8 Knowledge, research and higher education
Svalbard is the most research-intensive part of Norway and also the most international. For several hundred years, researchers have visited Svalbard, which in recent years has become easily accessible in terms of communications and can offer good living conditions for short or long-term stays. In recent decades, substantial resources have been invested in major infrastructure for research and monitoring, partly by Norway and partly through an international effort. In Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost university centre has been established. Norway is currently hosting research institutions from 20 countries that have a more or less permanent presence in Svalbard. Simply stated, education and research have become one of the main business sectors for this island community in the High Arctic. At the same time, this is a “sector” that requires that the area’s unique natural wilderness be preserved. Large areas in Svalbard are protected, and indeed an important objective of this protection is to ensure large, essentially untouched reference areas for research. In addition, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act was given a separate provision in 2004 concerning restrictions on activities that may have a damaging effect on research activity in particular areas that are of special value for research.
Arctic research has traditionally been mainly concentrated in the natural sciences. Arctic research is also of crucial importance for climate research. Changes in environmental conditions develop more rapidly and are more visible in the Arctic than at lower latitudes. This makes Svalbard a unique area for studies of physical and biological processes occurring as a result of such changes, which in turn gives Norway a special responsibility to advance our knowledge of the most pronounced global challenges of our time. Moreover, Svalbard has very good conditions for basic research in the natural sciences in a number of fields, and cultural monuments that are important for European historical research on hunting and trapping and scientific activities, to name two examples. Svalbard’s location makes it possible to conduct unique atmospheric studies and satellite monitoring. The surrounding marine areas, which are feeding and nursery grounds for a wide range of marine species, are also of great importance to research, not least in light of the ongoing climate changes. Little is still known, for example, about how marine species react to these changes.
International involvement and cooperation with Norwegian researchers are responses to such basic conditions, and are most recently displayed within the framework of the International Polar Year 2007 – 2008. The largest polar research programme ever gathers researchers from many nations to focus on issues of importance for our common future. Norway contributes substantially to the Polar Year, partly through activities located in Svalbard. This also indicates that Norwegian research in and on the Arctic is on good terms with the global research community. At the same time, a strengthened Norwegian effort in the Antarctic, e.g. through the development of the Troll research station into a year-round station, creates new opportunities for Norwegian polar research. This allows for comparative studies between the two polar areas and a further development of areas where Norwegian research has special advantages.
The importance of polar research has increased in recent years, not least as a result of climate change. At the same time, our knowledge about the climate changes in the Arctic is limited. Paradoxically the climate models in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment’s (ACIA’s) study forecast a partly ice-free Arctic Ocean by the middle of this century, whereas observations from recent years show that this situation is already well on its way to occurring. The insufficient knowledge should be seen in the context of our poor Arctic data basis and poorly developed Arctic climate models. Furthermore, the level of activity in the Arctic, whether it be tourism, shipping, petroleum operations or fishing, will probably increase in the coming years. This creates a need for more knowledge in order to improve weather reports, warnings about ice and icebergs, and safety and emergency preparedness, as well as to develop knowledge on satellite monitoring. Research and monitoring in Svalbard will help increase our knowledge in all of the above-mentioned areas.
Textbox 8.1 Investment related to research, education and monitoring
The major investments of importance to research, education and monitoring were made after 1990. Essentially, these included the establishment of UNIS, the establishment of a large radar facility near Longyearbyen for the study of the aurora borealis and other interactions between the sun and the earth, the Norwegian Space Centre’s establishment of the Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) for satellite communications near Longyearbyen, SvalRak for launching scientific rockets in Ny-Ålesund, the completion and opening of a number of research stations in Ny-Ålesund and the establishment and later new building of the monitoring station at Zeppelin Mountain, also near Ny-Ålesund.
The investment has continued during the last decade, and reflects both Norwegian and international interest in Svalbard as a research platform and research and education centre. A fibre optic cable from Longyearbyen to the mainland was completed in 2003/2004. UNIS has expanded. The Svalbard Research Park was opened in 2006 and has both Norwegian and foreign tenants. In 2008, UNIS opened the aurora borealis laboratory Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) near Longyearbyen.
In Ny-Ålesund, the Marine Laboratory was completed in 2005. When India officially opened its research station in Ny-Ålesund in the summer of 2008, it was the tenth country to do so after the old premises had been renovated for research purposes in recent years. Institutions from Norway, Japan, South Korea, China, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and the UK had previously established their own stations in Ny-Ålesund. In the National Budget for 2009, NOK 25 million has been allocated for the construction of a new power plant in Ny-Ålesund, where the old power station has been the biggest source of pollution. Investment in the new power plant under the direction of Kings Bay AS is an important contribution to the consolidation of Ny-Ålesund as an environment-friendly research centre.
8.2 Main objectives
The Government’s policy for research and education in Svalbard has various dimensions. Because of the growing extent of the activities and the international presence, this policy is becoming a more and more important element in the management of the archipelago. Furthermore, it is an essential part of the Government’s High North strategy, which points to knowledge as the actual “hub” of the effort. Finally, it is a key aspect of the national policy for research and higher education, which emphasises quality, internationalisation and utilisation of national advantages, among other things. The Government emphasises the following main objectives for the policy:
Research and higher education are to be key elements in the Norwegian activities in Svalbard in the years to come.
Svalbard shall be further developed as a platform for international research, higher education and environmental monitoring. The archipelago’s infrastructure and unique research possibilities shall be exploited even better than they are at present. The infrastructure must be supplemented with measures that further strengthen Svalbard’s position in the international development of knowledge.
Norway should be a key player in the development of knowledge on and about Svalbard, not just a facilitator. A professional leading role must particularly be ensured through the professional standing and quality of Norwegian polar research.
All activity should be in accordance with an overriding consideration of the environment. Research on climate and the environment is a natural focus area, and this research itself is dependent on the area being preserved unaffected by local impacts to the greatest extent possible.
8.3 Status and development trends
8.3.1 Basic investment
Institutions and other infrastructure of importance for research are especially located in Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen with a certain division of labour between the two settlements. Major scientific equipment for measurement and monitoring is established in both places, partly through an international effort.
Ny-Ålesund is defined as a “green” research station and should function as a natural science laboratory. Other economic activities in and around Ny-Ålesund should be conducted within the constraints imposed by the research activities. Most foreign research stations are located in Ny-Ålesund. The Norwegian Polar Institute and Norwegian Mapping Authority also have stations there. Kings Bay AS is responsible for infrastructure and services in Ny-Ålesund. The company has the task of facilitating Norwegian and international research in the natural sciences and environmental monitoring there and in the surrounding area. As the administrative centre, Longyearbyen was the natural place to establish the university studies in Svalbard in 1993 (UNIS, now Universitetssenteret på Svalbard AS), and in general for any activities that require good communications and an extensive range of services. Based on different conditions, both settlements have undergone an important construction and development process in recent years. For a more detailed report of investment related to research, education and monitoring, cf. Box 8.1.
Exact figures for Norwegian and foreign investment in research infrastructure are not available. However, Norwegian investment in research infrastructure in Svalbard after 1990 is estimated at somewhat over NOK 1 billion, while foreign investment is estimated at about NOK 500 million in the same period.
8.3.2 The scientific presence
The concept of “polar research” includes activities in both the Arctic and the Antarctic and is regarded as an element of various scientific disciplines. In general, we can say that polar research takes materials and phenomena about and in polar areas as its starting point. Norway has long traditions in polar research, especially in the Arctic, and is regarded as a prominent research nation in this field. Measured by the number of scientific articles, Norway contributes 6 per cent of the total generation of knowledge in polar research compared with a contribution of 0.6 per cent in the world’s total scientific production. Naturally, a substantial amount of Norwegian polar research is based in Svalbard, either conducted in the archipelago or based on data that has been gathered there. Internationally, research related to Svalbard has become more and more important, and researchers from Norwegian institutions account for a little less than half of the activities. The most important indicators here are scientific publication and the number of researcher full-time equivalents (FTEs). All in all, Norwegian polar research has undergone a significant increase in the last decade, and the same is true for the total international effort.
It is primarily UNIS and the Norwegian Polar Institute that give Norwegian research and knowledge generation a foothold in Svalbard. The majority of the Norwegian research is linked to Longyearbyen and the surrounding area.UNIS alone accounts for fully half of the FTEs in the research and education sector in the broad sense, and well over half of these – around 200 – are Norwegian. An important part of the research in Svalbard takes place in Ny-Ålesund, where a number of foreign research institutions have been established. In addition, Russian and Polish institutions have activities in Barentsburg and Hornsund respectively. In addition to launching and monitoring stations, Norwegian activities in Ny-Ålesund are especially tied to the Norwegian Polar Institute’s research station (the Sverdrup Research Station), the Zeppelin Station and the Arctic Marine Laboratory.
Textbox 8.2 The University Centre in Svalbard
At the end of the 1990s, UNIS had 30 employees and a turnover of just as many million kroner. At the start of 2009, UNIS had 75 employees and a budget of NOK 110 million in turnover. UNIS provides instruction to nearly 400 students from 25 countries. About 160 guest lecturers and part-time employees (professor II) contributed to the educational programmes at UNIS in 2008. The number of students includes an increasing number of research scholars at the PhD level.
Employees and students at UNIS represent a total of more than 200 FTEs, and all live and work in Longyearbyen. When the employees’ families are included, UNIS accounts for about 15 per cent of the population of Longyearbyen. When part-time staff and direct and indirect ripple effects are included, UNIS is assumed to account for between 20 and 25 per cent of the Longyearbyen population.
UNIS is mainly funded through government allocations. In 2009, appropriations from the Ministry accounted for about 75 per cent of the company’s revenue. The remaining funds mainly come from the Research Council of Norway and from the private sector. The volume of externally financed research and education at UNIS more than tripled from 2006 to 2009 and has exceeded NOK 25 million per year.
UNIS offers programmes of study and conducts research based on Svalbard’s geographical location in a High Arctic area and the advantages this provides. There are four main areas of study: Arctic biology, Arctic geology, Arctic geophysics and Arctic technology. Courses are taught in English, and about half of the students come from countries other than Norway. This is in keeping with the premises on which the centre was established. The four universities that originally established the centre are responsible for UNIS’s academic activities. Subjects taught are included in ordinary curricula that lead to degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s and PhD levels at one of the mainland universities. As such, UNIS functions as an Arctic field station for the mainland universities, specialising in basic research and education in the High Arctic disciplines. UNIS is directed to cooperate with other educational and research institutions at the national and international levels and with the public and private sectors.
8.3.3 A strategic diversity
Institutions such as the Norwegian Polar Institute, Kings Bay AS and UNIS have different strategic functions in connection with education and research in Svalbard. As time has passed, the need for organisational solutions that promote increased interaction among the Norwegian participants in Svalbard and between Norwegian and foreign interests has become greater and greater. Since it was established, the Research Council of Norway has been delegated tasks that are important to the scientific activity in the Arctic. Surveys, environmental monitoring and government-administration-related research in the polar areas are primarily handled by the Norwegian Polar Institute, which is also an advisor to the central administration and the Governor on polar matters. The Institute has extensive activities in Svalbard, including research and operation of research stations, environmental monitoring and operation of monitoring stations, topographical and geological surveys and environmentally-oriented dissemination of information. The Polar Institute also gives Norwegian and foreign research institutions that take part in joint projects access to the Institute’s infrastructure. Furthermore, the Institute has bilateral agreements or “Memoranda of understanding” on cooperation within polar research with counterparts in a number of countries and also cooperates closely with Norwegian research communities.
