Gateway to the Arctic – VIII and Evening Event „Arctic Change“


Workshop Gateway to the Arctic VIII in Potsdam, Germany

The 8th instalment of the “Gateway to the Arctic” workshop series took place from 4 to 7 October 2021. The theme of this year’s event, which was held in Potsdam, was “Climate change in the Arctic and its impact on cryosphere and permafrost regions – a transdisciplinary approach”. The main focus was on regional and international collaborations between various research disciplines, such as the natural and social sciences and the humanities. The workshop is the result of a long-standing cooperation between the Climate Office for Polar Regions and Sea Level Rise (Dr Renate Treffeisen) based at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the Helmholtz Association’s research initiative Regional Climate Change and People ‘REKLIM’ (Dr Klaus Grosfeld), and the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) (Prof Jan Borm), and is supported by the Franco-German University in Saarbrücken (Prof Olivier Mentz).

“The Arctic is one of the most vulnerable regions on Earth when it comes to climate change.” Many of the participants ended their introductions with these or similar words when it came to the context of this year’s event. For several decades, it has been no secret that the Arctic regions are particularly affected by anthropogenic climate change. The average temperature there is rising more than twice as fast as in the rest of the world, with significant consequences: the decline in Arctic sea ice, changes in the ecosystem, warming of the Arctic Ocean etc. The indigenous population living in the circumarctic region is particularly hard-hit by the effects of climate change. Those living with and from nature are having their livelihoods taken away by the changing environment. For example, the rising temperatures lead to catastrophic forest fires, which have major impacts on populated areas as well as on the ecosystem. The temperature changes also cause the thawing of permafrost soils, which store large amounts of carbon. Along with loss of land area, this means that carbon could escape into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which would further increase the risk of greater greenhouse-gas emissions. Although we still don’t know exactly how much carbon is stored in the snow- and ice-covered permafrost soil, the additional input could well result in a global temperature rise of 0.3 °C. This may not sound like much, but together with the current global temperature rise of 1.1°C, it could lead to the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of 1.5° soon being exceeded.

In this regard, the key question addressed at the workshop was how international experts and the indigenous population can work together on an equal footing to investigate the impacts of climate change in the Arctic regions. This would allow new solutions to be found jointly to help overcome the challenge of climate change. To this end, for instance, Dr Alexandra Lavrillier (UVSQ) has been working closely with the local population for several years to study in detail the impacts of climate change on the Siberian regions. Semen Gabyshev, who is both a reindeer herder living in Yakutia and a research associate at the UVSQ, is supporting the efforts to investigate the impact of climate change on the flora and fauna, and therefore on the livelihoods of the indigenous population, by sharing local knowledge.

The success of a collaboration like this demonstrates why combining local and international knowledge transfer is so important when it comes to research on the Arctic. After all, who knows more about the changes in the Arctic environment than the indigenous population, who have been dealing with the problem for decades and who have had to adapt to changing environmental conditions for generations? This makes including local knowledge and the observations and experiences of those living in the region in international research projects all the more important. Working in independent groups with the help of invited experts, the students concluded that in this highly complex area, a transdisciplinary approach is an important first step in jointly analysing the changes in the polar regions, and in finding comprehensive solutions. This requires support from national and international scientific communities, communication between scientists and the indigenous population, and transfer of knowledge to younger generations.

Perceiving Arctic Change: Climate, Society and Sustainability

In this context, on 6 October, an evening event entitled ‘Perceiving Arctic Change: Climate, Society and Sustainability’ (PACCSS) was held in the Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus in Berlin. PACCSS is the result of a long-standing Franco-German collaboration between the UVSQ and the AWI / REKLIM.

The event was opened by the French ambassador in Berlin, Anne-Marie Descôtes; the President of the Franco-German University in Saarbrücken, Prof Olivier Mentz; the Director of the AWI, Prof Antje Boetius; and the President of the UVSQ, Prof Alain Bui, who introduced the topic of climate change and the German-Franco collaboration in the Arctic. The proceedings were recorded for the French embassy’s YouTube channel ( and streamed live on

This was followed by an opening lecture by Prof Bernhard Diekmann (head of the AWI’s Potsdam Research Unit) on the Arctic as the epicentre of climate change, and research and field reports by Dr Alexandra Lavrillier (UVSQ) and Semen Gabyshev (reindeer herder and research associate at the UVSQ) on bringing together scientific and indigenous knowledge based on their successful, long-standing collaboration in Siberia.

Five experts (Jacques  Raharinaivo – Executive Officer to the Ambassador of the Poles; Dr Alexandra Lavrillier – UVSQ; Semen Gabyshev – UVSQ; Prof Bernhard Diekmann – AWI; Prof Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen – Aleksanteri Institute, Finnish Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Helsinki) were invited to take part in the panel discussion that followed. Moderated by Grace Dobush, they discussed the importance of international and transdisciplinary collaboration in relation to Arctic climate developments. Key topics included environmental protection, the impact of the changes on society, and scientific diplomacy. Beyond that, they addressed prospects at the political level, since France and Russia will be the joint organisers of the 4th Arctic Ministerial in Paris in 2023.

The evening was rounded off by the official launch of the joint Franco-German PhD Graduate School in Interdisciplinary Arctic studies (2021-2024 – PACCSS). After Prof Olivier Mentz (Franco-German University Saarbrücken), Prof Jan Borm (Vice-President in Charge of International Relations at the UVSQ), Dr Klaus Grosfeld (AWI / REKLIM) and Dr Renate Treffeisen (Climate Office, AWI), had honoured the first international participants, they invited the audience to the reception that followed, where they had an opportunity to meet and chat with each other.

Knowledge Networking

The workshop’s programme featured contributions by experts on a wide variety of topics, including research practices and ethics in the natural and social sciences, stratospheric research in the Antarctic, mass balance in ice sheets, the history of polar research, geopolitics and knowledge transfer. These offered the masters and doctoral students from the humanities, social and natural sciences plenty of opportunity to broaden their range of knowledge and to gain a better understanding of research areas related to as well as outside their own field. Of particular significance here was the colourful history of the event location on Telegrafenberg in Potsdam, which the participants learned about during the campus tour.

On the final day of the workshop, an ‘experiment’ awaited the participants. The aim was to bring the young scientists together. Led by Prof Rolf Teigler (SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences), the international film students and filmmakers Ipek Sertöz (independent filmmaker), Galla Borowski (SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences) and Richard Wellershoff (SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences) were invited to report on and discuss their latest ideas for a film project that uses a creative approach to raise public awareness for the effects of anthropogenic climate change. This work is linked to the long-standing collaboration between the REKLIM network and the DEKRA Filmhochschule Berlin (since 2013), which is now being continued with the SRH Berlin. The filmmakers and workshop participants alike particularly benefitted from the scientific contextualisation of the screenplay.

You can find the programme of the 4-day workshop hier.

Dr. Klaus Grosfeld (AWI / REKLIM)
Dr. Renate Treffeisen (AWI / REKLIM)

Prof. Jan Borm (UVSQ)