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Space Technologies Contribution To Arctic Policy Priorities

August 1, 2012
Image Caption: Ship Arctic. Credit: ESA

Polar View (Norway) has carried out this GSP study comparing the needs of Arctic stakeholders (as articulated in policies and strategies) with the contribution different types of satellite technologies can make to meet current and future requirements.

The Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the planet, and as a result, sea ice is receding opening northern sea routes. This will increase the level of commercial shipping and give an easier access to the resource wealth of the region (hydrocarbons, minerals, and fish). The detrimental effect on land and marine wildlife will be increased by pollution caused by the increasing of the commercial activities.

With the economic gain comes the desire to protect rights and investments, and the resulting potential for conflict. All of this is at odds with the traditional livelihoods of the Arctic´s indigenous peoples.

So far, there has been a remarkable spirit of cooperation among Arctic stakeholders as they recognize the common problems and needs that they all face.

Arctic States and some non-Arctic ones manifested interest in policies across all areas: safety, the environment, sustainable economic development, sovereignty, and indigenous and social development. Of particular relevance in this study is the European Union that has had a northern policy since 1999 and will be issuing a revision in 2012.

The Arctic is a challenging region: distances are vast, the weather is difficult, and for much of the year it is dark. Although increasing, Arctic populations are small. Space technologies have many attributes that make them ideal for application in the Arctic context: satellites can see remote areas that could not be accessed in any other way, they can cover wide areas with relatively little infrastructure and they can provide types of information that are not available from any other source.

Space technologies can contribute to Arctic policy priorities in many ways:

  • Communications satellites can bring communities across the Arctic and around the world closer together, help bring education and health to isolated people, support the extraction and transportation of natural resources, and facilitate the provision of aid to people in distress.
  • Earth Observation satellites can help vessels navigate through and around ice and icebergs, monitor pollution and environmental change, locate natural resources, and assist authorities in protecting national borders.
  • Navigation satellites can help vessels, aircraft, and vehicles navigate more safely and efficiently, provide position information to assist in mapping and surveying in regions that frequently have poor charts available, and aid in locating and tracking vessels and people in distress.
  • Surveillance satellites can help authorities locate vessels and people in distress, identify illegal activities that endanger ecosystems and resources, and help aircraft and ships avoid collisions.
  • Science satellites can help protect electricity transmission lines and pipelines from harmful solar storms, provide information that will assist in the delineation of national boundaries, and help to monitor the progress climate change.

The report shows convergence of policies among states, as well as with capabilities of satellites systems. Space technologies have been contributing to Arctic policy priorities for quite some time. However, these assets will need to be renewed and enhanced if the increasing future challenges of the Arctic are to be met.

Polar View is the Arctic and Antarctic component of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Service Element (GSE) initiative of the European Space Agency and the European Union. It is a collaborative project involving about 20 partners, including research institutes, government agencies and private sector technology, environmental and engineering firms.

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Source: ESA



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