(The Economist, 9 February 2013) -- ON SEPTEMBER 16th 2012, at the height of the summer melt, the Arctic Ocean’s ice sheet had shrunk to an area of 3.41m square kilometres (1.32m square miles), half what it was in 1979. And its volume had shrunk faster still, .... The world’s average temperature in 2012 was nearly 0.5°C above the average for 1951-80. In the Arctic, it was up almost 2°C. This sudden warming is like the peeling back of a lid to reveal a new ocean underneath. That prospect is spreading alarm (among greens) and excitement (at the natural resources and other economic opportunities that could be unveiled). Though most of the excitement has been about oil and gas, and the opening of sea routes between the Atlantic and the Pacific, some people hope for a fishing bonanza .... But they may be disappointed. At the moment, the waters around the Arctic account for a fifth of the world’s catch. There are few fish, however, under the ice itself. A fishing bonanza would require big ecological change. Arctic Frontiers, a conference organised at the University of Tromso in January, looked at how warming will change the ecology, to estimate whether it will bring one about. The consensus was that it won’t—not because the Arctic will change too little, but because it will change too much. ... The most important reason, though, for thinking that global warming will not produce an Arctic feeding frenzy is that it may increase ocean stratification. This is the tendency of seawater to separate into layers, because fresh water is lighter than salt and cold water heavier than warm. The more stratified water is, the less nutrients in it move around. ... A warming Arctic will not, in other words, be full of fish. It will simply be an ice-free version of the desert it already is.
Posted 11 February 2013; 4:44:10 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 5 November 2012) -- The spring snow pack in the Arctic is disappearing at a much faster rate than anticipated even by climate change models, says a new study by Environment Canada researchers. That has implications for wildlife, vegetation and ground temperatures, say the scientists, who looked at four decades of snow data for the Canadian Arctic and beyond. Combined with recent news that the Arctic sea ice retreated to an all-time low this summer, it suggests climate change may be happening much faster than expected, said Dr. Chris Derksen, a research scientist for Environment Canada and one of the study's authors. "What we discovered was that there is a significant reduction in the amount of snow cover, particularly in May and June… and the rate of that decline is actually slightly faster than the loss of summer sea ice," Derksen said in an interview. They studied 40 years of data from across the Arctic from April to June, and found the decline in spring snow cover was actually slightly faster than the decline in sea ice that made headlines around the world.
Posted 5 November 2012; 2:35:43 PM. Permalink
(Planetsave, 21 September 2012) -- The complete collapse of Arctic sea ice during the summer months may happen within four years, according to one of the world’s leading sea ice researchers. In an email to the Guardian, Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University says: "Climate change is no longer something we can aim to do something about in a few decades' time, and that we must not only urgently reduce CO2 emissions but must urgently examine other ways of slowing global warming, such as the various geoengineering ideas that have been put forward." Some of those geo-engineering ideas could have unintended effects worse than climate change itself, though — they remain a heavily-debated solution. The most prominent current ideas include: reflecting the sun’s light back into space with aerosols or mirrors; turning clouds a whiter color; and seeding the ocean with minerals in order to encourage massive plankton blooms that, theoretically, could sequester more CO2. Professor Wadhams has spent “many years collecting ice thickness data from submarines passing below the arctic ocean. He predicted the imminent break-up of sea ice in summer months in 2007, when the previous lowest extent of 4.17 million square kilometres was set. This year, it has unexpectedly plunged a further 500,000 sq km to less than 3.5m sq km.” “I have been predicting [the collapse of sea ice in summer months] for many years. The main cause is simply global warming: as the climate has warmed there has been less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer,” Dr Wadhams said. “At first this didn’t [get] noticed; the summer ice limits slowly shrank back, at a rate which suggested that the ice would last another 50 years or so. But in the end the summer melt overtook the winter growth such that the entire ice sheet melts or breaks up during the summer months. “This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates”.
Posted 22 September 2012; 10:56:24 AM. Permalink
(Peter Fednysky/Voice of America, 21 September 2012) -- NEW YORK - The extent of Arctic sea ice this week shrunk to a new low in the era of satellite record-keeping that began in 1979. The increased expanse of water near the top of the world could have implications for global shipping, wildlife and even international diplomacy. Polar bears hunt seals from sea ice, but could drown if forced to swim long distances in open water. Satellite photos released by America’s space agency, NASA, illustrate the daunting threat to such bears. An image shows the amount of Arctic Sea ice in 1979. Another shows the record minimum set this year on September 16. The shrinkage is equivalent to an area greater than Texas, an impossible distance for even the mightiest polar bear to swim. Scientists say fossil fuels are increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This not only warms the oceans, but threatens biodiversity in cold and warm waters alike. “As we increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a high proportion, about 40 percent of that, goes back into the ocean, and so it’s increasing the acid content of the ocean and that’s threatening coral reefs,” said Ben Orlove, a Columbia University climate research scientist.
Posted 22 September 2012; 10:49:55 AM. Permalink
(Reuters, 21 September 2012) -- Weather data collected by NASA suggests that this summer's record Arctic ice melt may have been partially due to a powerful cyclone that scientists say ''wreaked havoc'' on ice cover during the month of August. Rob Muir reports.
Posted 22 September 2012; 10:48:31 AM. Permalink
(Marine Science Today, 22 September 2012) -- A committee of Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK is calling for a complete stop of drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic until certain safety issues have been taken care of. The Environmental Audit Committee has previously voiced their concerns that a spill could cause catastrophic environmental damage. The MPs say that current oil spill cleanup methods are not adequate. They are calling for a pan-Arctic spill response standard, full liability for firms and an environmental sanctuary in the Arctic. Both BP and Shell are involved in Arctic drilling projects. BP’s plans are temporarily on hold and they wouldn’t provide the MPs with evidence that they have an adequate plan for spill response. Shell has stopped drilling for the winter, but they claim that their spill response is adequate. “There appears to be a lack of strategic thinking and policy coherence within Government on this issue, illustrated by its failure to demonstrate how future oil and gas extraction from the Arctic can be reconciled to commitments to limit temperature rises to 2°C,” the MPs said. ”The Government should seek to resolve this matter.” You can read more from the BBC here: MPs call to halt Arctic drilling amid safety concerns.
Posted 22 September 2012; 10:42:47 AM. Permalink
(Nunatsiaq News, 6 September 2012) -- Following the new record low Arctic sea ice extent recorded Aug. 26, ice coverage has continued to drop and has now shrunk to less than four million square kilometres — smaller than the previous low extent of 2007. Compared to September conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, the Arctic sea ice extent has dropped by 45 per cent, the Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center said Sept. 5. And that skimpy sea ice cover is likely to get lower yet, because at least one more week remains in the melt season.
Posted 6 September 2012; 3:41:45 PM. Permalink
(Doug O'Harra/Alaska Dispatch, 4 April 2012) -- After growing to one of the biggest polar packs seen during the past decade, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean has officially maxed out for the winter and begun its slow, seasonal melt into another summer of retreat. “Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 18, after reaching an initial peak early in the month and declining briefly,” according to the newest analysis posted by the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC). “Ice extent for the month as a whole was higher than in recent years, but still below average.” Driven by record-breaking floes in Alaska’s Bering Sea, and above average ice cover in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada, the ice cap averaged about 5.87 million square miles last month — the greatest March ice cover seen since 2008. The total was tempered by below-average ice cover in the Barents and Kara seas north of Europe and Russia (though the Kara rebounded somewhat in March), where temperatures remained 7 to 11 degrees F above normal. Only eight seasons have produced smaller March ice footprints in the Arctic during the 34 years of satellite coverage. [Follow title link to see] a chart making comparisons to several of those years, and another image showing the current status updated every day.
Posted 6 April 2012; 1:42:23 PM. Permalink
(Ned Rozell / Alaska Science Forum via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 1 April 2012) -- FAIRBANKS - More than a century ago, Roald Amundsen and his crew were the first to sail through the Northwest Passage, along the way leaving footprints in Eagle, Nome and Sitka. Pioneering that storied route was a dream of Amundsen’s since his boyhood in Norway, but he also performed enduring science on the three-year voyage of the Gjøa. Amundsen, from Norway, was 30 years old when, in the early 1900s, he envisioned and then executed this plan: “With a small vessel and a few companions, to penetrate into the regions around earth’s north magnetic pole, and by a series of accurate observations, extending over a period of two years, to relocate the pole observed by Sir James Ross in 1831.” ... Though the conquest of the Northwest Passage brought Amundsen worldwide fame, his devotion to science was real. Instead of blasting through the passage, he and his crew halted the Gjøa to spend the winter in a bay off King William Island in Canada’s Arctic. There, they set up a base called “Gjøahaven,” or Gjøa Harbor. They killed 100 reindeer for winter meat to feed man and dog, met the local natives, exchanged their wool clothes for furs and watched the ice form on the ocean in early October 1903. They also built a magnetic observatory out of shipping crates. They held it together with nails containing no iron. They covered the hut with tundra to keep out the light, because photographic paper recorded their magnetic observations. Inside the building were four instruments sensitive to variations of Earth’s magnetic field. A few oil lamps heated and lit the observatory, which was so snug that Amundsen and crewman Gustav Wiik probably both suffered heart-muscle damage from carbon monoxide poisoning during the 19 months they faithfully tended the instruments. ... The data set is so good that Charles Deehr, a space physicist and aurora forecaster at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute, who posts forecasts of northern lights at http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast, said the information is similar to data he gets today from satellites parked in the solar wind, a flow of the sun’s particles that excites the aurora into action.
Posted 1 April 2012; 7:01:51 PM. Permalink
(NSF press release 12-034, 22 february 2012) -- Despite brutal cold and lingering darkness, life in the frigid waters off Alaska does not grind to a halt in the winter as scientists previously suspected. According to preliminary results from a National Science Foundation-funded research cruise, microscopic creatures at the base of the Arctic food chain are not dormant as expected. After working aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy for six weeks in waters where winds sometimes topped 70 knots, wind chills fell to -40 degrees and samples often had to be hustled safely inside before seawater froze to the deck, researchers are back in their labs, assembling for the first time a somewhat unexpected picture of how microscopic creatures survive winter in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Although they have much more work to do before publishing their results, they say they are surprised on a number of fronts, including the discovery of active zooplankton--microscopic organisms that drift or wander in ocean, seas or bodies of fresh water. "The zooplankton community seemed to be quite active, said Carin Ashjian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the chief scientist on the expedition. "They were feeding at low rates. That was a surprise." Ashjian is scheduled to discuss the preliminary results from the cruise during a session at the American Geophysical Union's 2012 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah this week.
Posted 27 February 2012; 10:40:40 PM. Permalink
(Doug O'Harra/Alaska Dispatch, 6 December 2011) -- After shrinking to one of the smallest summer extents of the past 30 years, the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean has been re-growing quickly as the dark polar winter tightens its grip. During November, plunging temperatures refroze an average of more than 30,000 square miles of ocean every day — growing enough pans and floes to cover an area almost the size of South Carolina every 24 hours. That’s faster growth than usual, according to records going back to the 1970s. And yet, despite weather patterns that plunged the ocean off Alaska's north coast into frigid conditions, the Arctic ice cap remained trapped close to record lows for the time of year, according to the latest sea ice analysis posted by the National Sea & Ice Data Center. Only 2006 and 2010 had a smaller area of sea ice this time of year, the NSIDC said here. By Nov. 30, the ice cap covered some 4.19 million square miles — about 241,000 square miles above the minimum record for that date set in 2006, but hundreds of thousands of square miles below the long-term average. Overall, November sea ice has been declining about 4.7 percent per year, compared to the 1979-to-2000 average, the NSIDC explained. That’s a loss of about 20,500 square miles of frozen habitat each year.
Posted 7 December 2011; 11:27:25 AM. Permalink
(Bob Weber/Globe and Mail, 23 November 2011) -- Research published in a top scientific journal says Arctic sea ice has declined more in the last half-century than it has any time over the last 1,450 years. The study, which gives the most detailed picture ever of the northern oceans over the previous millennium-and-a-half, also concludes the current decline has already lasted longer than any previous one in that period. “When we look at our reconstruction, we can see that the decline that has occurred in the last 50 years or so seems to be unprecedented for the last 1,450 years,” Christian Zdanowicz of the Geological Survey of Canada said Wednesday. “It's difficult not to come up with the conclusion that greenhouse gases must have something to do with this,” added Mr. Zdanowicz, one of the co-authors of the report in Nature. “We cannot account for this decline by processes that are ‘natural.’” Climate change is thought to be occurring faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth and sea ice is considered one of the main indicators. The ice is crucial in northern ecosystems because it provides habitat for everything from plankton to polar bears. Its gradual disappearance is also opening previously inaccessible areas to the possibility of resource development, as well as to commercial shipping. Mr. Zdanowicz and his team combined 69 different data sources to determine the extent of sea ice for every decade going back about 1,000 years and every 25 years beyond that.
Posted 23 November 2011; 11:27:54 PM. Permalink
(Bob Freeman/Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy, NNS110816-17, 16 August 2011) -- WASHINGTON - The Navy released an Arctic environmental assessment and outlook Aug. 15 that will be instrumental in developing future strategic plans and investments in a region that is becoming increasingly accessible to exploration and commercial enterprise. "In the past the Arctic was largely inaccessible, but increased seasonal melting of the sea ice is opening the region and creating opportunities for oil and gas exploration, maritime shipping, commercial fishing, and tourism," said Rear Adm. David Titley, director of the Navy's Task Force Climate Change. According to the assessment, the Arctic region is experiencing "increasing air and water temperatures, loss of volume in ice sheets and glaciers, melting of permafrost, and the poleward migration of ecosystems and fishing stocks from warmer regions." "The geography of the Earth is changing," Titley said, "We are confronted by a new ocean for the first time in 500 years." The assessment notes that the U.S. has close to a thousand miles of Arctic coastline in Alaska and significant coastal waters for resource exploitation.
Posted 9 September 2011; 4:29:42 PM. Permalink
(ENN, 23 August 2011) -- Fast-melting Arctic sea ice appears to be pushing walruses to haul themselves out onto land, and many are moving around the area where oil leases have been sold, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. Walruses are accomplished divers and frequently plunge hundreds of feet (meters) to the bottom of the continental shelf to feed. But they use sea ice as platforms to give birth, nurse their young and elude predators, and when sea ice is scarce or non-existent, as it has been this summer, they come up on land. Last September, the loss of sea ice caused an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 walruses to venture onto land, and as sea ice melts reached a record last month, U.S. government scientists are working with Alaskan villagers to put radio transmitters on some of the hauled-out walruses to track their movements around the Chukchi Sea. "The ice is very widely dispersed and there is little of it left over the continental shelf," researcher Chad Jay of the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement on Wednesday. "Based on our tracking data, the walruses appear to be spreading out and spending quite a bit of time looking for sea ice." The loss of sea ice puts Pacific walruses at risk, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but other, higher-priority species will get attention first. In February, the wildlife service listed Pacific walruses as candidates for protection, though not protection itself.
Posted 23 August 2011; 7:22:45 AM. Permalink
(Alaska Volcano Observatory via RedOrbit, 24 July 2011) -- The Alaska Volcano Observatory has issued an eruption advisory for a remote volcano in the Aleutian Islands which, according to various media reports, lies underneath a major American flight route. According to the Daily Mail, the volcano in question--5,676-foot tall Mount Cleveland (also known as Cleveland Volcano) on the western end of the island of Chuhinadak--"could be poised for its first big eruption in ten years," which has experts anticipating that "it could erupt at any moment, spewing ash clouds up to 20,000 feet above sea level with little further warning." Yereth Rosen of Reuters reports that "thermal anomalies" had been detected via satellite on Thursday, and that the volcano, which is located approximately 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, "could erupt with little further warning." "A major eruption could disrupt international air travel because Cleveland Volcano, like others in the Aleutians, lies directly below the commercial airline flight path between North America and Asia, said John Power, scientist-in-charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory," Rosen added. Airlines have been warned to brace themselves for possible "travel chaos," the Daily Mail reported late Friday night. Mount Cleveland rests underneath a flight path between North America and Asia that is said to be utilized by several major airlines.
Posted 24 July 2011; 3:32:14 PM. Permalink
(Offshore Shipping Online, 11 July 2011) -- The Oil & Gas Producers Association (OGP) recently announced that eight member companies have agreed to establish a Joint Industry Programme (JIP) for Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology. The JIP will concentrate on the challenges to oil exploration in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that are not found in more temperate areas. According to OGP Technical Director John Campbell, the JIP will focus in particular on minimising the risk of offshore spills amidst sea ice and testing the suitability of spill response resources where operators will encounter periods of darkness, extreme cold and the presence of sea ice. Overall, he said, the aim will be to improve industry capability and co-ordination in the area of Arctic oil spill response. Over an initial three year funding period, the JIP hopes to raise more than US$20 million to carry out research investigations and related field activities in areas such as dispersant use in broken ice, the fate of dispersed oil beneath ice, oil slick trajectory modelling in ice and in poor visibility conditions, tracking oil in and beneath ice, and mechanical recovery in ice-strewn waters.
Posted 12 July 2011; 11:36:21 AM. Permalink
(Thomas Grove/Reuters, 7 July 2011) -- Russia said Wednesday it would formally submit an application to the United Nations next year to redraw the map of the Arctic, giving itself a bigger share. The plan follows a pledge last week to send troops and weapons north to guarantee its Arctic interests. The formal application to the United Nations would change the region's borders and allow exploitation of energy-rich Arctic territory. Russia, Norway, the United States, Canada and Denmark are at odds over how to divide up the Arctic seabed, thought to hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 30 percent of the world's untapped gas resources, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. "I hope that next year we will present a formal, scientifically grounded application to the commission of the U.N.," state-run RIA news agency cited Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as telling a government maritime board. Top energy producer Russia has said it will spend millions of dollars on studies to prove that an underwater mountain range-- rich in oil, natural gas and mineral deposits -- is part of its own Eurasian landmass. Canada and Denmark reject the claim, saying the geographical formation, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, which stretches across the Arctic Sea, is a geographical extension of their own land. Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky also warned on Wednesday that increased focus from NATO on the region was threatening Moscow's Arctic interests. "Recently, we have been receiving confirmations that NATO has marked the Arctic as a zone of its interests," RIA quoted the navy chief as saying at the same board meeting.
Posted 7 July 2011; 5:13:57 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, 22 April 2011) -- A Russian youth group has reached the North Pole after covering more than 100 kilometers on skis, the president of the Polyus Expedition Center, Irina Orlova, said on Friday. The group seven young men and women between 16 and 18 years old, along with their adult guides Matvei Shparo and Boris Smolin, were delivered to 1 degree latitude from the North Pole and skied 111 kilometers (almost 69 miles) for seven days to reach their goal. "They have set up camp on the Pole," Orlova told RIA Novosti. She said that the group should be picked up on Saturday and taken to the Russian Barneo Base by helicopter if weather permits. "If the weather is good, then helicopters will take the youths and the adults to Barneo tomorrow," Orlova said. The seven youths from Russia's Chuvashia, Orlov Region, Omsk, Cheboksar, Perm Region, Vologda Region, and Moscow were chosen among 50 candidates vying for the chance to ski to the North Pole. The expedition was organized by the charitable foundation Priklyuchenie Club (Adventure Club) and the Russian Ministry of Sports and Tourism under the auspices of the Russian Geographic Society, as well as the Association of the North Pole Expedition Center Polyus.
Posted 23 April 2011; 11:04:54 PM. Permalink
(Forbes, D.L. (editor). 2011. State of the Arctic Coast 2010 – Scientific Review and Outlook. International Arctic Science Committee, Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, International Permafrost Association. Helmholtz-Zentrum, Geesthacht, Germany, 178 p. http://arcticcoasts.org) -- The coast is a key interface in the Arctic environment. It is a locus of human activity, a rich band of biodiversity, critical habitat, and high productivity, and among the most dynamic components of the circumpolar landscape. The Arctic coastal interface is a sensitive and important zone of interaction between land and sea, a region that provides essential ecosystem services and supports indigenous human lifestyles; a zone of expanding infrastructure investment and growing security concerns; and an area in which climate warming is expected to trigger landscape instability, rapid responses to change, and increased hazard exposure. The circumpolar Arctic coast is arguably one of the most critical zones in terms of the rapidity and the severity of environmental change and the implications for human communities dependent on coastal resources. See State of the Arctic Coast 2010 - Scientific Review and Outlook Full report (Low resolution, 7.0 MB), Executive Summary and Key findings (0.5 MB)
Posted 19 April 2011; 11:39:52 PM. Permalink
(BigPond News, 17 April 2011) -- Arctic coastlines are crumbling away and retreating at the rate of two metres or more a year due to the effects of climate change, a report says. In some locations, up to 30 metres of the shore has been vanishing every year. The rapid rate of coastal erosion poses a major threat to local communities and ecosystems, according to a new report by more than 30 scientists from ten countries. Two-thirds of Arctic coasts consist of frozen soil, or permafrost, rather than rock, and are highly sensitive to erosion by wind and waves. Rising temperatures are melting protective sea ice fringing the coastlines and leaving them more exposed to the elements, say the experts. The report, State of the Arctic Coast 2010, says ten-year average rates of coastal retreat are 'typically in the one to two metres per year range, but vary up to 10 to 30 metres per year in some locations'. Worst-hit areas include the Beaufort Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea.
Posted 17 April 2011; 12:26:10 AM. Permalink
(ITN via Yahoo! News, 4 April 2011) -- Prince Harry's intrepid Arctic adventure to raise £2 million for the Walking With The Wounded charity is finally due to commence. The 26-year-old was due to leave the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen on Friday with a group of wounded servicemen aiming to walk to the North Pole. But their departure was put on hold due to dangerous winds around Borneo Ice Airfield. The team was due to land at the spot on Sunday where an airstrip is being built about 200 miles from the North Pole. But plans were postponed since the airfield was not ready due to gales delaying the building of the runway. Winds in Murmansk were blowing in the wrong direction for a heavily loaded supply plane to take off. The third-in-line to the throne has been on the island since Tuesday, training and bonding with the servicemen. The delays mean Prince Harry will only have three nights on the ice, rather than the planned five days, as he will be collected on Thursday and return home to fulfil military commitments - an important stage of his Apache helicopter training.
Posted 4 April 2011; 4:16:18 PM. Permalink
(Bob Weber/The Canadian Press via AM770, 15 February 2011) -- A group of Canadian and Russian explorers will set out to make history this week by driving from Russia to Canada over the North Pole. Yes, driving. "It's the first time ... someone will be crossing the Arctic Ocean with a wheel-based vehicle," said Mikhail Glan, a Russian emigre living in Vancouver. "It's a very interesting project." The eight-member Polar Ring team, which includes two Canadians, is to leave Thursday from an island in the Russian Arctic and roll straight north until it hits the pole. The team will then gas up and take on supplies at an ice camp used by tourists before heading south to Resolute, Nunavut. "We plan to drive from Russia to the North Pole ... Then we'll drive all the way to Resolute Bay," Glan said from Moscow. "It's pretty simple." Simple, that is, until you consider that the trip is expected to take about four months and cover 7,000 kilometres in one of the most forbidding parts of the planet — nearly half of it sea ice. At the North Pole, the sun won't even rise until March 19. The average temperature is -34°C. And while southern lakes may freeze into easily crossed white tabletops, the Arctic Ocean does anything but. The thick ice shifts and moves with winds and currents, throwing up huge ridges when pans bump together and leaving wide stretches of frigid, open water when they don't. This year is likely to be even tougher than most. There's less ocean covered by ice now than there has been in any winter since satellite records began. "There could be lots of open water," said Glan. "We're not sure that it will freeze. Most probably not, so we need to drive around." But that's OK. The ice buggies can float. "We can cross pretty big pieces of open water, but it definitely will slow us down. We hope that the weather will be more or less friendly." The buggies are an entirely new design, Glan said. Other drive-the-sea-ice expeditions have used vehicles that are heavy and tank-like. A 2009 group drove modified U.S. military Humvees between the Nunavut communities of Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. Polar Ring's vehicles, powered by nine-litre diesel engines, are relatively light, and look like beefed-up, closed-in dune buggies with gigantic balloon tires. Proving the worth of those vehicles is one of the reasons for the trip. Glan said a successful drive would demonstrate that wheeled transportation could be an efficient way to get around in the High Arctic — useful to everyone from scientists to resource companies to search-and-rescue teams. The Polar Ring members, who will post their progress on the web, will also take myriad scientific measurements and track polar bears.
