Published: 05 October 2014
Following on from my recent post regarding the attempt by Dr Gavin Schmidt to rubbish the research of Russian scientists, led by Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semiletov, it now emerges that the latter were not even invited to the high profile meeting at the Royal Society.
The event, held a fortnight ago, is still causing controversy beyond the negative tweeting by NASA Goddard Director, Dr Gavin Schmidt. Schmidt aimed his presentation at discrediting the Russian’s work, using theoretical models, without expertise in methane, or credible data. The end result is that the Russian team have composed a letter to Royal Society President, Sir Paul Nurse, asking for an opportunity to present their findings, including contributions from over 30 scientists working in the region for over 20 years.
One of the longstanding major triumphs of the scientific community has been a commitment to apolitical analysis of important research. We all know there are geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West, but are these now making an unwelcome entree into an area that could pose enormous risk for humanity at large?
The risk of large-scale releases of the deadly greenhouse gas, methane, from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) may be a subject of debate in the scientific community, but to purposefully exclude one side of the debate and openly denounce their findings is not just immoral, it is reckless.
The letter, signed by Semiletov and Shakhova on behalf of more than 30 scientists, does state to the Royal Society President that the evidence shown by Dr Schmidt (based on work by Dr David Archer) is purely theoretical and that, despite both being very skilled climate modellers, neither has expertise in methane or the area in question, The East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
Whilst the meeting was in process, an expedition in the ESAS was in progress, with over 80 Russian and Swedish scientists. So why would such high profile Western scientists try to discredit a large and growing body of research? It is a hard question to answer, but the intent is certainly evident.
It is a matter for all of our concern if there is a posed risk of environmental devastation emanating from any region of the world. The Earth system does not acknowledge sovereignty or nationalist interests. International collaboration and respect are vital if we are to understand the changes that are going on as a result of man made climate change. The Earth is heating up and many feedbacks from the heating, such as methane releases, are not fully understood but are known to have caused enormous changes in the global climate.
The division between the climate modelling camp and the scientists carrying out observational research is completely nonsensical. It seems perfectly logical that the data collected by one group should be used by the other in order to make the models more accurate. If climate models have no basis in reality, then how can we trust their reliability?
The disdain shown by Dr Schmidt for his international colleagues should now be put aside and the doors of the Royal Society opened to allow the Russian team to present their findings. It is in all of our interests that this takes place, so, Sir Paul, over to you…
Author: Nick Breeze
Letter From Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov to Sir Paul Nurse:
October 4th, 2014
By mail and email
Dear Sir Paul Nurse,
We are pleased that the Royal Society recognizes the value of Arctic science and hosted an important scientific meeting last week, organised by Dr D. Feltham, Dr S. Bacon, Dr M. Brandon, and Professor Emeritus J. Hunt (https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/arctic-sea-ice/).
Our colleagues and we have been studying the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) for >20 years and have detailed observational knowledge of changes occurring in this region, as documented by publications in leading journals such as Science, Nature, and Nature Geosciences. During these years, we performed >20 all-seasonal expeditions that allowed us to accumulate a large and comprehensive data set consisting of hydrological, biogeochemical, and geophysical data and providing a quality of coverage that is hard to achieve, even in more accessible areas of the World Ocean.
To date, we are the only scientists to have long-term observational data on methane in the ESAS. Despite peculiarities in regulation that limit access of foreign scientists to the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, where the ESAS is located, over the years we have welcomed scientists from Sweden, the USA, The Netherlands, the UK, and other countries to work alongside us. A large international expedition performed in 2008 (ISSS-2008) was recognized as the best biogeochemical study of the IPY (2007-2008). The knowledge and experience we accumulated throughout these years of work laid the basis for an extensive Russian-Swedish expedition onboard I/B ODEN (SWERUS-3) that allowed > 80 scientists from all over the world to collect more data from this unique area. The expedition was successfully concluded just a few days ago.
To our dismay, we were not invited to present our data at the Royal Society meeting. Furthermore, this week we discovered, via a twitter Storify summary (circulated by Dr. Brandon), that Dr. G. Schmidt was instead invited to discuss the methane issue and explicitly attacked our work using the model of another scholar, whose modelling effort is based on theoretical, untested assumptions having nothing to do with observations in the ESAS. While Dr. Schmidt has expertise in climate modelling, he is an expert neither on methane, nor on this region of the Arctic. Both scientists therefore have no observational knowledge on methane and associated processes in this area. Let us recall that your motto “Nullus in verba” was chosen by the founders of the Royal Society to express their resistance to the domination of authority; the principle so expressed requires all claims to be supported by facts that have been established by experiment. In our opinion, not only the words but also the actions of the organizers deliberately betrayed the principles of the Royal Society as expressed by the words “Nullus in verba”.
In addition, we would like to highlight the Anglo-American bias in the speaker list. It is worrisome that Russian scientific knowledge was missing, and therefore marginalized, despite a long history of outstanding Russian contributions to Arctic science. Being Russian scientists, we
believe that prejudice against Russian science is currently growing due to political disagreements with the actions of the Russian government. This restricts our access to international scientific journals, which have become exceptionally demanding when it comes to publication of our work compared to the work of others on similar topics. We realize that the results of our work may interfere with the crucial interests of some powerful agencies and institutions; however, we believe that it was not the intent of the Royal Society to allow political considerations to override scientific integrity.
We understand that there can be scientific debate on this crucial topic as it relates to climate. However, it is biased to present only one side of the debate, the side based on theoretical assumptions and modelling. In our opinion, it was unfair to prevent us from presenting our more-than-decadal data, given that >200 scientists were invited to participate in debates. Furthermore, we are concerned that the Royal Society proceedings from this scientific meeting will be unbalanced to an unacceptable degree (which is what has happened on social media).
Consequently, we formally request the equal opportunity to present our data before you and other participants of this Royal Society meeting on the Arctic and that you as organizers refrain from producing any official proceedings before we are allowed to speak.
On behalf of >30 scientists,
Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov