About the Asia Center
Asia is presently undergoing rapid economic development based on a nearly unrestricted exploitation of environmental resources. This development, coupled with altered global climates and climate extremes, is exacerbating and accelerating environmental degradation and loss of ecosystems that will certainly lead to the extinction of many biological species. These impacts also have the potential to seriously affect food and water supplies for millions—if not billions—of people.
These environmental challenges necessitate timely responses and adaptations that can only be effective if based on solid scientific research and robust scientific infrastructure. The Academy of Natural Sciences, with its expertise in biodiversity and environmental research, coupled with public museum exhibits and education, has much to offer through public education, training of scientists and fundamental research on the impacts of these changes on our environment around the world.
The Academy has a long history of research in Asia. Most notably, the Academy has conducted recent and highly successful efforts in Mongolia that encompass biodiversity assessment, environmental monitoring, land-use management, ecotourism development, social anthropology and capacity building for young scientists. These efforts are noteworthy for their fruitful collaborations with the National University of Mongolia, the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, and the Mongolian Academy of Science, as well as with several international organizations and a large international team of scientists.
One of these, The Institute for Mongolian Biodiversity and Ecological Research (IMBES), has engaged in a variety of basic and applied research projects in Hövsgöl National Park for more than a decade. Its work has been central to establishment of the Mongolian Long Term Ecological Research network in 1997 and the inclusion of Hövsgöl into the East Asian network of International Long Term Ecological Research (ILTER) sites. Its remarkably pristine state is one reason why the Hövsgöl region has generated interest. Hövsgöl is situated in a transitional zone between two vast Asian biomes, the Siberian Taiga and the Central Asian Steppe, and therefore is a perfect location for research on the impacts of climate change.
The Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey (MAIS) is another highly successful, long-term Academy program that has brought together a team of international scientists to train young American and Mongolian scientists while studying this poorly understood part of northern Asia. Since 2002, MAIS has documented aquatic macroinvertebrate biodiversity in several hundred sites from rivers and streams, springs, lakes and wetlands and described numerous new species.
Research on climate change impacts at Lake Hövsgöl will continue (in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania, the National University of Mongolia, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences) with a newly awarded grant from the National Science Foundation while the research of the Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey is ongoing.
A New Initiative
The successes of its work in Mongolia—and the pressing environmental challenges of economic development in Asia—have led to the formation of a new Asia Center at The Academy of Natural Sciences. Its mission is to foster environmental protection and sustainable use of resources in Asia through advancement and application of the natural sciences.
The Asia Center is now taking steps to build upon its work in Mongolia and to expand its research in priority places and projects elsewhere in Asia. This may include work in Eastern and Central Asia (including China, Russia and other former Soviet Republics). It has four program goals to be pursued in cooperation with host nations and other partners and with provisions for training and other capacity-building measures to assure sustained implementation:
- Improving understanding of the diversity, ecology and evolution of life.
- Developing and applying science to protect the environment.
- Advancing public interest and engagement in natural sciences and environmental issues.
- Preserving the heritage of natural science in specimens, images, words and numbers.
There are two priorities for the Asia Center that incorporate both compelling needs and the Academy's expertise:
- Climate Change
Changes in climatic regimes and continued increases in the frequency of climatic extremes will have significant and potentially devastating impacts on local peoples and entire countries. Recent and ongoing work at Hövsgöl (Mongolia) has contributed considerable insight into the interactions of climate change with permafrost degradation, desertification and sustainable rangeland management. In addition, scientific capacity building within Mongolia and educational outreach programs to semi-nomadic pastoralists are significant components of this work. Many of the specific findings and sustainable practices from Hövsgöl are readily applicable to other regions in Eastern and Central Asia, while the expertise gained can facilitate the building of comparable programs elsewhere.
- Water Quality and Freshwater Biodiversity
Accelerating economic development, globalization and population growth are dramatically increasing pressures to unsustainably exploit aquatic resources throughout Asia. Yet, the scientific and institutional infrastructures, as well as baseline scientific assessments, needed to manage these assets are often woefully inadequate. The Academy, with its decades of experience in water quality, biological monitoring and biodiversity assessment, is ideally suited to address these challenges through academic research training and public education.