Reflecting the Arctic Frontiers through the eyes of a social scientist

Written by Vesa Väätänen, PhD student at the Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, Finland

The latest Arctic Frontiers PhD workshop took place in January 2016 together with the Arctic Frontiers conference titled ‘Industry and Environment’. As the 2017 conference is getting very close, I would like to reflect the experience of the 2016 conference from a perspective of a social scientist, which I take myself to be as a political geographer.

Arctic Frontiers is a well-established conference dealing with Arctic issues. It has brought people from the fields of science, politics and business together for several years now. As knowledge regarding the various processes of change affecting the Arctic region has been built up, calls for more comprehensive approaches integrating sound science, political decision-making and economic practices have become more vocal. At a glance Arctic Frontiers provides a platform for just that. The question remains whether this kind of interaction truly happens, or do politicians, scientists and business people just show up in Tromsø every year for the sake of politics, science or business. In other words, do politicians only show up to meet other politicians, and to promote their viewpoints to each other, and to bask in media spotlight? Do business people only show up to meet other people of the business community to network and enhance prospects of economic development and profit-making in the Arctic? Do researchers only show up to promote their own research and to discuss issues with other people doing research on same scientific fields as themselves? These are the questions that from my point of view are crucial regarding the practical value of Arctic Frontiers in contributing to more comprehensive approaches on Arctic issues. Furthermore, in a more general perspective these questions are focal when thinking about global approaches on the Arctic in any given context.

At this point I have to say that perhaps one shouldn’t be too skeptical since political decision-making regarding Arctic issues is more often than not informed by scientific knowledge, especially regarding environmental factors. Through political processes scientific knowledge also guides the ‘invisible hand’ of economic practice in the region, which induces more environmentally and socially sustainable practices. The point is, however, in imagining the bigger picture. Are people operating in these three fields really as informed, or even interested in what takes place in the other two? This is the interplay that intrigues me. In Arctic Frontiers 2016 the policy, science and business sections were quite clearly separated from each other. As the conference started with the policy section, it was clear that media showed interest and security was on high alert. After the politicians left, and one could say that they really did before the science section started, it was clear that a true interplay and discussion did not take place at least on a large scale between politicians and scientist in the confines of the conference. Similarly, as UiT campus functioned as the venue for most of the events in policy and science sections, the business section mainly took place in downtown Tromsø, meaning that a buffer zone of a few kilometers was left between the scientist and business people.

This seclusion (undeniably also stemming from logistical and practical constraints) serves to undermine the interrelations between policy, science and business in the Arctic context. If we first think of science, one could ask how much of the research presented in the conference has received funding from an institution or organization directly or indirectly under political steering. It’s impossible to tell, but a large chunk, I guess. Thus what researchers do depends to a great degree on political decisions, and in some cases serve directly the political agenda of the funder. Perhaps we as scientists do not reflect on that connection too much, as we are just pleased to have received funding to pay our bills. Another issue that scientists do not perhaps think about too often is the contribution of our research to economic development in the Arctic. As regulatory policies are informed to a large degree by research on the effects of economic practices on the environment and people living in the Arctic, much of the knowledge produced through Arctic research is then utilized by economic actors, such as companies to meet those regulations and to overcome other barriers. This enables economic development, such as resource extraction that would otherwise not have happened. Then again the promises of economic profit drive the political forces that influence what research is being funded and so on, and so on. I would suggest that we can see a clear pattern here.

I would like to again remind at this point, that one should not wane into despair by thinking that each field and each person are just parts of a big profit-making machine where policy and research merely serve the interest of capital. Rather the point of this short reflection is to encourage people in politics, business, and especially in science to identify their role in this cycle. By acknowledging the wider effects of each political decision, each investment and each published research paper we can lose the field-centric blindfolds to really encourage dialogue between the fields to simultaneously critically examine the effects retaining the blindfolds may have. If this seems like too ambitious a goal on the short term, at least I would encourage people to maintain a critical eye on what we are doing, and what others are doing around us.

This is the point I would especially like to make for PhD students in social sciences pondering whether or not to apply for the Arctic Frontiers PhD workshop. In addition to being a great opportunity to meet and have fun with other people from multiple fields of science (and why not politics and business), the conference part of the workshop provides a good setting for participant observation to examine how the politics, business and science in the Arctic Frontiers may, or may not come together. Needless to say, this kind of an analytical approach to the conference should not stand in the way of fully enjoying the great experience that the conference and the PhD workshop provide.

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Were discussions on Russia at the Arctic Frontiers conference balanced?

by Lukas Allemann

This blog entry takes as a starting point two events about Russia at the last Arctic Frontiers conference in order to describe how dichotomies are constructed and one-sidedness sometimes concealed.

