Arctic 10 Years – A History

uarctic10_yearsIn Rovaniemi 8th of june 2011, the Council of the University of the Arctic (UArctic) celebrates the tenth anniversary of its launch, which was held in the same city in 2001. The occasion is being marked by a special seminar organized at the University of Lapland on the theme of Green Growth and the Arctic.

The occasion is being marked by a special seminar organized at the University of Lapland on the theme of Green Growth and the Arctic, with keynote speeches from Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (President of Iceland), Hannele Pokka (Permanent Secretary of Finland's Ministry of the Environment), Gustaf Lind (Sweden's Arctic Ambassador), and J. Okalik Eegeesiak (President of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association). The seminar discussions examined the question of whether a 'Green Growth' opportunity exists for the Arctic, or whether the destiny of the North is to remain an area of resource extraction.

The Chair of the UArctic Council, Jim McDonald of the University of Northern British Columbia remarks, "It is only appropriate that the University of the Arctic returns to Rovaniemi to mark the first decade of its remarkable growth and development. Lapland has been the crucible for many important circumpolar processes. It should be noted that UArctic's tenth anniversary coincides – not coincidentally – with the twentieth anniversary of the Rovaniemi process that began in 1991 with the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, which led to the establishment of the Arctic Council. The decisions taken here pave the way for our organization's next ten years."

uarctic_locationsThe history of UArctic goes long back, to a proposal made to the Senior Arctic Officials of the Arctic Council to look into the establishment of an 'Arctic university.' The subsequent work performed by the Circumpolar Universities Association laid the groundwork for the network and activities that exist today.

On June 12, 2001, the University of the Arctic officially came into being. At a Launch event in Rovaniemi, Finland, two hundred people gathered to celebrate the realization of this dream. The organization was established with the principles of interdisciplinarity, circumpolarity and diversity. Its strength based on support not only by institutions of higher education and governments, but also that of northern indigenous peoples. In the first years after the launch, UArctic's core programmatic activities were established with the Circumpolar Studies undergraduate program and the north2north mobility program. Enrollments in Circumpolar Studies and north2north exchanges now number many hundred, and these first students are already making their mark in northern science and public leadership.

The UArctic International Secretariat was established at the University of Lapland, Finland, in 2001, and soon afterwards UArctic hired President Lars Kullerud to lead the activities and overall development of UArctic. UArctic's administration was gradually distributed to offices in almost all Arctic countries. The establishment of Thematic Networks in 2005 marked a new direction in UArctic's programmatic delivery, supporting new research and educational cooperation among smaller groups of members with common interests and expertise. This development was also supported by increased graduate-level programs including PhD networks and field schools.

uarctic_thematic_networksThe University of the Arctic's importance as an international actor was demonstrated in the role it played in the 2007-2008 International Polar Year, helping to coordinate the education and outreach activities resulting from the IPY's international scientific research projects. The UArctic Rectors' Forum first met in 2007, which provided a new opportunity for the leadership of the circumpolar region's higher education institutions to address areas of common interest. To better serve its members, UArctic developed the GoNorth program to promote student recruitment to northern higher education institutions and the UArctic Catalogue as joint listing of course and program information from all members.

UArctic has accomplished much to date in creating an empowered and sustainable North. It is telling that the organization's original vision, goals and values remain valid today, while it has grown to meet additional needs and serve more areas of the Circumpolar North. The success of the organization can truly be seen, however, in the large numbers of students who have benefited from educational opportunities that would not have been possible without the University of the Arctic and the collective efforts of its members.


Further information about the University of the Arctic:

Mission Statement
UArctic Council
UArctic Thematic Networks





Source: UArctic

Reindeer Ultraviolet vision crucial to their survival

reindeerScientists from the UCL University have discovered that reindeer can not only see ultraviolet (UV) light, but that it is also crucial to their survival in the harsh Arctic environment.

A research team from the UCL, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, published a study which shows that this remarkable visual ability allows reindeer to take in life-saving information in conditions where normal mammalian vision would make them vulnerable to starvation, predators and territorial conflict.

