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Top Arctic Science Diplomats Convene at White House Next Week

Precipitous transformations from climate change add impetus for this international meeting to guide cooperative research in the northern polar region, U.S. official says.


A first-ever White House Arctic science ministerial meeting, to take place on 28 September, will bring together high-ranking science officials from around the world to bolster international scientific collaboration and set science goals for a region in rapid flux due to climate change.

“The Arctic is an augury. It’s a forecast. The looming challenge in the Arctic is a tangible preview of the looming challenge of the global condition,” cautioned Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, executive director of the U.S. government’s Arctic Executive Steering Committee. “Whether it is sea level rise or coastal erosion or anything else, that is something that our children and our children’s children will face.”

Outcomes Sought

The meeting, expected to draw leaders from 25 countries as well as from indigenous groups, aims to produce a high-level joint statement charting a responsible way forward to collaborate on Arctic science, Brzezinski told Eos in an exclusive interview. The delegates will also strive to specify a set of deliverables to advance Arctic science and related objectives.

Some of those deliverables will likely pertain to the warming and thawing of permafrost, diminishing sea ice, and ecosystem responses, Brzezinski said. Others could focus on strengthening community-based observing and integrating scientific and indigenous knowledge; cleaner and less expensive energy; improving weather, water, and sea ice forecasts; and enhancing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in Arctic schools and elsewhere.

“There is a huge need to advance a better scientific understanding of what is happening in the Arctic and its implications for the rest of the world. No one country can do it alone,” Brzezinski said. By means of the ministerial meeting, “we hope to develop a collective approach as the most effective approach,” he explained.

Brzezinski added that he is “proud to be part of pulling together one of the final messages of this president [Barack Obama],” who last September visited the Arctic.

Delegations to the Meeting

White House science adviser John Holdren will lead the U.S. delegation to the meeting. Delegation cochairs are National Science Foundation director France Córdova and U.S. Arctic Research Commission chair Fran Ulmer.

Countries attending the meeting include Russia and all other members of the Arctic Council, which the United States will chair until spring 2017. Other parties at the table include China, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission.

The conference will address four broad themes, according to premeeting documents. These include moving forward on Arctic science challenges and their regional and global implications, strengthening and integrating Arctic observations and data sharing, applying scientific understanding to building regional resilience, and using Arctic science as a vehicle for STEM education.

“Not a Moment to Lose”

Along with the ministerial meeting, a number of related events in Washington, D. C., also will focus on Arctic science issues. Among them, the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States will hold a 27 September meeting on Arctic science, education, and citizen empowerment. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences will present a 29 September panel discussion on “Scientific Priorities for a Changing Arctic” to recap the ministerial meeting.

There isn’t “a moment to lose” in strengthening Arctic science, said Brzezinski, because of “the imminence of the challenge and the imminence of the impact” of climate change on the region.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Top Arctic science diplomats convene at White House next week, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO059787. Published on 22 September 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0