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Studying the Arctic Should Start From Siberia

At the end of November, researchers of the TSU’s research centre Trans-Siberian Scientific Way (TSSW) participated at the Federal Arctic forum The Arctic Days in Moscow – 2016. The event was organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation. The goals were to draw attention to the natural, historical, and cultural objects of the Arctic; to make the region more attractive for tourists; and to discuss environmental issues of the Russian Extreme North. We conducted an interview with professor Sergey Kirpotin, Director of the TSU’s research centre BioClimLand and head of several scientific projects at TSSW.

- Professor Kirpotin, what were the goals that the researchers of TSSW set when they were going to the forum?

- The most important goal for us was to present our projects. Our developments help to monitor changes in the environment and the climate and we are looking for people who will be interested in joining us.
- This was not the first time the Forum took place. Did you participate in the event before 2016?
- We may say that it was the second time TSSW participated in The Arctic Days in Moscow. Last year, TSU professor Terrence Callaghan was invited to take part. At that time, he also represented TSSW as a scientific advisor. This year professor Callaghan participated as a key speaker, which, of course, raised the status of our delegation.

Our delegation represented the Tomsk Region and was the largest at the forum. Mikhail Sonkin, Vice-Governor of the Tomsk Region for Scientific and Education Affairs and Innovation Policy, headed our group. Our strong interest in the forum allowed us to conduct a roundtable. The theme was “Tomsk Organizations Present: Modern Technologies and Equipment for Studying and Developing the Arctic”.

- The programme of the forum was extremely busy. What events did you and our delegation attend?

- We spent the first day of the forum at the multimedia press centre Russia Today. The discussion “The Arctic: From Forecasts to Development” was the first on the agenda. Sergey Donskoy, Minister of Natural Recourses and Environment, opened the session with the report on the strategic aspects of studying, preserving, and developing the Arctic. Mikhail Sonkin talked about the contribution made by scientific and education institutions in studying the Arctic and presented some current projects in which TSU is involved.

Later that day we participated in the discussion “Strategy of Scientific Research in the Arctic. Prospects for Young Researchers and International Collaboration”. Minister Donskoy had a meeting with young researchers interested in the Arctic. Professor Callaghan was invited as an expert.

- How well do young Russian researchers know professor Callaghan’s achievements in studying the Arctic?

- My responsibility was to introduce professor Callaghan to the audience and to present his research areas and achievements. It was a pleasure and an honor for me. Terrence Callaghan is an internationally recognized researcher who dedicated 50 years to the Arctic environment. He is a head of numerous large international research projects, including the SecNET project, which was created under the auspices of TSU and TSSW. I took my time to talk about this particular project and the young audience showed their interest in the matter.
Climate change in the Arctic should not be studied separately from climate processes in Siberia, which borders with the Arctic in the North. SecNET allowed us to create a megaprofile of the research from the top of the Altai mountains to the deep waters of the Arctic. Three TSU research stations - Aktru, Kajbosovo, and Khanymey - are situated in Yamal and already conduct the research. We are planning to open a new station in the Arctic Circle and in Vasyugan. China, Laos, Vietnam, and several North American research centres are interested in the concept of the megaprofile. If we succeed in connecting research stations in China, Siberia, and, through the Northern Pole, America, we will create a “super-megaprofile”, as professor Callaghan called it.

- What is this “megaprofile”?

- It is a network of research centres where we select samples. All data is accumulated and analyzed, which helps to fixate changes in the environment and evaluate its dynamic and character.

One of the problems articulated by professor Callaghan is that it is necessary to promote science in general and the issues of the Arctic environment in particular, because sooner or later, these issues will influence global climate. It is vital to inform the public about the importance of research in this area and to develop environmental awareness and attention to the global challenges. Professor Callaghan claims the importance of conducting transdisciplinary research. This means that we should engage scientists from different areas, including humanities, in solving environmental problems. It is necessary to bridge science with the society, politics, and economy and to explain why our society should spend a lot of money on science and how studying climate change may influence the quality of life in Siberia, the Arctic Circle, and many other regions.   