Winter conditions in the Arctic mean that the sun barely rises in the middle of the day and light is scattered such that the majority of light that reaches objects is blue or UV. In addition to this, snow can reflect up to 90% of the UV light that falls on it.

"We discovered that reindeer can not only see ultraviolet light but they can also make sense of the image to find food and stay safe. Humans and almost all other mammals could never do this as our lenses just don't let UV through into the eye." Says Glen Jeffery, Professor of Neuroscience at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and the lead researcher on the project.

reindeer3Humans are able to see light with wavelengths ranging from around 700 nanometres (nm), which corresponds to the colour red, right through all the colours of the rainbow in sequence to 400nm, which corresponds to violet. Professor Jeffery and his team tested the reindeer's vision to see what wavelengths they could see and found that they can handle wavelengths down to around 350–320nm, which is termed ultraviolet, because it exceeds the extreme of the so-called visible spectrum of colours.

"When we used cameras that could pick up UV, we noticed that there are some very important things that absorb UV light and therefore appear black, contrasting strongly with the snow. This includes urine – a sign of predators or competitors; lichens – a major food source in winter; and fur, making predators such as wolves very easy to see despite being camouflaged to other animals that can't see UV." Says Jeffery.

reindeer4The research also raises the question of how reindeer protect their eyes from being damaged by UV, which is thought to be harmful to human vision.

"In conditions where there is a lot of UV – when surrounded by snow, for example – it can be damaging to our eyes. In the process of blocking UV light from reaching the retina, our cornea and lens absorb its damaging energy and can be temporarily burned. The front of the eye becomes cloudy and so we call this snow blindness. Although this is normally reversible and plays a vital role to protect our sensitive retinas from potential damage, it is very painful."

"The question remains as to why the reindeer's eyes don't seem to be damaged by UV. Perhaps it's not as bad for eyes as we first thought? Or maybe they have a unique way of protecting themselves, which we could learn from and perhaps develop new strategies to prevent or treat the damage the UV can cause to humans." Professor Jeffery added.

Source: UCL

Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement

The first international agreement made exclusively for the Arctic region was signed at the ministerial meeting in Nuuk, May 12 2011. The agreement, which deals with search and rescue of aeronautical and maritime vessels and passengers, is also the first international agreement made under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is now planning another international agreement for adoption which will deal with oil pollution in the Arctic.

The Agreement on cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (Agreement) was made in accordance with the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) and the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, both of which are established and widely recognized international law. The objective of the Agreement is, however, to further strengthen aeronautical and maritime search and rescue cooperation and coordination in the Arctic. In order for that to be clear, each member state was given a particular Search and Rescue area which it is responsible for.

The main emphasis of the Agreement is to develop swift and efficient measures when accidents occur in the harsh Arctic region and to ensure, as much as possible, proper search and rescue operations. This is done by the clauses where the member states commit themselves to nominate certain national institutions in each state that will have full discretion in the field of search and rescue in the area. These national institutions are not only bound to take efficient measures, but also to notify other relevant national institutions when appropriate.

The most significant clause of the Agreement is Art. 8 where member states obligate themselves to send a permission request to another member state when e.g. a rescue vessel enters the Search and Rescue area of another State. This is obviously not unconventional, but the article also states that the receiving national institution “shall immediately confirm such receipt” and, as soon as possible, let the member state of the requesting vessel know if the request is permitted and under which conditions, if any.

Needless to say, the Agreement is only the beginning of a specific cooperation among the Arctic states and, as clearly stated in the Agreement, it will develop and be subject of amendments as search and rescue operation in the region become more apparent. The idea is then to make the Agreement more effective and cooperation more efficient. These objectives might be reached by the statements made in Art. 9 of the Agreement, where signatories oblige to maintain widespread cooperation on search and rescue. The most important cooperative measures of the member states is exchange of information on e.g. communication details, information about search and rescue facilities, lists of available airfields and ports and their refueling and resupply capabilities, knowledge of fueling, supply and medical facilities and information useful for training search and rescue personnel.