At the last Arctic Frontiers conference I visited two side events related to Russia and its policies in the Arctic. For me it was out of question that such a topic would somehow reflect the general current tensions between Russia and the West. However, I was very interested in what way that would happen, especially as I saw quite some Russian names among the participants of these discussion panels.

The first event was called “Russia, our neighbor in the Arctic”, a panel in which some experts were to discuss Russia’s foreign policy in the High North. The second discussion I attended was in the framework of the Open Arctic, a series of side events open not only to conference participants but also to the local population. The panel was called “Barents co-operation: today and tomorrow”, and I attended the armchair talk about nuclear cooperation in the region.

“Russia, our neighbor in the Arctic” featured the experts Bobo Lo, Arkady Moshes, Katarzyna Zysk, Geir Hønneland and Dmitry Tulupov. For me it was no surprise that the discussion quite quickly shifted from the Arctic context to the Ukrainian context. However, the abstract of the event was concluding on a positive note stating: “We look back on 20 years of successful and peaceful cooperation in the Arctic – what is to be expected in the next 20 years?” Considering this, I was surprised how categorical in their dooming views some participants of that discussion were. One could hear statements like: (A) “Things will get worse before they get better”, making responsible for this solely Russia’s bullish stances, or (B) “Russia is not interested in cooperation for its own sake. It has such an interest only if there will be a direct benefit” (both Bobo Lo). The most radical statement was (C) that if the Central European counties were not NATO members the conflict between the West and Russia would probably not take place in Ukraine but in Poland, and it may be armed (Arkady Moshes).

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Panel discussion “Russia, our neighbor in the Arctic” with Geir Hønneland, Arkady Moshes, Katarzyna Zysk, Dmitry Tulupov and Bobo Lo (Photo: Pernille Ingebrigtsen/Arctic Frontiers 2016)

Just a short comment on these statements. Statement A ignores that in Eastern Europe during the last 25 years there has been at least one other bullish actor, the USA, influencing politics through all kinds of foundations (Ukraine is no exception) and dominating the NATO in Europe (note that as a rule the supreme NATO commander in Europe is always an American citizen). Statement B puts an obvious principle of foreign politics of all big powers as if it was something peculiar to Russian politics. And statement C is such a blatant speculation that I was outraged to hear it in a supposedly academic discussion.

Although I personally do not agree with the described stances and “it is crucial to refuse all reductionist diagnoses of the current situation” (Yurchak 2014, an article worth reading about the Ukraine crisis, written by the well-known Russian-American social anthropologist Alexei Yurchak), my main point here is not to contest such views. Rather I would like to point out that, although some statements were extremely polemic and at the same time superficial, there were no voices in the panels contesting such views, or they were too weak to be heard. At the end of the panel discussion “Russia, our neighbor in the Arctic”, when we were walking out of the lecture hall, I was talking to some colleagues and we were wondering who were actually these people in the panel, some having Russian sounding names, who were giving so pejorative one-sided characterization of the situation. We didn’t pursue that question anymore because, as usual in such conferences, the programe was very tight, meaning that there is a huge amount of information to be absorbed but no time to properly process it. The question later came back to my mind, and I wanted to investigate more exactly the backgrounds of the participants of that panel which at a first glance looked quite balanced in its composition. After some research I compiled the following table:

Name Affiliation Background (based on CV)
Katarzyna Zysk Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies Norwegian Armed Forces; NATO
Bobo Lo Chatham House Think Tank Organizations promoting Atlanticism
Arkady Moshes Finnish Institute of International Affairs, till 2015: Chatham House Organisations promoting Atlanticism
Geir Hønneland Fridtjof Nansen Institute rather independent
Dmitry Tulupov Russian International Affairs Council; St. Petersburg State University Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Education and Science

The analysis of the backgrounds of the panelists reveals that, if we accept that we are living in times of a deep split between Russia and the West (and that is the main message the panelists were conveying), this split was not represented in a quantitatively balanced way. The only person representing the Russian perspective was Dmitry Tulupov. He was not only quantitatively inferior, but, with his quiet manner and his statements not going beyond the Arctic context, he was too academic to drown out the heightened rhetoric of the atlanticists in the panel.

The more regionally oriented armchair discussion on nuclear security in the Barents Region revealed a similar pattern, at least in quantitative terms: One representative of the Russian standpoint against four representatives of the Nordic perspective, as you can see in the following table.

Johnny Almestad Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Per Strand Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority
Nils Bøhmer Bellona
Timme Ellingsjord Nature and Youth
Gennady Matishov Murmansk Marine Biological Institute

However, in this discussion, the Russian viewpoint couldn’t be taken seriously enough not because it was too silent but too loud. Matishov, probably both due to his personality and due to the fact that he felt insecure in his “minority status”, started shouting around, being too bold and irrational in his reasoning, causing some embarrassment among the audience and the organizers and thus losing credibility.

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A Soviet propaganda poster about American presence in Europe stating “Phrases and… bases”; from Scott Thoe’s presentation during the Young Scientist Forum PhD seminar. Photo: Lukas Allemann

All in all, both panels gave me the impression that the organizers of the Arctic Frontiers conference did not take enough care about creating a platform of true exchange of opinions on equal terms, and thus missed their goal of being a truly cosmopolitan conference. They rather repeated the behavior of most mainstream media, which, when it comes to discussing the relationship between the West and Russia, do not rely on a broad enough range of experts. They rather seek advice from a limited pool of specialists from the “regular go-to places … when seeking expert opinion and analysis”, as Crosston (2015) fittingly put it. I conclude my blog entry with a strong recommendation to take your time and read Crosston’s sharp-minded meta-analysis of Russian-Western relationship analyses. You will certainly look with more critical eyes on information you will be served by well-established experts in discussion panels and newspaper articles about Russia and the West. In addition, I would like to thank the organizers of the Young Scientists Forum PhD seminar for not repeating the mistakes of the Arctic Frontiers organizers. The seminar was not at all about mainstream thinking, but through its unique kaleidoscope of presenters and participants it encouraged us all to look beyond our disciplines, and beyond our cultures. In the context of the problems between the West and Russia I especially appreciated Scott Thoe’s presentation, in which he encouraged us with the help of art to see in “the Russians” smart and rational, ingenious and quick-witted people and not only gloomy and menacing statesmen suffering from an inferiority complex, as suggested by certain scholars.

5 good reasons to take part in the Arctic Frontiers PhD workshop !!!

By Pierre Blévin, PhD Candidate in Marine Ecology, La Rochelle University, France. Interested in the effects of pollution on Arctic seabird in Svalbard, Norway.

1°) This year, we were around 22 participants coming from 15 different countries (India, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Slovenia, Finland, USA, Canada, France…). The Arctic was actually making the link between each participant involved in very different research interests (social science, politics, natural science…).

It was unique to meet all those people with different cultures… but I am not going to talk about the dancing classes during the evening where everyone was proud to show the dancing style of their own country!

2°) During the week, we received really interesting talks (13 in total) from 8 different lecturers. We covered a broad panel of Arctic subjects. Here are some examples :

  • « The ethnic mosaic of northern Norway: Challenges and possibilities » (Paul Wassmann)
  • « Arctic science diplomacy for peaceful management of a changing world » (Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen)
  • « The most important animals in high latitude marine ecosystems » (Stig Falk-Petersen)
  • « Show me the data! » (Michael Greenacre)
  • « Lofoten and the visual arts » (Svein Pedersen)
  • « Entrepreneurship and art in a Barents region context » (Scott Thoe)

We even received a yoga class ! It was the first time for me… Rather funny than relaxing but at least, now, for sure I know that I am not flexible at all !

3°) After the Arctic Frontier Conference, we left to Svolvær in Lofoten with the Hurtigruten (a big boat with sauna and Jacuzzi). What a wonderful place ! Each day, we had excursions :

  • Stokmarknes Hurtigruten Museum
  • Lofotmuseum/Gallery Espolin/Lofotaquarium
  • And several walks around Svolvær. Thanks to our guides, Asle Guneriussen and Stig Falk-Petersen for making those walks very pleasant.

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All pictures taken by Pierre Blevin

4°) Of course, we learned about research proposal writing, which was actually the aim of the workshop and I feel now definitely more prepared to ask for a research grant. During the week, we were divided in several groups. Each group was working on their own research proposal and the last day, we had our final presentation the proposal. Although our group did not win, I will remember for a while about this wonderful song « STOP THE POPs », beautifully sung by Alexei ;).

5°) A music band, « Kaa » joined us during all the week and we enjoyed a lot all their concerts… I will remember all my life this last night. We were on the way back in the Hurtigruten, somewhere between Svolvær and Tromsø. The « Kaa » band decided to improvise a concert outside, on the deck where everybody were dancing under a fabulous northern light !

Pierre, the french guy with the very french accent !

Northern lights in Northern Norway

By Jaroslav Obu

Besides the scientific and educational experience, the workshop was very rich with different personal impressions. For participants who are not living in high latitudes, seeing the northern lights was a unique experience. During the conference I even heard senior scientists asking the people that are studying northern lights for a forecast.

