Norwegian Polar Institute reports 2015 was ‘the top year’ for climate research, but not for researchers

It was “the top year” for climate research, but the climate for researchers took some hits.

The Norwegian Polar Institute had one of its highest-profile years ever, due in large part to the six-month Norwegian Young Sea Ice Cruise that began in January of 2015, according to the institute’s annual report for the past year. The expedition, where the Lance research vessel was frozen into the ice as far as 83 degrees latitude north, received extensive worldwide media coverage throughout and got additional exposure at the U.N. climate summit in Paris in December.

“Never before have we had such a huge and concerted effort to study the effects of melting ice on the energy flow between the atmosphere and ocean, effects on weather systems, regional and global climates, ecosystems and ice shelf dynamics,” wrote NPI Director Jan-Gunnar Winther in his opening summary of the report.

“The expedition was very successful. The data collected will improve current climate models, thus providing a better understanding of climate change that is coming.”

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Jon Aars, a researcher for the Norwegian Polar Institute, examines a polar bear cub and its mother during a field expedition. He was among the participants in the institute’s polar bear census this year. Photo by Jon Aars / Norwegian Polar Institute.

At the same time, the institute’s rapid growth in recent year came to a halt due to budget restraints, Winther noted. The Norwegian government is facing large shortfalls due to a collapse in oil prices.

“It has been challenging for all employees, especially for those who were offered voluntary severance packages,” he wrote. “The objective of the process has been that the Norwegian Polar Institute will be better prepared to tackle the future, academically as well as financially.”

Union representatives told the media in April buyouts might be sought for about 10 percent of the institute’s employees, and described them as “shocked, confounded, frustrated and angry.” NPI leaders refused to specify the number of buyouts offered.

The institute also achieved another major goal – yet with its own setback – by conducting the first polar bear census in the Barents Sea region in 11 years. But they were only able to count the bears in Norwegian territory since Russia failed to allow access for what was supposed to be a joint census.

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