Posted 18 February 2011; 3:19:21 PM. Permalink
(Alister Doyle/Reuters Environment, 25 January 2011) -- TROMSOE, Norway, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Russia predicted on Tuesday a surge in voyages on an Arctic short-cut sea route in 2011 as a thaw linked to climate change opens the region even more to shipping and oil and mining companies. High metals and oil prices, linked to rising demand from China and other emerging economies, is helping to spur interest in the Arctic and the route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as an alternative to travelling via the Suez canal. "In 2011 the shipping on the Northern Sea Route is going to increase significantly," Mikhail Belkin, assistant director of Russia's state-owned Rosatomflot, told a conference on "Arctic Frontiers" in Tromsoe, north Norway. He said that Rosatomflot, which sends one of its nine atomic-powered ice-breakers to accompany each trip in case of ice, has received 15 applications to accompany voyages across the Arctic in 2011, against four trips in 2010. "The potential savings are too large to be ignored," said Felix Tschudi, whose shipping group chartered the MV Nordic Barents in 2010 to carry 40,000 tonnes of iron ore for Northern Iron Ltd (NFE.AX) from Norway to China. Tschudi said that the voyage was about 6,500 nautical miles (12,040 kilometres), about half the distance of the journey via Suez and saved 17-1/2 days as well as fuel. Icebergs meant high insurance costs but there are no pirates, unlike off Somalia. He said Rosatomflot charged about $200,000 to accompany the ship, more than fees on the Suez canal. It was the first commercial vessel on the route that was not owned by Russia and travelled to and from non-Russian ports.
Posted 26 January 2011; 1:27:31 PM. Permalink
(Jonathan Manthorpe/Vancouver Sun, 13 December 2010) -- There was little fanfare at the end of last month when the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) signed a long-term cooperation agreement with Russia's most experienced company on shipping oil and gas through the Arctic, Sovcomflot (SCF). However, this deal is but the latest in accumulating indications of a Chinese strategy to elbow its way into the opportunities for both shipping and resource development afforded by expectations of the melting Arctic ice cap. The agreement between CNPC and SCF is to increase use of the Northern Sea Route along Russia's Arctic coast to transport oil and gas to China. A new fleet of tankers designed to operate in ice as well as additional heavy-duty ice breakers will be built to that end. The hydrocarbons for the Chinese market will come not only from Russia's offshore Arctic wells, but from new wells being developed at the Shtokman gas fields in the Barents Sea and from existing operations in the North Sea between Britain and Norway. But this shipping, together with planned Chinese investment in Russian oil and gas development, is only one part of a broad strategy towards the Arctic that has been mapped out by China. ... China has been quietly interested in the poles since 1984 when it launched a series of expeditions and set up three research stations in Antarctica. The first expedition to the Arctic came in 1995, but the first seaborne expedition came in 1999 with the benefit of the 21,000-ton former Ukrainian icebreaker now named Xue Long ( Snow Leopard). This is the world's largest nonnuclear powered icebreaker and will soon be joined by a somewhat smaller new, $300-million Chinese-built icebreaker for what is planned to be a substantial Arctic fleet. China's presence in the Arctic and its investment in both resource development and transportation in the region is also designed to give Beijing a voice and a seat at the tables where Arctic matters are discussed and negotiated.
Posted 13 December 2010; 9:04:06 PM. Permalink
(Fisheries and Oceans Canada press release via Marketwire, 12 October 2010) -- OTTAWA, ONTARIO - The Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced today that the five Arctic coastal states, Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States, under the leadership of Canada, have established the Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission. "The establishment of the Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission is an important step in building synergy among the Arctic Ocean Coastal states and will help to improve safety of life at sea," said Minister Shea. "The establishment of this Commission will contribute to protecting the ecosystem and promote social and economic development in the North." The Commission will promote technical cooperation in science, technology and chart making to establish and promote common standards and help to define the needs for new hydrographic products and services including surveys. ... Under the Oceans Act, the Canadian Hydrographic Service is responsible for conducting hydrographic surveys, producing and distributing official government navigation charts in paper and electronic forms, and a wide range of supporting nautical publications to help guide mariners safely.
Posted 13 October 2010; 10:42:35 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, Image Gallery, 11 October 2010) -- On Monday, Day 10 of the Arctic expedition, Russian polar explorers started unloading their equipment and supplies on a drifting ice floe they will call home for the next year or so.
Posted 11 October 2010; 5:33:10 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, October 2010) -- Russia's
nuclear-powered icebreaking ship Rossiya set out on an Arctic
expedition from the northern port of Murmansk on Saturday, 2 October. A RIA Novosti correspondent is blogging the journey.
Posted 4 October 2010; 11:26:51 AM. Permalink
(PressTV, 3 October 2010) -- The Russian Navy says it is stepping up its presence in the Arctic, raising concern among nations wanting to secure rights to the region's energy-rich seabed. "The reinforcement in the Arctic of all Northern and Pacific Fleet units is continuing," AFP quoted head of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky as saying on Sunday. A proposal has been made to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that battleships be deployed in Russia's Arctic ports, which Vysotsky says aim to protect polar sea routes. This comes at a time when Arctic nations such as Canada, Norway and the US are struggling to further control parts of the region. In September, Putin called for a "zone of peace" in the Arctic, rejecting talk of an ongoing battle over control of the mineral resources in the region. "We think it is imperative to keep the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation," Putin told international participants at the first Arctic Forum in the Russian capital, Moscow. However, Russia has been claiming control of a vast swathe of extra territory in the Arctic all the way to the North Pole. Geological surveys show that the Arctic holds large reserves of oil and natural gas. The claims on the region have gained more global attention as global warming is causing the Arctic polar cap to melt, facilitating exploration in the region. According to the New York Times, warming of the earth's northernmost region has been twice as fast as the global average in recent years.
Posted 3 October 2010; 4:38:27 PM. Permalink
Posted 11 September 2010; 11:38:24 PM. Permalink
(Randy Boswell/Canwest News Service via Canada.com, 13 June 2010) -- Arctic Ocean ice cover retreated faster last month than in any previous May since satellite monitoring began more than 30 years ago, the latest sign that the polar region could be headed for another record-setting meltdown by summer’s end. The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center had already warned earlier this spring that low ice volume — the result of repeated losses of thick, multi-year ice over the past decade — meant this past winter’s ice-extent recovery was superficial, due mainly to a fragile fringe of new ice that would be vulnerable to rapid deterioration once warmer temperatures set in. And, driven by unusually hot weather in recent weeks above the Arctic Circle, the polar ice is disappearing at an unprecedented rate, reducing overall ice extent to less than that recorded in May 2007 — the year when a record-setting retreat by mid-September alarmed climatologists and northern governments. The centre reported that across much of the Arctic, temperatures were two to five degrees Celsius above average last month. “In May, Arctic air temperatures remained above average, and sea ice extent declined at a rapid pace,” the Colorado-based centre said in its June 8 report. The centre pegged the retreat at an average of 68,000 square kilometres a day, noting that “this rate of loss is the highest for the month of May during the satellite record.”
Posted 13 June 2010; 1:04:37 PM. Permalink
(Bernama, 10 May 2010) -- SEOUL - South Korea's first dedicated icebreaker ship will set out to explore the Arctic Ocean in the summer, a state-run oceanographic research institute said Monday, its news agency Yonhap said. The Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute said the Araon, a 7,487-tonne icebreaker and research ship, will leave Incheon harbor on the west coast of South Korea on July 1 to survey the ocean until the end of August. Scientists aboard the ship will be tasked with examining carbon dioxide flux in the polar region, conducting research via various atmospheric mooring buoys and collecting information on floating ice, it added. Christened in November 2009, the Araon is equipped with various oceanographic, geophysical and arctic environment laboratories. The ship has an endurance of 37,000 kilometers, or about 70 days. It also is designed to sail through sheet ice up to 1 meter thick at 5.5 kilometers per hour. The ship is expected to stop over at Nome Alaska on its outbound voyage and, after conducting surveys for about a month, return to Incheon on August 30. The voyage will be the second for the ship after it inspected two prospective sites for South Korea's second Antarctic base early this year. Seoul has picked Terra Nova Bay located near the Ross Sea on the southeastern tip of the frozen continent.
Posted 12 May 2010; 3:13:11 PM. Permalink
(UPI, 3 May 2010) -- SHANGHAI - Russia is interested in joining Chinese developers to exploit oil and gas reserves locked in the Russian section of the Arctic, regional officials said. Dmitry Kobylkin, the governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous region in the Russian Arctic, expressed interest in a Chinese partnership in oil and gas development during the World Expo 2010 Exhibition in Shanghai. He said he was ready to offer partners in China a "mutually advantageous and constructive cooperation" in the regional natural resources sector, Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency reports. The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous region accounts for more than 90 percent of the natural gas production and around 12 percent of the oil production in Russia. "We are ready to act as intermediaries between an investor country and the oil and gas sector and create a good investment climate," said Kobylkin. The World Wide Fund for Nature, an environmental advocacy group, said the oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico raises alarm about the possibility of exploring the Arctic for oil and gas. The WWF said it was renewing its call for a moratorium on oil and gas development in the Arctic until environmental risks are better understood.
Posted 3 May 2010; 12:19:26 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, 3 May 2010) -- Moscow, Russia - Thinning Arctic ice may cause drifting research stations to be placed on firm ground or artificially-made platforms, the head of Russian Meteorological Centre said on Thursday. "We have to think about using some ... constructions, instead of blocks of drifting ice as platforms," Alexander Frolov said. Russian and Soviet polar scientists have used drifting ice stations in the Arctic Ocean since the 1930s. A new Russian drifting polar station started work in September 2009. However the ice it was placed on has begun to break up and the station will be removed in June.
Posted 2 May 2010; 10:40:26 PM. Permalink
Ljunggren/Reuters, 27 April 2010) -- OTTAWA - In what looks to be
another sign the Arctic is heating up quickly, British explorers in
Canada's Far North reported on Tuesday that they had been hit by a
three-minute rain shower over the weekend. The rain fell on the team's ice base off Ellef Rignes island, about 3,900 km (2,420 miles) north of the Canadian capital, Ottawa. "It's definitely a shocker ... the general feeling within the polar community is that rainfall in the high Canadian Arctic in April is a freak event," said Pen Hadow, the team's expedition director. "Scientists would tell us that we can expect increasingly to experience these sorts of outcomes as the climate warms," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from London. The Arctic is heating up three times more quickly than the rest of the Earth. Scientists link the higher temperatures to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Tyler Fish, a polar guide at the base, said the rain fell after temperatures had been rising for a couple of days. "I think we were disappointed. Rain isn't something you expect in the Arctic and a lot of us came up here to be away from that kind of weather," he said. "We worry that if it's too warm maybe some of the scientific samples will start to thaw ... or the food will get too warm and spoil," he told Reuters by satellite phone. Hadow said a Canadian scientific camp about 145 km west of the ice base had been hit by rain at the same time. The base off Elles Rignes is supplying a three-member team out on the ice another 1,100 km further north. The trio is studying the impact of increased carbon dioxide absorption by the sea, which could make the water more acidic.
Posted 27 April 2010; 3:28:41 PM. Permalink
(WWF press release, 26 April 2010) -- Copenhagen, Denmark - A new, warmer Arctic cannot continue to operate under rules that assume it is ice-covered and essentially closed to fishing, resource exploration and development and shipping, WWF said today as it launched a group of reports on protecting a newly accessible, highly vulnerable environment with profound significance for global climate, the global economy and global security. The International Governance and Regulation of the Marine Arctic reports [link to all three in one document] were launched as Russian president Medvedev visits Norwegian capital Oslo for talks which include arctic issues and just before the Arctic Council meets in Greenland. “The melting of the arctic ice is opening a new ocean, bringing new possibilities for commercial activities in a part of the world that has previously been inaccessible,” said Lasse Gustavsson, incoming Executive Conservation Director for WWF-International and currently CEO of WWF-Sweden. “What happens in the Arctic has a global environmental and economic impact. For instance, more than a quarter of the fish eaten in Europe comes from the Arctic, and yet we do not have effective rules for fishing in newly accessible areas.” ... The first report analyzes how today’s international legal regime meets the challenges posed by the unprecedented rapid change taking place in the Arctic. It concludes there are large gaps in governance and management regimes, with loopholes that could allow irreparable damage to the marine environment, its biodiversity and Indigenous peoples. The responsibilities and mechanisms for keeping marine resource extraction within sustainable limits are unclear and so are the responsibilities and mechanisms for preventing or responding to pollution accidents and shipping disasters. While the second report outlines the options, the third report proposes a new arctic framework convention as a solution that could address the urgent gaps. “We challenge arctic governments to advance alternatives that would work equally well to safeguard the region,” said Gustavsson. “WWF shows that it is not possible to simply deny that problems exist, or to insist that there are already adequate responses to the problems.”
