The evolution of glaciers, forests and soils in the Arctic Circle has a major impact on the globe's climatic future, but the freeze in scientific cooperation with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine exacerbates the lack of data that was already worrying the work of climatologists, warn researchers.
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The Arctic is warming two to four times faster than the rest of the planet, impacting its glaciers, forests and frozen carbon-rich soils, which are at risk of irreversible changes with potentially cascading effects across the planet.
Russian territory covers almost half of the Arctic landmass. And the lack of cooperation since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has resulted in researchers losing a significant amount of data, explains Efren Lopez-Blanco of Aarhus University, who led a study on the topic. published Monday in Nature Climate Change.
“One of the immediate problems arising from the neglect of the Russian boreal forest is that we underestimate the biomass and carbon in the soil,” Mr Lopez-Blanco told AFP.
“This can have global consequences for important processes such as permafrost thawing, changes in biodiversity or even greenhouse gas emissions.”
The study examined the quality of data production from around 60 research stations in the vast INTERACT network, focusing on eight factors including air temperature, precipitation, snow depth, plant biomass and soil carbon.
The results show that the network already had gaps before the conflict in Ukraine, with stations focused on hot and humid regions while other areas were inadequately covered.
Russia has 17 of the 60 INTERACT stations, so the freezing of cooperation with Moscow has exacerbated the problem, especially when it comes to knowledge of the vast Siberian taiga.
Since the start of the war, projects have been delayed or canceled, while the Arctic Council regional forum, long considered a model of cooperation, is now polarized between the West (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States) and Russia.
Another network called CALM works with about 80 Russian websites, 55 of which typically share data each year, according to Dmitry Streletskiy, a researcher at George Washington University who was not involved in the study. However, according to the permafrost specialist, only 37 of them have submitted data for 2023, although a catch-up soon cannot be ruled out.
In his opinion, one solution would be to exchange important climate data, analogous to weather data, via a system under the auspices of the United Nations.