In its capacity as a landowner in Ny-Ålesund, Kings Bay AS’ mission statement was changed in the 1990s, giving the old mining company new tasks of great importance to the scientific activities. Since then, the company’s main task has been to ensure that the infrastructure and services available in and around the settlement benefit Ny-Ålesund as an arena for Norwegian and international scientific research and environmental monitoring and is in keeping with the researchers’ needs, the Norwegian authorities’ requirements and the technical development. Kings Bay AS also has the task of promoting a good, close collaboration between researchers and institutions that are based here.
In the course of its fifteen-year history, UNIS has expanded as a centre for Arctic studies and has become an essential element of the education and research platform of Svalbard. Both instruction and research have been improved, including externally funded activities. The Centre’s involvement in the aurora borealis laboratory, Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO), research vessels, the Svalbard Research Park, the EISCAT radar installation, the coal mining operations in Svea, Ny-Ålesund, Barentsburg and Hornsund in cooperation with local operators, and most recently the acquisition of the radar system SPEAR from its former owner, the University of Leicester, are examples of active, outward-oriented activities, both national and international, and indicate an intention to be a key strategic player. Students and employees at UNIS also constitute a more and more important part of the local community in Longyearbyen.
As the authorities’ key institution for funding and coordinating Norwegian research and as an advisory body on research policy issues, the Research Council of Norway has important tasks to perform in Svalbard. In 1993, the Research Council established the National Committee for Polar Research, which shall contribute, among other things, to a better coordination of national resources and logistics. The National Committee draws up strategic plans for polar research and assists in consultation to the Interministerial Committee on Polar Affairs and other administrative bodies. The largest polar-related efforts are funded through the Research Council, e.g. Norwegian participation in the International Polar Year.
In 1998, the Research Council of Norway established the Svalbard Science Forum (SSF) as an instrument for coordinating research in Svalbard. A new SSF with an enhanced mandate was appointed by the Interministerial Committee on Polar Affairs in 2005. In accordance with the mandate, SSF shall take care of both professional coordination and practical organisation of both Norwegian and international research activities. Svalbard Science Forum shall also take care of information services relating to research in Svalbard, e.g. through the upgraded database system RiS (Research in Svalbard). RiS now contains necessary information for researchers who want to work in Svalbard, including a project database with a well-developed search function.
For field research that involves travelling over large parts of the archipelago, permission must be obtained from the Governor, who requires registration in the RiS database before granting a permit. All in all, the development of the database system has already improved the overview of the research activities in Svalbard, to the benefit of both the authorities and research communities, and has allowed for a somewhat better coordination of these activities.
Both in Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen, separate collaborative fora have been established. The Ny-Ålesund Science Managers Committee (NySMAC) goes back to 1994 and gathers representatives from all institutions with permanent stations and major research projects in the town. The Norwegian Polar Institute runs the secretariat. NySMAC is meant to help avoid conflicts between existing and planned research projects and to help promote the development and effective utilisation of infrastructure and technical solutions. The Longyearbyen Science and Education Forum (LySEF) was established in 2008 with the purpose of promoting Longyearbyen as a base for research and education. This shall be done through coordination and various cooperative measures. UNIS runs the secretariat.
8.3.4 Cooperation without borders
Svalbard has become a meeting place for the Government’s international network, where climate-related research and cooperation are given top priority. During the last three decades, the High North Study Tour and Svalbardkurset (the Svalbard Course) have helped create awareness and educate the participants on Arctic matters. Starting in 2005, the High North Study Tour has been arranged as an annual study tour in and around Svalbard for important collaborating countries and the European Commission. Matters pertaining to the Northern region, including those related to research, education and monitoring in Svalbard, are included on the agenda in the political dialogue with a number of countries. These matters are especially important in the cooperation with our Nordic neighbours, both bilaterally and in fora such as the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council. In recent years, climate change and other changes in the Arctic have had a prominent place on the international political agenda. Since 2006, Norway has organised an annual international symposium in Ny-Ålesund on changes in the Arctic with high-level participation from research, business and industry and political circles.
As described above, the multi-national scientific presence and international investment in Svalbard have increased substantially in recent years. Bilateral agreements on scientific and educational cooperation, which have been entered into in recent years with South Africa, Japan, the USA, India, France and China, may also play an important role in future developments.
Within polar research in particular, there are long traditions for research collaboration between Norwegian and Russian institutions. Russia accounts for the next largest number of annual researcher FTEs in Svalbard (13 per cent, compared with 47 per cent for Norway). It is important to achieve a dialogue and cooperation between researchers in the Norwegian settlements and Russian researchers in Barentsburg. UNIS can point to good results in the work to achieve this.
8.3.5 The International Polar Year 2007 – 2008 (IPY)
Polar research is particularly dependent on international cooperation. The third International Polar Year, under the direction of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), is the largest polar research programme ever. All in all, about 50,000 researchers from 63 countries will participate. With a special appropriation of NOK 320 million divided over four years, Norway is one of the largest contributors. The funds are channelled through the Research Council of Norway. A considerable number of Polar Year projects, both Norwegian and international, have activities in Svalbard. These projects will provide very interesting data and research results and should therefore be continued.
