Environmental change affecting the Arctic may seem remote to many of us, but its impact is felt worldwide. As a vast and sparsely populated area, the infrastructure available for observing these changes is limited compared to other latitudes. The EU-funded project INTERACT (International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic) is working to improve this capacity and promote better scientific research on environmental change in the Arctic. It also hopes to raise awareness globally about what’s at stake. “INTERACT has been able to send more than 1 000 scientists to the field, resulting in a lot of important research,” says project coordinator Margareta Johansson from Lund University in Sweden.
One example is the discovery of a new bumblebee species that was named after the project. Bombus interacti was identified by a Belgian-led group of researchers, who were able to use the Toolik Field Station in Alaska thanks to the project. INTERACT provides access to 53 Arctic research stations, together creating an unprecedented portal to the Arctic. This includes transnational access to facilities for selected user groups such as external researchers, work carried out at Arctic facilities by local staff upon request of external teams, as well as virtual access to stations’ databases for all. “We reach out to everyone, from school kids to university students, scientists, policymakers and the general public,” Johansson adds. INTERACT also helps to improve the existing infrastructure through mutual learning. The Station Managers Forum connects 89 terrestrial research stations. Anything from ensuring safety when doing field work to minimising the stations’ environmental footprint is discussed here, Johansson explains.
Making a difference
With stations monitoring the environment in all these different locations, the network provides important information on ongoing changes with significant societal impact. Climate change is, of course, at the top of the list. INTERACT helps to make data for climate action widely available by detecting hidden resources. These are records of environmental change that are not part of conventional data gathering, such as private photographs, landscape paintings, captains’ logbooks and historical maps. The project collects such records and applies artificial intelligence to turn them into data that can be used for climate research purposes. By documenting extreme weather events, INTERACT contributes to monitoring their many consequences – for instance for biodiversity – and to improving awareness of these processes. It also works to document and reduce pollution. “INTERACT identifies emerging pollutants and their impact and develops a new monitoring protocol that can be used at research stations,” Johansson notes. Other key societal challenges the project helps to address include reducing barriers to communication and transport, developing more sustainable tourism and reaching out to the next generation. The team developed an interactive e-book with illustrated stories providing an immersive experience of what’s going on in the Arctic. To guarantee INTERACT’s legacy, the team has created a non-profit organisation to secure the long-term sustainability of the network.
INTERACT, Arctic, climate change, Bombus interacti, research stations, network, transnational access, infrastructure, artificial intelligence, extreme weather