Russia’s city of Norilsk is home to nearly 180,000 people. It has shopping complexes and supermarkets and even nightclubs, and it almost seems like any urban center—except that it’s located in Siberia and is built on permafrost.
As climate conditions change and melt parts of the Arctic, areas in the far north may experience higher levels of human activity, including more resource development, freight traffic, and tourism. A new $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is enabling a group of researchers from George Washington University to study Arctic cities like Norilsk and develop an index to measure sustainability in these communities.
The index will look at environmental issues, such as thawing permafrost, and social factors, including economic and labor cycles, to improve urban planning.
The project is an example of cross-disciplinary research and convenes experts from several disciplines—geographers, political scientists, migration experts and other researchers. Together, scholars from different fields will examine how lessons from the Arctic can be applied to other parts of the world.
“Understanding how people survive in the Arctic might give us insight into how people live in hot places, too. It will be significant in terms of looking at life in extreme circumstances,” explained Elliott School Associate Research Professor of International Affairs Robert Orttung, the project’s principal investigator.
Dr. Orttung, a political scientist, said the grant gives GW professors an opportunity to work together and leverage the university’s strong Arctic research capacity. The project brings together geographers in the Columbian College, who will study changing climate conditions and thawing permafrost, and migration experts, who will focus on how resource development in the high north affects labor patterns.
Additionally, the project will include outreach and educational opportunities for students. […]
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