PARIS – Without Russian help, climate scientists are worried about how they will continue their vital work of documenting warming in the Arctic.
The European space agency is wrestling with how its planned Mars rover could survive a frozen night on the red planet without its Russian heating unit.
And what would happen to the world’s search for carbon-free energy if the 35 countries cooperating in an experimental fusion-power reactor in France could not send important components from Russia?
In the scientific field, with a profound impact on the future of mankind and knowledge, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is causing a rapid and widespread erosion of relations and projects uniting Moscow and the West. Science is unveiling post-Cold War bridge-building as Western nations seek to punish and isolate the Kremlin by cutting off support for scientific programs involving Russia.
The cost of this decoupling, scientists say, could be higher on both sides. Without cooperation, tackling climate change and other problems will be more difficult and time consuming. Russian and Western scientists have become increasingly dependent on each other’s skills because they have worked together on issues ranging from unlocking nuclear power to running probes in space. Separating the dense web of relationships will be complicated.
An example is the European Space Agency’s planned Mars rover with Russia. Arrays of Russian sensors to sniff, rub and study the planet’s environment may need to be unbolted and replaced, and a non-Russian launcher rocket could be found if the suspension of their cooperation turns into a permanent rupture. In that case, the launch, already scrubbed for this year, did not happen before 2026.
“We need to release all the cooperation we had, and it’s a very complicated process, a painful one I can tell you,” ESA director Joseph Ashbacher said in an Associated Press interview. “Dependence on each other, of course, also creates stability and a certain amount of trust. And that’s something we’ll lose, and we’ll lose now, through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
International outrage and sanctions on Russia are making formal cooperation difficult or impossible. Scientists who have become friends are communicating informally but are being plugged into their big and small projects. The European Union is freezing Russian companies from its major 95 billion euros ($ 105 billion) funding for research, suspending funding and saying it will not receive any new contracts. In Germany, Britain and elsewhere, funding and support for projects involving Russia are being withdrawn.
In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has severed ties with a research university based in Moscow. Estonia’s oldest and largest university will not accept new students from Russia and allied Belarus. The president of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Termo Sommer, has said that the scientific connection needs to be broken, but that it will do harm.
“We are at risk of losing a lot of momentum that leads our world to a better solution, (a) a better future,” he told the AP. “Globally, we are at risk of losing the key point of science – which is gaining new and necessary information and communicating with others.”
Russian scientists are preparing for painful isolation. An online petition by Russian scientists and scientific activists opposing the war says it now has more than 8,000 signatories. They warn that by invading Ukraine, Russia has turned itself into a Parisian state, which means “we cannot normally do our job as scientists, because it is impossible to conduct research without full cooperation with foreign colleagues.”
Growing isolation is also being pressured by Russian authorities. An order from the Ministry of Science has suggested that scientists no longer need to be bothered to publish research in scientific journals, saying they will no longer be used as criteria for the quality of their work.
Lev Zelenyi, a leading physicist at the Moscow Space Research Institute who was involved in the now suspended collaboration with ExoMars Rover, described the situation as “tragic” and said in an email to the AP that he and other Russian scientists must now “survive in this new inefficient environment.” And learn to work. “
With some big collaborations, the future is not clear. Work continues on the 35-nation ITER Fusion-Energy project in southern France, with Russia still sharing costs and test results among the seven founders.
ITER spokesman Laban Coblantz said the project was “a deliberate attempt by countries with different ideologies to create something physically together.” One of the essential components supplied by Russia is a huge superconducting magnet that is waiting to be tested in St. Petersburg before shipment – several years later.
Researchers searching for the elusive Darkness hope they will not lose out to the more than 1,000 Russian scientists who contributed to the European Atomic Energy Agency’s CERN test. Joachim Minich, director of research and computing, said the punishment should be reserved for the Russian government, not Russian colleagues. CERN has already suspended the status of Russian observer in the agency, but “we are not sending anyone home,” Minich told the AP.
In other cases, too, scientists say, Russian skills will be missed. Adrian Mukswardi, a professor at Imperial College London, said that in the study of the Earth’s magnetic field, Russian-made instruments could “measure in a way that other commercial instruments made in the West could not.” Muxworthy no longer expects the supply of 250 million-year-old Siberian rock from Russia, which he planned to study.
In Germany, atmospheric scientist Marcus Rex said that the year-long international mission he led to the Arctic in 2019-2020 would have been impossible without the mighty Russian ships that breastfed their research ship through the ice to deliver food, fuel and other necessities. The Ukraine invasion is shutting down this “very close cooperation”, as well as future joint efforts to study the effects of climate change, he told the AP.
“It simply came to our notice then. We’re going to lose things, “said Rex. “Just make a map and look at the Arctic. It is very difficult to make meaningful research on the Ark if you ignore that big thing in Russia. “
“It’s really a nightmare because the Arctic is changing so fast,” he added. “It will not wait to resolve all our political conflicts or ambitions to conquer other countries.”
Frank Jordans in Berlin, Jamie Keaten in Geneva and other AP journalists contributed to this report.
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