The weather was mainly cloudy during the conference. Despite some moments of clear sky the aurora was unfortunately not visible. The predicted increase in geomagnetic activity did not happen because the solar wind blew just past the Earth. On the evening, just before boarding Hurtigruten, magnetometers showed some aurora activity. Few of us went up the hill in the search of darker spots, where we had a chance to see a green curtain gently dancing above the houses of Tromsø.

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The first days in Svolvær were cloudy and snowy so the beautiful Lofoten landscape turned white, but the sky remained grey. The third day of the workshop brought some hope with partly cloudy evening and slightly increased geomagnetic activity. Faint auroras were visible through hazy sky on Svinøya, where the disturbing strong city lights were not so strong. But then some clouds covered the sky again. To our surprise, green bands appeared on the sky again during the jam session of KAA band and we rushed out with only our slippers on to see the aurora that became stronger and before the clouds returned.

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I decided to try my luck the next evening and go slightly higher, away from the city lights. The weather forecast was promising that the sky would clear up late in the evening. The snow was getting deeper and deeper and soon I was trudging in a meter of snow. I came high enough so that the view over the city and nearby mountains was nice. Shortly before  midnight the forecast came true and the background of nearby mountains that were lit by city lights turned green. On thw way back, when hiking through fresh and soft snow, the northern lights came closer and were slowly dancing above mountains.

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The next evening we boarded Hurtigruten and were heading back to Tromsø and soon after leaving Svolvær we could see some northern lights dancing in the sky. These were soon hidden behind the clouds of snow showers. After midnight, close to Stokkmarknes, the sky was clear again and the aurora became brighter. While we were together spending the last evening on the deck the aurora was shining above us and showing the best performance right at the end of the workshop.

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Arctic Frontiers PhD Workshop 2016: An overview with a touch of impression

By Elena Guk, Ph.D. student in Recreational Geography, Saint Petersburg State University, Russia

In 2016, the Arctic Frontiers PhD Workshop gathered 22 young scientists from universities and research institutions representing both Arctic and non-Arctic countries – Norway, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark (including Greenland), Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France and India (and the map of citizenship had been colored even more). Students’ research topics were ranging from Beaufort Sea fish communities to tourism on Taimyr Peninsula, thus demonstrating great thematic and geographical variation of young Arctic science nowadays.

The workshop lasted ten days, from 25th of January till 3rd of February – four days during the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, and six after, on board famous coastal steamer Hurtigruten and in Svolvær – a small fishery town in the heart of amazingly scenic Lofoten islands.

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On the way to Svolvær – Photo: Ulrike Grote

The educational program of the workshop included three major parts. First, each participant presented their research in the Science section of Arctic Frontiers. Second, there were twelve lectures given by Tromsø University professors, Akvaplan-Niva researchers and local Lofoten artists – theoretical (e.g. The ethnic mosaic of Northern Norway: Challenges and possibilities by Paul Wassmann), practical (e.g. Lessons on a transdisciplinary excellence by Rasmus G. Bertelsen) and even art-related (e.g. Lofoten and the visual arts by Svein Pedersen). And, last but not least, the core event – training on preparing research proposals, which was held during the travel days.

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Brainstorming – Photo: Elena Guk

For this purpose workshop participants were divided into four groups, based on multidisciplinary and international principles. Using an imaginary call for proposals announced by ARCTOS, students prepared four interdisciplinary Arctic-related project proposals and gave interactive presentation of them to the evaluation team. All projects were highly appreciated by the jury, but the winner was only one: the proposal CRABS – Crab-related Resilience Assessment of Biology and Society.

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Final presentations – Photo: Elena Guk

Another (and even maybe more important) result of the workshop – a great young researcher team that had been built disregarding of the study field and country each of us represented. Definitely, this became possible not only because of intensive group work, but also due to well organized travel and accommodation (I wish I could stay in Lofoten Suites Hotel one more time in my life!), wise work-life balance during the workshop (Norwegians work for life, we remember) and without any doubt perfect social program. During the conference young scientists participated in most of evening social activities, such as icebreaker parties, Troms mayor welcome reception and fantastic concert in the Arctic cathedral, mentioned in previous posts. In Svolvær we went to excursion trips every day, which was extremely valuable taking into consideration short daylight time. Travel part was really unique in the context of free time organization: students and teachers were accompanied by the band from Barcelona called KAA which gave a set of concerts and even “a lecture” during our days in Svolvær and of course on Hurtigruten.

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Antonio Torres Vega, drummer of KAA – photo: Ulrike Grote

It was so hard to leave the last concert party after coming back to Tromsø, at night before most of us fly away. It was so hard to say goodbye to new friends and so sweet to meet them again in different airports on the way home. And I’m sure, rapidly growing Arctic science will give us a chance to get together more than once!

