The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 has triggered a concerning loss of crucial scientific data from the Arctic monitoring stations, exacerbating information gaps with potential far-reaching consequences for climate change tracking worldwide, caution researchers.
The Arctic, warming two to four times faster than the rest of the planet, houses glaciers, forests, and carbon-rich frozen soils vulnerable to irreversible changes that could impact the entire globe.
Lead author Efren Lopez-Blanco of Aarhus University, in a study published in Nature Climate Change, emphasized the severity of the situation. With Russia constituting nearly half of the Arctic landmass, the assault on Ukraine created a significant information void.
Researchers aimed to quantify the impact on scientific understanding of Arctic changes, revealing potential global repercussions.
Neglecting the Russian boreal forest leads to underestimations of biomass, soil organic carbon, and has consequences for permafrost thawing, shifts in biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions, Lopez-Blanco warned.
The study focused on around 60 research stations within the INTERACT network, revealing existing gaps even before the conflict in Ukraine. Loss of Russian data intensified biases, particularly in areas like Siberia’s vast taiga forest.
The research underscores logistical challenges in monitoring the expansive and inhospitable Arctic region, coupled with issues in voluntary data sharing. Delays and cancellations in projects have ensued, and the once-unified Arctic Council now faces division between Western nations and Russia.
Dmitry Streletskiy from George Washington University highlighted the data-sharing predicament, noting that of nearly 80 Russian sites registered in their network, only 37 have provided 2023 data.
Streletskiy proposed a United Nations system akin to weather data monitoring to ensure continuous climate metric monitoring.
As climate data is collected but not shared, global understanding risks significant gaps, Streletskiy analogized, stating, “It’s like these big communal apartments. You have a lot of rooms, and some neighbors are nice, some are not. But if you aren’t aware that your neighbor has a room with a leaking roof, you will only find out when the entire house is flooded. That’s pretty much what’s happening.”
The potential consequences of such a scenario extend beyond the Arctic, impacting climate predictions and strategies on a global scale.