ARCTIS 2019: from an organiser’s perspective

Written by Saule Akhmetkaliyeva (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Arctic Interdisciplinary Studies, ARCTIS, is an interdisciplinary field course in the Russian Arctic organised by the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists in Russia (APECS Russia) and the UK Polar Network (UKPN) together with Kola Science Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The main goal of the course was to facilitate bilateral and interdisciplinary (Atmosphere, Cryosphere, Terrestrial, Marine and Social & Humanities) cooperation of early career scientists’ from the United Kingdom and Russia working on Arctic natural and social studies. The course took place in Apatity, Kirovsk and Murmansk, Murmansk region, Russia in February 18-22, 2019.

I became part of the ARCTIS2019 organising committee through events run by the UK Polar Network such as early career researchers’ workshops focused on collaboration on Russian Arctic research held in Cambridge and Moscow in 2018. Being part of the ARCTIS organising committee and participating the course was a great opportunity to experience both the preparation process and the course itself as well as to meet early career researchers both from the UK and Russia. The UKPN organising committee was made up of Chelsey Baker (University of Southampton), Anna Belcher (British Antarctic Survey), Archana Dayal (University of Sheffield), Nadezhda Mamontova (University of Oxford), Kyle Mayers (NORCE), and myself, and we worked closely with the APECS Russia and the local organisers at the Kola Science centre.

To start the organisation process I led the search for lecturers by contacting a wide range of lectures from the five topics. Luckily, Yulia referred me to Prof. Peter Convey (terrestrial), while Nadia got her supervisor, Dr Tom Thornton (social), on board. We were very pleased when Prof. Martyn Tranter from the University of Bristol from the Changing Arctic Ocean programme was keen to take part in the course. Meanwhile, Yulia from APECS Russia drafted the course outline and we put the lecturers from the UK and Russia in touch for them to design the lectures and practical’s for their topic.

In the meantime, we advertised for applicants for the field course to the UK Polar Network members. I really enjoyed reading potential participants’ applications and abstracts. We had a wide selection of great candidates and received applications from all disciplines, which meant that we could choose extremely accomplished applicants with research focused on the Arctic.

After many months of hard work and organisation, ARCTIS2019 was finally here! Most of us arrived an evening before the course started and got to know each other over the dinner at a local café. The course started with a terrestrial studies session led by Prof Peter Convey. As part of practical’s we visited the Polar Botanical Garden where soil samples for the experiment were previously collected. Back in the lab, we looked for life in soil samples, and as a result of the experiment, we saw how snow cover thickness affects survival of organisms in soil over the winter months.

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arctis 2Later a cryosphere studies lecture and fieldwork were led by Prof. Martyn Tranter and Dr Segrey Sokratov. We enjoyed the lecture on snow cover and carried out a snow cover practical at the Khibiny research base to see how snow accumulated over time.

arctis 3The atmospheric studies lecture was led by Dr. Alexander Baklanov, which was followed by a visit to the Apatity meteorological station, a lecture on solar activity in the Arctic at the Polar Geophysical Institute and neutron monitor demonstration, which was really interesting to see.

arctis 4The social studies lecture and practical elements were led by Dr. Larissa Riabova and Dr. Tom Thornton via video call. We conducted interviews with local population on the effect of climate change in the Arctic and after the interview, we wrote a short report pulling data collected by all groups.

arctis 5The marine studies part of the course took place in Murmansk. After attending a lecture at the Polar Science Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography, we visited the Murmansk Regional Studies Museum were we could find out more about the Sámi people living in the Russian Arctic, the Alyosha monument were we could see a beautiful view of the Kola Bay, and finally, the most exciting part of the trip – tour of the first nuclear icebreaker “Lenin.”

arctis 6arctis 7arctis 8Before the Murmansk trip, we had a conference day to present our own research and listen to what the other participant’s research was based on. The conference day was followed by a concert given by a local band and a dinner party at one of the local bars.

The last day of the course Prof. Peter Convey taught us tricks and tips on how to write a thesis and a grant application. Later in the afternoon, we were able to develop project concepts and draft grant applications.

The field course went very smoothly and the participants and lecturers thoroughly enjoyed it. Interestingly, everyone enjoyed disciplines they were new to, for example, one of the social sciences participants gave very positive feedback on lab work we did as part of the terrestrial studies, while another cryosphere participant was excited about working with questionnaires in the social sciences lecture. Running an interdisciplinary field course was a great experience for everyone. For me, the most helpful lecture was the one delivered by Peter on how to write a thesis and grant applications.

ARCTIS2019 wasn’t just about lectures and fieldwork, we also had an opportunity to communicate about science and other things over breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks and the trip to Murmansk. While time was limited during breakfast and lunch, we would stay late after dinner chatting over a pint, discussing our research, previous fieldwork stories, the course and our common interest for the Arctic region – the people, the environment, the challenges. The organising committee in Russia did a great job organizing accommodation, meals, a concert and a course dinner party where we got to try reindeer steaks and local craft beers.

arctis 9arctis 10

arctis 11Overall, the course was very educational and intense! It felt like at least couple weeks passed by rather than just five days. Personally, I enjoyed the course very much and would like to say a huge thank you to the rest of the organising committee, all the lecturers and participants! It was a great experience, both as an organiser and a participant.

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