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Kids, POPS and Arctic Science


Planetarium at Tromso Science Center of Northern Norway

Planetarium at Tromso Science Center of Northern Norway

Norway, believe it or not, is having problems recruiting scientists and qualified personnel for the Arctic. The generous education system attracts plenty of foreign students, it seems. But there is a lack of Norwegian PhD students. Not that the country doesn’t welcome foreign students, but understandably they would like to have people who stay on in the Norwegian Arctic as well as those who take their qualifications back home to wherever. For that reason, the Arctic Frontiers conference and APECS, the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists decided to “start them young” and invited pupils from two local schools to an Arctic science workshop in the planetarium of the Tromso Science Centre, the country’s northernmost. As I arrived, I found myself overtaken by youngsters rushing down to have a look at the gadgetry and a hands-on shot at scientific experiments. This is the kind of place that interests young people in the workings of nature and technology.

Young science "stars" amongst the planetarium stars

Young science “stars” amongst the planetarium stars

Kirsten and Ida talked to me (in English, great language skills) about their project. They had made a poster of the type displayed at scientific conferences. Their subject: Persistant Organic Pollutants, POPs. They told me the increasing concentration of these up here in the remote Arctic environment is something that worries them.

Young scientists' work on display

Young scientists’ work on display

The posters are entered in a competion, with awards and attendance at next year’s big Arctic conference event awaiting the winners. The girls were reserving judgement about whether Arctic science would be their future careers. But they were willing to give it due consideration and looking forward to the “science show” at the planetarium. Let’s see which pupils turn up here again next year!


Centre Director Tove Marienborg demonstrates the energy involved in using the “Spark” or kick-sled.



January 24, 2014 | 12:20 pm



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Rovaniemi: Finland and the Arctic

"The Arctic Calls" Interesting reading from the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland

“The Arctic Calls” – Interesting reading from the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland

Rovaniemi is where I would like to have spent the last few days.  From Dec. 2nd to 4th, the first of a series of Arctic conferences was held there, organized by the city of Rovaniemi and the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland.

Rovaniemi, a Finnish town right on the edge of the Arctic circle, is known to “Arctic buffs” because of the “Rovaniemi Process”, a Finnish initiative for Arctic environmental co-operation, which ultimately led to the adoption of the “Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy”, signed in Rovaniemi in 1991. This in turn played an important role in the establishment of the Arctic Council

In the spirit of that “Rovaniemi Process”, the city and the University’s Arctic Centre decided to organize a series of conferences, this being the first one. Finland, like all the northern states, is trying to assert its position in the region against the background of climate change and growing international interest.

Earlier this year, I received a copy of a very useful booklet produced by the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland. It’s entitled “The Arctic Calls. Finland, the European Union and the Arctic Region“. The authors are Markku Heikkilä and Marjo Laukkanen, both based at the Arctic Centre. Its aim is to “put a human face on the Arctic Region”, and it does that very well, looking across the whole region. President Sauli Niinistö wrote the foreword to the publication. He mentions Finland’s initiative to establish an EU Arctic Information Centre in Rovaniemi, which I am following with interest.

Useful maps and info on the

Useful maps and info on the Arctic and its peoples

The European Union Arctic Information Centre (EUAIC) initiative is an international network of 19 leading Arctic research and outreach institutions from the various European Union Members States, and the EEA countries. It was started in 2009 as a professional network of European institutions aiming to provide information, outreach and insight into Arctic issues. The network’s objective is to provide the European Union, its citizens, institutions, companies and member states with a reliable source of information on what is happening in and concerning the Arctic.  The EUAIC initiative network aims to “facilitate two-way communication between experts, decision makers, stakeholders and the public”, according to its website.

The initiative is organized as a network, making use of existing expertise and the infrastructures of its members. Its headquarters are located at the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi. Currently there are nineteen partners. The European Commission selected the consortium to carry out a key  one million euro project to produce a “Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment of development of the Arctic”. The project should be completed in 2014 and should make for interesting reading.

Bearing all this in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on what comes out of the Rovaniemi conference. And I’d recommend the publication, “The Arctic Calls”, ISBN 978-952-281-065-6. It has interesting interview, maps, photos and insight. You can also get it from the Arctic Centre or download an online version.

Let me just finish by quoting from the final pages:

“The images of icebergs drifting out to sea have turned from symbols of freshness to symbols of disappearance. They have become images of a unique world that is undergoing drastic change and is about to lose many of its characteristics.” How right you are.


December 5, 2013 | 3:19 pm



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Polar regions hit by ocean acidification

Equipment to measure ocean acidification await loading to Greenpeace ship Esperanza at Ny Alesund, 2010

In 2010 I watched the start of the first in situ ocean acidification experiments off the coast at Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen, as part of the EU’s EPOCA project. Mesocosms, or giant test-tubes, were being taken out to sea by the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza. (Pic: Irene Quaile)

Did you notice much about the problem of  CO2 in the oceans in the (already minimal in most places) coverage of the Warsaw climate conference? A summary of the report published recently by the International Programme on the State of the Oceans (IPSO) was presented at the meeting to draw attention to the dangers posed by acidification for ecosystems, humankind and, in form of a feedback effect, for the climate warming which is causing it in the first place. If that sounds complicated, but intriguing enough to warrant further interest, you might want to listen to an interview I recorded this week with Alex Rogers. He is a Professor of Conservation Biology at the Dept. of Zoology and a Fellow of Somerville College, University of Oxford. Amongst his many other titles, he’s the Scientific Director of IPSO. He told me it was a “fascinating coincidence” that the report was published just after the latest IPCC report, which noted, amongst other things, that atmospheric temperatures hadn’t risen as much over the last ten years or so as had been expected. One main reason suggested is that the excess heat is being taken up by the ocean, especially the deep ocean. And that fits perfectly with the findings of the big ocean survey and collation of data, says Prof. Rogers.

