With all eyes on the Polar Regions as the world looks to remote areas for resources and new tourist destinations, we must develop a greater understanding of polar weather patterns and sea ice conditions, says a Lincoln University researcher.
Dr Emma Stewart, along with Dr Daniela Liggett of Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury, is a core member of the United Nations’ World Meterological Organisation’s (WMO) steering committee, which will use social science research to help provide context to climate concerns in the Polar Regions.
The group, called Societal and Economic Research Applications (SERA), is a sub-committee of the Polar Prediction Project (PPP), established by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation.
The PPP is designed to promote international research that will assist with developing a global system to predict polar weather conditions.
Dr Stewart says increased economic and tourism activity in the Polar Regions is leading to greater demand for more effective weather prediction services.
“Our current ability to observe and predict polar weather is much less than for other parts of the world. Prediction systems are not fully in place in the Polar Regions due to the small human population, but growth in industry is making these systems more necessary,” she says.
“However, we must work closely with key users, providers and local communities about how to progress and ensure the benefits are reciprocal.”
Dr Stewart says researchers with social science backgrounds can understand the implications of a changing climate for society and communities.
“In Arctic regions, sea ice is an extension of land, and therefore an extension of culture, so changing ice conditions affect culture and environment.”
She says social scientists need to collaborate with physical geographers who study sea ice science in order to fully understand the scale and speed of environmental change.
“We can then help make their science relevant to local people and industry."
Drs Liggett and Stewart recently hosted a SERA workshop in Christchurch to discuss the PPP with leading international scholars and local experts who are actively engaged in the Polar Regions.
“Workshop participants were mainly Arctic-focused, so we exposed the group to issues facing Antarctica, with visits to the Canterbury Museum and the International Antarctic Centre.”
Dr Stewart says the aim of the workshop was to begin discussion about social science research activities that could support and enhance the PPP.
“The idea is to bridge the traditional divide between natural and social science.”