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Concerns over future of joint Russian-American weather station

By Olga Gertcyk
27 February 2015

Built just five years ago, western sanctions over Ukraine stop international cooperation at climate change research facility in Arctic.

Opened less than five years ago in Tiksi, in the Russian Far East, observatory was the first major polar weather station to be built through such multi-national cooperation. Picture: Maxim Avdeev/Forbes

The future of a climate change monitoring facility in the Arctic run jointly by Russia and the United States is under threat following tensions between the nations.

The Hydrometeorological Observatory was developed through a partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet).

Opened less than five years ago in Tiksi, in the Russian Far East, it was the first major polar weather station to be built through such multi-national cooperation. It was installed with state-of-the-art equipment to take long-term environmental measurements, with the data made freely available to the international community.

But with sanctions between the West and Russia following the Ukraine crisis, the future of the facility is now in question.

All activity between nations at the observatory has been suspended after a decree by the US State Department banning any cooperation with Russian scientists on climate research.

'There are difficulties in the relationships with the partners, first of all with the United States,' said Alexander Frolov, the head of Roshydromet. 'Officially, the State Department has banned cooperation on climate for government agencies such as NOAA with Roshydromet.

'We are experiencing certain problems in this regard, since we had very good relations. The specialists from the United States are not experiencing any less problems because Tiksi is our very successful joint project.'

He added: 'I was approached by the president of the World Meteorological Organization. He is Canadian. I told him, ‘remove the sanctions and you get data’.'

Tiksi Observatory


Tiksi Observatory


Tiksi Observatory

It was built with a 20metre-high tower, air sampling stacks and boardwalks to maintain the pristine environment, and it aims to keep track of weather patterns, atmospheric differences, and changes to the thickness of the ice and permafrost. Pictures: NOAA

The new observatory was opened in August 2010 to compliment the facilities already in existence in the Arctic region to monitor climate change.

It was built with a 20metre-high tower, air sampling stacks and boardwalks to maintain the pristine environment, and it aims to keep track of weather patterns, atmospheric differences, and changes to the thickness of the ice and permafrost.

Tiksi is one of the most northern settlements in Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic, and was established in 1933 as one of the points on the Northern Sea Route. Since 1957, the Polar Geo-cosmic Observatory has been operational there.

According to Interfax, the US State Department ban led to the suspension of the American scientists’ work on atmospheric observatory.

Now Russian staff left at the facility are uncertain as to what the future might hold. While they are not working directly with the Americans, data is still being collected and passed to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg and then on to foreign fellow researchers, including those at the NOAA.

Yury Dikhtyarenko, deputy head of Yakut Hydromet Service, said: 'We haven't yet received any decrees from Roshydromet so at the moment I can't say how it will affect the partnership.'

Galina Chumachenko, head of Tiksi branch of the Yakut Hydromet Service, said: 'We will keep sharing the data with scientists until we get official information. In the event a prohibition is launched, then the information from St Petersburg won't be passed, and that's it.'

According to Chumachenko, it won't affect meteorological forecasts because the American equipment is very particular and is mainly registering information on emissions and their concentration in the atmosphere.

She doubts the equipment will be taken away. 'First, it would be a very pricey procedure,' she stressed. 'Second, I think that the fellow American researchers are smart enough and won't do that after five years of partnership.'

There are about 870 climatic and atmospheric measuring stations in the world, of which 113 are Russian.

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