Interview with Dr. Alexey Kokorin, WWF Russia  

interview by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow

Photo by ©Dayanita Ramesh, ACCEL North American Fellow
Photo by ©Dayanita Ramesh, ACCEL North American Fellow

“Climate alteration in the Arctic is more consistent than in the Tropics or at other latitudes. Arctic vegetation and wildlife have very good adaptation capacity but adaptation requires time, and climate change in the Arctic is happening too fast…”

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Find out more about Alexey Kokorin >

Interview with Chantal Bilodeau, playwright and translator

interviewed by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow

Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh - ACCEL North American Fellow
Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh – ACCEL North American Fellow

“I’m originally from Canada and the Arctic is part of what I consider being Canadian. But I had never been that far north until I went to Alaska on a summer vacation in 2007. The place blew me away. It was so unique and foreign; it really captured my imagination.

At that time, I was well aware that things were changing and climate change was becoming a major threat. When I came back, I started doing research. I realized that the Arctic is the canary in the coalmine, and that understanding the issues affecting it will help us understand how climate change is affecting the rest of our world…”

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Interview with M. Jones, USGS Permafrost and carbon cycling in the Arctic

Interview by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow

  1. What is the core of your work in the Arctic?

I study the terrestrial Arctic system and, more specifically, I look at how permafrost thaw is impacting the global carbon cycle. Permafrost soils stores over a thousand pentagram of carbon. And that’s about half of the global amount carbon stored in soils.

My interest is what happens when permafrost thaws, where the carbon is ending up and in what form, and what the long-term impacts are on the carbon cycle, especially on decadal or millennial time scale.

  1. How do you assess the risks connected to thawing permafrost and carbon cycling in the Arctic?
    Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
    Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Disturbance is the biggest source of permafrost thaw. Forest fires and wildfires are the main risk and are a very active part of the northern boreal and arctic ecosystems. They are usually caused by lightning, but more frequently by humans.

These fires are becoming more severe not only in terms of the amount of area burnt but also in term of how deeply they burn into the soil. The fire takes off the organic layer of the soil that acts like insulator to the permafrost. This organic layer keeps the permafrost cold and protects it from the warm air temperatures. When you take off that organic layer after a burn you’re exposing that permafrost to the atmosphere more directly. In addition, the char, which is black absorbs more heat. Those two effects combined result in permafrost thaw. So these areas burnt are more vulnerable to permafrost thaw.

The other thing is human disturbance. In parts of Alaska, where you build roads permafrost thaw happens underneath those roads. Because roads absorb the heat and it becomes difficult for the permafrost to maintain itself in those areas.

Overall, warming air temperatures in the Arctic is making permafrost warmer, making it easier for the permafrost to thaw.

  1. In your opinion, what should be improved in the communication between scientists and policy makers?Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 17.38.22

What we study is very complex and to distill it into short pieces is very difficult. I think you just have to figure out what your message and understand what your audience’s background is. It is also a good idea to come up with some conclusion and recommendation. If you’re faced with criticism, it is good to engage that criticism and work through the problems the audience has with what you’re saying patiently.

Another point is that we as scientists often talk about things in terms of uncertainties when it comes to climate change, but there’s a lot that we do know. Communicate what we do know and be very clear is important. For example, we do know that humans are causing climate change and there’s broad consensus on that. But a lot of times when scientists talk to policy makers or the media, they frame things in terms of uncertainties or use words like “may” and “likely” instead of “will”. Of course there is a degree in every field of science, but those uncertainties are what the public focuses on. It is important to take the proper words out to get the message across. An analogy is when you go to the doctor and the doctor tells you that there’s a 99% chance that a medical procedure is going to make you better. There’s always the 1% that it may not help you or make things worse. But are you going to do it or not? Chances are you will proceed with the procedure. Trust your doctor and that she’s going to give you the very best information possible. The same philosophy should be used when listening to climate scientists and the data they present.

