ANALYSIS – Scientific collaboration between Russia and the West should continue for the sake of the environment

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MOSCOW (UrduPoint News/Sputnik – July 16, 2022) Scientific collaboration between Western and Russian researchers has taken a hit amid ongoing conflict in Ukraine but must continue despite politics in the name of shared quest for knowledge and desire protect the environment, experts told Sputnik.

One of the unexpected victims of the ongoing conflict between Moscow and the West has become scientific work aimed at advancing human knowledge of the Arctic region, where Russia’s role was particularly important in areas such as research on the permafrost. Russia also controls a significant portion of the Arctic, making it a key partner for climate and environmental monitoring in the region. Its exclusion threatens to deprive Western researchers of the information necessary for their work.

Cooperation between Russian and Western scientists has taken place in various fields, including the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that aims to promote partnership and coordination among states in the region. However, in March, seven Western members, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States, suspended their participation in the platform, to resume work in June on projects not involving Russia.

Some of these collaborative efforts span decades, as is the case of Terry Callaghan, professor of arctic ecology at the University of Sheffield. Professor Callaghan worked with his Russian colleagues to set up the Russian component of the EU-funded INTERACT pan-Arctic network, which comprises 89 research stations, 21 of them Russian, which host around 15,000 researchers each year.

“Russian research stations have hosted Western researchers and Western research stations have hosted Russian researchers and the data has been widely disseminated. In an era of climate change challenges, such international collaborations are essential to solving cross-border,” said Callaghan, who is also a professor. of Botany and co-chair of the International Advisory Board of Tomsk State University as well as a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, explained.

The professor also highlighted other forms of contribution of his Russian colleagues to INTERACT activities, such as the provision of awareness-raising materials in schools in 60 countries and a special volume of the journal Ambio published by the Academy. of Science, “a product of the collaboration between INTERACT and the Siberian Environmental Change Network (SecNet).”

“This volume contained 14 papers produced by 100 researchers, over 70 of whom were Russian. It presented an up-to-date and detailed overview of the evolution of the Siberian environment,” Callaghan said, adding that “this excellent collaboration and global importance is threatened”. ” following the conflict in Ukraine.

Another example of international scientific partnership between scientists is the US National Parks Service’s Beringia Shared Heritage program, which has been running for more than 30 years and is dedicated to promoting cooperation in the conservation of the region’s natural resources and cultural heritage. .

One of the program’s beneficiaries is Donald Anderson, a senior scientist in the Department of Biology at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who studies harmful algal blooms (HABs), a phenomenon when photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms known as algae begin uncontrolled growth in the water producing toxins harmful to humans and animals.

While conducting research in Arctic Alaska, Anderson and his colleagues were faced with the problem of the maritime border between Russia and the United States, which prevents them from tracing the toxic organism, preventing a complete assessment of the problem.

To overcome the problem, Anderson secured program funding for a project “to facilitate the exchange of samples, methods and analyzes between my team and those of a group studying HABs in Vladivostok (led by Dr. Tatiana Orlova, National Scientific Center of Marine Biology Research, Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences).

“We secured funding to bring several of our Russian colleagues to my lab in the United States to learn our methods and process Russian and American samples together. Unfortunately, the conflict in Ukraine brought everything to a halt, and this collaboration is now on hold. The extended visit we had planned for training and sample analysis in September is now postponed indefinitely, and I don’t know if and when that will happen,” Anderson said.

According to Callaghan, European researchers face funding problems, institutional and personal constraints that undermine their collaboration with Russian colleagues. These include funding organizations such as the European Union cutting ties with Russian public institutions, making cooperation that requires expense impossible, institutions prohibiting contact of their employees with Russian colleagues, and individual scientists taking the conscious decision to end the collaborations. Nevertheless, scientific cooperation and data sharing in his field persists, albeit at a reduced pace and at the individual level, he added.

“I think it will take many years for trust to be restored,” Callaghan lamented, stressing the importance of continuing even simple personal contacts for further cooperation so that “science rises above politics, especially at a time of unprecedented and increasingly damaging crisis”. climate disasters around the world. »

Meanwhile, Troy Bouffard, director of the Center for Arctic Security and Resilience at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, doesn’t think scientific cooperation with Russia has much potential in the near future because “a combination of Russian bans and Western aversions to such activities makes it very difficult to imagine how to overcome this massive scientific disinvestment.”

“Let’s hope that the fragmented scientific efforts in the Arctic can continue to make crucial progress until opportunities for collaboration with Russia are again possible. , adding that “the loss of mutual collaboration within the Arctic Council probably cannot be measured on its own”.

The expert suggested that scientific communities should be insulated from geopolitical issues, citing the example of coast guard agencies being able to continue joint maritime security efforts.

Anderson, for his part, hopes the current situation will not result in the long-term exclusion of Russian scientists from international Arctic research efforts.

“Scientists tend to be apolitical, and on the contrary, tend to think that their collaborative efforts can help countries improve their relationship. I am one of those who believe that, so… I believe that cooperation in research absolutely must continue, not just in my own field, but in so many others where we have a common interest in understanding and protecting the environment,” Anderson concluded.

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