U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore has announced the release of the first volume of a joint U.S-Russian CD-ROM atlas containing decades of formerly restricted information on the Arctic Ocean which was collected by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
Gore, who had a leading role in arranging for the release of the information, made the announcement recently at the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C.
A long-time environmentalist, Gore had studied national security issues while serving on congressional intelligence and armed services committees. In the process, he became aware of the vast quantities of scientific data collected secretly by the U.S. intelligence community and military that could also be applied to solving environmental dilemmas -- rain forest decline, global warming, ocean pollution, and desertification.
Once convinced that sensitive material related to national security could be digitally excised from these data, Gore was determined to see much of the rest made available to science.
In September 1993, Gore initiated private talks with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin which led to the creation of the Gore/Chernomyrdin Commission and its Environmental Task Force dedicated to making data on the Arctic gathered by both superpowers for strategic purposes available for general scientific purposes. (World War III, so the scenario went, would most likely have been staged in the Arctic.)
Shared data on Arctic Ocean research has led to a series of CD-ROM atlases. The first of these, released this month, is the most comprehensive collection of Arctic oceanographic data ever produced. About 70 percent of the data is derived from the Russian archive at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg, while the rest comes from previously restricted international studies, the U.S. Navy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Russian contribution, which consists of some 1.4 million winter observations, represents decades of toil by scientists on both the airborne and the drift stations -- material drawn from 900,000 pages of documents that took 15 employees more than a year to transcribe. Subsequent atlases are being prepared on Arctic ice and meteorology.
Most scientists agree that it's too early to tell just what the practical implications of all this new data will be, said Norbert Untersteiner, professor of atmospheric science and geophysics at the University of Washington in Seattle and chair of the Arctic Climatology Project of the Environmental Task Force set up by Gore and Chernomyrdin. But the data is clearly valuable, he added, calling it "a very important piece of the puzzle."
"This is, after all, the record of what's happened in the Arctic Ocean in the second half of the 20th century," said Untersteiner. "Throughout the Cold War, the Russian Arctic was strictly off-limits to scientists from the West. This data changes all that. Now we'll know, for example, if the warm water anomaly we found in 1993 was there in 1970 or 1962 or 1950. It will allow us to paint the big picture in much greater detail."
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage