What research needs and priorities are important to Arctic development?

Keynote address at the Joint EU – Russia - Canada – US Workshop
on Collaborative Technological Research for Arctic Development

Brussels, October 25-27, 2001

Walter B. Parker
U.S. Arctic Research Commission
3724 Campbell Airstrip Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99504
E-mail wbparker@gci.net

Robert Peary in the Arctic
Robert Peary in the Arctic
Arctic research in the last century has seen amazing advances in some areas while moving forward little in others. At the dawn of the 20th Century the North Pole was still under siege by adventurers, such as the American Robert Peary. Peary utilized the same means of transport - dog teams - that the Inuit people had used in their great eastward migrations from Bering Straits to Greenland, but Peary had the advantage of steamships to take him within 800 miles of the North Pole. The Inuit, so far as is known, did not venture north as far as the Pole because their hunting grounds and interests were not in the central Arctic.

The great Scandinavian explorers, Nansen, Amundsen, Rasmussen and others, were using means little different from those of their predecessors of earlier centuries, relying on sail in ice free waters and dog teams or hand pulled sleds for overland travel. Thus, when aviation
image of ship HMS Fury
HMS Hecla and Fury impeded by the formation of young ice in [Lancaster Sound/the Canadian archipelago], September 1824.
Drawn by Captain Hoppner of HMS Hecla (Image PU6103 courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich).
made it possible to access the Arctic through airships and aircraft a new world of research quickly became possible in which scientists and others could be rapidly transported to the Arctic. This rapid transport capability allowed long careers in Arctic research without actually spending extended periods of time in the North, particularly during the winter. With the exceptions of those such as Knud Rasmussen, the Canadian Dimond Jeness and Peter Freuchen, interaction between researchers and the inhabitants of the Arctic became for many a thing of the moment, usually a summer moment. Year round nteraction was left to missionaries and schoolteachers in North America and Greenland. Exploration in the Russian north followed a similar pattern with traditional means being used at the beginning of the 20th Century. A rapid movement North ensued in the 1920s, followed by a maximum use of aviation and powerful icebreakers as technology allowed ever increasing exploration of the North.

By the mid point of the Century, the United States could put a B29 over the North Pole every day for weather reconnaissance and Russia was placing icestations on the Arctic Ocean that would have fleets of aircraft and helicopters serving them. Soon after came the satellite age and remote sensing opened up a means of constants surveillance for many disciplines. Thus, three generations of Arctic researchers were created whose time in the Arctic was minimal but whose knowledge was greater than had been dreamed of when a scientists field of endeavor was limited to what he could cover by sailing ship, kayak or dog team during expeditions that required several years instead of a summer.

Arctic research in the 21st Century must examine its immediate past and ensure that quick looks at large areas are backed up by ground truthing on a regular basis. Obviously, the easiest way to achieve this is to incorporate the inhabitants of the Arctic as full members of the scientific and research community. Steps are underway in all Arctic nations to do this and it is imperative that this movement towards incorporation of Arctic residents in the great global research programs be accelerated.

Arctic research in the 21st Century should focus, at a minimum, on the following four major areas:

Research to meet the needs of global models

The global models on climate change will require a steady flow of data from the Arctic. Northern regions, if we are to answer the questions raised thus far on the long term effects of carbon dioxide emissions on global warming, the role of the Arctic Ocean as a generator of major changes in the oceans worldwide, and the other controversies generated by a world population that has quadrupled in the past century; it will require programs that are designed to continue through most of the next 100years.

These needs have been recognized by a major effort launched by the United States titled Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), which is already generating a strong response throughout the circumpolar world as well as nations not a part of the Arctic that have strong Arctic interests. SEARCH has been conceived as a broad interdisciplinary, multi-scale program to understand the recent and ongoing changes that have resulted in dramatic decreases in sea ice in the Arctic, dramatic changes in permafrost, radiation effects including the ultra violet holes at both ends of the planet, and concurrent changes in animal and plant populations. It includes a long term program to track environmental changes, a modeling program to test ideas about the coupling between different components, and to attempt to predict the future course of change in the Arctic and its effect upon other systems linked to the Arctic. It will institute process studies to test hypotheses about feedback processes; and an assessment component to explain, to the best of our abilities, the ultimate impact of global change on the Arctic and the global ecosystem and the societies that live within and depend upon those ecosystems.