One of the goals of the Norwegian effort in the Polar Year was that it should result in a considerable increase in permanent international cooperation and in foreign researchers’ use of Norwegian infrastructure in Svalbard in cooperation with Norwegian researchers. It is already clear that this objective has largely been achieved. The Polar Year has resulted in increased use of Svalbard. At the same time, international networks have been strengthened and new networks have been established.
The effort entails an important national boost for polar research, which is a field where Norway has unique opportunities to contribute to the global development of knowledge. Combined with the infrastructure that Svalbard offers, it thereby strengthens Norway’s international role in polar research.
Norwegian participation in the Polar Year has thereby contributed toward achieving the Government’s main objective. It is important that this participation give long-lasting benefits to Norwegian research communities, and, among other things, contribute to increased international use of Svalbard also after the programme has ended. Maintaining networks established during the Polar Year is an important factor in this respect. Norway may also build on the experiences gained during the IPY in a further effort to develop Svalbard as a research platform.
8.4 Challenges, opportunities and principles
The Svalbard of the future will increasingly depend on the development, gathering and dissemination of information. This is an important perspective in the Government’s policy, which will continue Norwegian involvement in the Arctic. This involvement simultaneously connects us more closely to the global society. It is an effort that confronts us with big challenges and opens up at least equally big opportunities if the challenges are well handled.
8.4.1 Environmental constraints
Increased research activity can give rise to conflicts both in connection with the natural environment and between various interest groups. In general, it is crucial to find a good balance between use and protection. The research that is conducted ought to be of such a nature that it only or best can be conducted in Svalbard, and it must always take the vulnerability of the environment into consideration. This caution must go hand in hand with the acknowledgement that knowledge through research is necessary in order to achieve a reliable management of the natural wilderness in Svalbard.
One of the goals is that scientific and educational activities should be mainly linked to the settlements and research stations and make use of established infrastructure. Within this framework, Ny-Ålesund shall be further developed as a “green” research station with its main scientific focus on climate and environmental research. At the same time, activities in the field will be an important factor in both research and education. In order to limit the impact on the natural and cultural environment, emphasis must be given to coordination of practical and logistical aspects of the projects. It is also important to ensure good professional coordination among projects when it comes to the gathering of and experiments on biological material. Sharing of research data will often be expedient.
Activities in the protected areas in the archipelago must not be in conflict with the objectives and provisions of the protection and should as a rule be limited to activities that cannot be performed elsewhere. At the same time, preservation of essentially untouched reference areas for research, which ensure that the impact from local activities remains low, is an important justification for the protection. For much of the archipelago, e.g. the two nature reserves in East Svalbard, this is the main objective of the protection. Provisions concerning protection, which are supposed to ensure an undisturbed natural environment and intact ecosystems, are an important part of the “infrastructure” for Svalbard as a research platform. The protected areas are of particular importance for studies of effects of climate change and long-range pollution on species and ecosystems. Cf. section 7.4.2 for a further discussion of challenges resulting from traffic in these and other areas.
At present, there is no reason to believe that research in Svalbard will result in traffic and other environmental impacts that exceed acceptable levels. The Governor has made this assessment, but simultaneously points out that both the research activities and the need for traffic will increase in the coming years and especially in areas that are particularly vulnerable and fairly inaccessible. This mainly applies to the eastern nature reserves. These reserves have a pure Arctic climate and distinguish themselves from the western part of the archipelago, where the Gulf Stream gives rise to relatively mild and rainy conditions. Climate change, which is now a key area of polar research, is far more noticeable in the “Arctic” east than in the “Atlantic” west, and this is expected to have a determining effect on many researchers’ travel itineraries.
In its performance audit of Svalbard, the Office of the Auditor General is concerned with providing an overview of all forms of traffic, including those related to research. The Governor indicates the same need with a view to clarifying the total environmental impact of the activities. This is also discussed in section 7.4.2. The development of the management plan must be based on this knowledge, and likewise for policies that are conducted on the basis of these plans. One possible policy instrument is the further development of reporting and database systems, cf. the discussion in section 8.5.6.
8.4.2 Worth promoting
Svalbard has become a land of opportunity for the development of knowledge. It will be a challenge for Norwegian authorities to see that the activities generally have a scientific profile that is based on the archipelago’s special advantages.
First and foremost, it will be appropriate both nationally and internationally to take advantage of the opportunities that Svalbard provides for climate and environmentally oriented research, not least within the framework of the broad range of fields covered by polar research that have been given increased attention as a result of the Polar Year. These are areas where Norwegian research has considerable expertise and can play a leading role. The same applies to marine research, which is also of considerable importance to the survey of global climate changes, e.g. through studies of ice cover and open sea and of the consequences of climate change for the marine resources. The Marine Laboratory in Ny-Ålesund emphasises this, and, by virtue of its strategic location on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, it has become a key link in marine research networks. In the budget for 2009, NOK 22 million has been provided for a new resource centre for ice and climate, affiliated with the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, Norway, which will also be of great value to climate-related research in Svalbard. In 2008 and 2009, funds were allocated for the detailed design of new ice-breaking research vessels to replace an old and partly obsolete fleet. A final decision on the matter can first be made in 2009. Svalbard’s geographical location below the magnetic cleft provides unique opportunities for studying the middle and upper layers of the atmosphere where the impacts from outer space are strongest. The good access to space-related infrastructure, especially around Longyearbyen, provides opportunities for studying the interaction between all layers of the atmosphere and space. The processes that control energy transfers among the layers of the polar atmosphere and between the atmosphere and space are important for the global energy balance and hence for the earth’s climate. This research area is the object of broad international cooperation. Eighteen universities and institutes throughout the world are leasing space in the new Kjell Henriksen Observatory.