Culture and nature of Lofoten islands

By Yury Dvornikov

Fish, sea, and fjords are the keywords of the Lofoten islands and especially Svolvær, where our group disembarked on 29.01. It was very interesting to see this very small town with quite good developed infrastructure with nice hotels, restaurants, big supermarkets etc. Being a port for a daily arriving coastal steamer it seems to be very popular for tourists during summer. What kind of objects worth to be visited here? Already walking around the town and vicinities could allow you to feel the beautiful nature of Northern Norway. Besides this, there is also a cluster of museums including Lofotmuseum, Gallery Espolin, Lofotaquarium located together near the town and where one could get familiar with a traditional lifestyle of fishermen and typical representatives of the marine animal world. The observation deck on the small hill offers an excellent view of the fjord and the museum complex. In an open-air part of the aquarium, one can observe seals and otters. We were lucky to attend their lunchtime ;). The Gallery Espolin allows you to see the paintings painted by Kaare Espolin Johnson, devoted to the life of this region.

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All photos taken by Ulrike Grote

A journey of knowledge

By Ann Eileen Lennert

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”I am sitting on board MS Lofoten writing the introduction of this book. I see Germans, Swedes and Americans cutting tongs of cod, going king crabs fishing and on excursions where they hang fish to dry or gutting cod. They eat cured halibut, smoked turbot and poached salmon in the buffet of the restaurant. The Hurtigruta ought to promote these pilgrim cruises, a homage to the food of the sea, our savior of all times, to us Norwegians. Because now it is the tourists who are learning the things that we ourselves are about to forget. We would have good use of a journey of knowledge along our own coasts of Norway.”

Veronica Melå, Havet, Mat, Makt og Meninger, 2015.

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It was exactly such a trip we experienced at our stay in Svolvær, Lofoten, a small fishing community surrounded by majestic mountains. We were here in connection with the ARCTOS PhD course, a course educational in every sense and manner.

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Here we traveled through a journey of knowledge. Local knowledge of the area was shares through stories of locals, local who are akin with the sea, the smell of the salt water, the winds blowing and the waves folding themselves around the cliffs of the shores.

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This knowledge was both shared by walks along the peers and among the smell of drying fish,

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-but also through art of local artist who in a unique way visualized the history, knowledge and stories of the communities scattered on the islands of Lofoten and surrounding Svolvær. With their art this unique knowledge was being preserved.

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The locals had become scientists and these scientists educated us of how one through multi-disciplinarity could address topics regarding “Dynamics, resilience and change of arctic marine social and environmental systems”. Here we were joined from various places of the world, from India to Greenland, from fields of artists, glaciologists, economics, biologist, to anthropologist –among many other fields.

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Here both different cultures of sciences, different cultures of heritage, different cultures of perceptions and knowledge met and together shaped ways of how to perform science and topics of concern, these of which were expressed scientifically, through Music of “Spot the POPS”, through education and not at least in an interdisciplinary manner.

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I think it is no secret that discourses, perceptions and outcomes are many (as the colors of buoys marking the visualized route at sea) when regarding “Dynamics, resilience and change of arctic marine social and environmental systems”. Changes seen the future are not only caused by climate change, but through anthropogene disturbances, politics, economy and global demand on given resources.

It is important to think that changes are not only obstacles, but can be innovative, enhance creativity and an acknowledgement of these coastal communities who so much shape the history of the coast of Norway.

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We learned how knowledge can be expressed in so many forms as well as understood in a diverse variation and the importance of recognizing the interrelated ways of expression.

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All photos by Ann Eileen Lennert

Painting by Scott Thoe

Day 3: Concert Arctic Cathedral

By Mikhail Varentsov

Tonight we had a concert in famous Arctic cathedral, and it was amazing. Magnificent melodies of Grieg, Norwegian folk music and unbelievable soprano voice turns concert to the magic flight through the sky, through the mountains and through Scandinavian fairy-tales. When musicians played, heart became beating rapidly, and the soul moved to the world of dreams. Wonderful acoustic, clean lines of cathedral and twinkling of the candles were multiplying the impressions.

Before the concert I wanted to make photos during it, but have forgotten about my camera when the music have appeared – because of this, I don’t have any photo with concert itself and with musicians. There are only funny selfie, made before the concert, when we were relaxed after the dinner and still not impressed the music, and some photos, made after in attempt to catch wonderful atmosphere of this place.

Thanks a lot to the organizers for this concert, and to the musicians for the wonder which they made for us. This was a really strong impression, which I will never forget.

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Photos: Mikhail Varentsov

Comment by Ulrike: The soprano was Gro-Anita Gyring Kval, in case somebody is interested 🙂

Day 3: Science Communication Panel

Written by Ashley Stasko, PhD Candidate in Biology at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Interests in marine food webs and drivers behind variation in ecosystem structure.