I also talked to Ulf Riebesell from the Helmholtz Institute for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, a lead author of the report and the scientist who has been  in charge of the in situ acidification experiments in the Arctic .You might also enjoy in my report from that venture.

That interview is in German, so I’m not putting it up here, but the content will be flowing into an article for the DW website very soon. Meanwhile,  here’s Professor Rogers:

Professor Alex Rogers

“Mesocosms” or giant test-tubes going into Arctic waters, 2010.(I.Quaile)



November 29, 2013 | 1:30 pm



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Climate impacts should spur emissions curb

Professor Wolfgang Lucht and Ioanna Mouratiadou at a session on “What’s still missing” to address climate impacts


Here in Potsdam at the Impacts World 2013, I have been searching for the links between climate impacts research and political action to curb emissions. I have talked to a lot of the scientists present from different parts of the world about this, both in the sessions and one-to-one. My concern is that the increasing focus on adaptation to cope with the effects of climate change could detract from awareness of the need for urgent political action. Professor Wolfgang Lucht , who’s in charge of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research PIK) and Professor of Sustainability Studies at Berlin’s Humboldt-University told me he thinks the very opposite is the case. He is convinced the evidence being amassed on the impacts of climate change will strengthen the case for stricter emissions targets. He is convinced better networking of the available data will help provide politicians with the material they need to get on with both mitigation and adaptation.

Cynthia Rosenzweig is head of the Climate Impacts Group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. She says Hurricane Sandy was a kind of “tipping point” in awareness of the possible effects of climate change and the links to extreme weather events. She had been advising the city of New York on climate for 15 years before that. The interest, unsurprisingly, has intensified considerably.

Cynthia Rosenzweig – Untiring enthusiasm for climate research

She is also pushing very hard for better linking of different models, especially relating to the future of agriculture, and ultimately food security for the future. She introduced the conference to “AgMIP”, not a really catchy acronym, but easier than “The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project”. This whole conference is moving around better integration of information, better links and networks. The image of the “food web” came to me, which replaced the old “food chain”. Models at global level, domestic, regional, local, scientific bodies, ngos, governments, local authorities, have to be woven together to pool their knowledge – but in such a way that individual actors can access the info they need. A challenge indeed. There are also those here who say global scientific climate models have little relevance to adaptation to the effects of climate change on the ground. I am with Professor Lucht, who says we need the global models and the two degree target as a framework for the rest.



May 29, 2013 | 4:07 pm



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Climate Impacts World in Potsdam

Artist in residence makes a visual summary of the discussion.


Potsdam, around half an hour from Berlin, is the home of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), which has become one of the world’s leaders in its field. This week , the Institute is co-hosting “Impacts World 2013”, an “International Conference on Climate Change Effects”, along with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

I suppose you could describe climate impact research as a kind of bridge between climate science and what it means for the rest of us.

Droughts, floods, health risks, crop failures – there seem to be few areas of our lives where climate change does not have an impact.

There is a whole myriad of climate models, using different parameters and scenarios and focussing on different sectors. The ambitious aim of this gathering is to bring scientists and decision-makers together to try to understand how different sectors relate to each other and find ways of “joining the dots”..

Let me just share a couple of insights or thoughts with you that I picked up in the course of the day.

We need to bring the mass of information together in ways that make it possible for society to be prepared for extreme events and to cope with changing availability of water, different growing conditions, coastal erosion, sea-level rise.

Global trends in temperature rise are one thing – the impacts on the ground will be very different in different parts of the globe. Fitting the parts of the jigsaw together is a huge challenge.

Scientists themselves (this is based not only on the official sessions but conversations in the coffee breaks) are often confused by the differences in climate models and predictions. Slight changes to parameters can lead to hugely different results.

Feeding information from impact researchers “on the ground” back into models seems highly desirable but does not always happen.

There has been a lot of talk about communication. Some scientists think their job is to “do science”, not communicate with politicians or the public. Others want to communicate but are not very good at it. Some are very good at it and appear frequently in the media. My colleague Fiona Harvey from the Guardian, who chaired a debate on “Are the products of climate impact research really useful?” argued that all scientists should communicate their knowledge and not leave it up to a talented few. Otherwise, those who make the headlines may not be the ones who represent the consensus view. Indeed!

The media came in for a lot of stick as usual. We do have a huge influence and with it, a huge responsibility to get things right. My appeal to the scientific community  – please do not put us all in the same boat. Not all of us are out to find sensations and just headlines that will attract the most attention whether they are accurate or not.

That is why I will head back into the conference and listen to more talk of the “Inter-sectoral impact model intercomparison project”, “Community-driven syntheses of climate change impact analyses”, “projection of global soil carbon dynamics”, “global multi-model perspectives on the potential and limitations of irrigation…” with the ultimate aim of finding out more about the impacts of climate change on or societies today and tomorrow. Then I will continue to try to explain it to those who rely on the media for relevant information in words they can understand…



May 29, 2013 | 7:05 am



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