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Passionate about the Arctic

Jan Mayen
Jan Mayen

How can inter-disciplinary research in the Arctic help us understand human exploitation of polar regions? And how people respond to climate change in long-term historic perspective? These questions are of interest to the director of the Arctic Centre Professor Peter Jordan and his colleagues. In 2014 the Arctic Centre took part in a unique expedition to Jan Mayen, a remote island in the Arctic, the hosting of a conference on Arctic whaling plus participation in several new international partnerships, including a € 2.2 million Horizon 2020 EU-project: EU-PolarNet, Connecting Science with Society .

The advantages of interdisciplinary research

Established in 1970, the Arctic Centre is an interdisciplinary research, education and information centre focusing on the polar regions. Archaeologists, anthropologists, biologists, environmental scientists and geographers engage in inter-disciplinary research with a strong international dimension. What are the advantages of working in this manner? Peter Jordan explains: “We are all passionate about understanding the polar regions, and that is the common bond we all share. My colleague Maarten Loonen is an ecologist and undertakes long-term studies of migratory birds; this gives us deep insights into polar ecosystems and the evolution of the breeding and survival strategies among different polar fauna. On the other hand, those of interested in polar archaeology and northern indigenous peoples work in the same regions but seek to understand how Arctic cultures have developed technologies and survival strategies to adapt to these dynamic Arctic ecosystems over the long-term, through hunting, fishing and gathering wild resources from northern environments.”

Close integration of socio-cultural and environmental themes is also a central goal in the new project EU-PolarNet. The aim is to work with academic and societal partners from nineteen European countries to develop a coordinated research programme for the next decade. By engaging with stakeholders from out outset - including the Arctic’s many indigenous peoples - the project will ensure that both human and environmental factors are addressed fully.

Team Arctic Centre
Team Arctic Centre

Social relevance and scientific quality

What is the social relevance of the work conducted by the Arctic Centre? Jordan: “The Arctic is an important area in many ways. Effects of modern climate change and industrial pollution are all readily visible in polar regions, with intense effects on local ecosystems, and on the indigenous people who rely on these local environments for their livelihoods. We need to understand these inter-connected processes better, and our archaeological research adds important long-term insights into the role of humans in the Arctic.

Arctic Centre staff also represent the Netherlands in the expert working groups of the Arctic Council. Jordan: “It is crucial that we provide top-quality scientific information for these policy-related debates. In this sense, ensuring good knowledge utilization is firstly about doing good research, which then produces valuable knowledge and objective insights that can be used and shared more widely. Thinking through this process of how results of new research will be used is both creative and challenging; in now forms a central aspect of all new grant applications. Without a good knowledge utilization plan we would never get new research funded, so the two are closely linked.”

Public outreach is also in the mission statement of the Arctic Centre. What were recent activities? “In 2014 we published several books for a broad audience, e.g. on the history of Dutch whaling in the Arctic. This also led to a public lecture, a conference (organized with three societal partners and attended by both researchers and members of the general public), all of which attracted sustained media attention. A group of the Arctic Centre’s former students have been running a public lecture series on diverse polar themes for several years now. A couple of years back we also organized a polar film festival; we’ve also experimented with crowd-funding initiatives to finance and promote our research to wider society. In summer 2015 members of the public are also being offered the chance to join scientists on a scientific expedition to Spitsbergen, where they will observe and even engage with polar research activities first-hand.”

Internationalization Ambitions

“We’ve always had very strong international networks; these support and facilitate our research and feed back into our teaching and outreach activities. At the moment we are strengthening our international networks with Arctic archaeologists, and this involves setting up new links and joint projects with key partners at the University of Tromsø (Norway), the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Centre at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. (USA), and with the Centre for Ainu and Indigenous Studies at the University of Hokkaido (Japan). We also collaborate with specialist scientific facilities such as the BioArch Lab at the University of York (UK). These efforts lead, in turn, to production of new knowledge and to wider engagements with non-academic partners, including schools, local museums and communities, and also indigenous peoples. This internationalization and wider outreach is central to the way we work. ” Jordan concludes.

More information about the Arctic Centre.

Largest Dutch polar expedition in history

In late August 2015, seventy Dutchmen and women embarked on an expedition to Spitsbergen. Among them were fifty scientists and a number of famous Dutch names, such as Stientje van Veldhoven, Ramsey Nasr and Peter Kuipers Munneke. Between 19 and 28 August, the group travelled by boat to the island of Edgeøya, on the east side of Spitsbergen. The expedition was initiated by the University of Groningen’s own Arctic Centre.

Here's a short movie on the expedition:

Last modified:13 June 2019 1.48 p.m.
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