There is growing interest in the two nature reserves in East Svalbard, which are an especially important reference area for climate research. The marine area off this coast has cold currents and a great expanse of sea-ice. The largest glaciers in Svalbard are located onshore. This is a typical High Arctic ecosystem with a primarily ice-dependent fauna. According to global and regional climate models, the biggest temperature increases are expected in this area. It is expected that research and monitoring in a number of climate-related fields, such as oceanography, glaciology and biology, will be conducted in East Svalbard in the coming years.
In recent years, international polar research has been angled to a great extent toward Earth System Science (ESS), which should provide an interdisciplinary perspective on the earth as an integrated system. It is difficult to understand how complicated systems work if we only study simple processes, and this makes it necessary to gain insight into the interactions among processes. Earth System Science contributes to these insights. The ESS perspective includes both the study of simple processes and the relationships among them and plays a particularly important role in the current massive international efforts, e.g. the International Polar Year. This perspective makes it possible to see the interaction between the polar areas and the rest of the planet. It provides the basis for the so-called SIOS initiative – Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System; cf. a more detailed discussion in section 8.5.1.
Monitoring, surveys and the establishment of long time series are of fundamental importance for research and management, on land as well as in the waters around Svalbard, and they are also of commercial interest. In Svalbard, Norway has first and foremost a unique space-related infrastructure that fully or partially forms the basis for various types of activities such as atmospheric research, management of land and marine areas and commercial utilisation of meteorological data. In general, development and exploitation of the observation systems for space, oceans, land and ice will be an important aspect of a research and education policy for Svalbard. So far, the space-related infrastructure is the best developed, and it is an important task to utilise this infrastructure optimally. It is still a challenge to establish systems for consistent, extensive monitoring of oceans, land and ice.
Textbox 8.3 – Research in practice – the dinosaur hunters
“The head measured three metres; the teeth were as long as cucumbers. The monster could have seized a Morris Mini in its jaws and nearly swallowed it whole.”
That is how palaeontologist Jørn Hurum from the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo describes the 15 metre long pliosaur that was discovered and partially excavated in Svalbard in the summer of 2007 and 2008. The discovery is popularly referred to as the “sea monster from Svalbard – Predator X”. The discovery is described as a global sensation because it is the world’s largest and best preserved pliosaur to be discovered so far.
In the summer of 2001, geology teachers discovered a number of connected bones of a plesiosaur during an excursion with students from UNIS. As a follow-up, excavations were conducted in 2004 under the direction of the Natural History Museum. In the immediate vicinity of the original discovery, eleven more skeletons were found. In 2007, the expedition excavated the partial skeleton of a new giant species.
Bones of various marine reptiles have been found at various places in Svalbard together with footprints of a 60 million year-old mammal, a pantodont, and various types of dinosaurs. Recent research shows that reptiles of many types swam in the sea around Svalbard 150 – 140 million years ago and were common here during the Jurassic Period.
As a step in demonstrating Svalbard’s unique features, geological history and its polar natural heritage, the award-winning Svalbard Museum is working to make a cast of the “sea monster from Svalbard” which will be exhibited in a separate building at the Svalbard Museum. This may become an important supplement to the museum’s efforts to communicate Svalbard’s environmental and cultural history.
Many Norwegian institutions cooperate on research in Svea, e.g. SINTEF (The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology) and UNIS are cooperating on research related to oil spills. Svea is also an arena for technological research and education related to construction on permafrost and operations in ice-filled waters.
Scientific activity within several disciplines are conducted in Svalbard. Ny-Ålesund is the location of important monitoring stations that are dependent on untouched surroundings. In Longyearbyen, a large facility for satellite monitoring and downloading of data has been established, and the activities at UNIS are important for academic fields such as Arctic geology, geophysics and biology. It is important to ensure that the opportunities for basic research in the natural sciences in Svalbard can be completely utilised by both Norwegian and international institutions.
Research for economic growth and commercial development must be undertaken within the constraints of particularly strict environmental requirements in the Arctic area. For Norway, the harvesting of marine resources has rich traditions, which the Government wants to further develop with the necessary caution. Marine bioprospecting has attracted great expectations. Marine bioprospecting is not an industry in itself, but a research and development tool in the area of biotechnology, which is based on a systematic search for unique genes, biomolecules and organisms from the marine environment. This tool aims to develop products for commercial or socially beneficial purposes. The area of application is broad; results and products have potential within a number of business areas and have global marketing possibilities. Examples include new medicines, ingredients for taste and nutritional content in food and animal feed, enzymes and microorganisms for processing food and/or animal feed, and industrial processes related to the production of textiles, cellulose, biomass and/or renewable energy and applications related to the oil industry.
The Government is working on a national strategy for marine bioprospecting. The requirement for state-of-the-art expertise in a number of fields calls for regional, national and international cooperation in both research and business. Investing in marine bioprospecting, where Tromsø will play an important role, and it will be natural to extend that role to Svalbard, is part of the Government’s High North strategy.
Svalbard is also somewhat linked to a strong national and international attention with regard to carbon capture and storage and hence to the conflict between energy and/or business and environmental concerns. UNIS has exploited the geological advantages in Longyearbyen and the Adventdalen valley to develop a field laboratory for carbon capture and storage in cooperation with a number of research institutions, companies and GASSNOVA.
