By Serina Robinson, a U.S. Fulbright student at UiT: The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, interested in Arctic microbiology and biogeochemistry.
The 10th Arctic Frontiers conference began with fanfare at the Fram Centre on Sunday, January 24th. The opening night was attended by a mix of politicians, businesspersons, scientists, students, volunteers, artists, and the press, all focused on one common theme: the state of the Arctic.
Salve Dahle, Chairman of the Arctic Frontiers Steering Committee, wished us a warm welcome to Tromsø. Dahle was followed by Cecilie Myrseth, Chair of the Troms County Government, who highlighted the increasing global importance of polar regions. The tone of the evening was set by Cecilie with a brave optimism about the state of the Arctic despite the unique challenges faced by its inhabitants and industries. As a young scientist, it was affirming to hear that more eyes are turning northwards than ever before and that polar research interests are increasingly relevant in a global context.
The opening ceremony continued with four presentations about recent expeditions to the Arctic. These four “snapshots” offered glimpses into research activities at the poles and set the bar high for the rest of the weeklong conference.
Speaker Sergey Katikov, presented Russian Arctic research and preservation efforts. Mr. Katikov is advisor to the President of the Russian Geographic Society, a prestigious society founded in 1845. Katikov emphasized the recent focus on conservation and education. The Russian Geographical society has several projects to protect the polar bears, walrus, and beluga whales – the most charismatic wildlife of the Arctic we know today. The society is also actively engaged in a full scale cleanup of the Russian Arctic coastline. To support education, the Russian Geographic Society sponsored several Russian students to present at the Arctic Student Forum here in Tromsø. Moreover, the Geographic society promotes education for youth on “floating universities”: Russian research vessels. I personally think the concept of a “floating university” sounds like a fun, hands-on way to learn about polar research and issues. Sign me up 🙂
Next, Jan-Gunnar Winther and Harald Steen explained the daring Norwegian Winter Research Expedition to the Arctic Ocean (N-ICE) which was completed last year. N-ICE filled a significant knowledge gap in Arctic research during winter months. To deal with winter conditions, researchers locked the vessel in an ice cap to drift for over five months. Scientists collected physical, chemical, and biological data round-the-clock to create a comprehensive picture of winter dynamics in the Arctic. The N-ICE expedition received worldwide attention, including a cover of the National Geographic magazine. I cannot even begin to imagine how much care, planning, and expertise went into accomplishing this feat!
Professor Yngve Kristoffersen, a renowned researcher from the University of Bergen, presented us with an eco-friendly alternative to icebreakers for Arctic exploration: a hovercraft. Professor Kristoffersen first described both setbacks and breakthroughs made during the development of this polar hovercraft. In 2015, Kristoffersen gave his hovercraft a trial-by-fire on an ambitious expedition to an entirely unexplored region of ice pack. This mission yielded several new discoveries including the documentation of a fish species not previously known to be present in Arctic waters. I found it most interesting that the amount of fuel required to power this hovercraft is less than 0.5% that of an icebreaker. As we look to cut our carbon emissions, Professor Kristoffersen’s efficient hovercraft sets a high standard for future research expeditions.
The last presentation was by Johanne Jerijærvi, a 14-year old from Kirkenes, Norway who is the youngest girl to have skied to the North Pole. Johanne was one of four “Nansen kids” selected by NRK for a TV-program called Oppdrag Nansen (Mission Nansen). Mission Nansen aimed at raising awareness and educating youth about climate change. Mission Nansen selected four Norwegian 13-year-olds and documented their journey on cross-country skis to the North Pole. Following their successful expedition, the four youth presented at the Paris COP 21 conference. Their plea for action was well-received by world leaders including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. At the Arctic Frontiers opening night, Johanne’s message conveyed the awareness of a youth who has witnessed climate change at the North Pole with her own eyes.
These four presentations were varied examples of polar exploration in the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen. They served as exciting sneakpeeks to kick off the weeklong conference. Following the opening ceremony, guests mingled while viewing seals and other attractions at Polaria, the Tromsø aquarium.
As members of the ARCTOS PhD-workshop, we are lucky to also participate in our own version of a “floating university” aboard the Hurtigruten to Lofoten and back. As a whole, Arctic Frontiers Young is paving the way to promote the interest of young people in Arctic issues. We are so thankful to be participate in the PhD workshop as part of Arctic Frontiers Young. We really look forward to the opportunities for networking and growth this workshop provides.