WMO held a special break-out session during the high-profile Arctic Circle Meeting, held in Reykjavik, Iceland on October 7-9, focusing on “Innovation and Cooperation for a safer Arctic”.
The session was opened by former Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and moderated by BBC journalist Lucy Hockings. The Arctic Circle meeting is attended by leading decision makers, scientists, Arctic residents and important stakeholders such as the shipping and maritime insurance sectors.
“When the Arctic suffers the world feels the pain,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in an address to the meeting.
The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the world average, in places even faster. For instance, Inuvik in the Northwest Territories in Canada has warmed by almost 4° Celsius since 1948.
The Arctic represents about 4% of the Earth’s surface but it is one of the most data sparse regions in the world because of its remoteness and previous inaccessibility. Lack of data and forecasts in the Arctic does impact on the quality of weather forecasts in other parts of the world.
The Arctic Circle panel discussed how the polar regions have been attracting more and more attention in recent years, fuelled by the perceptible impacts of anthropogenic climate change. The point was made that Arctic climate change provides new opportunities, such as shorter shipping routes between Europe and East Asia, but also new risks such as the potential for industrial accidents or emergencies in ice-covered seas.
It was widely recognized that environmental prediction systems for the polar regions are less developed than elsewhere. There are many reasons for this situation, including the polar regions being (historically) lower priority, with less in situ observations, and with numerous local physical processes that are less well-represented by models.
After the discussion, panel members summarised the main take-home points:
- "Everything is achievable; the key is to prioritise. We need to continue to push observations for economic growth, SDGs, climate etc. Projects should consider including a 1% investment in the underlining observations." Elena Manaenkova, Deputy Secretary General, WMO
- "Collaborate, and enhance the observing networks that we already have to ensure we get the best results for a variety of uses e.g. safety at sea, protecting the environment. We can then see where knowledge/ observational gaps are and get governments and private sector to fill them." Michael Kingston, Insurance Marine Trade & Energy - Maritime Lawyer of the Year 2015
- "We need to ensure that data should flow more freely and be shared." Andrea Tilche, Head of Unit European Commission | DG Research & Innovation
- "We need to continue to build the observing system and provide high quality observations and sustain them. Sustaining observations, both insitu and satellite is crucial." Dr. Mark Doherty, European Space Agency, Head of ESA/EO Exploitation Development Division
- "Climate is a complicated, multi-component system. We need to define the key variables we need to measure for the ocean, biology, human activities etc. in order to properly define the next steps. We need a clear practical means of cooperation and a clear message from the main actors such as the Arctic Council." Dr Alexander Frolov, Director RosHydroMet
The Arctic Circle Meeting was held shortly after the first ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial.
This demonstrated the importance respective governments, the European Union, and Arctic Indigenous representatives place on supporting science cooperation in the vast, diverse, and globally-relevant Arctic region.
“Many areas of the Arctic are data-sparse, and in some parts the paucity of observations is compounded by the lack of universal access to data. These shortfalls hinder scientific progress, the development of value-added products and services, and the formulation of innovative strategies for managing social and environmental changes in the Arctic and beyond,” said the Science Ministerial declaration.