Institute of the Biological Problems of the North
The Institute of the Biological Problems of the North (IBPN) is one of the few academic institutions in the northern part of the Russian Far East. Since its establishment in 1972, IBPN has amassed botanical and zoological collections from and conducted research in this vast region. However, the Institute's relative isolation and chronic underfunding has meant that its collections and research are largely unknown or unavailable to Western scientists.
IBPN and the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences are exploring ways to preserve IBPN's scientific collections and open possibilities for Russian scientists to publish their findings in international journals. In addition, cooperation between these two institutions promises to yield important findings regarding a variety of anthropogenic influences in boreal environments.
Natural resource extraction, especially mining, was intensive during the Soviet era, but the environmental effects were—and continue to remain—relatively localized; some areas were severely degraded while others were left almost intact. Mining activity has declined significantly following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but the region is increasingly being seen as a potential source of petroleum, natural gas and timber. Given IBPN's long history of biodiversity work in the region and the relatively localized impacts of past human activities, the promise of collecting robust baseline environmental data is considerable.
Cooperation between IBPN and the Academy also offers exceptional opportunity—and urgency—to the study long-term effects of climate change on boreal biodiversity and ecological processes. Siberia has warmed faster than almost any other place on the planet and this warming is expected to have dramatic consequences for these fragile northern ecosystems. Moreover, widespread permafrost thaw is expected to releases huge quantities of greenhouse gases.
Academy scientist Dr. Marina Potapova recently received a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding to fund research at Magadan. She has already made one trip to Magadan and will receive two Russian scientists here in Philadelphia during 2009.