Find out more about Miriam Jones >

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interview subject alone and do not necessarily reflect the official views of ACCEL, ELEEP, Ecologic Institute, or the Atlantic Council.

Interview with Prof. J. L. Bamber – Arctic ice sheets and climate change

interview by Eleonora Milazzo – ACCEL European Fellow

  1. How do you assess the risks connected to changing ice conditions in Arctic ecosystems? Why are ice sheets important?

    Photo credit: Henrik Egede Lassen/Alpha Film, from the Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic report from the U.N. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.
    Photo credit: Henrik Egede Lassen/Alpha Film, from the Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic report from the U.N. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.

In the last 20 years the Arctic has seen a warming that is around double the global average. We expect the polar regions and, particularly the Arctic to be more sensitive than the rest of the world. This is known as polar amplification.

The impacts of that are a reduction of Arctic sea ice and snow cover over land. The marginal ice zone (the edge of the sea ice) is a very productive area. As sea ice changes, ocean productivity will be affected. Another key impact is that the sea ice acts as a thermal and moisture barrier between the ocean and atmosphere. If you remove the sea ice you start getting more photosynthetic activity in the upper part of the ocean. Snow cover acts as a suppressant for primary productivity of the land and reduces the amount of radiation reaching the soil, shutting down productivity. If you remove that snow cover that will also influence primary productivity over land as well.

Concerning ice sheets, in the Arctic there is one major ice sheet, Greenland, which is the largest ice mass in the northern hemisphere and the largest island in the world. The ice sheet tends to respond relatively slowly in terms of changes in area. Short-term impacts have more to do with the run off coming with the ice sheet reduction. There will be much more fresh water input into the fjords and coastal water. That will have an impact on the nutrient content of the costal waters and also some impact on ocean stratification.

  1. Changes in ice conditions are no bad per se. Is there any positive or at least not harmful effect of these changes?

    Photo credit: Niels J. Korsgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark.
    Photo credit: Niels J. Korsgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark.

These changes are not necessarily good or bad if we’re talking about sea ice. I think there are some effects that are not necessarily harmful, like increased nutrients to coastal waters. If you have increased melting from land ice and chemicals material at the base of the ice enters the ocean, this may increase productivity in coastal water. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it will have a certain influence on the ecosystem.

As the ice decreases, you got more solar radiation acceleration. This is not harmful but will have some impact as well. A secondary human induced effect is that as the perennial sea ice reduces in area, we will see increased shipping. Ships can save up three thousand miles going to Asia through the Arctic. That has several potential harmful consequences. First of all, ships are one of the dirtiest forms of transport that exist. When they are travelling to the Arctic they generate quite a lot of black carbon that may be deposited over sea ice and over glaciers, affecting the albedo of the snow cover. In addition, ships tend to empty their ballasts as they’re travelling across the ocean. They introduce foreign species in the Arctic Ocean.

  1. Greenland ice sheet has begun to decline. The global impact of this phenomenon will be felt on a timescale of centuries. What are the consequences for now?

    Photo credit: Arctic Impacts of Arctic Warming, Cambridge Press, 2004
    Photo credit: Arctic Impacts of Arctic Warming, Cambridge Press, 2004

The really dramatic effect that we may see in Greenland is in a time scale of centuries and is in terms of sea level. In the short term, the key effect is the increase of fresh water fluxes not just in the Arctic Ocean but also in the North Atlantic. That may effect stratification in the surface waters and it may also have some influence on ocean circulation in the short term.

The jury is out on to what extent run off and fresh water fluxes in Greenland may influence ocean circulation on a larger scale. One of the things that we need to know is what proportion of these changes is due to anthropogenic effect and what proportion is due to natural variability. The evidence is becoming clear that there’s a significant signal for anthropogenic force. Reversing that will require a global commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Find out more about Prof. J. L. Bamber >

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interview subject alone and do not necessarily reflect the official views of ACCEL, ELEEP, Ecologic Institute, or the Atlantic Council.