The need for increased research cooperation in the polar regions

Else Berit Eikeland

Posted: 5 June, 2017

To launch our theme for the month of June, ‘Uncharted Territories’, we welcome guest blogger Her Excellency Else Berit Eikeland, Ambassador of the Royal Norwegian Embassy to Ireland

In connection with SeaFest in Galway, the Norwegian Embassy is presenting a polar exhibition at the National University of Ireland, Galway. The exhibition is named Cold Recall – Roald Amundsen’s Reflections from the South Pole, and shows the lantern slides the Norwegian polar explorer made to document his exploration of the polar regions. Roald Amundsen was the first to navigate the North West Passage in the Canadian Arctic from 1903 to 1906, and he was the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. The Norwegian polar exploration is closely connected to the ocean and to science, and has led to strong national science priorities in the polar regions.

Climate change has been the one of the most important issues in polar science. Along with the Arctic, Antarctica plays a key role in the global climate system. New research shows that the polar regions are warming up rapidly, a process that appears to have taken place over the last 50 years. Global climate change will affect both the physical and biological environments in the polar regions and could significantly change the very character of the continents.

In addition, the oceans in the polar regions are especially sensitive to acidification, since cold waters absorb more carbon dioxide than warmer water. Man-made emissions have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean. Ocean acidification takes place when carbon dioxide reacts with seawater, forming carbonic acid and lowering the pH-level of the water. Acidification is expected to accelerate and increase in scope as this century progresses. The ocean’s degree of acidity can affect the shell formation process of certain marine organisms and impair their ability to function. Many of these organisms are key species in the food chain, providing vital sustenance for marine animals. Scientists have a crucial task in understanding the mechanisms behind ocean acidification and its effect on the ecosystem.

Extensive international research cooperation is currently being carried out in the polar regions, however we need to establish new partnerships with more countries and institutions. Research in the polar regions is highly resource intensive and requires comprehensive interdisciplinary expertise and collaboration on infrastructure and data sharing. Through international research cooperation, we can gain knowledge that otherwise lies beyond the reach of a single country. We welcome a stronger research cooperation between Ireland and Norway in this regard.

‘Cold Recall – Roald Amundsen’s Reflections from the South Pole’ will be on display in the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at the National University of Ireland, Galway from Friday 9 June to Saturday 8 July.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Irish Research Council or any employee thereof.

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