The Impact of Russia’s Isolation on Arctic Climate Science

Andrew Hodson, a glaciologist, previously collaborated with Russian colleagues on Svalbard, yet their meetings ceased after Ukraine’s conflict, hindering snowmobile excursions.

“We once partnered with Russian permafrost scientists and hydrologists in Barentsburg. Regrettably, it’s no longer possible,” conveyed the British scientist to AFP.

Expressing dismay towards Russian government actions, he shared, “We lament the loss of this collaborative base, given the circumstances,” from his Longyearbyen University office, the capital of the archipelago.

Despite being under Norwegian governance, these islands have long retained a significant Russian influence. However, the diplomatic phrase ‘High North, low tensions’ no longer holds true.

Following the Ukraine conflict’s onset, Arctic researchers from the West and Russia severed almost all connections. Moscow’s 2022 invasion further deteriorated their already strained partnership due to President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive actions.

This cooling off significantly impacted scientific studies in a region warming four times faster than the planet and pivotal in climate studies—where Russia’s vast expanse plays a crucial role.

Information Void

“Russia comprises more than half of the Arctic, and this loss is detrimental,” remarked Rolf Rodven, executive secretary of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP).

The data exchange from Russia has now entirely ceased, leaving a knowledge gap that impacts Europe, the US, and Canada’s Arctic regions, hindering insights on permafrost—a climate threat primarily in Russia—and recent destructive wildfires akin to those in North America.

Though international databases like the World Meteorological Organization and satellite observations offer some data, they remain incomplete.

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“We anticipate increased uncertainty in our assessments and, consequently, more uncertainties in future projections,” added Rodven.

Given AMAP’s pivotal role in UN IPCC climate reports, its studies assume heightened importance within the Arctic Council—a previously cohesive forum now split between the West and Russia.

Numerous projects have halted, studies delayed; relations with Russian research institutes, predominantly state-owned, have ceased, further deterring independent researchers apprehensive about treason allegations.

Since 2019, Russian scientists have voiced concerns about contact restrictions, fueling fears of a regression to Soviet-era conditions.

Brain Drain

Russia’s research community faces a ‘brain drain,’ exacerbated even before the Ukraine invasion, compounded by redirected funds for war efforts, lamented Salve Dahle, a marine biologist at Norway’s Akvaplan-niva institute.

“We lose the data exchange and witness a reduction in Russian data collection,” Dahle highlighted, particularly concerned about Siberia’s rivers—vital sources of Arctic freshwater impacted by industrial activities, drilling, and mining.

Hodson, the British glaciologist in Longyearbyen, acknowledges the value of collaborating with Russian expertise but remains realistic. “Collaboration had its challenges, and I won’t feign regret,” he concluded.”

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