various contexts, ranging from Arctic collaboration, science, and important commercial and scientific innovation. For example, the impacts of climate change are continually increasing the viability of northern shipping routes in the Arctic. Here, the new challenges and opportunities in terms of planning, policy, and community impact of these shipping routes were widely discussed and debated. This particularly included the Northern Sea Route eastward from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which would dramatically influence shipping and trade between Europe and the Far East.

Another central discussion point of the Big Picture sessions revolved around marine resources, including fishing, aquaculture, and the application of emerging technologies in the marine sector. It was clear that while environmental challenges exist in terms of overfishing, marine biodiversity, and marine ecology, there is still a large potential for Arctic areas to sustainably generate additional food supply.  

PolarRES will contribute to both topics – Arctic shipping and marine ecosystems – with new information through our downscaled storylines, climate projections, and impact analysis. For example, the culmination of our work will assess the likely impacts of Polar climate change on the habitats of key fish and plankton species that are important to Polar marine ecosystem hotspots, both for conservation and commercial fishing. Likewise, the climate projection models we produce will provide valuable guidance on future ice extent and thickness and the impact analysis will include a specific focus on Arctic maritime shipping routes, the potential of Trans-Arctic navigation, and the subsequent economic and impacts of commercial shipping. This knowledge will be crucial not only for industry stakeholders, but for other organisations, such as the IPCC, who require additional data-driven information on Polar impacts of climate change. Our results will surely be of interest for sharing at future Arctic Frontiers meetings.

Arctic Collaboration Pathways

Arctic collaboration pathways were also placed in a central focus during the event. This included discussions about circumpolar collaboration through policy, such as with the Arctic Council, but more significantly through the importance of collaboration with local community groups such as indigenous groups, Arctic youth, residents, and visitors to the Arctic Region. For example, the importance of curating non-traditional knowledge of Arctic climate change impacts was emphasised, particularly regarding societal and economic impacts of seasonal temperature changes and permafrost. This information provided valuable reflection points for how PolarRES can integrate this type of knowledge during our research activities, including the upcoming implementation of our Citizen Science Initiative. Likewise, since PolarRES will also use our regional climate projections to simulate pan-Arctic permafrost thaw and wildfires, we will be able to provide a valuable information for developing community-driven climate adaptation strategies in permafrost hotspots such as Northern Alaska.

Sadly, discussion about the Northern Sea Route above Russia emphasised another widely debated topic of the event: the current and future Arctic collaboration pathways given the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The current war is having repercussive geopolitical and economic effects that we feel locally and globally. Discussions at Arctic Frontiers, however, highlighted the impacts that this will have on climate science in a Polar perspective. It was widely recognised that collaboration with Russian scientists is crucial for the collection of climate data, which is essential for the continuation of longitudinal climate datasets that are relied upon globally for understanding the effects of climate change in a Polar perspective. We heard about the potential impacts this will have on the collection of ocean and sea ice data, as well as the fact that Russian scientists are the preeminent experts relating to permafrost research.

With the PolarRES coordination team present at Arctic Frontiers we were able to get a clearer understanding of the importance of circumpolar collaboration in the Arctic. From the many debates and discussions at Arctic Frontiers, it was clear that the work we are doing in PolarRES will play an important role in providing impactful data on Arctic climate change. With such an impact, we can enable Arctic community stakeholders to prepare for and adapt to climate change.