Will Russian Sanctions Cripple Climate Science?

March 28, 2022

I interviewed a prominent Arctic expert last week who had recently been in Russia studying some pretty vital permafrost issues – he wondered aloud when another such opportunity might arise.

Wall Street Journal:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has delayed or derailed international collaborations studying climate change in the Arctic, with many Western scientists and scientific organizations cutting ties with Russian research institutions and canceling planned meetings or expeditions in Russia or Russian waters.

International tensions over the conflict could cripple research focused on a region that—along with the Antarctic—helps regulate climate across the globe, scientists say. Russia is one of eight countries that control land and ocean territories in the region north of the Arctic Circle.

“The Russian territorial waters and Russian coastline comprise a huge part of the region. We really need to know the full Arctic,” said Matthew Shupe, a University of Colorado Boulder atmospheric scientist. “If we’re limiting access to those regions, we’re going to miss out on some key knowledge to better understand how and why the Arctic system is changing.”

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which conducts ecological and weather monitoring in the Arctic, says war-related tensions haven’t affected its activities there. “All NOAA projects and observations are proceeding in the Arctic,” an agency spokesperson said.

That isn’t the case with other key players in Arctic research.

Dr. Shupe is a co-leader of an international Arctic research initiative to study climate change known as MOSAiC, for the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. As part of the project, scientists aboard the German research ship Polarstern recently spent a year collecting data in the region. Fieldwork for the expedition, which ended in October 2020, involved hundreds of crew, support staff and scientists, including up to 10 researchers from Russia, Dr. Shupe said.

But now Russian scientists aren’t expected at an April meeting when MOSAiC researchers will discuss the expedition’s data, said Markus Rex, MOSAiC expedition leader and head of atmospheric physics at the Alfred Wegener Institute, the German organization that led the project. It isn’t known whether the scientists will attend online, he said.

“We’re looking at this big pile of data, and they bring a lot of expertise to the table,” Dr. Shupe said of his Russian collaborators.

The Russian Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to requests for comment about the exclusion of Russian scientists and interruptions to other scientific collaborations.

Local organizers barred Russian scientists this month from the Arctic Science Summit Week, an Arctic-research meeting taking place this week and next in Tromsø, Norway, hosted by the International Arctic Science Committee, or IASC. The group is a coordinator of international research in the Arctic and includes scientists from 23 countries.

“In Arctic research, our ability to understand these rapid changes that are unfolding is like putting parts of the puzzle together—and without Russia you’re missing a big part of that picture,” said Matthew Druckenmiller, the U.S. delegate to the IASC council and a geophysicist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.


Russian scientists are finding themselves isolated as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second month. 

The country’s Mars rover project with the European Space Agency is on hold. Russian institutions have been suspended from CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, in Switzerland. A prestigious math conference has been moved from St. Petersburg to a virtual meeting, and Russian scientific journals are being frozen out of key international databases.

High-profile scientific journals such as Science and Nature aren’t rejecting research submitted by Russian scientists, but financial sanctions placed on Russia may make paying journal processing fees tricky. Ukrainian researchers are calling for a complete boycott of Russian institutions and academics.

But while welcoming the outpouring of support across the West for Ukrainian scientists, some academics think that shunning all Russian scientists could be counterproductive.

“Shutting down all interaction with Russian scientists would be a serious setback to a variety of Western and global interests and values, which include making rapid progress on global challenges related to science and technology, maintaining non-ideological lines of communication across national boundaries, and opposing ideological stereotyping and indiscriminate persecution,” said a letter published Thursday in the journal Science authored by five prominent scientists from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

John Holdren, a research professor in environmental science and policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the science adviser to former US President Barack Obama, was one of the authors. He said he wanted to make sure there was balance in the measures taken to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime.

“I put a very high value on cooperation in science and technology, ” Holdren said. “My colleagues and I who wrote that letter together were alarmed by reports that what was underway was a wholesale demonization and isolation of Russian scientists.”

Germany has taken one of the swiftest and strongest stances. On February 25, the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany recommended that all academic cooperation with state institutions and business enterprises in Russia be frozen with immediate effect and German research funds no longer benefit Russia.

A German-built space telescope making the largest map of black holes in the universe has been switched off. The black hole-hunting telescope, called eROSITA, short for extended ROentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array, launched in 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma satellite, a joint Russian-German science mission supported by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

The DFG or German Research Foundation, which had funded more than 300 German-Russian research projects with a total volume of over 110 million euros over the past three years, suspended all its research projects with Russia. 

Scientific publisher Clarivate said earlier in March it had has ceased all commercial activity in Russia, closing its office there. Its influential Web of Science publication database won’t include new journals based in Russia or Belarus, which has supported the Russian invasion. The database tracks citations — a key yardstick of scientific success — that helps scientists get noticed. 

In the United States, MIT has ended the relationship it had with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Moscow, although it stressed that it was proud of the research the collaboration had produced over the past decade. 

“This step is a rejection of the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine. We take it with deep regret because of our great respect for the Russian people and our profound appreciation for the contributions of the many extraordinary Russian colleagues we have worked with.”

More at the links.

3 Responses to “Will Russian Sanctions Cripple Climate Science?”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    It reminds me of the scene in 2010 where the conflict between the US and the USSR <sic> gets to the point where the Russians and Americans have to segregate between the Leonov and the Discovery.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    “all academic cooperation… in Russia be frozen.” Good one.

    We need an underground HSRroad to move researchers in & out of Siberia.
    Maybe they can tunnel from 1 methane bubble blowhole to another. We could kidnap Chinese engineers to build it, in cooperation with US border coyotes & escaped prisoners worldwide. The real question is: go with GPS or stick with the traditional spirituals updated to new constellations?

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