8.4.3 Quality, division of labour and cooperation
The Government wants Svalbard to be an attractive arena for researchers from throughout the world. At the same time, Norway must not just play the role of facilitator, but must also be an active participant in the professional activities. In many areas, representatives for Norwegian institutions ought to be able to assume a professional leadership role. This is important both for helping to coordinate the activities in Svalbard and for ensuring that it shall benefit Norwegian scientific and educational communities. The premises for achieving this kind of objective are that the Norwegian institutions have the scientific standing and quality to make them attractive partners for foreign colleagues in the coming years. In this context, it will be a key task to ensure recruitment to Norwegian polar research. Special policy instruments and measures are discussed further in section 8.5.
Norway has good researchers, but relatively small research communities. In addition, polar research often entails special costs. Therefore, it is extremely important that resources be marshalled, e.g. through a sensible division of labour between institutions and research communities, and that these cooperate in turn when this is appropriate. Within the framework of the activities in Svalbard, it is very important that the professional activities in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund respectively complement each other and work together to ensure a strong and comprehensive research effort. In consultation with the Research Council of Norway, strong participants such as UNIS and the Norwegian Polar Institute have a special responsibility for seeing that this kind of objective may be achieved.
Infrastructure and geography make it natural to have a somewhat broader professional profile in Longyearbyen than in Ny-Ålesund. For example, atmospheric research, the utilisation of earth survey data, Arctic technology aimed at geotechnical engineering, structure on permafrost, and ice-cover ought to be given priority in Longyearbyen, together with Arctic basic research in the natural sciences with its basis in programmes of study at UNIS and the opportunities offered by satellite stations. Research in Ny-Ålesund should consistently utilise Ny-Ålesund’s distinctive characteristics as an unspoiled laboratory for research in the natural sciences on marine, terrestrial and atmospheric issues. Work is being done on a common research plan for Ny-Ålesund and its adjacent area (currently called the Kongsfjorden International Research Base – KIRB), which shall include both Norwegian and foreign participants and where Norway, acting through the Svalbard Science Forum, is intended to be responsible for coordination and implementation; cf. section 8.5.5.
UNIS plays an important role in the part of the Government’s High North strategy that applies to Svalbard in general and to Longyearbyen in particular, where the institution has an increasing impact on social development and visions for the future. The Centre also helps enable Longyearbyen to become a stable, year-round family community. The Government ultimately supports the Centre’s ambitions of becoming a leading international centre for Arctic studies. In addition to the necessary professional and budgeting considerations, however, the Centre must balance its plans for expansion against the environmental concerns and against the local community’s capacity to handle that growth.
Given the vulnerable Arctic natural environment and Svalbard’s geopolitical position, it is important that UNIS strive for optimal utilisation of established infrastructure and encourage the sharing of both material and immaterial resources. On this basis, UNIS should continue its efforts to establish partnerships with Norwegian and foreign institutions.
UNIS should continue its active pursuit of external resources and cooperate with various players in Svalbard. All of these activities should be aligned with the company’s main mission and help strengthen and defend the Arctic creative commons. It is important to achieve good cooperation between UNIS and the educational institutions on the mainland, based on UNIS’s special expertise and advantages.
The activities of the Norwegian Polar Institute have considerable breadth and a long history in Svalbard. The Institute’s experience and expertise are of great value for other participants – whether it be the authorities or individual researchers. The Polar Institute’s overall knowledge base should be the foundation for the Institute’s advisory function. The Norwegian Polar Institute should continue to be visible in Svalbard, e.g. in order to be able to make a positive contribution to the management of the environment in the archipelago.
The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research is the leading institution for marine research in the Barents Sea. The Institute monitors the trends in climate, pollution and the marine ecosystem and has many long time series. The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research should continue to be the leading marine institution in the Barents Sea and will be an important element in the Government’s High North strategy. There is a cooperative agreement between the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research and the Norwegian Polar Institute, whereby the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research works primarily in open waters, whereas the Norwegian Polar Institute’s activities take place primarily on the drift ice and in the permanent ice zone.
8.5 Special policy instruments and measures
The Government’s policy for further strengthening Svalbard as a centre of research and education is for the most part formed in dialogue with international partners. A number of special policy instruments and measures aim to make Norway a stronger player in the global development of knowledge on Svalbard. They include new national and international investments, the further development of the administrative machinery for coordinating activities and greater emphasis on promoting Norwegian professional research expertise.
8.5.1 Further development of Svalbard as an international research platform – SIOS
In a few years, Svalbard may become the actual node of European Arctic research with special emphasis on climate-related observation systems. The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) has now included a proposal for a project for the development and coordination of observation systems in Svalbard in its revised “road map” of new large-scale infrastructure of pan-European interest. ESFRI was established in 2002 as an advisory body for the European Commission and has representatives from both the EU countries and associated countries such as Norway. There is tough competition to be included in the “road map”, which includes the need for major infrastructure within many scientific areas, ranging from astronomy and nanotechnology to the social sciences. In other words, it may involve installations as fundamentally different as databases and libraries, radar installations and monitoring stations, telescopes, communications networks, observatories and research vessels.
It is of great importance that the projects represent several important institutions and that they concern as many countries as possible. In 2006, 35 projects were included in ESFRI’s road map; Norway has interests in 11 of them. In December 2008, the road map was updated for the first time. Two Norwegian-run project proposals were included this time. In addition to the Svalbard project, a project for carbon capture and storage was included. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology and SINTEF have been in charge of the task of formulating this proposal.