The transboundary movement of contaminants, both across ecosystem boundaries
and political boundaries, that was defined in the Arctic Council Working Group Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program's epic reports, has generated strong international movements towards better source control and regulation of oil and other hazardous material transports that must be continued for the foreseeable future.

Research to measure changes in Arctic ecosystems and their flora and fauna

If the indigenous peoples of the Arctic are to maintain any semblance of their traditional cultures until the end of the 21st Century it is imperative that maintenance of healthy animal and plant populations be a high priority. In a period when both taiga and tundra may be subject to major changes in the components of its plant populations, it should be expected that ungulate populations of moose, caribou, reindeer and smaller mammals would change and that the carnivorous species that prey upon them will change also. In some cases these changes may have dramatic effect upon the local populations that depend upon them and upon the guiding and other tourism ventures that also depend upon highly visible animal
populations. The same problem exists with fish and sea mammal populations and this
problem will require much greater efforts than the terrestrial problems.

Disputes, often rancorous, exist already throughout the circumpolar north on the above issues. Solving them will require two major changes in the traditional manner in which fisheries and game biologists and regulators have approached the problem. First, it will require an examination of the present scientific methods in use, especially those methods used in measuring populations. Second, it will require a much closer incorporation of local northern populations in both the science and the regulation of animal populations and the ecosystems that support them.

The use of protected areas in maintaining healthy ecosystems and animal populations has received strong impetus in recent years; and in many parts of the Arctic a high degree of acceptance by local residents, both indigenous and non-indigenous. Monitoring programs must be maintained at a level that will enable local needs to be treated equally with major
developments sponsored by forces from outside the affected area. The present program under the Arctic Council Working Group on Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) is moving forward strongly on protected areas and will hopefully continue well into the future.

Research to meet the needs of Arctic inhabitants, primarily those indigenous people in small communities

There are more than 1500 small communities in the Arctic that are not connected to their national road or rail networks. These will continue for a long time to be dependent upon air, annual marine or riverine transportation and telecommunications for interaction with the rest of the world. During the 20th Century enormous investments were made in the military and resource development sectors in the Arctic. The benefit of these investments was mixed, at best, for the local inhabitants. Many airports were located in northern communities but the vast majority did not have adequate airports until late in the century and many still have
inadequate air service. Telephone service was lacking in most places until relatively late in the century and, here again, many communities still do not have basic telephone service.

Regional air service in most Arctic countries still requires long flights south to connect to another flight north to make connections between communities only a few hundred ilometers apart. A trip of 250 kilometers can become one of 5,000 is some cases. There have been recent advances by air carriers operated by indigenous people organizations to provide east
west routing where none existed before in North America but this is till an area requiring attention. Probably the greatest advance since World War II in providing greater safety and reliability to air service to small communities in the Arctic is the FAA's CAPSTONE system now being tested in Alaska. CAPSTONE relies upon the Global Positioning Satellite System
(GPS) for guidance. No ground installations are necessary and all equipment to access the system is within the aircraft. Most northern communities are not blessed with excellent year round weather insofar as ceiling and visibility are concerned, especially those along the Arctic Coast. In addition to making approaches possible in weather conditions that are not safely possible now, the system will provide traffic information on all other aircraft participating in the system.

Continued advances in aircraft designed for Arctic conditions will hopefully be a priority,
Power cells to serve the needs of remote runways, advances in runway lighting and a concentration on training, especially utilizing simulators, should bring about an advance throughout the coming decades in aviation safety and reliability for the small communities.

The United States adopted telehealth as one of its major priorities during the period (1998-2000) that it chaired the Arctic Council. In addition to advances in the health delivery system, we hoped to bring a focus on the problem of bandwidth adequate to serve small communities in the Information Age. In Alaska, there is a large group working on distant education under
the leadership of the President of the University of Alaska and another large group working on telehealth under the joint leadership of the Alaska State Commissioner of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Native Health Service. Both put out reports in the spring of 2001 identifying bandwidth as the major problem to overcome in the immediate future if
the full range of available technology is to be utilized in program development. The University of the Arctic in Rovaniemi, Finland, will be grappling with this problem in order to meet the needs of is circumpolar participants and the international telehealth community continues its efforts. Hopefully, this will continue to be a strong priority of the eight nations and six
permanent participants making up the Arctic Council at present.

