Alaska Native and Indigenous leaders shared
their concerns and priorities with the U.S. delegation to
the Arctic Science Ministerial. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard
Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell)
WASHINGTON Science ministers from 25 nations joined Alaska
Natives from the Alaska Arctic for a first-of-its-kind White House
meeting Wednesday to work on international cooperation for Arctic
The meeting comes just more than a year after President Barack
Obama became the first sitting president to visit the Arctic in
an effort to draw attention to Alaska's advanced state of climate
change, compared to the Lower 48. It is just a month after a cruise
ship traveled through the Northwest Passage a first-time
feat managed because of thawing sea ice.
"The Arctic is experiencing environmental and climate change
faster than any other part of the planet, creating significant challenges
for the people who call the Arctic home, and multiplying impacts
around the globe," the ministers said in a joint statement
Wednesday. The countries have joined together to capitalize on a
growing public interest in the region and to combine their scientific
efforts. The group statement noted the "importance of traditional
and local knowledge and the sharing of scientific and technological
information to advance well-informed, timely, and constructive decision-making."
The group has agreed to examine their plans within a few key
areas: Understanding what causes rapid Arctic climate change, and
what the consequences are for the rest of the planet; bolstering
needed Arctic data and advancing science, technology, engineering
and mathematics education for Arctic residents.
The Arctic Council has been around for 20 years, but the high-profile
White House attention is somewhat new. But the science ministerial
is a first-time effort, aimed at providing a nonpolitical point
of contact and collaboration for Arctic nations and interested countries.
Arctic is being utterly transformed and we're just starting
to learn the consequences]
Eegeesiak of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and Ellen Inga
Turi of the Saami Council prepare for the White House Arctic
Science Ministerial held Sept. 28 in Washington, D.C. (photo
courtesy of THE SAAMI COUNCIL)
Wednesday's ministerial the "main event"
is bookended by a week's worth of more meetings, fancy receptions,
and wonkish panels. There was a kick-off event at the Smithsonian
National Museum of Natural History. The Norwegian Embassy will host
a reception Thursday evening.
And in the middle of it all, Arctic countries are announcing
new scientific plans and platforms they'll share between nations.
That includes a five-year project by the U.S. Office of Naval
Research to develop sensors and platforms that work in the ocean
and below sea ice. The National Science Foundation backs a program
called "EyesNorth" that uses local observations to track
environmental changes. The Department of Energy plans to design
support tools to create "microgrids" ways to create
power off the grid in the Arctic.
Norway, meanwhile, is coordinating European Union scientists
to create an Integrated Arctic Observing System.
Non-Arctic countries offered to share scientific endeavors too.
That includes Japan, which plans to work with shipping companies
to look at the predictability of Arctic weather and sea ice. Singapore,
a key shipping nation, plans to examine potential shipping routes
crossing the Arctic.
And some work has already been done. On Wednesday, the U.S.
released a new "Arctic-wide digital elevation model"
a high-resolution mapping tool that "will be an important baseline
for assessing future land surface changes," and which the government
plans to improve upon over the next year.
Arctic countries participating in the ministerial include the
U.S., Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.
Non-Arctic countries include China, France, Germany, India, Italy,
Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Spain,
Switzerland and the United Kingdom.