Posted 25 April 2010; 7:16:34 PM. Permalink
(Siku News via IceNews, 25 Aprol 2010) -- The Arctic ice cap recovered slightly over the past winter, despite some of the worst melting on record. The American National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which publishes figures twice yearly on the Arctic sea ice, suggests that the ongoing summer low and winter high ice trends are evidence that global warming continues to worsen. The data released by the NSIDC for the winter period of 2009-2010 revealed that the ice shelf’s maximum extent was 15.25m sq km, recorded on March 31st. This figure was 650,000 sq km below average for March from 1979 to 2000, when winter measurements were taken. This represents a 2.6 percent rate of decline per decade according to the NSIDC. NSIDC stated that there had been a small recovery in the total amount of ice aged at least two years from last season’s record low. But although the ice spread is an improvement on recent years, it remains low when compared to previous decades. “I think it’s the sixth or seventh lowest maximum out of the previous 32 years,” said NSIDC’s research scientist Walt Meier in a report by Siku News. Meier added that this year’s summer data was likely to be similarly low. “I would say [it's going to be] low, perhaps one of the lowest, but not approaching 2007,” claimed Meier, in reference to the year when an area of ice the size of Alaska was lost. “Given the amount of thin ice, we know we’re going to be low, it’s just a matter of how low,” he added.
Posted 25 April 2010; 6:11:49 PM. Permalink
(Randy Boswell/Canwest News Service, 17 April 2010) -- A British adventurer has announced plans to lead a 700-kilometre rowboat expedition through Canada's Arctic islands to the North Magnetic Pole, a proposed voyage described as "one of the world's last great firsts" in polar exploration. Scottish sailor Jock Wishart, who led a record-setting, 74-day circumnavigation of the Earth in a powerboat in 1998, says he'll captain a six-person crew on the August 2011 journey through ice-choked waters between Resolute and the magnetic pole - a moving target currently north of Nunavut's Ellef Ringnes Island. Like the participants of other recent Arctic quests, the Row to the Pole adventurers will gather environmental information along the way to document the region's changing ice conditions. The team's target, the North Magnetic Pole, migrates according to fluctuations in the Earth's magnetic field. In recent years, it has been moving away from Canadian territory toward the central Arctic Ocean.
Posted 18 April 2010; 6:19:37 PM. Permalink
(Canadian Press via Toronto Sun, 17 April 2010) — ALERT, Nunavut - Tom Smitheringale owes his life to the Canadian military, Lady Luck and an amazing will not to become a victim of the unforgiving North. The Australian adventurer was attempting to become only the third person to trek unaided to the North Pole when he ran into trouble on Thursday. Forty-nine days into his 60-day trek, only about 270 kilometres from his destination, he approached a frozen gap between two sheets of ice and decided to cross. The ice, however, gave way under his weight. Smitheringale plunged into the Arctic Ocean up to his neck. He was seconds away from death. His skis were still on and he was still attached to his sled full of gear. Freshly fallen snow was making it tough to get back up. He tried multiple times, only to bob back down. "I could feel hypothermia setting in, water was filling up all my gear," Smitheringale recalled Friday via satellite phone from Alert, the northern most outpost in Canada. "There was a very strong desire and will to live and it was probably on the fourth or fifth attempt that I managed to get out." But Smitheringale's problems were far from over. He was marooned on a sheet of ice, soaking wet and hundreds of kilometres from help. "I knew I only had minutes then, so I had to set up the tent and create a warm environment," he said. "This was done with a lot of adrenaline flowing through my veins." Soon he was warming himself with his cooker. He figured he could last up to three days, but after that? He flipped on his emergency beacon and hoped. "A lot of things go through your mind. You think of family and friends and there is a very strong desire there to want to live — to stay alive." That's when Smitheringale got lucky. A Canadian Forces team happened to be in the North, practising rescues as part of an annual operation. They refuelled their plane and helicopter in Alert and were on Smitheringale within six hours.
Posted 18 April 2010; 5:01:11 PM. Permalink
(BarentsObserver, 19 March 2010) -- Russia is preparing this season’s Arctic research
expeditions to the floating ice base Barneo by
the North Pole, Aviation
Explorer reports. The first flight for the ice floe that has been
elected for the base is planned to leave Norilsk on March 19. The ice base will in course of the season be visited by the country’s
first persons, the web site writes. At a meeting in Moscow yesterday on preparations for the next season
of research on Barneo, Special Presidential Aide on Arctic and Antarctic
Affairs Artur Chilingarov urged Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov to
establish a logistics base for the expeditions at Vnukovo, one of the
three major airports in Moscow. Mr. Luzhkov reacted positively to Mr. Chilingarov’s appeal, and
ordered his people to start the necessary procedures immediately,
Aviation Explorer writes. Mr. Chilingarov also appealed to investors to contribute to the
logistics base and to Russia’s other Arctic projects, since “this is
Russia’s future”: "The government is devoting the Arctic enormous significance," he
said. As BarentsObserver
reported, both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin this week
have stressed the importance of the Arctic to Russia and defended
Russia’s claims to the shipping-vital Arctic continental shelf. Watch video from Barneo: Barneo
Posted 21 March 2010; 4:47:13 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 19 March 2010) -- Prince Harry says he hopes to join disabled soldiers trekking to the North Pole to raise money for wounded troops. The 25-year-old prince, who is patron of the four-week charity trek, launched Walking with the Wounded on Friday in London. The participants — ex-soldiers who lost their limbs while serving — aim to cover about 485 kilometres next spring, travelling across the frozen Arctic Ocean on the Siberian approach to the North Pole. Harry, who served with the British army in Afghanistan, has been trying to raise public awareness about disabled former soldiers. He fought alongside soldiers who are now coping with lost arms or legs. He and his older brother, William, are helping to raise money for rehabilitation aimed at getting the wounded back into the workplace. Walking for the Wounded hopes to become the first group of amputees to reach the North Pole. Harry said he would love to join the team for part of the route "if my military commitments allow me." Harry is training to become a helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps.
Posted 20 March 2010; 12:11:32 PM. Permalink
(Michael McCarthy/The Independent, 24 February 2010) -- The explorer Pen Hadow is mounting a new expedition to the Arctic to research “climate change's evil twin” — the acidification of the oceans caused by emissions of carbon dioxide. Starting next month, his team will face temperatures of minus 75 — when the wind chill factor is included — as well as frostbite, thin ice and polar bears, to sample sea water far out over the sea ice, as well as from a base in Arctic Canada. They will be seeking to measure how far soaring emissions of CO2 from industry and transport are turning the waters acidic — a phenomenon which may pose a serious danger for marine life. It will be the second successive year that Mr Hadow, who in 2003 became the first man to walk unaccompanied to the North Pole, has led an Arctic expedition to investigate climate-related problems. Last year, in the Catlin Arctic Survey 2009, he headed a mission to map in detail the thinning of the floating sea ice with rising temperatures. The Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 will bring together marine biologists, oceanographers and explorers to investigate the impact of increased CO2 absorption by the seas.
Posted 1 March 2010; 12:31:30 PM. Permalink
(Deborah Zabarenko, Environment/Reuters, 4 February 2010) -- Scant ice over the Arctic Sea this winter could mean a "double whammy" of powerful ice-melt next summer, a top U.S. climate scientist said on Thursday. "It's not that the ice keeps melting, it's just not growing very fast," said Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. In January, Arctic sea ice grew by about 13,000 square miles (34,000 sq km) a day, which is a bit more than one-third the pace of ice growth during the 1980s, and less than the average for the first decade of the 21st century. Arctic ice cover is important to the rest of the world because the Arctic is the globe's biggest weather-maker, sometimes dubbed Earth's air-conditioner for its ability to cool down the planet. More melting Arctic sea ice could affect this weather-making process.... If Arctic ice fails to build up sufficiently during the dark, cold winter months, it is likely to melt faster and earlier when spring comes, Serreze said by telephone from Colorado. "We've grown back ice in the winter, but that ice tends to be thin and that's the problem," he said. "You set yourself up for a world of hurt in summer. The ice that is there is also thinner than it was before and thinner ice simply takes less energy to melt out the next summer." With less of the Arctic sea covered in ice in winter, and with the existing ice thinner and more fragile than before, "you've got a double whammy going on," Serreze said.
Posted 5 February 2010; 7:04:59 PM. Permalink
(Louise Gray/Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2010) -- The £3m Catlin Arctic Survey, backed by the Prince of Wales, was the first attempt to measure how fast the sea around the North Pole is melting by using "surface penetrating radar". But the cutting-edge equipment, worth around £500,000, failed to work from day one. At first it was thought freezing temperatures caused the problems but it has now emerged that it was the battery. Mr Hadow said the team spent hours during the 73-day expedition taking apart the equipment and trying to work out what was wrong and it was "beyond frustration" to realise when they got home that it had been something so simple. But he insisted the trek was still a success as the team managed to take hundreds of measurements of the sea ice using a traditional drill. The average thickness of ice floes was 1.77 metres, suggesting the ice sheet is now largely made up of first year ice rather than "multiyear" ice that will have built up over time. Cambrige University scientists who analysed the data said it proved global warming is happening faster than ever and the Arctic could be largely ice free within a decade. "It was not a disaster that the radar did not work because the radar had never been used in this capacity before, they were always going to be cautious and use it as a field trial so the more important thing was the manual stuff," he said. The expedition set out for the North Pole in February last year to measure the effects of global warming by measuring the sea ice. The Surface Penetrating Radar for Ice Thickness Establishment or SPRITE worked in test runs and was set to take more than 10 million readings.
Posted 24 January 2010; 10:01:16 AM. Permalink
(Marilyn Heiman/McClatchy Newspapers via Juneau Empire, 8 January 2010) -- Wedged between Alaska and Siberia, the Chukchi Sea is one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world. Its vast shallow sea floor and ice cover provide rich habitat for many species, including walrus, whales, polar bears and millions of seabirds. In winter, the Chukchi is a foreboding place, dominated by moving packs of sea ice, extreme storms, sub-zero temperatures and darkness. Even the short Arctic summer brings temperatures in the 40s, gale-force winds, week-long storms and heavy blankets of fog nearly one-third of the time. Despite such challenges, the Obama administration recently gave the green light for industry to drill exploratory oil and gas wells in the Chukchi and neighboring Beaufort Sea next summer. Trying to extract these resources poses huge risks. The ever-present danger of oil spills is one of the biggest concerns. People make mistakes, equipment fails. Remote locations, harsh conditions and technological limitations exacerbate the risks of offshore drilling in the U.S. Arctic. One week in December, bad weather stymied the cleanup of two separate land-based spills on Alaska's North Slope. An oil rig blowout in the relatively warm, calm waters of the Timor Sea off Australia's north coast several months ago spewed oil for ten weeks until the company finally capped it. An incident like that in the Chukchi or Beaufort seas would be disastrous. If the industry cannot adequately respond to spills on land or in warm waters, the public has little assurance it can cope with broken ice, darkness and high winds. ... Before approving new lease sales and new drilling, the federal government must look hard at the deficiencies in oil spill response capabilities in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Thus far, only incomplete plans have been submitted. What is needed instead is a transparent, independent, peer-reviewed oil-spill risk assessment. The nation must have clear answers — and understand what is at stake before it risks serious harm.
Posted 10 January 2010; 11:53:58 AM. Permalink
(Catherine Farley/Toronto Star, 19 December 2009) -- Homegrown science supports Al Gore's warning at the Copenhagen climate conference this week that polar ice is melting faster than previously believed. Dr. David Barber, director of Winnipeg's Centre for Earth Observation Science, now predicts the Arctic could be free of summer ice and navigable within the decade, saying the ice cap is shrinking and deteriorating. On an expedition in September to check out an apparent recovery of the polar cap in the Beaufort Sea, Barber's team found instead a heavily decayed honeycomb structure of ice, weakened by years of melting and refreezing. Barber calls it "rotten" ice. He says his ship easily plowed through what satellite images suggested was good, solid ice. He has no idea how much of the cap is rotten. Fifty years ago, only 10 per cent of the Arctic cap would melt in summer and reform during the long, dark winter. Now, more than two-thirds melts and refreezes each year. Barber blames the wild temperature fluctuations at the poles. "Temperature change at the poles has been three times greater than the rest of the Earth," he says. While the Earth's average temperature has gone up 0.7°C in the last 30 years, the Arctic has increased 2 degrees. NASA scientists reported earlier this year that Arctic ice has thinned more than 60 centimetres in four years, while the volume of old ice has dropped 40 per cent. The smaller the mass, the faster it melts.