The science portion of the Arctic Frontiers started off nicely with an early career researcher social event at Ølhallen, the oldest pub in Tromsø. Participants of both the Arctic Student Forum and the Arctic Frontiers PhD Workshop were in attendance. The social was a great venue for us to break out of our shells and network with each other. We were served a delicious dinner of local foods, and I finally had the chance to try some Norwegian beer!

The next day, there was a panel discussion on science communication at the Arctic Frontiers that I had been really interested in attending. Four panelists spoke about their diverse experiences in science communication (from large-scale film productions to Twitter), and gave advice on how early career researchers could reach out to the public to share their research. The panelists included Lawrence Hislop (a professional film-maker and science communicator from the Climate and Cryosphere Project), Magnus Svendsen Nerheim (University of Bergen and former APECS Director with extensive social media experience), Alexey Pavlov (Norwegian Polar Institute Researcher with classical media relations experience), and Sara Aparicio (APECS Portugal Researcher, who actively participates in educational programs for youth).

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Photo: Ulrike Grote

In general, the speakers had interesting and useful advice to give on communicating their science. I particularly enjoyed the diverse range of media products presented by Lawrence Hilsop, who has been involved with many eye-catching and interesting science communication initiatives, such as films and print media for international climate reports. It reminded me of a close colleague of mine, who just graduated his MSc in Arctic Fish Ecology but has much grander aspirations of becoming a film maker and professional science communicator. My friend has always been a strong supporter of making science not only accessible, but visually stunning and exciting for a general audience. I admire the dedication and talent it takes to turn your research project into a photo shoot (which is a talent I most definitely lack).

But I have to admit, that while I think communicating science to the general public is a very important endeavour, as Arctic researchers in particular I believe that our biggest communication responsibility is finding a way to effectively communicate our results and data back to the northern and Indigenous communities that have a deeper vested interest in our findings. This was one topic I was very surprised to find lacking in the panel discussion. In Canada, where I conduct my own science, it is near impossible to conduct research in the Arctic without the input and approval of Inuit research advisors. Admittedly, this makes the delivery of results to northern communities a little bit easier than it may be in other pan-Arctic regions. But there is still a lot of room for improvement, and I think that science communication for Arctic researchers should automatically include the notion of reporting back to those most deeply impacted by the political, environmental, and social subjects we study. And this requires a social and societal education on the part of the researchers. The media outlets, language, and approaches that may be most effective for communicating to our own southern communities may not necessarily be the ones most effective for northern communities.

As the polar science community grows and the support system for early career scientists strengthens, I hope that more resources will become available for learning how to communicate with Indigenous and other northern communities. Science, after all, is an important Arctic resource for us, and the people of the Arctic have a right to share in this resource.

Day 3 – Side event: Russia, our neighbour in the Arctic

By Hilma Salonen

The Policy part of the conference being over and done with, there was an opportunity to hear how the views of the Science panel compared with the general message of the talks of previous days (to sum up, that ‘the Arctic is a region of peaceful cooperation’) The panelists were Dr. Bobo Lo from Chatham House, Dr. Arkady Moshes from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Dr. Dmitry Tulupov from the School of International Relations, St. Petersburg State University, Dr. Katarzyna Zysk, from Norwegian Defence University College and Dr. Geir Hønneland from Fridtjof Nansen Institute, with Helge Blakkisrud, from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, hosting the event.

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Photo: Hilma Salonen

From the beginning it was clear that unlike in the opening speeches of the conference, optimism would be a rare commodity during these presentations. According to Dr. Lo, Russia and the US or Europe have drifted so far apart from each other that the Russian-American relations are best described as ‘mutually assured non-cooperation’. Even though Moscow’s bullish tactics in the sphere of foreign relations have much deteriorated the country’s international position since 2012, they are likely to continue since the Russian public opinion still considers them as effective. However, for Europe cooperation with Russia remains vital in some issues, including trade, and vice versa. Therefore, Dr. Lo’s message is that Europe needs to both act more determinant regarding its own security issues and settle for small, concrete steps when cooperating in the High North, for example.

 

The presentation of Dr. Moshes continues logically in the same traces, asking where do Europe and Russia go from this point. Similarly, he describes the European-Russian partnership in the coming years as disintegrated and conflictual. His message is that the crisis in Ukraine and the following sanctions have actually brought upon very little change: these two players have not been on the same page for a long while, and Russia sees Europe as a characteristically weak, un-trustworthy and un-friendly companion. As a way forward, Dr. Moshes introduces the term of ‘compartmentalisation’, also suggesting that cooperation should be concentrated on small, concrete matters such as trade issues. He also calls for the EU to regain its position as a soft power.

