Anna Stammler-Gossmann - Current research

DAMOCLES project
(Developing Arctic Modeling and Observing Capabilities for Long-term Environmental Studies), funded by European Union in the framework of IPY (International Polar Year)

DAMOCLES will provide the largest ever effort to assemble simultaneous observations of the full Arctic ice-atmosphere-ocean system. This European Integrated Project represents the efforts of 45 European research institutions including more than 100 researchers, distributed among 12 European countries, and coordinated with the USA, Russia, Canada and Japan. Arctic Centre participates in assessment of potential impacts of climate changes in the Arctic on humans and environments.

The focus of my current interest within DAMOCLES lies on a study of possible impacts of changes in climate and sea ice conditions in the Arctic on the environment and human activities such as fishery, shipping, oil and gas extraction, tourism in the Barents Sea region, particularly on the Kola Peninsula and Northern Norway. The Arctic sea ice is predicted by some coupled models to be greatly reduced. There is a range of important, not only potential bio-geophysical consequences, but also associated socio-economic impacts of a shrinking and thinning ice cover. The main focus of my research activities in year 2007 was on the fishery sector.


Picture 1: Fish harbour in Murmansk. Photo: A. Stammler-Gossmann

The analysis of human vulnerability and adaptation to environmental changes e.g. in the fishery sector is based on data of interaction between climatic, biophysical, and socio-economic changes over two time periods (1979-81 and 2001-2006).

Murmansk region is one of the most urbanized regions in Russia and one of the most populated areas in the Arctic. It is located on the Kola Peninsula in the north-eastern part of European Russia.


Picture 2: Murmansk panorama, photo: A. Stammler-Gossmann

The Barents Sea is the main fishing ground in the northern ’fishery basin’ and Murmansk was and is the main fishing port of the northern basin. There is no traditional "coastal fishing" industry in northern Russia and there are only few "traditional fishing communities" along the coast. Fishing is an "urban" activity, since most of fishery-related activities are located in Murmansk, an ice-free harbour and Russia’s only port with unrestricted access to the Atlantic and world sea routes.


Picture 3: Murmansk: Ice-free fishing and shipping port. Photo: A.Stammler-Gossmann

After the end of the Soviet period, the main driving force in the restructuring of the fishing industry has been the market economy. Fishery has became strongly export-oriented, which has hampered the development of an effective fish processing and ’value added’ production.


Picture 4: Announcement in Murmansk phone book ‘Fish delivery from Norway’

Although the concerns with climate change in Russia are perceived less than in the West, the diminishing of sea ice is one of the factors which will have direct or indirect impact on the sector.


Picture 5: Ice retreat and new opportunities: Ice breaker tourism. Photo: A. Haselden.  


Picture 6: Fish market in winter. Photo: A. Stammler-Gossmann.  


Picture 7: Impact on household: Ice retreat and price increase? Photo A. Stammler-Gossmann.

Changes in the ice characteristics (such as velocity, salinity etc.) are usually not visible directly in our daily life even though they are on the way. Nevertheless most valuable commercial fish like cod can be sensitive to the changing water conditions (e.g. temperature), and possible changes e.g. in its migrations or shifts in the distribution can cause changes in the fishing industry as well. Ice retreat and possibilities of easier access to hydrocarbon resources of the Arctic Sea, the development of the Shtokman gas field create conditions for the intensifying of shipping activities which can pose a significant treat and implications to regional fishery activities.


Picture 8: TechExpo in Murmansk (November, 2007). Picture: A.Stammler-Gossmann.  


Picture 9: Ice breaker ‘Soviet Union’. Photo: A. Stammler-Gossmann.  


Picture 10: Shtokman field: planned gas pipeline. (Map: BBC) shtokman_gasmap_bbc.GIF

Speaking about the highly specific character of human connections with their environment we have to keep in mind not only physical connections in human dimensions of climate change, but also include the whole range of human worldview and perceptual realm in which people understand their position related to their physical surroundings. The vulnerability, resilience and adaptation assessments for the fishery sector require also in-depth investigations into what the people living in these areas view as key concerns and how these residents perceive the interrelations among, for example, natural resources and resource use, climatic changes and social economic pressures. To assess the social impacts of projected climatic changes in the Arctic is an integrated effort of DAMOCLES. I apply the different approaches and ways of knowing, combining qualitative and qualitative methods and developing place based methods. The key concepts are those of

  • ‘vulnerability’ - to identify the principal risk to which the selected stakeholders groups are subject, and to compare their magnitude, and
  • ‘social carrying capacity’ - to assess the significance of natural factors influenced by non-natural factors of political decisions, economic developments and cultural values.