Posted 20 December 2009; 12:22:56 PM. Permalink
(Telegraph, 16 November 2009) -- These images are taken from a new National Geographic book called Polar Obsession by extreme wildlife photographer Paul Nickle [sic, Nicklen]. [There are some different pictures in this collection from the Nicklen gallery noted below. Book at Chapters.ca, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or National Geographic. ]
Posted 16 November 2009; 3:46:57 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, 16 November 2009) -- VLADIVOSTOK - A Russian icebreaker with 105 passengers on board has been trapped in ice during a cruise in the Arctic, a Russian Far East marine cruise official said on Monday. The Captain Khlebnikov will need to wait one or two days to resolve the situation, and the official said the passengers are in no danger. "The icebreaker's crew is waiting for the weather to change and then the ship will resume its course. This will require one or two days. The passengers are in no need of assistance," the spokesman told RIA Novosti. Most of the passengers on board the icebreaker are Brits. A film crew from the BBC is also on board filming material for a documentary called Frozen Earth.
Posted 16 November 2009; 12:26:26 AM. Permalink
(ScienceDaily, 6 November 2009) -- Despite the fact that summer 2009 had more sea ice than in 2007 or 2008, scientists are seeing drastic changes in the region from just five years ago and at rates faster than anticipated. The findings were presented October 22 in the annual update of the Arctic Report Card, a collaborative effort of 71 national and international scientists. "The Arctic is a special and fragile place on this planet," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "Climate change is happening faster in the Arctic than any other place on Earth—and with wide-ranging consequences. When I visited the northern corners of Alaska's Arctic region earlier this year, I saw an area abundant with natural resources, diverse wildlife, proud local and native peoples—and a most uncertain future. This year's Arctic Report Card underscores the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas pollution and adapting to climate changes already under way." ... Scientific assessments are key to informing our understanding of climate—how and why it is changing and what the changing conditions mean to lives and livelihoods. The Arctic Report Card established a baseline of conditions in the region at the beginning of the 21st century and the annual updates track and monitor the often quickly-changing conditions in the Arctic. Using a color-coding system of red to indicate consistent evidence of warming and yellow to indicate there are mixed signals about warming from climate indicators and species, the report card is updated annually in October and tracks Arctic data in six categories: atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land, and conditions in Greenland. ... The 2009 update to the report card reflects the contributions of an international team of 71 researchers from countries that include the United States of America, Canada, Belgium, China, Denmark, Japan, The Netherlands, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The Report Card can be found at http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard
Posted 6 November 2009; 3:45:38 PM. Permalink
(NOAA press release via Alaska Report, 4 November 2009) -- Regulations implementing the Fishery Management Plan for Fish Resources of the Arctic Management Area published in the Federal Register November 3 go into effect December 3, 2009. The regulations close the Arctic Management Area to commercial fishing. The Arctic Fishery Management Plan establishes a process for considering requests to develop future fisheries based upon the best available science. In 2006, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began considering options for fishery management in the Arctic. The council talked extensively with communities on Alaska’s North Slope and other stakeholders. Ultimately, the Council decided to take a precautionary approach, voting to prohibit commercial fisheries until sufficient information on the Arctic marine environment is available to sustainably manage commercial fishing. The Arctic Fishery Management Plan governs commercial fishing for all stocks of finfish and shellfish in federal waters, except Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut, which are managed under other authorities. It does not affect fisheries for salmon, whitefish and shellfish in Alaskan waters near the Arctic shore. The plan identifies Arctic cod, saffron cod, and snow crab as likely initial target species for fishermen. The plan does not affect Arctic subsistence fishing or hunting.
Posted 6 November 2009; 12:01:30 PM. Permalink
(Naval Postgraduate Schools press release, 2 November 2009) -- We are pleased to announce the publication this week of Barry Scott Zellen's second nonfiction book on the transformation and modernization of the Arctic region: Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic, published by Praeger. The second of a three-volume project exploring the foundations of security, stability and sovereignty in the modern Arctic, it examines the challenges and opportunities of a polar thaw; considers the impacts on geopolitics, international security, and international commerce; and discusses what a “post-Arctic” world might look like. The book includes an introduction by former Alaska Governor and U.S. Interior Secretary Walter J. Hickel, and a foreword authored by Professor Daniel J. Moran of the Department of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. ... the author argues that the twilight of the reign of ice in the Arctic marks the dawn of a new geostrategic pivot and economic powerhouse—a rich new navigable “Mediterranean” basin full of beneficial promise for the future of the Arctic rim nations, the indigenous Arctic peoples, and human history. Zellen surveys the history of the global strategic and military importance of the Arctic region through the bifocal lenses of neorealism and geopolitics, with particular attention to its role as the Cold War’s Northern Front. He shows how the dramatic acceleration of melting in the Arctic in the present decade is thrusting the Arctic back onto the center stage of geostrategic concerns, posing a hard choice for the circumpolar nations between cooperative development of the Arctic’s vast, hitherto inaccessible resources, or a new cold war among military antagonists and economic rivals. Zellen compares and evaluates the contending models for the Arctic’s future development put forward by such figures as former Alaska Governor and U.S. Interior Secretary Walter Hickel; Arctic expert and International Relations theorist Oran Young; Major-General (ret.) Richard Rohmer; and Arctic environmental journalist and author Ed Struzik.
Posted 2 November 2009; 10:12:48 PM. Permalink
(David Ljunggren/Reuters, 29 October 2009) -- OTTAWA - The multiyear ice covering the Arctic Ocean has effectively vanished, a startling development that will make it easier to open up polar shipping routes, an Arctic expert said on Thursday. Vast sheets of impenetrable multiyear ice, which can reach up to 80 meters (260 feet) thick, have for centuries blocked the path of ships seeking a quick short cut through the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They also ruled out the idea of sailing across the top of the world. But David Barber, Canada's Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba, said the ice was melting at an extraordinarily fast rate. "We are almost out of multiyear sea ice in the northern hemisphere," he said in a presentation in Parliament. The little that remains is jammed up against Canada's Arctic archipelago, far from potential shipping routes. Scientists link higher Arctic temperatures and melting sea ice to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Barber spoke shortly after returning from an expedition that sought—and largely failed to find—a huge multiyear ice pack that should have been in the Beaufort Sea off the Canadian coastal town of Tuktoyaktuk. Instead, his ice breaker found hundreds of miles of what he called "rotten ice"—50-cm (20-inch) thin layers of fresh ice covering small chunks of older ice. "I've never seen anything like this in my 30 years of working in the high Arctic ... it was very dramatic," he said.
Posted 30 October 2009; 4:07:04 PM. Permalink
(AP, 14 October 2009) -- LONDON — A team of British explorers says that within a decade the North Pole will be virtually ice-free during the summer. The Catlin Arctic Survey trekked an average of about 11 kilometers (six miles) per day and swam in freezing water to take measurements of the ice and snow. Measurements during the three month research project showed that most of the ice is first-year ice that measures about 1.8 meters (six feet) thick. Peter Wadhams with the University of Cambridge said Wednesday the ice is too thin to survive next summer's ice melt. The results come ahead of the UN climate Summit in Copenhagen this December.
Posted 15 October 2009; 9:29:10 AM. Permalink
(ThePoles.com, 7 October 2009) -- Arctic explorer Jim McNeill has launched a new hunt for volunteers to make Arctic history; this time to ski to the North Pole of Inaccessibility. He explained to ExWeb’s Correne Coetzer where this Pole is, which route is planned, what he requires from his teammates, their training program and more. ExplorersWeb: You are planning an expedition to the North Pole of Inaccessibility. Why this Pole? Jim: The pole was originally established by Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1927 when he traversed the Arctic Ocean for the first time. After extensive research I found no record of this pole ever being reached (despite what Wikipedia says). In addition to that I was working with NASA funded NSIDC scientists in 2005 and asked them to use modern technology to re-establish the position of the furthest point from land – GPS and Satellites. Lo and behold it would appear that the original position left out a number of islands off of the Russian coastline, which makes the new position almost 200 km different than the old. [See also Jim McNeill’s Ice Warrior website.]
Posted 12 October 2009; 2:39:01 PM. Permalink
(Andrew Revkin/New York Times, 2 October 2009) -- Half a century after Pacific walruses began recovering from industrial-scale hunting, marine biologists are growing worried that they face a mounting threat from global warming. Masses of lumbering walruses have been crowding on beaches and rocks along the Russian and American sides of the Bering Strait in the absence of the coastal sea ice that normally serves as a late-summer haven and nursery. While the retreats in sea ice around the Arctic this summer were not as extensive as in 2008 or 2007, the Chukchi Sea, at the heart of the walrus subspecies’ range, was largely open water. On Thursday, biologists from the United States Geological Survey issued a report concluding that 131 walruses found dead near Icy Cape, Alaska, on Sept. 14 died from being crushed or stampeded. Several thousand walruses had been congregating in the area, a situation that scientists from the agency said was highly unusual. Last month, a team from the World Wildlife Fund reported seeing 20,000 walruses on the shore at Cape Schmidt, Russia. In that same area, scientists in 2007 reported several thousand crushing deaths after tens of thousands of walruses crowded on the shoreline. Walruses have endured more than 15 million years of climatic ups and downs, so experts do not foresee the species’ becoming extinct, particularly if hunting remains controlled. (Thousands are legally killed each year by indigenous communities in both countries.) But there has been growing confirmation that the walrus is suffering substantial losses as the sheath of sea ice in coastal waters erodes in the summer.
Posted 6 October 2009; 11:41:20 AM. Permalink
(Agence France-Presse via SpaceDaily, 23 September 2009) -- Canada, Norway and Russia will soon provide navigation and meteorological warnings for ships crossing the Arctic sea, a new maritime route which has opened up due to global warming, a WMO expert said Wednesday. A revised Manual on Maritime Safety Information which is to come into force in 2011 now includes the Arctic as a new zone, divided into five areas where weather warnings would have to be provided. "One of the consequences of the melting of ice, is that we have now several passages, that just 10 years ago were open only for navigation in summertime. Now they are open almost all the year for navigation," said Edgard Cabrera, who heads the WMO's Marine Meteorology and Ocean Affairs division. "That's why it was necessary to establish five new areas," he added. Previously, no country had been assigned to provide weather and navigation information in the Arctic seas. The manual will be launched on Thursday by the World Meteorological Organization, the International Maritime Organization and the International Hydrographic Organization.
Posted 27 September 2009; 1:08:07 PM. Permalink
(AFP, 23 September 2009) -- MONTREAL - The Canadian government has taken delivery of two remote-controlled submarines which will be used to document its territorial claims in the Arctic. "Canada is the first country in the world to use this type of technology" to map the Arctic, John Weston, a member of parliament, said at a ceremony in Vancouver Tuesday marking the delivery. The unmanned submersibles built by Submarine Engineering of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, will operate under the Arctic ice to gather data on the outer limits of Canada's continental shelf. Delineating the continental shelf in the Arctic is important because it would help Canada establish its rights under international law to natural resources in the Arctic ocean beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. Ottawa has until 2013 to present its case under the UN convention on the law of the sea. The Arctic is an immense, potentially energy-rich region that could become more accessible in an age of global warming. That has made it the object of rivalry between the five states that border it—the United States, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark.
Posted 24 September 2009; 7:05:10 AM. Permalink
(BBC via ABC News, 18 September 2009) -- Hundreds of dead walruses have been found on Alaska's north-west coast, coinciding with reports that Arctic Sea ice has reached the third lowest level ever recorded. Some environmentalists in the United States think that is the cause of the deaths. The Centre for Biological Diversity says the retreating sea ice deprives female walruses and calves of their natural habitat so they are forced to come ashore and congregate in densely packed groups with larger males. When something alarms them, such as nearby human activity, stampedes can occur. Campaigners believe the young walruses were crushed to death.
Posted 18 September 2009; 2:34:14 PM. Permalink
(Dan Joling/Anchorage Daily News, 9 September 2009) -- Thousands of walruses are congregating on Alaska's northwest coast, a sign that their Arctic sea ice environment has been altered by climate change. Chad Jay, a U.S. Geological Survey walrus researcher, said Wednesday that about 3,500 walruses were near Icy Cape on the Chukchi Sea, some 140 miles southwest of Barrow. Animals the agency tagged with satellite transmitters also were detected on shore at Cape Lisburne about 150 miles farther down the coast. Walruses for years came ashore intermittently during their fall southward migration but not so early and not in such numbers. "This is actually all new," Jay said. "They did this in 2007, and it's a result of the sea ice retreating off the continental shelf." Federal managers and researchers say walruses hauling out on shore could lead to deadly stampedes and too much pressure on prey within swimming range. Projections of continued sea ice loss mean the phenomenon likely is not going away. ... Unlike many seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely and must rest periodically between feeding forays. They rely on sea ice as a platform for foraging for clams in the shallow waters of the outer continental shelf. They can dive up to 630 feet for clams and other sea floor creatures but mostly feed in waters of less than 330 feet, Jay said. Beyond the continental shelf, water can reach depths of 10,000 feet or more.
