McGill and Royal Norwegian Embassy Co-Host Arctic Frontiers Conference

Published: 25 May 2023

On May 12, McGill University co-hosted the last day of the Arctic Frontiers Summit alongside the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Arctic Frontiers. Over 60 participants, comprising representatives from the governments of Canada, Norway, and Quebec, as well as McGill faculty, researchers, and students gathered in the McGill Faculty Club Ballroom to discuss science, policy, infrastructure, and business in the Arctic.

The event grouped two panels of experts—including McGill’s own Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Professor Bruno Tremblay, and Geography Professor George Wenzel—to discuss the challenges currently facing the Arctic, and the ways in which collaborative efforts can lead to potential solutions.

An Immediate Issue

“The Arctic Front has become the catalyst for decision-making, and Canada has a significant role to play in it,” said Bruce Lennox, Dean of Science, during his opening remarks. McGill’s own activity in the Arctic goes back decades and includes research at the McGill Arctic Research Station, among other locations in the High North. Most of these initiatives work toward the same goal: advancing sustainability and combatting climate change, fields in which McGill has emerged as a leading institution.

Both Canada and Norway alike have significant proximity to the Arctic—Canada’s Arctic coast makes up 10% of total coastlines on the planet alone—and as a result, both countries experience the impact of climate change in the North. “The Arctic is warming at four times the rate of anywhere else on the planet,” remarked Dr. Jenny Turton, senior advisor for Arctic Frontiers.

Collaborating on Mutual Interests

The first panel comprised Tremblay, Dr. Amanda Savoie, Director of The Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration, Martin Skedsmo of KSAT, and Philippe Archambault, Scientific Director at ArcticNet, who discussed research infrastructure in the Arctic and the devastating impacts of climate change on the Arctic Ocean and biodiversity. “We’ve seen extremely large changes in the Arctic since 2007. There are atmospheric and oceanic causes, but we observe that as CO2 emissions go down, the sea ice comes back,” said Tremblay.

Savoie touched on biodiversity in the Arctic, remarking that there are still immense amounts of baseline information that still needs to be collected, without which we do not know enough to determine all that is happening. However, by using satellite data provided by organisations such as KSAT, which provides oil spill monitoring and related emergency support services, Savoie predicted that remote sensing would have the power to expedite the research by mapping large areas rapidly to identify appropriate locations to observe from the ground.

Oil spills were only one example cited at the summit of how climate change is impacting northern communities and connecting countries. As sea ice melts, oil spills spread faster across larger areas of ocean and coastline, meaning that a spill near Norway could impact communities in Greenland, and vice-versa, at increasingly alarming rates.

Building a Network

The second panel, moderated by Anu Fredrikson, Executive Director of Arctic Frontiers, focused on new opportunities for research and industry to interact in the High North.

The speakers, Bjørn Tore Hjertaker, Professor at the University of Bergen, Michal Nilssen, Founder and CEO of Norskin, Audrey Lapenna, Technology Leadership Manager of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, and Wenzel, frequently turned toward the importance of collaboration and mutual learning in developing sustainable initiatives.

“Speaking with people in Inuit communities gives you a better perspective from which to operationalize your research,” said Wenzel, who began conducting research in the High North in 1971. “Today, research is a bit different from when I began. Research isn’t as long-term anymore; I don’t think people spend 19 consecutive months in the field. However, it’s still important to meet people one-on-one and learn the community’s rules. Every community is different in the North. You need to know the social history, how and why they got to where they are today.”

“You can’t buy a network, you have to build a network,” said Nilssen, noting that different experts will solve the same problems in varying ways, and bringing together these complementary resources is the best pathway forward.

Learning to Learn

The common thread uniting the experts from both panels was the increasing recognition of collaboration as a pathway to success. When conducting research in the North, all experts reflected on how engaging with and learning from local communities is fundamental to predicting the impacts of climate change.

“A lot of science now is driven by local communities,” said Tremblay. “I no longer see it as researchers going to communities to show, but rather to sit down and learn.”

The Arctic Frontiers Summit facilitated that kind of collaboration by allowing the free exchange of innovative ideas and the establishment of mutual goals. “It was a pleasure seeing the guests engage in vivid discussions following the panelists’ debates addressing important aspects regarding the advancement of research, policy, infrastructure, and business in the High North,” noted Bruce Lennox following the event.

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