Russia’s war on Ukraine is limiting permafrost data

Since Russia began the war in Ukraine nearly two years ago, much of Russia’s scientific collaboration with the outside world stopped. The uneasy peace on the International Space Station is the exception, rather than the rule.

But a new study from a team of researchers from across the Arctic are highlighting that without data from Russia’s few research stations spread across Siberia, accurately tracking Artic melt is much harder than it used to be.

“Following the invasion of Ukraine, the work of the Arctic Council was first put on hold, and as currently resumed, it is only in part and without Russia,” the researchers write in a ‘Brief Communication’ for Nature Climate Change.  

“The Arctic is rapidly changing, and many of the ongoing changes may have global consequences,” they write.

“While many of the key indicators of Arctic climate change and climate-induced responses can be estimated remotely, much of the understanding of Arctic change is based on in situ data measured on the ground at research stations.”

It’s worth noting that many scientists have fled Russia, and those that have stayed are being hampered by a lack of funding due to the war.

To understand how important the Russian stations are to the high-latitude research station network called INTERACT, the authors of the report investigated biases in the network as a whole.

“Our results suggest that, even with all Russian stations included, the INTERACT network is consistently biased for some ecosystem variables and is thus not fully representative of the ecosystem conditions across the pan-Arctic domain,” the researchers write.

“Making matters more challenging, the exclusion of the Russian stations from the network (17 out of 60) resulted in a marked further loss of representativeness across almost all ecosystem variables.”

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The researchers found that the loss of the Russian part of the network removed the entire Siberian Taiga snow forest, and half of the boreal zones from the map.

This led to more bias in vegetation biomass, and could be a particular issue when it comes to data on thawing permafrost, biodiversity shifts and carbon dynamics.

“To be able to track the changing Arctic properly, the international community should […] continue to strive for establishing and improving a research infrastructure and standardised monitoring programmes representative of the entire Arctic,” the researchers conclude.

“Sadly, until that is implemented, the ability to support and advise local and global communities will decrease further due to the loss of Russian stations representing half of the Arctic’s landmass.”

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