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The Office of the Auditor General's investigation of the utilisation of research infrastructure in Norwegian areas in the Arctic

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Summary

Background and objective of the audit

Significant research infrastructure in the form of research stations and laboratories, satellite download stations, observatories, instruments etc. have been built since the 1990s in Svalbard. The research infrastructure includes both infrastructure which requires the presence of scientists, but also instruments that download data regardless of whether researchers are present or not. Norwegian investments after 1990 are estimated at just over NOK 1 billion. Several Norwegian research vessels also operate in Arctic waters.

Norway's goal is to be a leading polar research nation, bolster research efforts and coordinate the utilisation of research infrastructure. Norwegian research activities and Norwegian research bases in Svalbard shall also serve as means for supporting national interests in Svalbard and achieving various goals in the Arctic.

The aim of this audit was to assess whether the research infrastructure in the Arctic is utilised in a sound manner in line with the decisions and intentions of the Storting, and to identify the reasons for any lack of utilisation. The audit covers the period 2006–2013.

Findings and recommendations

The research infrastructure in Svalbard can be better utilised

Svalbard's research infrastructure is used by Norwegian and international researchers. Many of the research infrastructures in Svalbard are satisfactorily utilised. At other installations, there is spare capacity, both in the high season and during the winter months.

Systems are still lacking for ensuring and verifying that the collected data is made available to others. Important work is in progress to develop requirements for making research data available. This is an important step in better utilisation of the infrastructure.

The Office of the Auditor General recommends that

The Ministry of Education and Research facilitate greater utilisation of the research infrastructure in Svalbard in collaboration with sectoral ministries and the Research Council of Norway.

The research infrastructure is now used less than previously by Norwegian scientists

The Norwegian share of registered research days in Ny-Ålesund in the period from 2008 to 2013 decreased from 38 to 32 per cent.

During this period, the number of Norwegian research days decreased by 700 research days, a 14 per cent drop. No overview exists of the use and utilisation of research infrastructure in the Arctic or information about the scope of Norwegian polar research funding. The ministries provide little guidance in how research infrastructure in the Arctic should be used.

The lack of an overview of the use and utilisation of research infrastructure weakens the ministries' capacity to assess the extent to which their research priorities support the overall goals of Norway's Svalbard policy.

Knowledge of how the research infrastructure is used should serve as the basis for a sound policy for investment, operation and maintenance of research infrastructure.

The Office of the Auditor General recommends that

The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other relevant ministries, consider measures to increase Norwegian research activities in Ny-Ålesund.

Older research vessels do not meet current research needs

Four out of five Norwegian research vessels operating in Arctic waters are above or near their functional service life that experts estimate to be 30 years. Ageing vessels require increasingly more time and resources to maintain and upgrade. This means that the utilisation of research vessels measured in voyage days has been reduced by up to 17 per cent from 2006 to 2013, while maintenance costs are rising. There are no plans to replace the older research vessels beyond the new ice-class vessel currently under construction.

The Office of the Auditor General recommends that

The Ministry of Education and Research take the initiative vis-à-vis the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries to ensure that the capacity of the research fleet in the future matches the future needs of Norwegian marine research and fisheries management.

Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 8130 Dep, 0032 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843