Global warming is affecting Siberia. Truckers who rely on ‘ice roads’– frozen rivers and lakes that provide access to otherwise remote oil and mining towns in the Russian region– grumble that they melt earlier and earlier each year. Meanwhile, from their considerably toastier offices, academics have warned that from as early as 2005, Western Siberia is thawing, possibly leading to its peat bogs releasing the billions of tonnes of methane gas contained within, bringing drastic consequences for the environment.
It’s reassuring, then, that something is being done. Earlier this month, the Developing Innovative Multiproxy Access (DIMA) network was announced, bringing together researchers from three research institutes in Britain and sixteen in ‘Siberia and the Russian Far East’. Until now, climate change in Siberia has been noticed, but poorly understood: field studies are hard to carry out in unforgiving tundra or polar desert, and while research centres do exist in Siberia, they’re scattered across its gigantic 13 100 000 square kilometre land mass, making coordination difficult.
The network aims to change this by advancing “studies of long-term environmental change across Siberia and the Russian Far East”, according to its website. Language barriers can also make it harder for Russian scientists to share their findings with their English-speaking counterparts, hence the network’s other aim of fostering scientific connections between the UK and Russia. The network’s English arm is made up of the Universities of Newcastle, Plymouth and Southampton, and Professor Mary Edwards, of Southampton, hopes that UK and Russian researchers who are at the start of their career and make friends collaborate further down the line, as they “tackle the major changes that are likely to occur in the 21st Century”.
While encouraging, many see the network as too little too late: academics have been concerned about the Siberian climate for well over a decade, and the network’s efforts to understand and combat climate change may well be hampered by one of its own participants. Newcastle University has continued to invest in oil and gas, whose use is a key driver of global warming, despite pledges to divest; the university have actually increased its investments since making the pledge, as reported by The Courier in October. The Siberian ice is an important issue, and we can only hope that the ice road truckers’ complaints were exaggerated, and that there’ll be some room left for DIMA to study.