Shaken not stirred, the Arctic Cocktail

From NOAA's National Ocean Service.
From NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

By Sarah Kollmorgen

The Arctic is changing quickly– environmentally, economically and politically,  according to the “The Arctic Cocktail: Shaken, Not Stirred” panel at the AAAS Annual Meeting Saturday morning at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

To better understand the status of the Arctic right now, here’s a list of the main ingredients in an Arctic cocktail:

Indigenous peoples
The Arctic is home to only about 4 million people, including many indigenous tribes such as the Inuit and Saami peoples. “We are many different nations in the Arctic,” said Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. The largest population centers are cities with industrial operations, such as mining, he said. “It is important to the Arctic peoples that the science done [here] is relevant to us.”

Some provisions have already been made to ensure indigenous interests are represented in political and scientific issues. For example, the Arctic Council, which includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S., has permanent seats for indigenous representatives.

The scientific community
According to Lars-Otto Reisersen of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, some of the largest struggles for scientific research in the Arctic involve “huge gaps” in access to data between nations and organizations; collecting new data; securing platforms and funding for research; and enticing new and younger scientists to venture north. “The [researchers] in the Arctic are coming up to retirement,” he said.

Reisersen proposed securing funding for joint projects between the European Union, the U.S., Canada and Russia to improve research being done.

The environment
Environmental issues are especially significant in the Arctic because of their direct impacts on local peoples. For example, thawing of permafrost and melting rivers have led to infrastructure and transportation problems, Reisersen said. Ocean acidification, remaining radioactivity from nuclear testing and pollutants from other nations affect the animals of the Arctic, and, as a result, the indigenous people who use Arctic creatures as a primary food source.

The global community
As ice in the Arctic melts at a faster pace, natural resources, such as oil, gas and raw materials, have become easier to access and attracted international and commercial attention. In the next few years, nations will have to determine how to access these resources without excessively hurting the environment or lifestyle of indigenous peoples. “We are sitting on riches that we don’t know of, how to use,” Lynge said.

The panelists recommend a thorough mixing between nations and disciplines to improve Arctic development. “Things are changing, we never know what is in front of us next year,” Lynge said. “We need much more science, much more knowledge of the Arctic, much more knowledge of the people of the arctic.”