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How Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Undermines Climate Research – Mother Jones

How Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Undermines Climate Research – Mother Jones

How Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Undermines Climate Research – Mother Jones

This story was first published in Hakai Magazine and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

International science collaborations, similar to the 2019-20 MOSAiC expedition to the polar regions, which Markus Rex is pictured here with, were disrupted during the conflict in Ukraine.

Sebastian Grote/AWI via ZUMA Wire

The war in UkraineIt is a growing humanitarian disaster that is disrupting international relations around the globe. Far from the front lines, Russia’s aggression is taking another kind of toll—it’s causing decades of scientific collaboration to unravel, even in the farthest reaches of the Arctic Ocean.

The world is heating up rapidly. The rapid pace of climate change requires extensive scientific study in Arctic regions where melting glaciers and disappearing sea ice have global consequences.

The war in Ukraine has caused chaos and uncertainty for a scientific community that relies on international collaboration, says Maribeth Murray, executive director of Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary. Russia, which controls 50 percent of the world’s Arctic coastline, is a key partner in Arctic science. “I can’t name a field where they’re not involved,” says Murray.

Murray has felt the war’s impact on Arctic research through her coordinating role for the Arctic Observing Summit, a biennial meeting happening this week in Tromsø, Norway. The meeting brings together international researchers to share findings, exchange opinions, and guide the ongoing development a pan-Arctic observatory network. The network is aimed at understanding systemic changes across the Arctic and informing the adaptation and mitigation measures needed to address climate change.

But this year’s summit—and the broader Arctic Science Summit Week it is part of—is now closed to scientists from Russian institutions and organizations. The International Arctic Science Committee hosts the events and released a Statement affirming its commitment to “peaceful scientific cooperation between nations,” but declaring it “cannot proceed as normal” because of the war.

It’s the first time the committee has taken such a stance since its work began in the hopeful years following the Cold War—in a time when Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, Suggestion the Arctic become a “zone of peace.”

“We had a good number of scientists coming from Russia,” says Murray, who adds that their contributions to the summit include sharing reports, participating in forums, and helping develop recommendations for larger international bodies such as the eight-nation Arctic Council, another post–Cold War institution whose members, for the first time, have paused cooperation with Russia.

But the war’s shock waves are reaching beyond the meetings in Norway. All across the Arctic Partnerships with Russian scientists to study polar bears, whales, walruses, and more are all frozen. The severing ties can have a negative impact on research into how climate change affects Arctic peoples’ food resources.

One such study is led by Don Anderson, a biologist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts. Anderson and his collaborators found evidence of harmful algal blooms last year in the Chukchi Sea. They were located between Alaska, Russia and Alaska. These blooms could be quite dangerous. Neue developments in Arctic waters that could harm marine mammals and the people who rely on them.

“What we’re finding is alarming,” says Anderson. Anderson emphasizes the need for further research, including on Russia’s Chukchi Sea side, which he has not been able study. Anderson, whose team has found abundant evidence of algal blooms right up to the Russian border, believes the risk exists in Russia’s warming waters, too, and that algae there could drift into US waters.

See Also
A line graph showing global average temperature change over the last 2,000 years.

Anderson had previously secured funding for Russian scientists to visit his lab to learn his methods and replicate the research in Russia. Anderson wanted to inform both coasts communities about potential risks. The war ended the plans.

International research in the Gulf of Alaska has been conducted by American, Canadian, and Russian teams. They are studying critical salmon habitats as part of the International Year of the Salmon has also been disrupted.

The US government prohibited an American scientist from joining the Russian research vessel in the IYS effort in late February, just days after Russia attacked Ukraine. The Russian team was prevented from sampling US waters. This created a blank in their data covering hundreds of kilometers. Mark Saunders coordinates the Pacific arm IYS project and is trying to charter a vessel in order to gather the missing data. He says Russia is still a good partner for the long-term, as the salmon habitat extends into Russian waters. This habitat will shift northward into Arctic waters.

Evan Bloom, a lawyer and diplomat with the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, a Washington, DC–based institution, which, among other things, informs governments on polar science needs, says collaborative projects investigating microplastic pollution, the effects of heavy fuels from rising Arctic shipping, and other pressing research are also being impacted.

But Bloom also acknowledges that the horrific circumstances in Ukraine require a strong political response and a pause on collaboration with the Russian government—including its scientists. He says that this also undermines the science necessary to inform the actions all governments will need in the face the changing climate.

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