Report on the IASC Social and Human Sciences Working Group (SHWG) Meeting at the Arctic Sciences Summit Week (ASSW) April 5, 2014, Helsinki, Finland
Social and Human Sciences in the Arctic – Thoughts from the ASSW and Current & Potential Initiatives
Social and human sciences are often overlooked in Arctic research. However, it is crucial to look at the social and human perspective, especially when it comes to issues of climate and environmental change. Not only does human behavior have an enormous influence on the environment, people are also directly and indirectly affected by their changing natural environments. What impact does climate change have on communities in the North and elsewhere? What are people’s and communities’ abilities and their strategies to cope with the changes? How do the environment and people interact with each other and what are the consequences? How can we potentially improve the status quo and create a situation which benefits us, but also supports the conservation of the Arctic environment? Examples of current research areas related to the relations between humans, society and the Arctic environment include Arctic anthropology, human development, permafrost and indigenous land use, the integration of Arctic archeology and environmental sciences, and governance for sustainable development. In addition to current research activities, work on a research agenda for Arctic social and human sciences in the 21st century is well underway (ICARP III).
This report on the meeting of the IASC social and human sciences working group (SHWG) at the ASSW in April will give a brief overview of the topics and projects discussed, as well as point to future meetings and potential activities in the field of Arctic social and human sciences.
Reports on SHWG Activities
Peter Schweitzer – Russia and Arctic Anthropology
The workshop titled “Russia and Arctic Anthropology: Toward an Agenda for the 21st Century” was held in St. Petersburg in May 2013. Participants included ten Arctic social scientists from eight countries. The discussion revolved around the current state of Arctic anthropology and other social sciences and the future of the research and aimed at accessing important funding opportunities through establishing a substantial research project. The participants developed a framework for a new large-scale research initiative, emphasizing key elements of change in the Russian Arctic. The workshop was organized by Nikolai Vakhtin and Peter Schweitzer and supported by the European University St. Petersburg and the IASC SHWG.
Joan Nymand Larsen – Arctic Human Development Report II (AHDR II)
The AHDR II builds on the AHDR I and the subsequent Arctic Social Indicators projects. The final report including conclusions will be published later this year. The AHDR II examines Regional Processes and Global Linkages, contrasting cultural, economic, political, and social conditions in the eight Arctic countries and globally. Some of the focus areas are Arctic populations, migration cultures and identities; human health and well-being; political systems and global governance. The report is financially supported by the SHWG and its review process is coordinated by the IASC Executive Secretary.
Project leader Joan Nymand Larsen of the Stefansson Arctic Institute, Iceland, stated the importance of the academic character of the AHDR, in particular in discussions with governmental or inter-governmental organizations, such as the Sustainable Working Group of the Arctic Council.
Update on Recent Activities
Gail Fondahl, Peter Sköld & Peter Schweitzer – ICARP III held at ICASS VIII
In the lead up to ICARP III, the 3rd International Conference on Arctic Research Planning, working groups convened at the 8th International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS), which took place from 22nd to 26th May in Prince George, Canada. The townhall meeting on 23rd May became much bigger than initially anticipated and was “live-streamed” in order to enable all stakeholders to contribute to the planning process, the identification of shared objectives and research priorities for the next decade.
The ICARP III process will end in April 2015 with the final ICARP III Conference at the Arctic Science Summit Week 2015 in Toyama, Japan.
Peter Sköld – Umeå Workshop
The workshop “Exploitation and Natural Resources in the Arctic: Past, Present and Future” will be held on 1st and 2nd October at the Arctic Research Centre at Umeå University, Sweden. It will address the social and human sciences dimensions of large-scale (non-renewable) resource use systems and their interactions with large-scale international projects.
Peter Schweitzer & Gail Fondahl – 54th Congress of the European Regional Science Association
In August 2014 at the 54th Congress of the European Regional Science Association in St. Petersburg, the SHWG will be present with ICARP III related outreach activities in Russia. Special topic sessions include “Sustainability in the Arctic” by Gail Fondahl and Andrey Petrov and “Arctic as the last frontier in Regional Science” by Lassi Heininen.
Other Social and Human Activities External to IASC
Peter Sköld – New Governance for Sustainable Development in the European Arctic
The 4-year program “New governance for sustainable development in the European Arctic” is funded by the Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development initiative. Special attention is given to the governance of the European Arctic mainland and the challenges for sustainable development in this vulnerable part of the world. Similarly, in the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, cross-cutting issues and sustainability in the Arctic are highlighted. There could thus be an opportunity for several spin-off research projects. Please mail the IASC Secretariat for a detailed description of the project on “New governance for sustainable development in the European Arctic”.
Andrey Petrov – Network Arctic-Frost: Resources, Enviroments and Development in the Changing North
The Network Arctic-FROST (Arctic FRontiers of SusTainability – uni.edu/arctic/frost) establishes an international interdisciplinary network that brings together social and environmental scientists, local educators and community members from all circumpolar countries. Its aim is to support research on sustainable development in the Arctic, in particular human health, development and well-being of Arctic communities, while at the same time conserving the environment several affected by climate change. Cross-cutting issues are examined by looking at four knowledge domains: sustainable environments, sustainable economies, sustainable cultures, and sustainable regions.
Arctic-FROST is coordinated by Andrey Petrov. The principal investigators of the network are Peter Schweitzer, Jessica Graybill and Timothy Heleniak. The membership in the network organization is open to everyone. Later this year, from September 18 to 21, Anchorage will host the next annual network meeting and an early career scholars workshop.
Third International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III)
ICARP III, the 3rd international Conference on Arctic Research Planning (icarp.arcticportal.org), seeks to develop a roadmap for the future by integrating Arctic research plans instead of creating new ones. The IASC working groups are expected to play an important role in the process.
Contributions will be structured along four scientific themes (more information here):
- Climate System and Transformations
- Observing, Technology, Logistics, Services
- Societies and Ecosystems
- Outreach and Capacity Building
The sections outlined in the following will present ICARP III activities spearheaded by Arctic social scientists.
Joachim Otto Habeck & Hikori Takakura – Permafrost: Indigenous Land Use Workshop
The workshop on permafrost dynamics and indigenous land use took place on April 6 and 7 at the ASSW in Helsinki. Its focus was on the Central Yakutian Lowlands, cyclical processes of thermokarst and permafrost build-up, and historical and contemporary forms of land use in alaas landscapes.
Even though communities and indigenous populations are increasingly considered in scientific research, there are rarely viewed as agents of change. Furthermore, it is essential to combine studies on the life of indigenous people with natural sciences research. Permafrost, for instance, can be seen as a cultural landscape (“Cryocult”). In order to foster this kind of interdisciplinary research, the Alfred-Wegener-Institute intends to establish strategic cooperations with social scientists.
Peter Jordan – Culture and Arctic Climate Change: Integrating Long-Term Perspectives from Archaeology and the Environmental Sciences
Environmental and archeological sciences (Polar Archeology Network PAN, endorsed by IASC) provide evidence for human activity in the last 10,000 years and clues about humans’ response to past climate change.
The workshop “Culture and Arctic Climate Change” took place in May 2014 at Yale University and brought together researchers across the full range of ‘target’ disciplines to stimulate new collaborations. The main goal was to identify key factors structuring the relationships between culture and Arctic environmental change. On a related matter, there is a need to improve the integration of Arctic archeological records and evidence for past climate and environmental change. A session on culture and climate change is further planned for the AGU December Meeting in San Francisco. In addition, two to three workshops might still be eligible for funding this year.
New Proposed Activities
Arja Rautio – Health
Arja Rautio, medical doctor and director of the Centre for Arctic Medicine – Thule Institute at the University of Oulu, suggests giving more attention to human health in the Arctic and emphasized the need to promote health programs.
Health disparities still exist. Residents in the North have to deal with a lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, and a higher rate of infections, as well as problems such as accidents and violence, mental health and suicides, and the effects of climate change. Climate and environmental change not only affects living conditions and health but also subjective well-being and quality of life. One example is contamination. The project ArcRisk (Arctic Health Risks) ran from 2009 to 2013 and investigated if increased temperatures due to climate change would affect the transport of contaminants to the Arctic. It concluded that there is a climate change-induced change in contaminant cycles. As the permafrost is disappearing, many contaminants in the soil are released.
One of the major challenges of the future and number one priority for the improvement of health in the Arctic is education. In addition, since health is affected by climate change, society, politics, industry, economy and various other areas, there is a need for interdisciplinary research.
Another challenge is the lack of data, in particular data related to indigenous people.
The Arctic Health Declaration (Nuuk 2011) had a special focus on indigenous people. Next year in 2015 from June 7 to 15, the 16th International Congress on Circumpolar Health will be held in Oulu and Rokua, Finland, and highlight a shift in priorities. The preliminary program themes include among others Environmental and occupational health (mining, tourism and health), smart technology and health (e.g. eHealth), food and water security, and climate change and changes of disease profiles
August: 54th Congress of the European Regional Science Association – St. Petersburg, Russia
18-21 September: annual meeting and APECS workshop Arctic-FROST – St. Petersburg, Russia
1-2 October: workshop “Exploitation and natural resources in the Arctic: Past, Present and Future” – Umeå, Sweden
December: AGU Meeting San Francisco, possibly workshop on integration of long-term perspectives from archeology and environmental sciences
April: Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW) – Toyama, Japan
7-15 June: 16th International Congress on Circumpolar Health – Oulu and Rokua, Finland