The breathtaking white expanses of the Scandinavian Arctic, far from cities, industry and pollution, give visitors the impression of being one of the purest places in the world. But, in recent years, Norwegian researchers who monitor the region have learned that the area is better seen as a sensitive barometer of environmental changes. From the subtle signals of global climate change to the health of Arctic ecosystems, Norway is in a unique position to observe and monitor this vital information.
The country's research and development agenda features efforts to understand how these complex environmental systems work, and how technology can be harnessed to protect the planet while serving society's needs. This, coupled with an environmental ethic that prizes the use of environmental technology to limit society's impact on the natural world, makes Norway an innovative leader in the environmentally friendly use and reuse of natural resources.
Monitoring Arctic Phenomena
The island archipelago of Svalbard is the northernmost landmass in Europe, making it an ideal outpost for monitoring Arctic phenomena. The Norwegian Polar Institute maintains a comprehensive Arctic environmental monitoring programme called MOSJ, initiated in 1999. The programme covers Svalbard and the nearby island of Jan Mayen Land, with scientists studying everything from polar bears to high-altitude ozone levels. In the former coal-mining town of Ny Ålesund, the institute opened the Arctic Marine Lab in June 2005 as the world's most northerly marine research laboratory. This, along with atmospheric and meteorological research, makes the Norwegian Polar Institute "the central institution for mapping, environmental monitoring and research in the Arctic and Antarctica," said Gunn Sissel Jaklin, a spokeswoman for the institute.
The Arctic is a sensitive barometer of environmental changes, as Norwegian Polar Institute researchers have found by studying polar bear health.
© Magnus Andersen/Norwegian Polar Institute
Work at the Polar Institute is complemented by research from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (BCCR) at the University of Bergen. The centre is the largest climate research group in Norway, and focuses on high-latitude climate change. Because climate change is more pronounced in the Arctic and Antarctic, it's easier to detect in these regions, giving scientists a critical early-warning system in understanding how the Earth's climate will respond to global warming.
In September 2005, researchers from the BCCR published a paper in Science magazine, one of the world's top scientific journals, about "unprecedented" and paradoxical record high salinities and ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic over the last decade. The high ocean temperatures will exacerbate global warming, but higher salinities are counter to what scientists predicted for global warming's effects in Europe, the researchers said.
Other BCCR researchers are working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a chapter on paleoclimate for the panel's 2007 report. Understanding how the Earth's past climate has changed is critical to understanding how human-induced warming will affect the future climate, says Eystein Jansen, BCCR director.
From Antarctica to Space
Norway joined an exclusive polar club in February 2005, when it opened its Troll Antarctic Research Station in Queen Maud Land for year-round research. Only a handful of countries maintain year-round stations. The availability of the research station will be particularly important for the upcoming International Polar Year in 2007/2008, said the Polar Institute's Jaklin. "We expect far more activity in Antarctic research," she said.
The Norwegian National Committee on Polar Research, which develops science plans for both Arctic and Antarctic research, says the year-round station strengthens Norway's ability to conduct important climate research, among other efforts. At the same time, the committee has identified possible new opportunities for Antarctic research, such as bioprospecting, where the genetic and biochemical features of Antarctic organisms are explored for commercial development.
The Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) is the world's leading and busiest ground station for satellites in polar orbit.
© Kongsberg Satellite Services
The opening of the Troll station was also an important milestone for Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), whose Svalbard ground station is the world's largest for polar satellites. The Troll station will allow KSAT to open a second ground station, called TrollSat, in Antarctica in February 2007. KSAT also monitors earth observation data for oil spills and icebergs for a number of European governments.
Satellite technology isn't just the purview of Norwegian companies or the government: in October 2005, a small Norwegian nanosatellite the size of a radio alarm-clock was launched with a larger European Space Agency satellite called SSETI, or the Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative. The nanosatellite, called NCUBE2, was designed by students at four Norwegian colleges and universities, and will test a ship-tracking system for the UN's International Maritime Organization. Another goal is to track the wild reindeer herd in Hardangervidda National Park.
Norway also makes use of the ESA's CryoSat, which was launched in 2004 to monitor polar ice, and Canada's RADARSAT programme. Norway currently uses or will employ 15 satellites for everything from ocean current measurements to weather forecasting.
Remote monitoring is a Norwegian expertise that also extends to oceans, with a new project planned for Malaysian waters in 2006. Fugro Oceanor has developed cutting-edge technology in the form of high-tech ocean buoys and seaside tide monitors that can warn of typhoon and tsunami conditions. Elsewhere, the company has contracts to establish an early warning system for El Niño conditions in the waters off Peru.
Setting Research Priorities: The Research Council of Norway
The Research Council of Norway's numerous environmental programmes are characterized by interdisciplinarity, a key feature that builds on the creativity and synergy that results when different researchers combine efforts towards a common goal. The council received NOK 215 million from the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment for environmental work. NORKLIMA is one of the council's seven large-scale research programmes that will extend through 2013. The programme is designed to examine basic scientific problems related to the earth's climate system, as well as important social issues that will be affected by climate change.
