Jon White – From the President’s Office: As Arctic Ice Diminishes, Security And Environmental Concerns Accrete – Scientific Leadership Is Paramount (11-04-2019)

2020-02-10T15:35:32+00:00 November 5, 2019|

As Arctic Ice Diminishes, Security And Environmental Concerns Accrete – Scientific Leadership Is Paramount

I spent part of last week chairing the inaugural Arctic Patrol Summit in Crystal City, Virginia, where senior military and policy professionals came together to discuss the continually evolving challenges and opportunities related to global security across the changing Arctic. This area of the world continues to generate interest, and for good reason. Rising global temperatures have an especially severe effect on the Arctic, which scientists estimate warms at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Higher air and sea temperatures and the associated decline in seasonal and perennial sea ice coverage mean potentially opening the region to new trade routes, cruise ship excursions, exploitation of natural resources, and more. I continually stress that a strategic U.S. approach balancing science and security is a critical means to ensure the Arctic future unfolds in a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable manner, a theme that was quite evident in the minds of many summit attendees. My thanks to the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement for hosting last week’s timely and important summit discussion to elevate the growing security concerns that demand senior leadership attention.

The Arctic is, and will continue to be, a uniquely challenging area in which to operate military, academic, and commercial ventures given the extreme conditions and lack of infrastructure, especially in the central and Bering Strait regions. To establish safe and successful operations, representatives from Canada, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and the U.S. Department of Defense agreed that extensive multilateral planning, including incorporation of indigenous perspectives and experiences, is required. A shared vision of the Arctic that includes using resources sustainably, avoiding militarization, and following a “rule-based order” to ensure peace was clearly articulated, and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer called for a “COL-laborative” (emphasis on “COL” added by me) U.S. approach both inside the government and in partnership with science and technology industry, academia, and other nongovernmental organizations. These recommendations feel especially vital given interest in the region by Russia and China, both of which have invested in icebreakers. Russia has also increased their military presence, to include the announcement of their newest weaponized icebreaker.

It’s clear that so much of what would be needed to reach the secure Arctic vision described above depends upon science and technology development to truly understand both the environment and the challenges. Assistant Secretary of Commerce RDML (Ret.) Tim Gallaudet described NOAA’s R&D approach for the region, which includes the increased use of autonomous technology, Earth system modeling, and “omics” to meet its evolving missions. These technologies support key areas vital to the blue economy, such as seafloor and environmental mapping, hazard prediction and protection, and fisheries and ecosystem monitoring. As military and commercial interests in the Arctic grow, science must inform our understanding of the environmental impacts and enable safe and efficient operations.

Thus I am also quite pleased to note that one of the stalwart U.S. leaders in Arctic ocean science and research, Dr. John Farrell, has just been announced as a recipient of the annual Presidential Rank Award, which honors a small portion of the federal government’s top career employees for extraordinary performance.  John’s exemplary scientific leadership as executive director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (a member of COL) has been instrumental toward ensuring a sound, scientific basis for U.S. (and international) efforts in the Arctic. Continued progress along these lines must be driven by sustained investment in science and technology advancements and strategic partnerships across the international Arctic community, and we are lucky to have people like John leading those efforts.

Member Highlight
COL Announces Recipients of 2019 Graham B. Shimmield Leadership Award
At the Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s recent fall meetings, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to award Dr. Megan Davis (FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute) and Dr. James Sanders (University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography) the 2019 Graham B. Shimmield Leadership Award for extraordinary contribution to advancement of the organization and its mission.

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