Posted 10 September 2009; 10:46:08 AM. Permalink
(AFP, 17 August 2009)—OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper embarked Monday on an Arctic tour that will culminate with a massive display of military muscle aimed at reinforcing Canada's sovereignty claims in the resource-rich region. Harper's first port of call on the five-day trip will be Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay, at the southern tip of Baffin Island, where he will hold a cabinet meeting. The main event comes on Wednesday when he will observe Operation Nanook, an annual military exercise trumpeting Canada's sovereignty over a large swath of Arctic territory to the east of Baffin Island. Five countries bordering the Arctic—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—claim overlapping parts of the region, which is estimated to hold 90 billion untapped barrels of oil. Harper will board a frigate and then a submarine as it dives into the icy waters near Iqaluit, Brigadier-General David Millar, commander of Joint Task Force North, told public broadcaster CBC. In its fifth year, the Canadian military exercises—running from August 6 to August 28—are the biggest they have ever been. "We're growing our capability, and ramping up," navy spokesman Lieutenant Jordan Holder told AFP. This year it includes 700 personnel, aircraft patrolling the Hudson and Davis Straits, as well as the frigate HMCS Toronto and submarine HMCS Corner Brook, which will take part in anti-submarine warfare exercises along Canada's northern frontier.
Posted 17 August 2009; 8:51:18 PM. Permalink
(AP via redOrbit, 10 August 2009) -- Scientists continue to keep a close eye on the Arctic Ocean, which has given up tens of thousands of square miles of ice this summer. Eddie Gruben, a local observer in far northwest Canada, told the Associated Press he has watched the summer ice retreat for years. By this weekend the ice edge lay 80 miles at sea. "Forty years ago, it was 40 miles (64 kilometres) out," added Gruben, 89. According to researchers, the global average temperature rose 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past century, but the Arctic temperature has risen twice as much. In July, the temperatures rose to almost 86 degrees Fahrenheit in the settlement of Inuvialuit. "The water was really warm," Gruben told the Associated Press. "The kids were swimming in the ocean." According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, the polar ice cap has shrunk an average of 41,000 miles per day in July, equivalent to one Indiana daily. The ice is melting at a rate similar to that of July 2007, the year when ice cap melting hit a record low. According to the center’s Walt Meier, the acceleration of ice loss has slowed making a record-breaking minimum “less likely but still possible." Researchers say the makeup of the frozen polar sea has also changed over the last few years from a thick multiyear ice to a thin ice that comes and goes. The last few years have "signaled a fundamental change in the character of the ice and the Arctic climate," Meier told the AP.
Posted 10 August 2009; 10:52:29 PM. Permalink
(Charles J. Hanley/The Associated Press via Anchorage Daily News, 9 August 2009) -- TUKTOYAKTUK, Northwest Territories - The Arctic Ocean has given up tens of thousands more square miles of ice in a relentless summer of melt, with scientists watching through satellite eyes for a possible record low polar ice cap. rom the barren Arctic shore of this village in Canada's far northwest, 1,500 miles north of Seattle, veteran observer Eddie Gruben said Sunday that he has seen the summer ice retreating more each decade as the world has warmed. By this weekend the ice edge lay some 80 miles at sea. "Forty years ago, it was 40 miles out," said Gruben, 89, patriarch of a local contracting business. Global average temperatures rose 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, but Arctic temperatures rose twice as much or even faster, almost certainly in good part because of manmade greenhouse gases, researchers say. In late July the mercury soared to almost 86 degrees Fahrenheit in this settlement of 900 Inuvialuit, the name for western Arctic Eskimos. "The water was really warm," Gruben said. "The kids were swimming in the ocean." As of Thursday, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported, the polar ice cap extended over 2.61 million square miles after having shrunk an average 41,000 square miles a day in July—equivalent to one Indiana or three Belgiums daily. The rate of melt was similar to that of July 2007, the year when the ice cap dwindled to a record low minimum extent of 1.7 million square miles in September.
Posted 10 August 2009; 12:48:05 PM. Permalink
(Kate Ravilious/The New Scientist, No. 2720, 6 August 2009) -- Within sixty years the Arctic Ocean could be a stagnant, polluted soup. Without drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, the Transpolar Drift, one of the Arctic's most powerful currents and a key disperser of pollutants, is likely to disappear because of global warming. The Transpolar Drift is a cold surface current that travels right across the Arctic Ocean from central Siberia to Greenland, and eventually out into the Atlantic. It was first discovered in 1893 by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who tried unsuccessfully to use the current to sail to the North Pole. Together with the Beaufort Gyre, the Transpolar Drift keeps Arctic waters well mixed and ensures that pollution never lingers there for long. To better understand the dispersal of pollution in the Arctic Ocean, Ola Johannessen, director of the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center in Bergen, Norway, and his colleagues studied the spread of radioactive substances such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 from nuclear testing, bomb factories and nuclear power-plant accidents. Measurements taken between 1948 and 1999 were plugged into a high-resolution ocean circulation model and combined with a climate model to predict Arctic Ocean circulation until 2080. Their model confirmed that most pollutants, including pesticide, petroleum residue and nuclear fallout, are currently washed out into the north Atlantic by the Transpolar Drift. But perhaps not for much longer.
Posted 6 August 2009; 7:49:08 AM. Permalink
(Anna Mehler Paperny/Globe and Mail, 29 July 2009) -- The heat in the debate over Arctic sovereignty was kicked up a few degrees this week with news that Denmark and Norway are increasing their Arctic military capabilities. Canada responded by moving to raise its profile in the North. But the most immediate threat to Canada's territorial claims in the North is not military. It is a proposed U.S. ban on fishing in a part of the Beaufort Sea claimed by both countries—a move that could force Ottawa to back up its aggressive stand on Arctic sovereignty or risk weakening its position in future disputes over who's in charge in the North. ... A plan released earlier this year for Alaska's North Pacific Fishery Management Council concluded that the area does not have enough of any fish species to permit commercial fishing, and recommended a ban. The proposed law, now under review by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, will likely come into effect this fall, said Melanie Brown, fishery program specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau. Canadian law permits fishing close to shore in the area, but requires anyone wanting to set up a commercial fishery to submit an application, subject to a multiyear evaluation, outlining the proposal and its viability. The two countries' policies on fishing in Arctic waters aren't far apart. But “the issue is who is going to have final say in terms of fishing” in the disputed zone, said Robert Huebert, associate director of the University of Calgary's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.
Posted 29 July 2009; 9:20:31 AM. Permalink
(Bob Weber/CP, 28 July 2009) -- A joint U.S.-Canada expedition sailing next month to the icy waters off the northern coastline both countries share will help map the furthest reaches of the North American continent, but it won't deal with a long-running dispute over a resource-rich part of the Beaufort Sea. "The primary thing this mission is designed to answer is 'Where is the edge of the continental shelf?' " said Maggie Hayes, director of the U.S. Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy and the Canadian icebreaker Louis St. Laurent are heading into western Arctic waters north of Alaska and the Yukon. The ships are expected to rendezvous at sea Aug. 9 and remain out until Sept. 16. It's the second summer the countries are collaborating on such research, as Canada readies its claim for jurisdiction over parts of the ocean under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. Some parts of that vast stretch of ocean are so remote that the surface of the moon has been better mapped, said Jacob Verhoef, Canada's chief scientist on the project. "We still have regions where we don't have sufficient data to even look at the limit of where our extended continental shelf is," he said. Although Canada has previously conducted aerial mapping of Arctic areas likely to be claimed by Russia, Verhoef said this trip is not expected to overlap with any nation's possible jurisdictions. Nor will it produce data concerning the Canada-U.S. boundary dispute in the area, where the two countries disagree over how the boundary should be extended from the land between the Yukon and Alaska, resulting in uncertain jurisdiction over a wedge-shaped area of the Beaufort Sea.
Posted 29 July 2009; 9:01:01 AM. Permalink
(CBC News, 26 July 2009) -- The federal government has promised to assert Canada's sovereignty over its resource-rich Arctic lands and waters while it addresses the need for jobs, housing and a clean environment in the North. Three federal cabinet ministers released the new spending and a public relations plan, called Canada's Northern Strategy: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future, at a news conference in Gatineau, Que., on Sunday. "At every opportunity in my discussions with foreign ministers, I have and will continue to have frank discussions, and that includes reiterating, my friends, our country's willingness and continued engagement to reaffirm our sovereignty," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Canada, Russia and Denmark have all tried to strengthen their presence in the Arctic in recent years, but Cannon said as members of the Arctic Council, they've been able to work together on common goals and there's no reason that can't continue. "We're not going down a road toward confrontation. Indeed, we're going down a road toward co-operation and collaboration. That is the Canadian way. And that's the way my other colleagues around the table have chosen to go as well," he said. Cannon, who was joined by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and Minister of State for Science Gary Goodyear for the policy announcement, said his government has made the Arctic an "absolute priority" and that the needs of northerners will be at the heart of Arctic policy.
Posted 26 July 2009; 1:50:40 PM. Permalink
(Scott Highleyman and Marilyn Heiman/Mcclatchy News via Juneau Empire, 24 July 2009) -- The dog days of summer slow down the pace of life for many of us, but it's the busy season in the Arctic. The Inuit people who inhabit the top of the globe in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Greenland are out on the land and ice, camping, hunting, fishing and visiting family. Meanwhile, annual supply ships visit Arctic communities, bringing next year's provisions before the ocean freezes again. Climate change is altering these Arctic rhythms of life and culture. ... In 2007, Canada's Northwest Passage—connecting the Atlantic and Pacific through the islands just below the North Pole—opened for the first time. Last year, 62 ships used the passage, most for regional shipping but a few travelling the entire distance. Because of these changes, Arctic nations are calling for tighter shipping regulations to protect human lives and fragile ecosystems. The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, a four-year study led by Canada, the United States and Finland for the eight-nation Arctic Council, contains important recommendations on how to prepare for the next 20 years, many of which echo our concerns. First, we need to prevent another Exxon Valdez disaster. ... We also need to take steps to avert the loss of human life from shipping accidents. ... Furthermore, the snow should stay white. Burning dirty fuel in ships produces smog-creating pollution and black carbon. ... And finally, the Arctic people and their environment must be protected. ... For the sake of the Arctic and its people, we need to tightly regulate the growth of ship traffic to maximize the benefits and minimize the damage. The Arctic Council's shipping report is a good place to start.
Posted 24 July 2009; 10:18:51 AM. Permalink
(US Department of State press release, 22 July 2009) -- U.S. and Canadian officials participating in the Extended Continental Shelf cruise will hold a press conference on July 28, 2009, at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the upcoming joint scientific survey of the Arctic. ... The U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, chaired by the Department of State, will conduct a joint 42-day Arctic mission with the Government of Canada this summer to collect scientific data about the extended continental shelf and Arctic seafloor. The mission, scheduled from August 6 to September 16, will continue the collaboration in extended continental shelf data collection in the Arctic started during last summer’s joint survey, with plans for further cooperation in 2010. The interagency and intergovernmental effort will feature the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent. The 2009 Continental Shelf Survey will emphasize the region north of Alaska onto Alpha-Mendeleev Ridge and eastwards toward the Canada Archipelago. The mission will help define the extended continental shelf (beyond 200 miles from shore) in the Arctic Ocean, as well as U.S. and Canadian sovereign rights based on criteria set forth in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Additional information on the Extended Continental Shelf Project is available at: http://www.continentalshelf.gov and http://www.international.gc.ca/continental/
Posted 22 July 2009; 4:32:42 PM. Permalink
(Christopher Eshleman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via The Associated Press via Anchorage Daily News, 18 July 2009)—FAIRBANKS—A multinational council has recommended the United States and other northern countries adopt mandatory rules for construction of ships that ply the Arctic Ocean, where thinning ice and increasing resource development should accelerate commercial shipping. Shipping through the ice-covered ocean—a basin ringed by major fisheries, bookended by land-based mining projects and host to high-profile oil and gas leasing—has risen, but rules and guidelines for shipbuilders and Arctic countries vary or, where standardized, remain voluntary, the council reported in a major assessment of arctic shipping. The call for harmonized standards and laws, made through an Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment led by the eight-nation Arctic Council, comes as researchers consistently find signs that Arctic ice has thinned drastically and analysts mull the potential ramifications. The group cites scientific indications the Arctic's year-round ice cover could contain melting spots and channels within a few years. But Lawson Brigham, a former icebreaker captain now serving as professor of geography and arctic policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said recently that despite that melting, the ocean remains—and will remain—ice-covered for most of the year, justifying calls for comprehensive standards uniform enough for shipbuilders, shipping companies, national governments and others to follow regardless of home port or location.
