Two Arctic research institutes to open, while a third comes closer to reality

On the heels of the opening of the Arctic Council’s Permanent Secretariat in Tromsø, Norway, two new Arctic research centers in China and Russia have been announced while one in Canada has made progress towards becoming reality.

China-Nordic Arctic Research Institute

Chinese and Nordic representatives meet in Shanghai, June 4-7. (c) PRIC.
Chinese and Nordic representatives meet in Shanghai, June 4-7. (c) PRIC.

First, Chinese and Nordic representatives announced plans to establish the China-Nordic Arctic Research Institute. University World News reports that the Iceland Centre for Research, the Norwegian Polar Institute, and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies will partner with the Shanghai-based institute. The State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the government agency responsible for marine and maritime affairs, has officially endorsed the institute, while the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC) will fund it. The SOA’s twelfth Five-Year Plan speaks extensively about the need for science, mentioning the words “science” or “scientific” 72 times. SOA also has significant interests at the poles, with the plan stating that one of the aims over the next five years will be: “Continuing resources survey carried out in international waters, deepening the Polar Expedition, to strengthen international waters resources survey and polar scientific investigation capacity building, and to contribute to world peace and human use of marine.” Meanwhile, PRIC has contributed substantially to formalizing Arctic research in China, even in the often neglected area of polar social sciences. For instance, they have a network of 16 affiliated research universities and institutes spread across China that study polar social sciences.

Following from this spirit of cooperation, the first China-Nordic Arctic Cooperation Symposium took place from June 4-7 in Shanghai. During the two-day seminar, a news report on PRIC’s website explains that representatives discussed Arctic waterway utilization, Arctic policy and governance, and climate change. I’d be interested in hearing more about what specifically was discussed with regard to Arctic waterways, as there are ongoing debates between the status of the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage as to whether they constitute internal waterways or international straits. As a major maritime nation and growing naval power, it would be in China’s interest to promote the two shipping routes as international straits. As Li Zhenfu, associate professor at Dalian Maritime University, wrote in a paper: “Whoever has control over the Arctic route will control the new passage of world economics and international strategies.”

In the Arctic, China seems to be cooperating the most with the Nordic countries. They were also the ones most open to admitting new observers to the Arctic Council, with countries like Denmark having supported China’s bid. Chinese political advisor Yu Zhengsheng also just wrapped up a four-day visit to Denmark, where he met with Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to discuss cooperation in green technology, among other issues. Yu traveled to Denmark after paying official visits to Finland and Sweden. I’ll discuss the growing bilateral ties between China and the Nordic countries in more detail in a separate post.

ExxonMobil & Rosneft: Arctic Research and Design Center for Continental Shelf Development

Second, ExxonMobil and Rosneft announced that they will be forming a joint Arctic Research and Design Center for Continental Shelf Development (ARC) in Moscow. A press release from ExxonMobil explains that the research will initially be focused on the Kara Sea, with work in the areas of safety and environmental protection, ice, metocean (meteorological and oceanographic) and geotechnical surveys, and sea ice management. ExxonMobil will provide the first $200 million to ARC, with each company contributing equally to the following $250 million to the institute. ExxonMobil will have a two-thirds stake, and Rosneft will have a one-third stake.

The Kara Sea is located between the north coast of Russia and Novaya Zemlya. It remains frozen for a large part of the year, making operating conditions difficult for oil and gas companies. Rosneft and ExxonMobil are eager to begin activities, though. In the Kara Sea’s East Prinovozemelsky field where the two companies are partnering, there is an estimated 6.268 billion barrels of oil and 14.59 billion square meters of natural gas [1].

ExxonMobil and Rosneft joint cooperation blocks in the Kara Sea.
ExxonMobil and Rosneft joint cooperation blocks in the Kara Sea.

Canadian High Arctic Research Station

Finally, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station is still on target to open in July 2017 in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. A temporary office will open this summer at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital. On June 11, a community consultation event was held in Cambridge Bay to discuss the plans and design for the CAN $188 million research facility. Nunatsiaq News reports that CHARS will have 33 full time employees and 150 seasonal ones, a significant decrease from the original planned sized.

Significantly, CHARS will be open to the public, distinguishing it from the other two research institutes. Since one of the goals of CHARS is to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge, it is sensible for it to foster an inclusive an open atmosphere. Cambridge Bay’s senior administrative officer, Stephen King, said to Nunatsiaq News, “I feel the CHARS design team has done a great job incorporating community interests and Inuit traditional knowledge into the design. They have gone to great lengths to speak with community members to get ideas to incorporate into the design.”

While neither the China-Nordic Arctic Research Institute nor ARC are located in the Arctic, CHARS will be situated just north of the 70th parallel. This makes it important for residents of the Arctic themselves to help generate Arctic knowledge – or so one might think. As the news article reports, some tension arose after CHARS’ first two hires were revealed to be from southern Canada.

Future site of CHARS. (c) Government of Canada
Future site of CHARS in Cambridge Bay. (c) Government of Canada

[1] http://www.rosneft.com/Upstream/Exploration/arctic_seas/

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