KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Despite now sharing once-secret Arctic research data, the thawing of U.S.-Soviet cold war tensions may have a chilling effect on Arctic studies, a University of Tennessee-Knoxville oceanographer said Thursday.
Dr. Walker Smith, who has gone to the Arctic six times, said the Russian-U.S. agreement this week to share once-classified Arctic military information will help scientists better understand world oceans and weather.
However, the fear of an enemy military strike from the North that drove that research is gone, as is much of the funding for Arctic studies, Smith said.
The Office of Naval Research, the major funding agency for Arctic research, has dramatically reduced research there since the cold war ended, Smith said.
“Now, because of the end of the cold war, there is much less interest in the Arctic because there is no fear of the Soviet submarine fleet coming out of the Arctic,” he said.
Vice President Al Gore announced this week at a meeting of the National Geographic Society that millions of research observations made by U.S. and Russian military will be made public.
Gore said the new information is being released on four compact disks. The first, which covers the Arctic Ocean in winter, was released this week.
“Much of those data would have been greatly anticipated 10 years ago, but now there is less research money to actually use it in research projects,” Smith said. “The direct applied use of Arctic information in warfare is absent.”
Smith said Russian Arctic research funding also is being cut. Many Russian scientists rely more on U.S. colleagues, he said.
“There seems to be a true desire on the Russians’ part now to interact with American colleagues, driven in large part by the economic chaos the Russian government is in,” Smith said. “One way to survive as a Russian scientist is to hook up with an American scientist and have access to more funds.”
Contact: Dr. Walker Smith (423-974-3065)