The telecommunications industry is largely deregulated in many parts of the Arctic and it makes it difficult to plan regional systems without strong public planning efforts to identify needs. With adequate bandwidth, the science community can involve local inhabitants in research to a degree never possible before. This has already begun in Alaska and other parts of the Arctic. Being able to input local observations on a continuing basis into regional and global models should make possible a degree of predictive capacity far beyond our present efforts.

Research to meet the needs of resource development in the Arctic

At the beginning of the last century rail development was at its all time peak in many parts of the Arctic. Spurred by mining development and the need for inter-regional communication, rails were being extended in Alaska, Canada, Europe and Siberia. This largely came to a halt by the 1920s with the exception of the Baikal-Amur Mainline in Siberia and a few lines built
to serve mining developments in Russia and in Canada. Now, rails are receiving attention again with planning underway to connect Alaska to the contiguous United States through Canada being actively pursued. Other major projects are being discussed but are still somewhat nebulous.

Similar to the 1970s there is again a high interest in pipelines, oil tankers, liquefied natural gas systems and gas to liquid plants. With the large number of projects being discussed there is little doubt that some, if not many, will come to pass. A great deal was learned about how to mitigate the effects of resource development on ecosystems and there is still a
good deal to be learned. This is an area where research money, both public and private, will be available and where a high degree of coordination will be necessary between these efforts.

Continued research in oil spill response, especially in areas impacted by ice, should remain a high priority. We have gone about as far as we can with mechanical recovery through use of skimmers and with in-situ burning techniques. A serious effort needs to be undertaken again on chemical responses for those spills where weather and or ice makes the present
systems unusable. In some areas where oil development is contemplated this may be 50% of the time.

In the present situation where changes in permafrost temperatures are being noted at a rate never observed before. Those methods used to protect permafrost from degradation will require even more stringent application and monitoring. Design standards must be prepared to deal with a greater range of possibilities in soil stability. Communities will not have the
resources to deal with permafrost changes to the same degree that major developments
will, and systems must be in place to transfer technological advances rapidly where appropriate. Airstrips and local road systems will need attention as much as major highways and railroads.

Fisheries are still the major economic mainstay of many Arctic communities, especially those relying upon a subsistence economy and life style. It is already apparent that sea mammals are under some stress in their present habitats. Cod and other temperature sensitive species will respond as they have in the past to changes. There have been substantial advances in the use of acoustics and other technologies in measuring animal populations
in the oceans and rivers. A concentration of research in this area may make it possible to establish a common ground between local users and those fleets from other areas on exactly how much stock is available and to establish more reliable predictive models for fisheries.

There is a great deal of research underway already in measuring the basic productivity of the oceans but this area will continue to require a high priority until we figure out whether declines of high tropic level species are due to mistakes in regulation, due to lack of basic energy sources or just certain species doing what they want to do. The same applies to
terrestrial species but on a much more limited scale.


The most rapid advances in developing better scientific and technological answers to the problems that global change and increasing populations will generate for the Arctic in the next century can be obtained by continuing the declassification of the information collected since World War II, especially ocean temperature and current information. Combined with a continued presence of icebreaker and submarine cruises, we may find the necessary information in the Arctic Basin to gives us better predictive capabilities. Those involved in SEARCH will be promoting better underwater research vehicles also.

It will be critical to bring together on a continuing basis those studying physical systems with those working on biological systems in each region. It would be a mistake to assume that this is happening as a regular part of our way of doing science.

We have come a long way in the past decade on incorporating traditional history and knowledge on local indigenous peoples in our findings. Joint efforts sponsored by Working Groups of the Arctic Council with U.N. agencies are breaking new ground. Permanent participants are being sponsored by their national funding sources. There is still a great deal of information to gain by continuing and enhancing these efforts.

It is not probable that there will be large increases in Arctic populations due to immigration as occurred in the last century, but even small increases can have a major effect. The greatest danger will come from the continued global population increase and the stresses created for all of the planet, including the Arctic.