The Arctic Science Summit Week 2023 - ASSW23 - took place this year at the University of Vienna with more than 700 Arctic researchers. The Austrian Polar Research Institute APRI had the privilege to act as host and organized several social events, which offered a lot of space for networking among the participants.
The ASSW is organized annually by the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) to provide an opportunity for coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among the various scientific organizations involved in Arctic research. It was initiated by IASC in 1999 and has become the most important annual gathering of Arctic research organizations. Therefore, in addition to the scientific mission, it was also a goal for the APRI to allow the international guests to experience Austrian culture and hospitality. Read about some of the social highlights from the ASSW23.
Museum of Natural History, Vienna
The conference kicked off with a cultural highlight: At the Natural Museum of History Vienna (NHM), the scientists were warmly welcomed by the museum’s director Katrin Vohland. The NHM dates back to the Habsburg Empire of the 19th century and offered a truly magnificent setting for the Icebreaker event. The director expressed in her welcoming speech the close ties with science and culture and mentioned the good cooperation with APRI for the special exhibition “Arctic”, which will open its doors from November 2023 for nine months. It will present the most important topics of the Arctic in the Anthropocene combined with tangible insights into current polar research. The discovery of Franz-Josef-Land by the Austro-Hungarian North Pole expedition of Julius Payer and Carl Weyprecht 150 years ago will be another focus. In his welcoming remarks, APRI board member Peter Schweitzer referred to Weyprecht’s initiative for the first Polar Year 1882 – 1883, which had given the starting signal for international Arctic research, and thus also created the basis for ASSW23. The president of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) Henry Burgess appreciated the wonderful cultural setting and pointed out the importance of international Arctic research. The classical music of a violin duo together with delicious finger food and exquisite drinks quickly broke the ice between the scientists. It was good to see the many smiling and delighted faces during hugs after years of virtual conferences.
Icebreaker Event at the Museum of Natural History, Vienna
Before the opening of the scientific program on Tuesday, Feb. 21, APRI invited the Austrian media to a press conference at the University of Vienna in the Elise Richter room. This room offered a good ambience, being also a place where science and art met in the exhibition “The Arctic in the Anthropocene”. The Austrian television company ORF covered the Arctic conference in several news programs, and online and print media gave the event due space to report on highly relevant issues such as the interaction between the Arctic and global warming; after all, the Arctic is currently warming about four times faster than the rest of the world. The press conference featured four short statements (in German) on the core topics of the conference: APRI director Wolfgang Schöner explained why Austria has been involved in Arctic research since the Payer-Weyprecht expedition 150 years ago and that it will even operate its own polar research station “Sermilik” in East Greenland starting in summer 2023. Paul Wassmann of the Norwegian Arctic University of Tromsø pointed out in his short statement the importance of the Arctic Ocean for the world climate. For the preservation of the Greenland ice sheet, he classified the existing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere as already too high. Therefore, he said, the priority is to prevent the thawing of the permafrost, which could release twice the amount of greenhouse gases currently already in the Earth’s atmosphere. He was recognized at ASSW23 for his life research work with the IASC Medal. Birgit Sattler from the University of Innsbruck pointed out the waste situation in the Arctic with her short statement. “The plastic has come to stay” – the plastic waste from the industrial areas outside the Arctic reaches the pristine looking landscapes by wind, rivers and ocean currents. Research on the impact on animal and plant eco systems is therefore crucial to develop mitigation options. Macroplastics become microplastics and then nanoplastics, which can reach the blood circulation of mammals and fish. If it also gets into the brain, there are far-reaching implications for health and reproduction. Gertrude Saxinger from the Universities of Vienna and Bern (Switzerland) gave a voice to the inhabitants of the Arctic, who after the colonization of the 17th – 19th centuries are now affected by a new wave of colonization in which they are still not heard enough, depending on the region. There are about 5 million people living in the Arctic. The green revolution is also reaching for Arctic resources needed to decarbonize industrial societies. Only by taking the needs of the local population into account can this become a holistic and sustainable development.
Press conference in the Elise Richter room, University of Vienna
“The plastic has come to stay” – plastic waste from industrial areas outside the Arctic is moved by wind, rivers and ocean currents into the pristine landscape.
