Yulia Zaika
© from personal archives

Yulia Zaika: The entire Arctic region needs a comprehensive dialogue

This year, several major events related to Arctic research, including the 5th International Forum ‘The Arctic: Present and Future’ and the 3rd International Conference on Arctic Research Planning in Japan, were held. Young scientist Yulia Zaika discusses the importance of international cooperation between scientists, the work of the Khibiny academic-research station of the Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Department of Geography and the future of northern single-industry towns.

Ms Zaika, can you please tell us about your professional activities?

I work at the Khibiny academic-research station of the Lomonosov Moscow State University's Department of Geography, and I'm also writing a thesis on the development of northern single-industry towns. I'm also involved in international research projects.

Can you tell us about the Khibiny academic-research station where you work?

 Lomonosov University's Geography Department station is located in the Khibiny mountain range in the Murmansk Region. It was founded in 1948 for geography department student fieldwork. Students from various departments of our university as well as other Russian universities, from the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland and other countries, also visit our station each year.

Does your station carry out research projects?

We are working on upgraded methods to assess the distribution of snow layers in the Khibiny mountain range, the dynamics of the nival processes during global climate change, on all aspects of snow-related phenomena, avalanches and social-environmental monitoring surveys of the quality of life of the Arctic population.

Naturally, we cooperate on international research. Our station is part of the International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic (Interact). This fairly large circum-Arctic network includes over 71 stations in northern Europe, Russia, the United States, Canada, Greenland and elsewhere.

Does your station only employ Russian scientists?

Each year, we receive scientists from various countries and institutes who conduct biological geo-morphological, snow and other kinds of research. In the past few years, we have received scientists from Finland, the United Kingdom, Austria, Romania and Norway. We cooperate with many countries.

And do you participate in any joint international research projects with students?

It depends. The faculties of each department have their own programs. For example, we receive students from the rational nature management faculty from    the Moscow University's geography department. If they have signed agreements with foreign universities, they can invite other students and establish relationships.

Can you say a few words about your research? What are the most important problems now facing single-industry towns?

To be honest, single-industry towns face the same problems in any region, including the Arctic. This includes a lack of economic diversification and rudimentary employment patterns or high unemployment. Mining towns suffer from environmental and health-related problems. In reality, there are a lot of problems. We need a comprehensive approach for assessing the related problems in these towns.

Over the past few years, the Russian government has been doing its best to monitor the socioeconomic situation in single-industry towns, which do receive substantial federal support.

Why are you studying the problems of Arctic single-industry towns only, if all towns in this category have similar problems?

First, mining companies are located in all the main Arctic single-industry towns. Second, the Arctic is at the top of the state agenda. So, many of these towns are receiving substantial opportunities for stabilization and socioeconomic development, especially in the context of Northern Sea Route development. This can happen through additional investment, infrastructure development, innovation activity or the development of tourism.

And how is tourism developing in the Murmansk Region today?

Of course, our base is in Khibiny, which offers ski resorts. Most importantly, the tourist infrastructure continues to be developed.

Do you cooperate with the International Science Initiative in the Russian Arctic (ISIRA) consultative group at the International Arctic Science Committee?

Yes, the International Arctic Science Committee is a very large organization that was established in the 1990s. It involves 23 countries, including some in non-Arctic regions. Certainly, the changes in the Arctic are not confined to the region alone, they influence the entire world and it's therefore necessary to conduct a dialogue that includes non-Arctic countries.

The organization has working groups on environmental protection, the atmosphere, the oceans, etc. It also has the International Science Initiative in the Russian Arctic (ISIRA) consultative group with representatives from Russian research agencies and national delegates from various countries, and members of the International Arctic Science Committee. This cooperation forum helps implement international research & development projects in the Russian Arctic.

What Arctic issues are the most important now?

Considering the fact that all Arctic changes influence other regions of our planet, international cooperation makes it possible to obtain a more general assessment. This allows us to respond to changes more comprehensively. In April 2015, Japan hosted the 3rd International Conference on Arctic Research Planning that involved over 100 scientists from 27 countries. After the event, the participants issued a joint statement containing  guidelines for Arctic research. One such clause notes that, instead of responding to the consequences of specific changes, it would be better to prevent these changes. So, we constantly need to monitor environmental changes, and we need to establish an Arctic observation system.

The international community is also actively discussing an inter-disciplinary approach toward research. Dialogue between the natural and the social sciences in the Arctic and elsewhere has become a hot issue. These initiatives are very popular now.

We need to establish a dialogue in the Arctic region that will involve scientists, the public, governments, industrialists and the indigenous ethnic groups.

Do you have any comment on the incident of a polar bear being fed an explosive at an Arctic station?

I don't know that I can comment because it's unclear what really happened. These issues should probably be strictly regulated. For example, the Svalbard authorities enforce extremely clear regulations for interacting with animals. While there, our team was issued rifles and flares for repelling bears during fieldwork. When encountering a bear, you first fire a flare, and you should use a rifle only as a last resort if the flare is ineffective, and the bear doesn't run away. Norway opens a criminal case every time a bear is killed and conducts a thorough investigation. So, anyone accused of this has to show evidence of a life-threatening situation.

The Arctic region and agenda are becoming more popular, and more and more people will come to the region in the future. So we need to introduce strict legislation and enforcement for interacting with animals and regulate it at the state level.