Interest for Arctic issues has increased in the last couple of years as scientists explore, in greater depth, the effects that man-made global warming have on this pristine region. Sweden is currently the chairman of the Arctic Council and has done a tremendous job in highlighting the challenges that the Arctic is facing. For example, Sweden has used its chairmanship to institutionalize the work of the Arctic Council by establishing a secretariat in Tromsø, Norway.
My Embassy team and I have put particular emphasis on the Arctic in the last couple of years and collaborated closely with Sweden during its chairmanship. It is hard, however, to comprehend the magnitude of climate change without experiencing it first-hand.
Earlier this week I visited Abisko in the northernmost part of Sweden. The Abisko Scientific Research Station is located above the Arctic Circle, 96 kilometers (60 miles) north of Kiruna. It is a center located in an ecologically sensitive part of the sub-Arctic, and gathers scientists from throughout the world.
Abisko is a member of SCANNET, a network of thirty-three bases in northern Europe and the United States that seeks to build capacity for research and monitoring in the Arctic. Abisko has gained an international reputation and is attracting scientists from a number of U.S. institutions including the University of New Hampshire, the University of Vermont and Alaskan research stations Toolik Lake and Barrow.
The station is unique in that it has one of the world’s most extensive records dating back to the early 1900s when it was founded. In the form of both data and photos, the research shows how the landscape has changed in the last 100 years.
Our host in Abisko, Station Manager Christer Jonasson, brought us to the adjacent Stordals mire where much of the research is being conducted. A mire is a wetland terrain dominated by peat-forming plants. All over the frozen Stordals mire, scientists have set up equipment — some of the instruments look like props from the Star Wars trilogy — that measure changes in the local environment. They measure variables such as climate, snow depth, ice thickness and ice duration. They monitor hydrology, water chemistry, geomagnetism and atmospheric carbon isotope composition. The research clearly indicates that there have been drastic changes pertaining to both flora and fauna over the years.
Christer explained that scientists have discovered cases where higher temperatures have created ice caps on top of the snow which is making it harder for reindeer herds to access food. Since some of the members of the indigenous Sami are heavily dependent on reindeer, these kinds of findings are extremely important. Christer and his team are working with the Sami to adapt to the changes induced by climate change. Another recent phenomenon is that the birch forests around Abisko often experience invasions of caterpillars in the spring as it is no longer cold enough to kill off the eggs of those pests.
I would like to extend my great appreciation to Christer Jonasson and the researchers at Abisko who were generous with their time and gave us first-hand experience of how climate change is impacting the Arctic – and also gave us life time memories.