Although penguins and polar bears do not mix, the International Conference on the Science and Geopolitics of the Arctic and Antarctic, held in Delhi, India, 9th-11th March 2012, attracted representatives involved in both poles to a very productive and stimulating event. Prof. John M. Reynolds, MD of Reynolds International Ltd, was invited to give a presentation on the uses of Radio-Echo Sounding and Ground Penetrating Radar in Polar and Himalayan glaciological investigations. John’s abstract can be downloaded here.
From John’s own standpoint, there was one key jaw-dropping fact that emerged in relation to current changing climate. This was the observation by researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute from extensive studies of sediment cores from the Arctic Ocean, that the centre of the Arctic Ocean is now ice free during the summer for the first time in 47 million years! Multi-year sea ice has almost disappeared and the sea ice that does form is thin first-year sea ice. This major change in Arctic sea ice conditions is already having a profound effect on the weather of Western Europe (including the UK) and Russia. Coupled with this new access within the Arctic, there is a growing interest in exploiting the new found open water corridors through the Arctic Ocean and Canadian archipelago and the potential mineral wealth beneath the sea floor. The geopolitics of managing the Arctic are going to be increasingly animated in the next few years.
There was also detailed discussion with international lawyers and professional diplomats about the geopolitics associated with natural hazards: for instance, the hazard exists in one country, such as potentially catastrophic Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, but the vulnerability lies downstream in another. This is directly relevant in India, which is subject to flood events emanating from Nepal, Tibet (China) and Bhutan. It is clear that the geopolitical discussions have barely started on this topic.