Posted 21 July 2009; 3:08:01 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 21 July 2009) -- A late thaw at the North Pole has some people optimistic that Arctic sea ice won't shrink to record lows this summer. So far, observations show less ice north of Alaska, in the Barents Sea and in Baffin Bay. There are also lower concentrations of ice in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. More than 20 groups from around the world are contributing information to the Sea Ice Outlook project. They include European scientists, the national ice services in Canada and the U.S, and Inuit hunters. At the end of June, buoys and web cameras at the North Pole Environmental Observatory showed the ice melt there was very late. There was also a lot of snow and few melt ponds. There's also more second-year ice this year in some areas. Second-year ice has survived a melt season, which normally runs from June until September.
Posted 21 July 2009; 2:55:30 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, 21 July 2009) -- MOSCOW - Russia is against any arms race in the Arctic, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. Last week, Denmark announced its plans to establish an Arctic military command and a task force amid conflicting territorial claims by the five Arctic states. Commenting on the development, Andrei Nesterenko told journalists that, "Russia is opposed to the unleashing of an arms race in the Arctic Region and suggests as an alternative the boosting of bilateral cooperation in issues of navigation safety, search and rescue and the prevention of ecological disasters." He added that it was in Russia's national interests to maintain peace and cooperation in the region. The Arctic territories, believed to hold vast untapped oil and gas reserves, have increasingly been at the center of disputes between the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark as rising temperatures lead to a reduction in sea ice. In March, the Russian Security Council outlined Russia's strategy in the region, including the deployment of military, border and coastal guard units "to guarantee Russia's military security in diverse military and political circumstances."
Posted 21 July 2009; 10:45:17 AM. Permalink
(Anouk Lorie/CNN, 17 July 2009) -- LONDON, England - An eco-friendly French boat is hoping to successfully cross the perilous Arctic sea passage that links the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. "Le Mangier" is attempting to navigate the icy, unpredictable Northern Sea Route, a 6,000 mile passage that skims the northern coast of Siberia. It is a trip that only a handful of leisure boats in history have successfully completed. Not only that, the modified tug boat is also attempting to do it ecologically. The boat's crew is relying partly on wind-power to complete the route, parts of which are only free of ice for two short months during the Arctic summer. Three sails have been added to the tug boat, which normally runs on gas-guzzling motors. ... The voyage, which is projected to take about six months, started in the South of France in April and, if they make it through the route successfully, will end in Japan. The crew's other ecological concessions include relying on solar panels for electricity and warm water, using only long-lasting LED light bulbs eating only organic products during their journey. On-board are seven adults and two children, including a painter, two writers, a scientist and a historian. Currently, the team's primary concern is not the fear of being trapped in ice and being forced to "hibernate" in Siberia's frigid temperatures, but getting the required paperwork in time before the approaching colder months, which cause ice to harden in the passage. "Le Mangier" is in Tromso, Norway waiting for the green light from the Russian government, which rarely allows non-Russian vessels to enter the passage.
Posted 17 July 2009; 2:48:37 PM. Permalink
(Kyle Hopkins/Anchorage Daily News, 17 July 2009) -- A sample of the giant black mystery blob that Wainwright hunters discovered this month floating in the Chukchi Sea has been identified. It looks to be a stringy batch of algae. Not bunker oil seeping from an aging, sunken ship. Not a sea monster. "We got the results back from the lab today," said Ed Meggert of the Department of Environmental Conservation in Fairbanks. "It was marine algae." Miles of the thick, dark gunk had been spotted floating between Barrow and Wainwright, prompting North Slope Borough officials and the Coast Guard to investigate last week. A sample was sent to a DEC lab in Anchorage, where workers looked at it under a microscope and declared it some kind of simple plant -- an algae, Meggert said. The goo fast became an Alaska mystery. And the new findings still leave questions unanswered: Why is there so much of it in a region where people say they've never seen anything quite like it? Local hunters and whalers didn't know what to make of it. The Coast Guard labeled the substance biological, but knew little else. The stuff had hairy strands in it and was tangled with jellyfish, said a borough official. Terry Whitledge is director of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He hasn't had a chance to look at the DEC's sample yet, but a friend with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration e-mailed him a picture of the gunk. "Filamentous algae," he concluded. Filamentous? "It means it's just stringy." Whitledge said he doesn't know why an unprecedented bloom of algae appeared off the Arctic coast. "You'll find these kind of algae grow in areas that are shallow enough that light can get to the bottom ... If you had a rocky area along the coast, you could have this type of algae." It could have been discharged from a river, he said, flushed out by runoff from spring breakup and melting ice. But that's just speculation, he warned. ... The results of the state's analysis came in at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. It was the last day on the job for Meggert, the retiring on-scene coordinator. ... The goo didn't fit any pattern that made it easy to identify from afar, Meggert said. ... The color, in particular, didn't make sense, he said. You might expect to see green or reddish algae but not this black, viscous gunk. Whitledge, with the university, said one possible explanation is that the algae has partially decomposed into a darker hue. He looks forward to the university examining the sample too, to identify exactly what kind of algae it is. It's worth noting that Alaska Natives in the region reportedly hadn't seen anything like it before, he said.
Posted 17 July 2009; 12:48:52 PM. Permalink
(The Copenhagen Post, 15 July 2009) -- Parliament’s plans to build up the military's presence in the Arctic will provoke an arms race in the region, worries former military commander The military is ready to begin a military build up in Greenland that will see the creation of an Arctic task force and an Arctic command. The efforts will strengthen Denmark's military presence in the region at the same time as Canada and Russia have also announced that they will adjust their national defence strategies to adapt to more traffic, more mining and more potential conflicts in the Arctic. Parliament’s recently adopted defence budget for 2010 to 2014 concludes that increasing activity in the Arctic will transform the region's strategic importance and eventually lead to more challenges for the military. In order to meet those challenges, an arctic task force drawing on elements from all branches of the military capable of operating in the Arctic will be set up from the existing defence capabilities. The plan also calls for the possible use of fighter jets for occasional tasks related to monitoring and assertion of sovereignty in and around Greenland, as well as for a study into whether the US Air Force’s Thule Air Base could play a larger role in defence tasks in and around Greenland, in cooperation with other partner countries. Axel Fiedler, former head of the Greenland Command, warned however against an ‘unnecessary militarisation’. ‘Why start talking about fighters to Greenland? There is no threat whatsoever towards Greenland and no one denies the sovereignty of Greenland’ he said. In addition to Denmark’s on-going border dispute with Canada, the two countries, along with Russia, Norway and the US are currently in the process of staking their territorial claims in the Arctic with the UN. The process will see the Arctic Ocean divided up amongst the five Arctic powers, and Fiedler believes that the defence bill could provide Canada with new arguments for continuing its arms build up in the Arctic, just as politicians in Russia can use it to demand that the Russian military become more visible in the region. Fiedler urged Greenland’s self-rule government to protest against the plans, but Premier Kupik Kleist backs the proposal’s plans to improve efforts to prevent environmental and shipping disasters.
Posted 15 July 2009; 4:22:13 PM. Permalink
(Don Hunter/Anchorage Daily News, 14 July 2009) -- Something big and strange is floating through the Chukchi Sea between Wainwright and Barrow. Hunters from Wainwright first started noticing the stuff sometime probably early last week. It's thick and dark and "gooey" and is drifting for miles in the cold Arctic waters, according to Gordon Brower with the North Slope Borough's Planning and Community Services Department. Brower and other borough officials, joined by the U.S. Coast Guard, flew out to Wainwright to investigate. The agencies found "globs" of the stuff floating miles offshore Friday and collected samples for testing. Later, Brower said, the North Slope team in a borough helicopter spotted a long strand of the stuff and followed it for about 15 miles, shooting video from the air. The next day the floating substance arrived offshore from Barrow, about 90 miles east of Wainwright, and borough officials went out in boats, collected more samples and sent them off for testing too. Nobody knows for sure what the gunk is, but Petty Officer 1st Class Terry Hasenauer says the Coast Guard is sure what it is not. "It's certainly biological," Hasenauer said. "It's definitely not an oil product of any kind. It has no characteristics of an oil, or a hazardous substance, for that matter. "It's definitely, by the smell and the makeup of it, it's some sort of naturally occurring organic or otherwise marine organism." Something else: No one in Barrow or Wainwright can remember seeing anything like this before, Brower said. "That's one of the reasons we went out, because in recent history I don't think we've seen anything like this," he said. "Maybe inside lakes or in stagnant water or something, but not (in the ocean) that we could recall ... "If it was something we'd seen before, we'd be able to say something about it. But we haven't ...which prompted concerns from the local hunters and whaling captains." The stuff is "gooey" and looks dark against the bright white ice floating in the Arctic Ocean, Brower said. "It's pitch black when it hits ice and it kind of discolors the ice and hangs off of it," Brower said. He saw some jellyfish tangled up in the stuff, and someone turned in what was left of a dead goose -- just bones and feathers -- to the borough's wildlife department. "It kind of has an odor; I can't describe it," he said. Hasenauer said he hasn't heard any reports of waterfowl or marine animals turning up. Brower said it wouldn't necessarily surprise him if the substance turns out to be some sort of naturally occurring phenomenon, but the borough is waiting until it gets the analysis back from the samples before officials say anything more than they're not sure what it is. "From the air it looks brownish with some sheen, but when you get close and put it up on the ice and in the bucket, it's kind of blackish stuff ... (and) has hairy strands on it."
Posted 15 July 2009; 10:31:27 AM. Permalink
(UTV, 14 July 2009) -- A new "north-east passage" for shipping around Russia's Arctic coast and across the North Pole will be opened within a decade as global warming causes the ice cap to melt, Norway's foreign minister has predicted. Jonas Gahr Store, speaking at a recent public lecture in Edinburgh, said the route through previously inaccessible Russian waters, could cut tanker journey times between Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Yokohama in Japan by 40%, and provide a safer and "pirate-free" route for trans-global shipping. "The rise in temperatures across the Arctic is twice the world average. Soon there will be no summer ice—that will open up new routes and new strategic issues for the world," he said. The forecast follows previous predictions that the more famous north-west passage will be opened by climate change. The melting ice also has implications for the global energy market. The Arctic is thought to hold 20% of world resources of fossil fuels—principally sub-sea gas in the massive Shtokman field. The Russian government plans to start extracting gas from the Barents Sea by 2011 with French partners Total and the Norwegian state-owned Statoil. The Arctic operating environment however is extremely hostile. Some 250 miles offshore, Shtokman cannot be reached by helicopter from continental bases. Explorers would also need to contend with temperatures of -50C (-58F) and ice flows the size of Jamaica. With 50 Norwegian exploration and supply companies already registered in Murmansk, Mr Gahr Store believes Russia accepts it cannot develop the area alone.
Posted 15 July 2009; 9:55:25 AM. Permalink
(Frances Cation/CIC, 13 July 2009) -- It is with great pleasure that we present you with CIC Senior Research Fellow Franklyn Griffith's paper "Towards a Canadian Arctic Strategy." This paper holds that the Arctic is opening up at a rate that continues to astonish. Climate change, the prospect of easier access and transit, and the expectation of long term growth in global demand for oil and gas have evoked unprecedented interest from the world at large. But while the strategic significance of the Arctic is increasing rapidly, Canada has no strategy for the region in its entirety. This paper aims to start us on the way toward such a strategy. We encourage discussion of this report and its policy implications. Please send your comments or questions to email@example.com
Posted 13 July 2009; 1:46:00 PM. Permalink
(ENS, 8 July 2009) -- WASHINGTON, DC - Arctic sea ice has thinned between the winters of 2004 and 2008, with thin seasonal ice replacing thick older ice as the dominant type for the first time on record, according to the first basin-wide estimate of the thickness and volume of the Arctic Ocean's ice cover. The total area covered by the thicker, older "multi-year" ice that has survived one or more summers shrank by 42 percent over the four year period. Based on data from a NASA Earth-orbiting spacecraft, the study provides further evidence for the rapid, ongoing transformation of the Arctic's ice cover. Scientists from NASA and the University of Washington in Seattle conducted the most comprehensive survey to date using observations from NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, known as ICESat. Ron Kwok of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, led the research team, which published its findings Tuesday in the "Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans." In the past, scientists had relied only on measurements of area to determine how much of the Arctic Ocean is covered in ice, but ICESat makes it possible to monitor ice thickness and volume changes over the entire Arctic Ocean for the first time. The results give scientists a better understanding of the regional distribution of ice and provide better insight into what is happening in the Arctic Ocean. ... ICESat measures the distances to the top of the ice cover and to the sea surface. The difference between the two quantities gives the total “freeboard” measurement; that is, the amount of ice above the water line relative to the local sea level. ... Using ICESat measurements, scientists found that overall Arctic sea ice thinned about seven inches a year, for a total of 2.2 feet over four winters. In recent years, the amount of ice replaced in the winter has not been sufficient to offset summer ice losses. The result is more open water in summer, which then absorbs more heat, warming the ocean and further melting the ice.