Following these views, Dr. Tulupov presents a more concrete example of a problem stemming from the lack of cooperation, in this case from point of view of Russia. In order for Russia to ensure its energy security, it is vital for it to develop the Western part of the Russian Arctic and especially its hydrocarbon sources. Unfortunately for these goals, he states that Russia failed to do so during the ‘friendly period’ of 2003 — 2013. At the moment, Russia is still 80% dependent of orders from its Western energy customers, but not able to develop its own deposits without eg. its Norwegian partners, who have left the scene after the Ukrainian crisis.

The fourth speaker, Dr. Zysk, illustrated what is meant by Russia ‘gearing up’ in the Arctic. The year 2012 is again seen as a watershed: since then, the military build-up in the Russian Arctic has been extensive and new permanent military basis have been built eg. in Murmansk and the Arctic islands. The number of Arctic military exercises has also been increasing. Dr. Zysk puts the possible threats as viewed by Russia into three categories. The first one is regional and simply linked to the increased human activity in the region, and the need to monitor it. The second one is both global and regional and connected to possible competition over energy sources. These two possible threats present the Arctic as a possible source of conflict. The third one, for its part, presents the Arctic as not the source but the arena for conflict and is connected to the use of the nuclear deterrent. Dr. Zysk finishes by stating that despite these matters, the attempts to ‘insulate’ the Arctic region and return to the ‘business as usual’ way of thinking are still strong — however, the region is bound to be linked to various security threats in international politics.

Interestingly, the last speaker, Dr. Hønneland presents an example of Russian-Norwegian cooperation that is based on pragmatism and compromise: the case of the Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission. The history of this cooperation platform has, in his view, been successful and despite some criticism presented in the Russian media, is even likely to remain so. Indeed, it seems clear that in this field, cooperation has potential to be so fruitful that there are serious attempts to ‘protect’ it from political conflicts such as the Ukrainian crisis.

After the presentations, there is a pleasingly lively panel discussion and a lot of interaction with the audience. A firm message is delivered to the EU in its Russian relations, which could be summarised as follows: 1) When cooperating in trade, concentrate on trade, not geopolitics. 2) Commodities need to be de-politisised. 3) Harbour no illusions about a quick fix to the situation!

The event has been very thought-provoking and of this I thank all the participants

Day 0: Arctic Frontiers Conference Kick-off at the Fram Centre

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.

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Salve Dahle opening the 10th Arctic Frontiers Conference. Photo: Ulrike Grote

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.

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Photo: Ulrike Grote

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.

Day 2 – Science part

By Helena G. Lindberg, PhD Candidate in Political Science, Lund University, Sweden. Interested in politics, narratives and alternative future visions for the Arctic region. Also see: http://www.svet.lu.se/en/helena-gonzales-lindberg

The talk I looked forward to the most today was the keynote “Stewardship in the global Arctic: Between Private and the Global” by Philip Steinberg, Professor at the Department of Geography, Durham University. His work has been very inspirational and influential in my work, and I can recommend a look in the book “Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Circumpolar North” (Steinberg et al. 2015). I find his way of writing accessible and easy to read, also for those who normally do not read this type of academic literature.

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Photo: Helena Gonzales Lindberg

 

Steinberg actually started his talk with some self-promotion of the book and its six narratives/imaginaries which shape the understanding of the Arctic: Artic as a “no mans’ land”; the image of the frozen ocean; Indigenous Statehood; Resource Frontier; Transcendent Nationhood; Nature Reserve; and the image of the Arctic as a Nature Reserve. Additionally, Steinberg presented a seventh narrative that has become more prominent after the publication of the book: “Normalisation”. This is something I also have encountered, mainly among politicians in the Arctic five (Russia, USA, Canada, Norway and Greenland/Denmark), who stress the need for managing the Arctic according to rules and regulations existing everywhere else. While others argue that the Arctic is special, politicians in the Arctic five want to downplay its’ uniqueness and emphasises the Law of the Sea and the sovereignty of nation states to rule its territory. Steinberg sees stewardship as a part of this normalisation narrative.

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Photo: Helena Gonzales Lindberg

 

In the definition of stewardship, Steinberg identified three important elements: The empowering of authority, the steward, and things to be stewarded. While being related to management, stewardship is also about power (politics): What is the source of authority? Who picks the steward? Who picks what gets to be stewarded, and who picks the goals? Here the actors are emphasised, showing that the meaning of stewardship and its effects are not exempted from individuals’ (political) understandings, opinions and priorities. This is central also in my own work, as I think that the way we understand something entails what we think ought to be done about it. Thus, narratives matter as they shape our understanding. Perhaps, as Steinberg et al. (2015) writes in their book, imaginaries matter even more in the Arctic than other places because the main policy makers most often are located in the capitals far away from the Arctic region. Their imaginaries of what the Arctic is will affect their policies, even though it does not relate directly.

