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High quality and disciplinary breadth in Norwegian polar research

Norwegian polar researchers author world-class publications, and the Norwegian polar research community is characterised by strong talent, easy access to resources and advanced infrastructure. These are some of the conclusions of a recently-completed international evaluation of Norwegian polar research.

At the same time, the evaluation report points out that there is potential for improving the coordination and optimising the impact of the research conducted.

The evaluation committee finds that Norwegian polar researchers publish world-class publications in many areas and that Svalbard plays an essential role as a research platform.

The report attests to the high standard of Norwegian polar research, says John-Arne Røttingen. (Photo: Thomas Keilman) “The report attests to the high standard of Norwegian polar research. We should be proud of Norwegian polar research and our polar researchers,” says Chief Executive of the Research Council of Norway, John-Arne Røttingen.

Areas of strength for Norwegian polar research
The evaluation committee identified a number of areas in which Norwegian polar researchers are at the forefront:

  • The Arctic climate system
  • Arctic ecosystems
  • The Arctic biogeochemical environment
  • The commercial and industrial Arctic
  • Outer atmosphere physics and seafloor geophysics
  • Glacier and ice-sheet dynamics and marine ecosystems in Antarctica.

The committee also pointed out that Norway, with its extensive scientific and technical capabilities, has the opportunity, a national need and an international responsibility to contribute actively to understanding and predicting the major changes taking place in the Arctic. Svalbard in particular, with its location at the centre of the energy transfer between the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, is central to research activity in this regard.

Should take on greater leadership responsibility and expand forecasting capabilities
The evaluation report states that Norway’s aspirations for polar research should be even greater. Research on wide-ranging environmental changes and commercialisation of the polar regions are identified as areas where Norway should take the lead in well-coordinated national and international polar research programmes. Norway should also invest more resources in predictive capabilities related to large climate and environmental changes taking place in the Arctic.

The committee recommends that Norway revises the way in which it coordinates and funds polar research. (Photo: Mette Mila/Forskningsrådet)

“We can clearly take on greater responsibility as a coordinator of research in areas where Norwegian polar research is at the forefront, and we can also use a stronger voice internationally when it comes to flagging the major changes underway. Changes in the Arctic have an impact on the entire planet,” points out Dr Røttingen, “so this is an important task.”

Revamp funding and improve collaboration
In the view of the evaluation committee, the strong political support for polar research in Norway provides an excellent basis for enhancing the impact of the research and achieving better coordination.

The committee recommends that Norway revises the way in which it coordinates and funds polar research. The committee also sees a need to improve collaboration within the Norwegian polar research community and suggests that funding mechanisms are organised differently to encourage this.

“These are recommendations we must listen to and decide how to follow up. We need a dialogue with both the research groups and the government administration. It is in everyone’s interest to further strengthen polar research, and we must therefore take a closer look at funding mechanisms and collaborative activities,” says Dr Røttingen.

The evaluation report stress the importance of drawing up a plan for polar research and education in Svalbard, with particular focus on the key role of the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and the activities in Ny-Ålesund. The Research Council will address some of these issues at the Svalbard Science Conference in Oslo in November. One of the aims of the conference is to improve coordination of research activities.

About the evaluation:

The evaluation committee conducted its efforts over a six-month period and employed a number of different methods, including interviews with top-level management of key polar organisations. The committee was chaired by Dr. David Carlson of the US, who recently retired after many years as Executive Director of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The evaluation was to examine how polar research is funded, coordinated and prioritised in Norway, and to recommend how these mechanisms could be better organised in order to enhance the quality and the impact of the research conducted.

The evaluation report was presented on 15 September in Oslo. See the event at our YouTube-channel and the presentations here.

As part of the background material for the evaluation, the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) was commissioned by the Research Council to conduct a bibliometric deep analysis of Norwegian polar research publication. Their analysis, published as Norwegian Polar Research & Svalbard Research, NIFU Report 2017:6, follows up NIFU’s previous mapping of Norwegian polar research and research in Svalbard (NIFU rapport 2015:37). 


Written by:
Mette Mila. Translation: Victoria Coleman/Carol B. Eckmann.
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