Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Strategic Arctic science: national interests in building natural knowledge - interwar era through the Cold War
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.
Show others and affiliations
2014 (English)In: Journal of Historical Geography, ISSN 0305-7488, E-ISSN 1095-8614, Vol. 44, 60-80 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

From the 1930s through the 1950s-the decades bracketing the second and third international polar years research in the physical and biological environmental sciences of the Arctic increased dramatically. The heroic, expedition-based style of Arctic science, dominant in the first decades of the twentieth century, gave way to a systematic, long-term, strategic and largely statefunded model of research which increased both Arctic presence and the volume of research output. Factors that made this change possible were distinct for each of the five circumpolar nation-states considered here. For Soviet leaders, the Arctic was an untamed land containing vast economic resources, all within reach if its long-sought Northern Sea Route became reality; Soviet officials sought environmental knowledge of this region with a range of motivations from economic and strategic concerns to enhancing the prestige of socialism. In contrast, United States officials largely ignored the Arctic until the outbreak of World War II, when military commanders quickly grasped the strategic importance of this region. Anxious that the Arctic might become a literal battleground between East and West by 1947, as the Cold War began, Pentagon leaders funded vast northern research programs, including in strategically located Greenland. Canadian leaders while appreciating the national security concerns of its powerful southern neighbor were even more concerned with maintaining sovereignty over its northern territories and gaining knowledge to assist its northern economic ambitions. Norway and Sweden, as smaller states, faced distinct challenges. With strong claims to Arctic heritage but limited resources, leaders of these states sought to create independent research strategies while, especially in the case of Norway, protecting their geopolitical interests in relation to the Soviet Union and the U.S. This article provides the first internationally comparative study of the multiple economic, military, political, and strategic factors that motivated scientific activities and programs in the far north, from the interwar period through World War II and the Cold War, when carefully coordinated, station-based research programs were introduced. The production of knowledge about Arctic's physical environment including its changing climate had little resemblance either to ideas of science-based 'progress,' or responses to perceived environmental concerns. Instead, it demonstrates that strategic military, economic, geopolitical, and national security concerns influenced and shaped most science undertakings, including those of the International Polar Year of 1932-1933 and the following polar year, the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 44, 60-80 p.
Keyword [en]
Arctic, Polar, Science, Cold War, IPY, IGY, United States, Canada, Soviet Union, Norway, Sweden, Environment
National Category
History Other Biological Topics
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-147751DOI: 10.1016/j.jhg.2013.12.004ISI: 000337009600005ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84901414063OAI: diva2:732434

QC 20140704

Available from: 2014-07-04 Created: 2014-07-03 Last updated: 2014-07-04Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

No full text

Other links

Publisher's full textScopus

Search in DiVA

By author/editor
Sörlin, Sverker
By organisation
History of Science, Technology and Environment
In the same journal
Journal of Historical Geography
HistoryOther Biological Topics

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Altmetric score

Total: 28 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link