Steinberg also talked about the lack of a commonly agreed definition of where the Arctic is; even different working groups in the Arctic Council define the geographic scope of the Arctic differently, and the difficulty of defining who is an “Arctic citizens”. While not refraining from the use of the term “stewardship”, Steinberg warned that while stewardship is inclined towards management, it could also lead to domination. He made clear that future of the Arctic still rests on stewardship, but instead of the Arctic peoples being stewarded they should be empowered to be the (main) stewards.

His keynote talk did meet my expectations (it is the first time I see him speak), and I will definitely continue to read his writings (and I recommend you to do the same).

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Happy row of PhDs on the first day of Science (finally…)

 

 

 

Day 1: Policy

By Laurens van Gelderen, Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Denmark, interests in (green) chemistry and international climate policy

The first day of the Arctic Frontiers 2016 conference started (as usual) with the policy section of the conference. The audience was addressed by several ministers and other political leaders in the morning program, followed by talks from science and industry representatives and closed off by break-out sessions on different topics. As a Ph.D. student in the natural sciences, it was interesting to hear the typical way of political presenting during the morning session. There were a lot of good and interesting talks, but most of them suffered from the typical shallowness famous from politicians that use a lot of words to basically say nothing. There were many calls for action, new leadership and statements that the time has come for change. None of the politicians mentioned however how they would make this happen or how they would work towards such goals. I could not help but to have the slight feeling of empty promises throughout most of the morning session. It is very easy to state something needs to change or encourage others to do so. It is much harder to actually do something concrete to make a change.

This feeling did not take away that the overall tone and message of the first day was a positive one. Following the agreement at COP 21 in Paris, the presentations had a positive note that showed that while challenging, sustainable changes will likely be made for the better of our environment. The outlook of our future was in general positive. The world seems to have woken up from a slumber of inaction and is ready to act and meet the targets set at the COP 21. I was genuinely surprised by this message, as the last time I had been actively following international climate policy in 2012-2013 the political arena was rather stagnant and a solution to climate change seemed far removed from us. Thus, this willingness to act can be seen as an achievement by itself.

During the breakout sessions I joined the COP 21 revisited session in the hope to hear more about COP 21 and why it was considered such a success, even before the agreement was legally binding. Knowing that it is much easier to promise to act than to actually do so (which I have often observed in politics), I was slightly skeptical about the agreement made in Paris. The same positive message of the morning sessions was continued in the breakout session, starting with a nice presentation of the Norwegian minister of Climate and the Environment. Minister Vidar Helgesen actually gave some concrete examples of how he envisioned shifting Norway’s economic reliance from oil to ‘blue’ economic growth (e.g. fisheries), which was surprisingly direct and interesting to hear. The presentation provided a good example of how emissions can be reduced, while still allowing for economic growth and international competitiveness. Afterwards there was an interesting panel with four very knowledgeable scientists and politicians, during which I had the opportunity to ask my question about the perceived optimism of the COP 21 agreement. My question was kindly answered by all four panel participants who explained each in their own field of knowledge what the implications are of the COP 21 results. In my understanding their main arguments can be summarized into:

  • the agreement on global climate change targets has prevented upcoming issues between nations based on differences in national climate policy;
  • based on previous experience of similar agreements, there is no reason to believe that the agreement will not be signed and become legally binding in April 2016;
  • it is a unique step forward in international climate change policy that all nations agreed on a single target that, while there is still room for improvement, presents a much better image than previous business-as-usual scenarios.

 

All in all, it was an interesting day that presented a very new perspective on international climate policy; a positive and welcome message that the world has agreed to act and is willing to act. If the promises and calls for action are converted to actual actions, I believe there is a positive future ahead of us in terms of the climate of our planet. The prediction of some of the speakers that 2016 will be a very important year for (inter)national climate policy seems a solid prediction. It will be interesting to see if and how our leaders and industries will make the promised changes happen and how the new climate goals should be reached. Signing the COP 21 agreement in New York in April this year will be a good first indication for me that things are really going the right way. I’m therefore very curious to see how international climate policy will come along in April and what the future brings for the climate of our world.

Tromsø is waiting for you!

In only two weeks a new workshop will start and this year 23 students from 15 countries will attend. Hopefully, coming from warm countries such as Brazil, Argentina and India, Tromsø will not welcome them with the current – 15 degrees Celsius. But we do hope for such beautiful light and clear skies as we can enjoy right now with the light slowly but surely coming back.

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(Photo: Susanne Kortsch)