More than 26 leading scientific institutions across Europe are signing up to closer research cooperation through a new European Polar Framework agreement today in Brussels. The framework agreement is a major outcome from the four-year EUROPOLAR ERA-NET initiative, funded by the European Commission under Framework Programme 6, which ended in February this year.
The framework aims to streamline links between the many national research programmes in the Arctic and Antarctic, led by the European Science Foundation (ESF) European Polar Board. It will make it easier for agencies to launch joint funding calls, share scientific data and for countries to host scientists in each others' research stations, creating international teams similar to those in the International Space Station and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme.
Signatures for the agreement come from organisations involved in financing, organising or conducting polar research, including national programme authorities, research funders and polar institutes.
'Recent environmental shifts in the Poles have been large and rapid. By linking together Europe's polar research more closely we can get a better grasp on the wide-ranging series of changes taking place,' said Dr Paul Egerton, Executive Director of the ESF European Polar Board, an international committee of leaders of polar programmes hosted by the ESF.
He continues: 'This flexible, open agreement will improve cooperation between countries. It will also help implement key recommendations of last year's European Commission Arctic Communication Paper. An international network of polar observatories could be one outcome of this cooperation. Joined-up observations will help predict the course, magnitude and consequences of future changes, enabling us to create adaptable responses to them.'
In addition to improving links between existing observatories in the Arctic and Antarctic, the new framework includes commitments to collaborate on new multinational research initiatives and to converge national polar programmes where appropriate. For example, invitations for research proposals would focus on answering questions with global or European relevance, around topics such as life and bio-systems in extreme environments.
The Polar Regions react more rapidly and intensely to global changes than any other part of the planet. Shrinking Arctic sea-ice cover, potentially opening new sea lanes to the north of Eurasia and North America, and the calving of vast table icebergs from the Antarctic ice shelves are the latest examples of these changes.
Much of the information needed to understand these events can only be collected by dedicated research vessels, from permanently manned stations or during multidisciplinary expeditions with considerable logistical demands. These complex interdisciplinary experiments demand closer international cooperation.
The ESF European Polar Board is also coordinating the world's biggest Arctic project: ERICON Aurora Borealis, Europe's Arctic flagship. The EUR800 million research icebreaker will be the world's first international ship and will be a unique platform for ocean observations to understand all aspects of global change from the seabed to the atmosphere.