The Agreement will without any doubt strengthen cooperation between the Arctic states and improve the way Arctic countries respond to emergency calls in the region. The necessity of such an agreement and cooperation is great, as accidents in the region rely on swift responses and efficient operations, as much as fully qualified rescue personnel and equipment. It is hoped that the Agreement will not just work as an important instrument for saving properties and lives, but also to further forge the cooperation of the Arctic states.

Rapid Changes for Arctic Flora and Fauna
Written by Administrator   

abt_front_coverUnique Arctic habitats for flora and fauna, including sea ice, tundra, lakes, and peatlands have been disappearing over recent decades, and some characteristic Arctic species have shown a decline. The changes in Arctic Biodiversity have global repercussions and are further creating challenges for people living in the Arctic.


The above statements are examples on the key findings describing changes in Arctic biodiversity that is presented in 'The Arctic Biodiversity Trends – 2010: Selected Indicators of Change', a new report synthesizing scientific findings on the status and trends for selected biodiversity in the Arctic issued by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group under the Arctic Council.

A constant issue noted as critical is the need for Arctic wide monitoring programmes. CAFFs Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (CBMP – www.cbmp.is) has developed the first arctic wide marine ecosystem monitoring programme which has been endorsed by the Arctic Council. This plan is now starting to be implemented will help short the gap between the collection and analysis of data to its availability to decision makers.



Arctic Biodiversity – affected by multiple stressors

arctic_foxThe Arctic Biodiversity Trends 2010 Report, produced by some of the world's leading experts of Arctic ecosystems and biodiversity, was the Arctic Council's contribution to the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity in 2010.


In 2008, the United Nations Environment Program passed a resolution expressing 'extreme concern' over the impacts of climate change on Arctic indigenous peoples, other communities, and biodiversity. It highlighted the potentially significant consequences of changes in the Arctic.


The Arctic Biodiversity Trends – 2010: Selected Indicators of Change report indicates that some of those anticipated impacts on Arctic biodiversity are already occurring.


The report is based on twenty-two indicators and provides a snapshot of the trends being observed in Arctic biodiversity today. The polar bear is one of the most well-known species impacted by changes in the Arctic, but it is not the only one. The indicators show that the Arctic has changed dramatically during recent decades and that unique Arctic habitats for flora and fauna are disappearing. Furthermore, some species of importance to Arctic people or species of global attention are declining.


The report presents a broad spectrum of changes in the Arctic ecosystems and biodiversity.


Polar bears are highly specialized for and dependent on sea ice for their habitat. Therefore they are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to the documented significant reductions in sea ice cover in parts of the Arctic and to the thinning of multi-year ice in the polar basin. 


Status and trends for many populations are not available, but research on some populations demonstrates that they have decreased over the past several decades, and population and habitat modelling have projected substantial future declines in the distribution and abundance of polar bears.


The vegetation comprising tundra ecosystems – various species of grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens – are, in some places, being replaced by species typical of more southern locations, such as evergreen shrubs.


Trees are beginning to encroach on the tundra at its southern margin and some models project that by 2100 the tree line will have advanced north by as much as 500 km, resulting in a loss of 51% of tundra habitat.


 In recent years, on average, the southern limit of permafrost in northern peatlands has retreated by 39 km and by as much as 200 km in some parts of Arctic. Peatlands are significant for the floristic diversity of the Arctic because their species comprise 20–30% of the Arctic and sub-Arctic flora. Moreover, many bird species with conservation priority are strongly associated with tundra and mire habitats.


Cold water coral reefs, coral gardens, and sponge aggregations provide a habitat for a variety of fish and invertebrates and thus represent biodiversity hotspots in the Arctic seas. These habitats are vulnerable to fisheries and other human activities such as oil and gas exploration.


svartfuglDepending on the magnitude of these and other changes, certain ecosystems may no longer be considered 'Arctic'. The result may be that many of the species thriving in the Arctic today are not able to survive there in the future.


A key finding in the Report is that climate change is emerging as the most far-reaching and significant stressor on Arctic biodiversity, though contaminants, habitat change, industrial development, and unsustainable harvest levels continue to have impacts.


