Posted by: goodcoldwater | June 12, 2009

ice in news: Arctic researchers and carbon emissions

Martin Mittelstaedt writes in today’s Globe and Mail about the not-so-surprising news that scientists who research the effects of climate change in the Arctic are dramatically adding to carbon emissions themselves. “Arctic researchers leave ‘tremendous’ footprint,” he headlines it.

University of Calgary caribou researcher and postdoctoral fellow Ryan Brook has published his emission tallies in the journal Arctic. “By his calculations, he has been producing about 8,300 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year – or about the weight of three Hummers – over the past decade.” Mittlestaedt writes.

It’s not surprising to me because of the distances involved. Most scientists researching ice, climate, flora and fauna phenom in the Arctic aren’t living there, and even if they were, they fly to remote sites where no one lives. 
 

Caribou near Artillery Lake, NWT, March 09 (photo from FB group for Rangifer Anatomy Project)

Caribou near Artillery Lake, NWT, March 09 (photo from FB group for Rangifer Anatomy Project)

I agree that we need the information to (attempt to) make better decisions about handling and mitigating climate change, but we haven’t developed any efficient distance-travel transportation that isn’t dependent on fossil fuel. Solar powered ice-breakers don’t exist; you can’t cycle to most glacier formations to study them.

You can’t drive over tundra without wrecking it. Hiking everywhere is impossible due to realities of both distance and terrain.

Or is it? Are Arctic scientists and the research institutions behind them simply in too much of a hurry?

A little browsing around the Interweb reveals that Ryan Brook does most of his research with the University of Calgary’s Rangifer Anatomy Project. Yes, they even have their own Facebook group, from which I borrowed the photo above.

In images on the group site, plus a slideshow through the University of Calgary’s news site here, Brook and crew are shown repeatedly working with Lutsl K’e First Nations. (Warning: some of the images on the FB site are gross, since these guys are veterinary researchers figuring out how to deal with warble fly larvae that burrow under caribou skin, for example.)

My point: if the Lutsl K’e can live in places like Artillery Lake, NWT, for extended periods of time, so can the researchers. It’s yet another reason why different cultural knowledge needs to be combined for us to understand what’s going on in the North (or anywhere). If different timelines could be established for Arctic researchers, could  longer field time reduce carbon emissions?

It wouldn’t be a solution for remote places that aren’t populated at all, but it would be worth considering for research areas used by First Nations and other hunters.

Here’s the Globe and Mail article lead; the entire piece is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/science/arctic-researchers-leave-tremendous-footprint/article1179036/#

Arctic researchers leave ‘tremendous’ footprint

Scientists investigating the effects of global warming on the Arctic have a dirty little secret: They’re big polluters themselves.

Flying to remote Arctic locations, hop-scotching over the tundra by fuel-guzzling helicopters and smashing through polar seas in ice-breakers all produce large amounts of the carbon-dioxide emissions blamed for climate change.

Few scientists have publicly raised the apparent contradictions between conducting research into the effect of climate change on the Arctic and what their own activities contribute to the problem.

But University of Calgary caribou researcher Ryan Brook has done just that, outlining his outsized emission tallies in the journal Arctic. By his calculations, he has been producing about 8,300 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year – or about the weight of three Hummers – over the past decade. He suspects the amount “is about average, if not on the low side” compared to other scientists in the North.

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