Focusing on the research of possible impact of changes in the sea-ice characteristics on the fishery as economic sector and subsistence economy I conducted fieldwork in three different coastal areas of the Barents Sea:   

Fieldwork in Kola peninsula, Murmansk region, European North of Russia:

  • 2006 March Murmansk: short trip; 
  • 2006 September Murmansk:short trip; 
  • 2006: November Murmansk - Apatity. 
  • 2007: November: Monchegorsk - Kirovsk - Apatity - Murmansk.

Fieldwork in Nenets Autonomous District, European North of Russia:

  • 2008 Mai-June: Naryan-Mar - Nelmin Nos

Fieldwork in Finnmark, Northern Norway:

  • 2008: October-November. Kirkenes

The focus groups: fishery professionals, fishermen, representatives from the private fish enterprises/agencies (costal and distant-water fishing, fish delivery service, information service), representatives of fish processing plants, fishery management, scientists in oceanographic monitoring of fishing in the Barents Sea; municipal and regional administration; indigenous residents, NGOs.

The main research focus during the fieldwork in 2006-2007 was on impact of climate related changes in the Barents Sea on the fishery as an economic sector in the Murmansk region. I investigated the current situation in costal and distant-water fishing; fishery management, fish quota distribution; identification of indicators of sustainable exploitation of marine biological resources in Russian science; environmental risk forecasting and mitigation policy; environmental and social impact assessment in the region; legal issues in the fisheries, costal legislation, international offshore borders; adaptive capacities of the households and in the fishery sector; statistics (e.g. dynamics of catch, employment in the sector), assessment of possible damage to biological resources of the Kola bay from intensive shipping of oil and gas and potential danger of petroleum floods in the oil terminals.

During my fieldwork in 2008 in Malozemelskaya tundra in a small Nenets village, located 100 km from Barents Sea cost, I focused on the question of how climatic changes affect subsistence activities. I identified and documented ways of perceiving and valuing, and corresponding habits and practices of people who live of reindeer herding, fishing, hunting and gathering. My purpose was to observe the local expertise of northern residents as they witness and interpret shifts, transition and abnormal events in their familiar habitats. I paid special attention to interviewing people related to a particular reindeer brigade, which already experienced impact of changing ice conditions on the Barents Sea, where it moves during its annual migration cycle. In 1998 a peace of ice cracked off the island with the grazing area of the brigade on the Barents Sea coast and 1000 reindeer of the brigade drifted away. The human-environmental relations of relocated residents of the coastal settlement Varandei affected by coastal erosion were another research issue related to our study of human dimension of climate change.

The main focus of fieldwork conducted in 2008 in Northern Norway was on the Russian fishermen community in Kirkenes on the Barents Sea coast, close to the Russian border. In the ice-free port of Kirkenes most of the fishing vessels are from Russia. Instead to go to Murmansk harbor located close-by, Russian fishermen prefer to deliver their fish to the local freeze-store, repair the ships, buy food and fuel in Norway. The fieldwork was conducted at a time when many of the Russian vessels reached the catch quota and after their last landing were waiting for new quota. It was a great possibility to carry out in depth interviews with several vessels crews, with fishery professionals and experts, who stay at sea for weeks and months. Their observation in fish distribution, positioning, catch quality as well as non -natural factors of economic developments and political decisions are of crucial importance for our analysis of climate change impacts on the fishery sector. The shared observation and knowledge by another   target   group of coastal practitioners (fishery management agents, representatives of fishers association, ship repair yards, fish freeze-store terminal, tourist agency) and representatives of local authorities within municipality is another  significant contribution for my analysis of the complex economic, political and legal setting in fishery in the Northeast Atlantic.