Birgit Sattler, APRI board member
The opening ceremony of the Science Conference took place in the Audimax of the University of Vienna with video greetings from the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Research, Martin Polaschek, University Rector Manuela Baccarini, IASC President Henry Burgess and APRI Director Wolfgang Schöner. In the opening keynote, Peter Schweitzer of APRI considered the question of how many Arctic parts are there: One, two, or many? 50% of the Arctic is in Russian territories that are excluded from research by the current global political situation. However, the research topics are transregional, which would not proceed without deficiencies. New ways of cooperation will therefore have to be found and established.
Opening moments at the Audimax, University of Vienna
Various exhibitions were organized by participants. The exhibition “The Arctic in the Anthropocene” was curated by APRI in collaboration with a wide variety of artists, all of whom have their own long-standing personal connection with the Arctic. Fridolin Walcher from Glarus, Switzerland, touched visitors with his hanging textile prints that began to move as they passed by, conveying the vulnerability of the ice and glacier worlds. Gloria Rech, from Trentino in Italy, paints naturalistic Arctic landscapes in gradations of the Arctic colors white, blue and gray. Deeply fascinated by the concept of ecosystem balance, she seeks to express in her works the vital connection of man with the whole. Marco Nescher from Liechtenstein fascinated the visitors with extraordinary photos, which mainly focus on the vulnerability of the Greenland ice sheet: Tens-of-meters-high waterfall cascades in the summertime in Inglefield Land showed that climate change can cause massive melting of the ice sheet even at 80° North. And his oversized BW textile print of the Elephant Foot Glacier in eastern North Greenland impressively conveyed the vastness and aesthetics of Arctic landscapes. APRI scientist Klemens Weisleitner affected the visitors with his installation “The Pristine Arctic”, which he conceptualized together with Birgit Sattler from APRI. Pieces of plastic he had collected during research visits to the Canadian Arctic dangled in front of visitors’ noses, confirming Sattler’s point that plastic has reached the Arctic to remain there for centuries. APRI Media Officer Christoph Ruhsam’s canvas panoramas gave space primarily to the discovery of Franz-Josef-Land 150 years ago. Video installations showed, among other things, the massive decline of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, the current negative record of which was set in 2012 with 50% area loss and 80% volume loss.
Virtual walk through the art exhibition “The Arctic in the Anthropocene”
Art exhibition “The Arctic in the Anthropocene”
The exhibition “Arctic InfraScapes” presented interim results of several ongoing research projects focused on the Arctic and its infrastructures. It displays the artifacts collaboratively created by artists and scholars. Its semiotics develops through visual and verbal modes of communication that are based on various representations of distance, time, and space within the ontological frameworks of the Arctic infrascapes. Working with different types of layers in space and time, artists and scholars co-create new meanings and forms of visual narratives as part of transmedia storytelling.
The exhibition is a part of the program organized by Vera Kuklina (George Washington University, USA), and Olga Povoroznyuk (University of Vienna and Austrian Polar Research Institute, Austria) in a collaboration with partner projects within the framework of the program that presents the multiple ways of convergence of Arts, Science, and Local & Indigenous Knowledge (ArtSLInK). It combines science sessions, a roundtable, and an exhibition.
Art exhibition “Arctic InfraScapes” by Vera Kuklina (George Washington University, USA) and Olga Povoroznyuk (University of Vienna and Austrian Polar Research Institute, Austria)
Conference Gala Dinner
The gala dinner was held at the Vienna City Hall. The Governor of Vienna, in his words of greeting spoken by a representative, paid tribute to Austria’s connection with the Arctic and its exploration. With piano music and a buffet according to Austrian tradition, much common ground was found and celebrated late into the night. The architecture of the town hall impressed many guests. So was Aishah “Paniinguar” Bint Amiri Yamani from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She attracted the eyes of the conference participants with her colorful silk kimono and thanked like many others with an entry into the ASSW23 guestbook.
Aishah is third-generation Afro-Iñuk with ties to Korea and Japan. Her traditional Central Yup’ik style tattoos hint at the centuries-old culture of her people, but are unique to her.
More lines will follow in the nose area in the next few years. The chin will also be tattooed with needle and thread in the Yupiit style. Thus, after more than 80 years, she will again carry these markings in her family.
Gala Dinner a the city hall Vienna
Thanks go to the organizers for the successful overall concept: University of Vienna, the tireless 24/7 “Ask me anything” service of the Student Committee, the IASC, the APRI, the NHM and the City of Vienna.
The bar is set high for the next ASSW 2024 in Edinburgh!
See you at the ASSW24 in Edinburgh! (Copyright Student’s Committee, University Vienna)
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