The Svalbard project has the acronym SIOS (Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System). The application to be included on the road map was drawn up by UNIS, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Norwegian Space Centre, the University of Tromsø and the Research Council of Norway. So far, the project is supported by several prestigious institutions in seven different European countries beside Norway (Germany, France, England, Finland, Poland, Russia and the Netherlands). In consultation with other affected ministries, the Ministry of Education and Research has given the Research Council the task of managing the pre-project phase. The Research Council is thereby given responsibility for an application for support for the so-called “preparatory phase” through the EU’s framework programme. A steering committee has been appointed, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Research have supported the work in the first phase. The preparatory phase with funding from the framework programme usually lasts for 2 – 4 years.
SIOS consists of two main elements. One element involves further developing and complementing existing observation systems in Svalbard and in the area around the archipelago and organising these into a comprehensive infrastructure that supports data gathering from land, sea, ice and atmosphere. The second main element will be the establishment of a “knowledge centre” in Longyearbyen, which shall store and integrate data from relevant infrastructure. This will provide a basis for cooperation on research and monitoring, interdisciplinary projects, education and the dissemination of information, while contributing to regional and global climate models.
As a large international project led by Norway SIOS will contribute to the utilisation and further development of the infrastructure in Svalbard. It will be an important policy instrument in the Government’s efforts to achieve the objectives of the High North strategy, the management of Svalbard and the national research policy. The positive reactions that the project has encountered internationally reflect the great interest in climate-related polar research in general. This research has also played a key role during the Polar Year. This means that the SIOS initiative will be a natural continuation of both Norwegian and international efforts in recent years. Among other things, it will be a node in the planned SAON (Sustained Arctic Observing Network), a network within the framework of the Arctic Council, which will follow up the Polar Year in the coming years and help follow up the EU’s Arctic strategy, in which research and monitoring are key elements.
Administrative and legal matters related to the permanent organisational model, operation and cooperation with international partners in Svalbard will be clarified in the Research Council’s pre-project in 2009. It will be natural to draw on experiences gained from other ESFRI projects and on the work conducted under the direction of the European Commission to develop a legal framework for common European infrastructure. However, it is already reasonable at present to assume that SIOS will be a separate international organisation with offices in the Research Centre in Longyearbyen.
8.5.2 Transfer of data
Ny-Ålesund is included in a global research network consisting of 25 research stations with so-called VLBI (Very Long Base-line Interferometry) antennas. These are big radio telescopes that provide very accurate data on the earth’s movement in the solar system as well as data which may be used to monitor the earth’s rotation and the movements of the earth’s continental plates. This data facilitates scientific work of great importance in climate research, oceanography, astrophysics and geophysics. Ny-Ålesund is an important part of the global VLBI network because of its location near the North Pole. The station functions as a central point for all stations in the Northern Hemisphere.
Ny-Ålesund is currently connected to the rest of the world through a radio link to Longyearbyen. However, this link has a limited capacity, and it may therefore be relevant to evaluate possible solutions in order to increase the data capacity between Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen in the coming years.
8.5.3 Time series for monitoring and research – East Svalbard
The most untouched parts of Svalbard will be of particular interest for research and monitoring in the coming years, cf. the discussion of the eastern nature reserves in section 8.4.1. Since the area has been so little visited, there is no comprehensive basic study of long-term monitoring that will make it possible to survey changes in physical, chemical and biological conditions over time. The development of East Svalbard and the adjacent marine areas as an arena for high-tech environmental monitoring is a long-term task and must be based on a well-developed plan.
8.5.4 Polar recruitment
If Norwegian polar research is to maintain its standing and be further developed in key areas, it is necessary to make an effort to recruit younger researchers and to train more technical personnel. This need applies to the situation in the natural sciences in general and is intensified by the fact that both universities and research institutes are facing a period with retirement from top positions in polar research. In addition, there are often substantial costs for travel and logistics in the relevant fields.
The Government wants to enhance the recruitment to research, especially in mathematics, the natural sciences and the technical fields. The Government also expects that the increased international activities in the polar areas and the opportunities this creates for professional contacts may help encourage recruitment. It will be important to prevent the costs for travel, lodging and logistics from limiting the utilisation of the good infrastructure for research and education in Svalbard.
Separate grants to cover special expenses in connection with Arctic research in the field have existed for a number of years, in a first phase under the direction of the Norwegian Polar Institute. In 2006, funds became available through the Research Council of Norway. The arrangement is administered by the Svalbard Science Forum in consultation with the Norwegian Polar Institute, which allocated NOK 1.2 million and NOK 0.5 million respectively to this measure. There is considerable interest in the grants, and it is argued that only about half of the best applicants have been awarded grants. The Research Council of Norway wants to substantially increase the funding for these grants and amend the regulations for receiving support so that it can also include foreign institutions, possibly in cooperation with Norwegian institutions. For 2009, a small lump sum grant has been added to the Research Council of Norway’s budget to help increase this type of activity. The Government thinks there are grounds for considering a more permanent increase in funding for this arrangement, which in addition to Norwegian applicants should include applicants from foreign institutions. It should also be possible for UNIS to apply for funds to cover extra expenses in connection with field work in Ny-Ålesund.
The grants help promote increased recruitment and national and international cooperation. It also gives Norway opportunities to manage the research activities by setting criteria for allocation that require that synergies be created, overlapping be avoided, gaps in knowledge be filled and the infrastructure be utilised better year-round – i.e. in the winter half of the year as well.
The education at UNIS is part of the curricula at the mainland universities, and UNIS has the special task of training researchers in Arctic conditions. The mainland institutions must exploit the advantage inherent in UNIS to the greatest extent possible in the recruitment to Norwegian polar research. Schemes that can forge links between academic and student communities at UNIS and communities affiliated with foreign research stations in Svalbard should be assessed.
8.5.5 Bilateral and multilateral cooperation
As mentioned, international research activities and international investment in research and research infrastructure in Svalbard have increased considerably in recent years. By participating in international research collaboration in Svalbard, Norway can ensure quality and renewal in its own Svalbard-relevant research, bring back new knowledge from the scientific forefront and share the risk and costs of investment in infrastructure etc.
In accordance with a Norwegian-Russian agreement, funds have been earmarked for research collaboration between Norwegian and Russian research institutions in Svalbard. These funds, which amount to NOK 3 million per year, are allocated to Norwegian institutions that collaborate with Russian researchers in Svalbard. The funds are of great importance for the collaboration between the two countries. The Government will assess whether similar arrangements can be established with other countries. It will be advantageous if the funds can be used by a number of countries simultaneously.
8.5.6 Earmarked for Svalbard
Norway’s role during the Polar Year includes considerable financial support over a number of years and is a good example of what we can achieve. The Government will strive to preserve and further develop the legacy of the Polar Year after the programme period has ended. The experiences gained from some minor efforts aimed directly at Svalbard, e.g. through Arctic grants and strategic funds for international cooperation, have also been positive.
In general, the earmarking of funds for activities in and around Svalbard makes an important contribution to the utilisation of the capacity offered by the island community. Programmes initiated by Norway, in which international participants can be invited to take part with their funds and their projects, are among the possible new measures. So far, this type of co-financed effort is on the drawing board under the name of “flagship programmes” and has been discussed, among other things, as a possible policy instrument in the development of Ny-Ålesund as a research centre. When there is agreement among different actors on this topic and other professional matters, the Research Council, acting on Norway’s behalf, may evaluate the proposals and possibly earmark funds for one or more programmes. Cooperation should be established with at least one country – preferably several – that will also make financial contributions.
A separate “Svalbard programme” – or several such programmes – of this kind should not prevent research institutions and the like from also applying for funds for Svalbard-related research through other relevant programmes.
8.5.7 Coordinating the diversity
With increased activity, the need to improve both practical and professional coordination has become more pressing. When it comes to practical and logistical matters, the Office of the Auditor General in its performance audit of Svalbard has called for a better overview of research in general and of traffic associated with these activities and has emphasised the importance of practical coordination in order to spare the environment to the greatest extent possible. The database system Research in Svalbard (RiS) involves several advances in this field; cf. the discussion in section 8.3.3.
Pursuant to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, the Governor must grant a permit to traffic and various types of field research. Through active use of the RiS database and in cooperation with SSF and the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Governor should continue to perform the tasks that are delegated to his/her office at present, still using the criteria that are now used in the processing of research applications.
The Governor has only a limited possibility of making professional assessments of research applications. So far, the Norwegian Polar Institute has been a highly valuable advisor when professional judgment must be exercised and competing interests weighed. Increased activity, especially in the vulnerable protected areas, will probably result in a need to strengthen the professional assessment of the applications.
The Government thinks that it must be possible to meet these needs by further developing the institutions that already exist in Svalbard and that these must be made capable of meeting future challenges. The most natural course of action will be to consider the practical coordination of the research in connection with a general strengthening of the Research Council of Norway’s presence through the Svalbard Science Forum. SSF already administers the RiS portal, which, among other things, will include information on the location of the research activities and various forms of relevant traffic in the archipelago at any given time. This involves maintaining important aspects of the current division of responsibility, but raising the visibility of SSF’s role in support of the Governor’s efforts. In virtue of its professional expertise and separate responsibility for research logistics, the Norwegian Polar Institute must continue to be an important partner.
The Research Council of Norway has been given more and more responsibility for funding Svalbard-related research, most recently through Norwegian efforts during the Polar Year, but this has not been reflected in a significantly greater presence and conspicuousness in Svalbard. This limits the Research Council of Norway’s opportunities to contribute to an effective professional research coordination, which Norwegian authorities think there is a need for. The Government thinks that the Research Council of Norway must attend to this coordination in a more active way. The Government does not find it necessary to establish new bodies to fulfil this function; cf. the discussion of a strategic diversity in section 8.3.3. The easiest and most natural course of action will be to further develop SSF’s administrative organisation. This may contribute to better research management, increased cooperation, planning and comprehensive prioritising of the research in Svalbard.
The National Committee for Polar Research acting on behalf of the Research Council of Norway should undertake a further evaluation of professional tasks that could be delegated to a revitalised SSF. For example, it will be important to involve SSF and make its contributions more apparent in connection with the international cooperation. SSF should also play a more active role in the further development of Ny-Ålesund as a research arena. One of the goals for Norwegian authorities is for Ny-Ålesund to emerge as a research arena where cooperation among nations creates consensual professional and strategic research goals. SSF already plays a role in the efforts to develop a common research plan for the players in Ny-Ålesund. An expanded secretariat may provide a professional management that is needed in order to help define the professional profile and gradually follow it up. This will also promote close ties with a number of the Research Council of Norway’s Svalbard-related programmes and other policy instruments, which may contribute to an essential coordination of the research activities in and around Ny-Ålesund.
The research and educational institutions in Svalbard and their tasks have evolved over a period of time and have contributed to a gradual development toward a more knowledge-based island community. On the basis of their premises, the various institutions make important contributions to the dialogue and interaction with each other and with foreign players of importance for Svalbard and the surrounding area. At the same time, the need for improved coordination of Norwegian efforts has become clearer, primarily as a result of the increased foreign involvement. The Government is in favour of strengthening the Research Council of Norway’s position in the Arctic, which also assumes a continued close cooperation with other players. Thus, it entails a moderate change, which aims to combine the advantages of Norway having a Research Council with the expertise possessed by other important institutions.