The presence of frozen water on the planet - sea ice, glaciers, snow cover and permafrost - is very sensitive to climate change - it is easy to measure - and it tells a dramatic story of the changes that we humans are causing to our climate.
Since satellite measurements began, Arctic has lost 10 000 tons of sea ice - every second. Take a little pause and try to digest the sheer size of that number. The loss of 10 000 tons of sea ice - every second.
What more, the rate of loss of ice from Greenland is about the same. The loss of sea ice in winter - mainly taking place on this side of the Arctic - around Svalbard and in the Barents Sea - are dramatically altering how the atmosphere and ocean exchange heat, water and energy. New areas are becoming open for exploration and exploitation, for fisheries, tourism, and transports.
Viewing the Arctic as an isolated place is a big mistake, also in climate science. At the Bjerknes Centre we have documented
- how changes in the tropical Pacific are contributing to ice loss in the Arctic
- how loss of sea ice is contributing to changes in weather patterns elsewhere
- how loss of land ice is contributing to sea level rise threatening to submerge low-laying island states and swallow entire nations.
There are still new relations to be discovered, also findings that will surprise and challenge. Even so, we are making progress all the time. I have two teasers for you:
One. We now understand how reversals of winds and sudden warmings tenths of kilometres up in the air, can cause high pressure and cold weather lasting for weeks and months. This happened last year, and it is happening now, as I speak. We can harness this insight and produce better forecasts.
Two. The ocean can influence weather and climate months and years ahead. We can now predict, with some level of accuracy, the position of the sea ice edge or the total biomass of cod years ahead.
More accurate climate prediction will not only increase the value of the Arctic, but also help policy-makers navigate and produce frameworks for sustainable management, be that for fisheries, tourism or oil and gas.
In short, our ability to adapt to climate change, but also for our ability to mitigate climate change by optimal use of wind-, hydro- and solar power hinges on our understanding of the climate as a system, on a global scale, and not just isolated for the Arctic.
Changes in the Arctic are already impacting local population; in fact, it will affect all people on the planet. The changes we observe and predict for the Arctic require strong international collaboration - also with nation states that do not border the Arctic.
In recent years, political scientists observe more nationalism and protectionism, more populism and anger, more confrontation and tension, and more polarization. This is exactly the opposite of what is needed to solve the many crises the world is facing, as expressed by the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Global Risk Report released by the World Economic Forum last week, states (quote): «Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe».
The science community has an important role to play beyond producing knowledge and new insights. The power of science diplomacy should not be underrated.
During the middle of the cold war, scientists from Norway and the former Soviet Union realised that the Barents Sea region formed one ecological entity, and that both countries had common interests in exploring the physics and the biology of our shared resources.
Despite several political setbacks, mainly due to disputes related to Svalbard, an agreement was finally signed in 1987.
This lead to extensive collaboration and joint programs, and Norwegian scientists could access Soviet waters and vice versa. A similar agreement was made between Canada and Soviet, eventually leading to the founding of the International Arctic Science Committee in 1990.
There will be many opportunities for Arctic science cooperation and perhaps also science diplomacy in the years to come. In September the German icebreaker Polarstern will depart from Tromsø, mainly follow the route Fridtjof Nansen took with Fram 126 years ago, and drift for one year over the North Pole. A total of 600 people from 17 countries will take part in the expedition.
My own colleagues have taken the initiative to the Synoptic Arctic Survey, plans for a multi-national coordinated engagement of research vessels in the Arctic in 2020 that can generate a sorely needed update on the state of the Arctic Ocean.
In 2021, the UN Decade of Ocean Science of Sustainable Development will start, with the vision to create a new foundation, across the science-policy interface, to strengthen the management of the ocean.
An important success factor will be to which extent the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation, signed by the 8 member states of the Arctic Council in May 2017, will be followed.
The agreement includes Access to research infrastructure, research areas and data; Education and training opportunities; and also the use of Traditional and local knowledge. Initiatives like the Polarstern drift and the Synoptic Arctic Survey will be critical test beds for the agreement, and to which extent it deliver what is promises.
We should all strive to be less suspicious, less hostile, and more open-minded. We owe that to ourselves and to the people who inhabit the Arctic we so recklessly have set a new course for, without contemplating the wider consequences. Only by doing so, can we make the Arctic, as well as the rest of the World, sustainable for future generations.