- Are there any contradictions between those researchers who investigate the Arctic ?

- Of course, there are some challenges. Professor Callaghan mentioned them too. One of the challenges is different approaches to studying natural processes in the Arctic. Planting of greenery is a trend today. It accumulates a lot of money. The opposite process of increasing the amount of brown soil does not attract enough attention. This process in climate change is underestimated.

Terence Callaghan told the audience that the Arctic region is unique because its nature often does not meet expectations of acknowledged scientific theories. For example, Darwinism states that all species arise and develop through the natural selection. Only the strongest survive and reproduce. But this theory falls apart, when we witness how Arctic plants of different species grow together and not only do they not push each other out, they help each other to survive! This example of cooperation and support may be transferred to the scientific community. It is not a coincidence that the first scientific networks were developed by polar researchers. In very severe conditions of the Arctic, researchers do not compete, but help each other, collaborate, and support. In conclusion, professor Callaghan said that cooperation is more efficient than competition. This idea is supported by experts in management, that is why universities should work in collaboration.

- Did our young researchers have anything to share with the professor?

- There were young researchers from different parts of Russia. Among the others, I particularly remember colleagues from Arkhangelsk who spoke about the Floating University, which is a boat that goes around the water area of the northern seas. This is some kind of an outstanding work and research format.

- As we see from the programme, the second day was the busiest for our delegation?

- This is true. The 3d International Research and Technological Conference The Open Arctic took place on the second day. The Arctic EXPO 2016 was part of the event.  

As you know, our delegation was the largest, so the organizers gave us the largest space to present the exposition. TSU’s developments attracted a lot of attention from our colleagues from other universities and potential consumers of our technologies. For example, our optic sensor that was developed at the TSU Laboratory for Radiophysical and Optical Methods of Research of the Environment, headed by Voktor Demin, interested representatives of Gazprom Neft Shelf. They are concerned with the environmental issues that may be caused by the drilling platforms in the Arctic. Our sensors help to indicated oil leaks on the earliest stages possible. Sergey Kolesnikov, Head of the TSU Department of Space Physics and Environment, found some potential buyers too. He and his team developed an ionosphere probe that will be disposed on the space satellite. It will systematically monitor the Arctic area.

The Conference was opened with a plenary session. Than participants went to work at different sections. We were responsible for the roundtable “Tomsk Organizations present: Modern Technologies and Equipment for Studying and Developing the Arctic”.
Mikhail Sonkin moderated the roundtable, the reports were presented by professor Callaghan and other university representatives.

- Did you present your report?
- Of course. My report was dedicated to the concept of Siberia as a megaplatform that influences global processes, including climate change. I described the idea of the international project and our supergoal, which is to increase the life quality in Siberia. I want to share the idea that has become a slogan for TSSU: “Studying Siberia for Prosperity of the Earth”.
After the roundtable we joined the colleagues at other sections. It was important because there were our potential consumers, such as representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. They heard our concerns that require attention from the authorities. For example, I talked about conservation zones that are not investigated. Preserving nature is the main function of people who work there and there are many legal barriers that do not allow us to do research out there.
Vasyugan Swamp may become a federal conservation area in the near future. If it happens, we will not be able to do our research, though it is located very close to us. People who work in such areas should be involved in research. It will save money and time and make our work more productive.

- Are those people ready to respond your initiative?

- I met some of them and they were not against the idea. They understand that preserving nature and studying it may accompany each other. Legal initiative would solve the problem faster. That was one of the things we wanted to address to the authorities. According to Sergey Donskoy, all data presented at the forum was recorded and would be passed to the policy makers.
- Could you say that you succeeded in achieving your objectives at the forum?

I believe, yes. In general, our participation was very productive. We talked about our projects, found potential consumers, and proved the potential of TSU and TSSW in studying the Arctic. Once again, we presented Tomsk Region as a place of science and innovations.

The interview was conducted by Irina Guzhova, Associate Professor of the TSU Department of Social Communication.