USARC Delegation Visits Finland
By: John Farrell, USARC Executive Director
In early April 2014, a delegation of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) traveled to Finland to investigate opportunities to further advance international scientific cooperation and to facilitate U.S.-Finnish coordination in implementing recently updated Arctic research policies.
In Helsinki, the Commission participated in meetings associated with the annual Arctic Science Summit Week, the Arctic Observing Summit, and preparation of the upcoming Third International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III). They also visited Aker Arctic Technology, a company in the Helsinki shipyard that has designed 60% of the world's icebreakers, many polar research vessels, cargo vessels, and offshore structures. Managing Director Mikko Niini gave a presentation to the commission, including a discussion of Aker's role in helping to design the USCG Cutter Healy and the R/V Sikuliaq, followed by a tour of the Aker facility, which included the world's only private water/ice tank that is used to test the designs of icebreakers and other structures for Arctic operations.
On 10 April, Finland's Arctic Advisory Board hosted USARC for a formal meeting to discuss Arctic issues of mutual interest. This committee's mandate is to monitor and coordinate Finland's activities in the Arctic and to implement Finland's Strategy for the Arctic Region 2013, which was adopted in 2013. The Arctic Advisory Board pays close attention to a wide variety of Arctic issues and supports Finland's role and positions in international contexts. The Board has 17 members appointed by the Finnish Prime Minister, and 10 experts representing different ministries, leaders of northern cities, the private sector, universities, and research institutions.
During the meeting, Finnish Ambassador Hannu Halinen stressed international cooperation as a major priority. He highlighted the need for sustainable development in the North and said that the Finns can help lead the way in areas such as offshore and maritime industry, search and rescue, renewable energy, clean technology, mining, traffic systems, data communications, and digital services. Fran Ulmer, USARC Chair, laid out the five major research themes of USARC for 2013-2014, noting the commonalities of U.S. and Finnish strategies. The Arctic Advisory Board and the USARC both expressed strong interest in continuing to work together toward common goals.
The Commission also visited the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT), which is the largest multi-technological applied research organization in Northern Europe. It provides high-end technology solutions and innovation services. VTT is a part of the Finnish innovation system under the domain of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and is a not-for-profit organization. Dr. Jaakko Heinonen, Principal Scientist, hosted the Commission. He and colleagues introduced the commission to a wide range of VTT's Arctic and cold climate research projects.
Traveling north to the Arctic town of Inari in northern Finland provided opportunities for the Commission to learn more about traditional practices of the indigenous Sami people, such as reindeer husbandry. The USARC delegates were hosted by Director Paula Kankaanpää and colleagues at the University of Lapland's Arctic Center in Rovaniemi. This Center of Excellence conducts multidisciplinary Arctic research in three main themes: global change, environmental and minority law, and sustainable development.
The visit successfully provided the Commission with a broad range of information on Finnish arctic research and, at the same time, provided Finnish colleagues with an opportunity to speak to U.S. leaders on Arctic research policy and to share strategies and goals. The similarities between U.S. and Finnish Arctic research strategies, the successive chairmanships of the Arctic Council, and historically strong relations provide an excellent opportunity to consider longer-term approaches to issues in coordination.