A related large-scale research programme, RENERGI, focuses on renewable energy sources, but researchers will also work with NORKLIMA in examining policy instruments and technological solutions for controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
Interdisciplinarity is also central to the Research Council's programme on biological diversity, said council special advisor Per Backe-Hansen. A new programme covering diversity will be final by February 2006. "We are considering landscape ecology, landscape changes, sociological research, pollution research
.the scope will be quite broad," Backe-Hansen said.
|SINTEF Materials and Chemistry researchers designed tiny capsules for a bitter substance made by NetKem that helps discourage farmed cod from chewing on aquaculture nets.
© SINTEF Materials and Chemistry
This drive to bring diverse groups together has shaped a new programme called Environmental Technology, under development by the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT). The project aims to broaden and increase the use of environmentally friendly technologies by building networks among public research institutes and by making information about environmental technology widely available.
Enova SF is a state company that's more like a private enterprise. Funded by a levy on electricity distribution tariffs, Enova can grant money to municipalities and businesses for investments in environmentally friendly energy technologies. Money is available to reduce energy consumption in new buildings, while another programme encourages investment in wind and other renewable energy sources, such as biofuels.
Norway's environmental ethic is also reflected in the priorities that have been established for the country's 2006 presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Norwegian Minister of the Environment Helen Bjørnøy has identified climate change and environmental pollution in the Arctic as two of the most important priorities during 2006. The Nordic Council is composed of representatives from Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, the Faeroe Islands and Åland.
SINTEF: Clean Water, and Cod That Don't Chew
Research meets the commercial world at SINTEF, Scandinavia's largest independent research organization. SINTEF both improves on existing technologies to reduce their environmental impact and develops unique approaches to provide the technology society needs. The organization works in close partnership with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.
SINTEF's Energy Research programme was awarded a major EU research project in November 2005 worth NOK 250 million to improve the efficiency of bioenergy combustion plants. The effort is the largest-ever bioenergy project financed by the EU. Efficiency also stands behind a new way of treating toxic wastewater developed by researchers at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry. The technology doesn't need high temperatures or pressures to operate, and can come in different sizes.
SINTEF researchers also cooperate with private companies to bring products to market. One cooperator is NOR-X Industry, which has worked with SINTEF in creating additives for polymers, plastics and hydrocarbon-based materials to make them more environmentally friendly and, in some cases, biodegradable. Another cooperative effort was formed between the NetKem company and Materials and Chemistry researchers. SINTEF designed tiny capsules for a bitter substance the company makes to discourage farmed cod from chewing on aquaculture nets; the capsules enabled nets to be impregnated with the substance.
Making Recycling Easier
Countries that use deposit systems for bottles and cans find that consumers are eager to get their money back, which generally keeps return rates high. But when recyclables don't have deposits, what's the easiest way to get consumers to recycle?
Norway's answer has been the LOOP programme, a cooperative between packaging and consumer goods producers that provides consumers with information about what should be recycled - and where to recycle it. As a consequence, the country has recycling rates that top 90 percent for some sectors. Consumer electronics and household goods have been particular success stories, with current recycling rates of 85 percent and 75 percent, respectively. A recycling leader is Foldall Gjenvinning, which turns used polyethylene bags into new trash bags or plastic films for agriculture or construction.
Environmental technology can also play a role in simplifying recycling. Norway has been particularly strong in reverse vending machine technology, which allows for the easy collection of for-deposit containers. Tomra and Repant are leading companies. Tomra has developed the use of a new sensor, called the holochip, which uses infrared technology to identify and separate different wastes. An igloo containing the holochip sorts waste and can even notify its owners when it needs to be emptied. "It's a high-tech recycling machine," said Andrew Young, Tomra's vice president of corporate communications.
|Tomra's high-tech recycling machine - shown here being tested at a Tesco supermarket in the United Kingdom - uses infrared technology to identify and separate different wastes.
© Tomra Systems
Cleaner Technology, More Competitive on the World Market
More and more Norwegian companies are discovering that Norway's tough environmental standards can make for good business.
When, in 2002, the Norwegian Parliament identified ocean and harbour sediment pollution as a serious problem that would require NOK 25-30 billion to clean up, Norway took the lead among nations in having the only national plan for contaminated marine sediments. Biologge is a Norwegian company that has worked cooperatively with the US Army Corps of Engineers research group, ERDC, to assess contaminated sediments as part of developing plans for cleanup.
AnoxKaldnes has developed a high-tech approach to advanced wastewater treatment that harnesses biological processes, particularly biofilms, to clean both industrial and municipal wastewater to a high standard. Cleaner, smarter technology is also behind the success of Wood Polymer Technologies, a Norwegian company that markets an environmentally friendly substance that impregnates wood to protect it for outdoor use without heavy metals or biocides. The Norwegian Foundation for Sustainable Consumption and Production recognized the company in 2004 with two national prizes for environmental innovation and ecological design.
In some instances, Norwegian process industries have outpaced government regulation, as is the case with Yara, a company that makes fertilizers. Yara voluntarily pledged to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases and has developed its own technology to cut emissions by 20 percent, or 500 thousand tonnes each year. The technology will be installed by the end of 2006.
Rune Frøyland, an advisor to the Bellona Foundation, an environmental group, likes to tell the story of an international pipe manufacturer that has invested in cutting-edge technologies to meet Norwegian standards. The manufacturer thanked Bellona for the foundation's pressure on the Norwegian government to adopt strong environmental regulations.
"If you have the best available technology, you are most likely to get contracts with Norwegian companies," Frøyland recalls the pipe manufacturer saying. "And if you can meet Norwegian standards, you can meet standards anywhere in the world."