Interdisciplinarity in Arctic research

November 24th, 2016

Interdisciplinarity in Arctic research: Panel discussion at Polarforum 2016

“If you are going to find pathways to the future in the Arctic you have to work in an interdisciplinary way. There is no other way,” said REXSAC co-director Ninis Rosqvist, Stockholm University, in a panel about interdisciplinarity at the annual Polarforum arranged by the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat 23 November 2016.

The panel included presentations from three of the four Nordic Centres of Excellence funded under Nordforsk’s programme Responsible Development of the Arctic: Opportunities and Challenges – Pathways to Action. In addition to Rosqvist’s presentation about the structure and aim of REXSAC, Polarforum’s audience had the opportunity to listen to Tomas Thierfelder, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, talk about CLINF, which focuses on the potential spread of vector-borne diseases in a warmer climate. Moreover, Birgitta Åman, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences talked about ReiGN, which focuses on reindeer husbandry in a globalized world.

One conclusion from the panel discussion was that interdisciplinarity is both a mindset and about methods. “We need to improve the methods to assess the impacts of mining together with assessing the impacts of climate change, “ Rosqvist said and highlighted that it is now possible to combine weather data, traditional herding knowledge, GPS tracking of reindeer movement, and other sources of information to look at the whole disturbance zone around a mine. “Two years ago this would not have been possible because the methods were not available,” she said.

Working together was another theme in the presentations, which also included reflections from Lotten Gustafsson Reinius who has recently started a term as the Hallwyl’s professor of Nordic folklife research at the Nordic museum and Stockholm University, with a focus on the Arctic. She highlighted a need for polyvocal spaces in order to talk about the many dimension of a changing Arctic. From her cultural studies perspective she highlighted that melting ice changes really basic concepts of how we think about time and place.

Rosqvist said that she saw interdisciplinarity as a tool rather than a goal in and of itself. You have to meet and talk and be very open-minded. She stressed that the goal is about adaptive capacity and about people  facing challenges, where we need to work together to build adaptive capacity which also requires connecting research with decision making and policy. Keynote speaker Peter Harrison, Queens University Canada, highlighted that demand for interdisciplinary work is as important as supply: “It takes two to tango,” he said to which Gustafsson replied: “We need a rave, where we also reach out to those who are affected by policies.”

The panel discussion was moderated by Eric Paglia.