The importance of Arctic ecosystems for biodiversity is immense and therefore a more thorough examination of the state of affairs is needed. Thus, leading Arctic scientists are currently engaged in making a full and comprehensive Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, which is will be completed in 2013.


A primary challenge is to shorten the gap between when data is collected to when it has been processed and presented to decision makers to allow for a quicker response time. CAFF has recognised this challenge and in recent years worked towards developing a solution.


This approach has focused on not just developing traditional assessments but also addressing the creation of a framework to allow for the collection, processing and analysis of data on a continuous basis – the CBMP. The aim being through the ABA not to produce a traditional one off static assessment but rather to create a baseline of current knowledge and at the same time developing the engine which will feed data into this baseline allowing it to become a dynamic living tool. One which is sustainable and can produce regular and more flexible assessments and analyses.


Practical information

Further information and a press kit can be found at www.caff.is.
Further information can be found by email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or contacting Tom Barry at +354 861 9824.

Iceland to join WTO complain on EU trade ban on seal products

althingishusIceland has decided to support Canada and Norway in the case against the EU trade ban on seal products. This was decided on a meeting on dispute settlement on the 25th of March. It was also decided on the meeting that Iceland will join the case as a third party member agains the EU trade ban.
Iceland is one of six countries where seal hunting is still practiced. The others are Canada, Norway and Russia, which are not EU members states; Greenland, which is a Danish region but has autonomy in its domestic affairs; and Namibia in southern Africa.

This decision of Iceland is in harmony with previous statements of the country. The ban, which was adopted by the EU Council on 27th of July 2009 and came into effect on the 20th August 2010 was also opposed by the Icelandic goverment in april 2009, where the minister of Fisheries- and agriculture sent a letter to the EU Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Worries about impending legislation where mentioned along with other reasons opposing the trade ban. The Icelandic minister for fisheries had also declered his support about the case at the 15th North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers Conference, which was held in Canada in july 2010.

Photo by: Bergvin Snær Nesmann AndréssonPhoto by: Bergvin Snær Nesmann AndréssonIceland´s opposition is also shown in the NAMMCO statement on EU import ban on seal products. There, the bans is seen as contrary to international principles for conservation and sustainable management. Along with Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Norway, as well as observer nations to NAMMCO, Canada, the Russian Federation and Japan, reiterated their serious concerns about the EU ban on the import of seal products into the European Union.

In the NAMMCO statement it is mentioned that the trade ban ignores and undermines the internationally recognized principles on which conservation and management of marine resources in the North Atlantic are firmly based. It has serious and detrimental consequences for the economies of the many communities dependent on abundant seal stocks across the North Atlantic. Therefore the incorporation of the ban into European Union legislation is said to be a huge step backwards for sustainable development and international trade.

It is further statet that the nations cooperating through NAMMCO are committed to promoting the principle of sustainable development in all areas of cooperation in the region, including the sustainable use of seals. Such cooperation is based on mutual respect and recognition of the rights of all peoples to use their resources responsibly and sustainably for their economic development, including the right to benefit from international trade.

seal1It is finalized in the NAMMCO statemant that conservation and management of all living marine resources should be science-based and should take account of the marine ecosystems and the interrelation between species, stocks and habitats in which fishing and hunting activities occur.
Canada appealed to the European Union the trade ban on seal products to the World Trade Organization. Canadian Fisheries Minister, Gail Shea, has stated that she does not believe the government's fight for seal hunters will damage other industries that employ more people. Fisheries minister has mentioned that other Canadian industries might be damaged if the country does not take a stand on what she insists is a matter of principle and needs to be ruled on facts, not emotions. A decision from the WTO could take a year or more.
The EU trade ban on seal productus has affected Canada's Inuit community. Despite the fact that the Inuit are exempt from the ban, they no longer have a market for sealskins; a by-product of their subsistence hunt.

A documentary has been made that brings together commentary from Inuit hunters, community leaders and an emotional testimonial from local people.

Seal Ban: The Inuit Impact - Documentary


The Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture


Eye on the Arctic


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