Posted 11 July 2009; 12:27:37 PM. Permalink
(Reuters, 7 July 2009) -- WASHINGTON - Arctic sea ice has thinned dramatically since 2004, with the older, thicker ice giving way to a younger, thinner kind that melts in the northern summer, NASA scientists reported on Tuesday. Researchers have known for years that ice covering in the Arctic Sea has been shrinking in area, but new satellite data that measure the thickness of ice show that the volume of sea ice is declining as well. That is important because thicker ice is more resilient and can last from summer to summer. Without ice cover, the Arctic Sea's dark waters absorb the sun's heat more readily instead of reflecting it as the light-colored ice does, accelerating the heating effect. Using NASA's ICESat spacecraft, scientists figured that overall Arctic sea ice thinned about 7 inches (17.78 cm) a year since 2004, for a total of 2.2 feet (0.67 metres) over four winters. Their findings were reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. The total area covered by thicker, older ice that has survived at least one summer shrank by 42 percent.
Posted 9 July 2009; 10:31:02 AM. Permalink
(Andrew C. Revkin/Dot Earth via New York Times, 7 July 2009) -- The thick durable sea ice that routinely cloaked much of the Arctic Ocean in colder decades in the 20th century is increasingly relegated to a few clotted places along northern Canada and Greenland, according to the latest satellite analysis of the warming region. The following video gives you a fascinating view of one patch of sea ice through 90 days, provided by a webcam left behind by researchers who annually set up camp near the North Pole to check ocean and ice conditions up close. The new analysis, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research on Tuesday, is the latest of many findings supporting the idea that the region has shifted to a new state in which seasonal ice, which forms in winter and melts in the summer, dominates. This is the main reason biologists have concerns for the long-term welfare of polar bears, which have a harder time sustaining their weight and reproducing when summertime ice is thin. At the same time, the shift bodes well for shippers, like the German company Beluga, that have plans to start sending goods from Asia to northern Europe through the fabled, but long impassible, Northern Sea Route over Russia.
Posted 9 July 2009; 9:58:58 AM. Permalink
(Alister Doyle/Reuters Environment, 21 June 2009)** -- OSLO - Arctic nations are promising to avoid new "Cold War" scrambles linked to climate change, but military activity is stirring in a polar region where a thaw may allow oil and gas exploration or new shipping routes. The six nations around the Arctic Ocean are promising to cooperate on challenges such as overseeing possible new fishing grounds or shipping routes in an area that has been too remote, cold and dark to be of interest throughout recorded history. But global warming is spurring long-irrelevant disputes, such as a Russian-Danish standoff over who owns the seabed under the North Pole or how far Canada controls the Northwest Passage that the United States calls an international waterway. "It will be a new ocean in a critical strategic area," said Lee Willett, head of the Marine Studies Programme at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, predicting wide competition in the Arctic area. "The main way to project influence and safeguard interests there will be use of naval forces," he said. Ground forces would have little to defend around remote coastlines backed by hundreds of km (miles) of tundra.
Posted 24 June 2009; 2:31:10 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, 15 June 2009) -- MOSCOW - The creation of the Russian Arctic nature reserve could compensate for the damage to the dwindling polar bear population from global warming, the director of WWF-Russia said on Monday. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a decree on establishing the nature reserve on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, in the Arctic Ocean, earlier on Monday. The reserve is expected to cover an area of more than 8 million hectares. Speaking on the nature reserve, Putin said this is a "unique space with high biodiversity and high bioproductivity." "This is essential for polar bears as there is less and less ice where a polar bear is used to hunting. This is why today is becoming a hard time for the Arctic," WWF-Russia Director Igor Chestin said. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, two-thirds of the world's 25,000 polar bears could die by 2050, as the ice they use to hunt seals melts due to global warming. "We hope that the polar bear population will be saved," Chestin said.
Posted 17 June 2009; 5:39:17 PM. Permalink
(RIA Novosti, 3 June 2009) -- COPENHAGEN - A final decision on conflicting territorial claims on the Arctic seabed must be made by the United Nations, the Russian foreign minister said on Wednesday. However, Sergei Lavrov said that before a final ruling can be made by a relevant UN commission, "all countries laying claim to the continental shelf and parts of the Arctic should settle their disputes between themselves." The five Arctic coastal nations agreed at negotiations in late May that the UN must decide on conflicting territorial claims. "We affirmed our commitment to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said at the time. Foreign ministers from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States met in Greenland. Arctic territories, believed to hold vast untapped oil and gas reserves, have increasingly been at the center of disputes between the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark as rising temperatures lead to a reduction in sea ice. President Dmitry Medvedev said in September at a Russian Security Council session that the extent of the Russian continental shelf in the Arctic should be defined as soon as possible. Russia has undertaken two Arctic expeditions—to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov ridge in the summer of 2007—to support its territorial claims in the region. Moscow has pledged to submit documentary evidence to the UN on the external boundaries of Russia's territorial shelf by 2010.
Posted 5 June 2009; 11:53:00 AM. Permalink
(Randolph E. Schmid/AP, 28 May 2009) -- WASHINGTON - Nearly one-third of the natural gas yet to be discovered in the world is north of the Arctic Circle and most of it is in Russian territory, according to a new analysis led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey. "These findings suggest that in the future the ... pre-eminence of Russian strategic control of gas resources in particular is likely to be accentuated and extended," said Donald L. Gautier, lead author of the study published in Friday's edition of the journal Science. Russia is already the world's leading natural gas producer, noted Gautier, of the Geological Survey's office in Menlo Park, Calif. The report, by an international scientific team, estimated that the Arctic also contains between 3 and 4 percent of the world's oil resources remaining to be discovered. Two-thirds of the undiscovered gas is in just four areas—South Kara Sea, North Barents Basin, South Barents Basin and the Alaska Platform—the report said. Indeed, the South Kara Sea off Siberia contains 39 percent of the Arctic's undiscovered gas, the researchers said.
Posted 28 May 2009; 9:47:25 PM. Permalink
(Espen Barth Eide/Defence Professionals, 25 May 2009) -- Norway's State Secretary Espen Barth Eide’s address to the Defence and Security Committee, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Oslo: "... Let me now turn to the High North. In the foreseeable future, we will see the Arctic Ocean free of ice during summertime. This illustrates the need to address the global challenge of climate change through solid international cooperation and commitment. The melting of the Arctic ice—which is happening—combined with technological advances will also make this region accessible to large-scale economic activity to a degree never experienced before. This is a fundamental change effecting countries in Europe, North-America and Asia. And with a new set of challenges and opportunities that will demand our attention. So what are the security challenges in all this? First of all, there are existing and potential conflicts of interest in the area which could undermine the stability in the area. Our security policy aims to build confidence and prevent negative developments in the High North. Second, the Northern Fleet’s continued role in the Russian nuclear triad and the sheer weight of the Kola military infrastructure are of vital strategic importance to Russia. Third, the Barents Sea continues to be a training ground for military forces and a test bed for new weapon systems. Fourth, new sea lines of communication will enhance the High North’s military-strategic significance. When—not if—the Arctic is free of ice, the sailing time between North America and Asia will be reduced by 40%. Fifth, the possibility of deteriorating relations between Russia and the West could also influence relations in the Arctic negatively. ... Russia is sending mixed signals. We nevertheless choose to be optimistic regarding future relations in the Arctic. The reason is simply that Russia and Norway have a shared interest in maintaining the High North as an area of cooperation and absence of military confrontation. This does not mean, however, that we discard altogether the possibility of tension in the future. Potential points of dispute exist, and the Kola military complex with its inherent activities will always be a factor in Russian-Norwegian relations. Is there a role for the Alliance in the High North? Absolutely! NATO has a very important role to play and Norway has argued the case for a long time. The Alliance is at the core of the security and defence strategies of all but one Arctic Ocean state. It therefore cannot avoid defining its role in this area. The challenge will be to devise policies that address fundamental security interests of the Member States, while at the same time recognising concerns of others, including Russia. [Follow title link for complete address. Related articles: “New Challenges for NATO in the High North,” available at http://www.defpro.com/daily/details/310/]
Posted 25 May 2009; 3:31:11 PM. Permalink
(Randy Boswell, Canwest News, 25 may 2009) -- A top Canadian researcher at the centre of a scientific battle over the fate of polar bears in the melting Arctic says the latest war of words—a published "rebuttal" of a 2008 U.S.-led study that argued climate change may not seriously threaten the iconic species after all—has significant implications in this country. "For Canada, this rebuttal paper has resonance because there has similarly been a certain amount of nonsense questioning whether climate warming is going to be bad for polar bears," Ian Stirling, an Edmonton-based emeritus researcher with Environment Canada, told Canwest News Service. "As we lose sea ice, we will lose polar bear habitat and their numbers will decline accordingly. It is not a complicated concept." Stirling joined six U.S. scientists last week as co-authors of a stinging journal article in which they defended research papers they had prepared in advance of the U.S. government's May 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened under U.S. endangered species legislation. The scientists—including experts from the U.S. Geological Survey and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution—also delivered a "point-by-point" refutation of a controversial study published last year in the journal Interfaces that claimed "unscientific" use of data by Stirling and a host of U.S. federal researchers had resulted in a significant overestimate of the impact of climate change on polar bear populations.
Posted 25 May 2009; 1:33:12 PM. Permalink
(Randy Boswell/Canwest News Service, 14 May 2009) -- Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday that the Conservative government will strive to "work peacefully" with other polar nations but "will not hesitate to defend Canadian Arctic sovereignty." The statement came a day after the release of a new Russian government report that predicts possible military conflict over Arctic oil. Cannon, currently on a diplomatic tour in Asia, told Canwest News Service in a statement from Japan that recent steps taken by Canada to bolster its military and marine infrastructure in the North "will ensure that the Canadian Forces are prepared to address future challenges and respond to any emergency" that unfolds. "Canada is determined to work peacefully in co-operation with all our northern partners in the Arctic," Cannon said. "That having been said: Canada is an Arctic power, and our government understands the potential of the North. Therefore, when and if necessary, this government will not hesitate to defend Canadian Arctic sovereignty, and all of our interests in the Arctic." Cannon's comments come at a time when Russia has been sending mixed signals about its approach to resolving uncertainties over Arctic boundaries and securing resources in the potentially oil-rich polar region.
Posted 16 May 2009; 3:20:40 PM. Permalink
(Tony Halpin/Times Online, 14 May 2009) -- Russia raised the prospect of war in the Arctic yesterday as nations struggle for control of the world’s dwindling energy reserves. The country’s new national security strategy identified the intensifying battle for ownership of vast untapped oil and gas fields around its borders as a source of potential military conflict within a decade. “The presence and potential escalation of armed conflicts near Russia’s national borders, pending border agreements between Russia and several neighbouring nations, are the major threats to Russia’s interests and border security,” stated the document, which analysed security threats up to 2020. “In a competition for resources it cannot be ruled out that military force could be used to resolve emerging problems that would destroy the balance of forces near the borders of Russia and her allies.” The Kremlin has insisted that it is not “militarising the Arctic” but its warnings of armed conflict suggest that it is willing to defend its interests by force if necessary as global warming makes exploitation of the region’s energy riches more feasible. The United States, Norway, Canada and Denmark are challenging Russia’s claim to a section of the Arctic shelf, the size of Western Europe, which is believed to contain billions of tonnes of oil and gas.
Posted 15 May 2009; 11:09:48 PM. Permalink
(redOrbit, 12 May 2009) -- A U.N. deadline on May 13th over maritime boundaries will attempt to solve disputes over the seabed from the South China Sea to the North Pole, Reuters reported. A U.N. Commission that aims to set limits for national rights to everything from oil and gas to life on the ocean floor is asking most coastal states to define their continental shelves (areas of shallower water offshore) by Wednesday. Harald Brekke, a Norwegian official who is a vice-chair of the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, said it will be the final big adaptation of the world map and the maritime limits should be fixed. However, he told Reuters they are seeing many overlapping submissions of the deadline, set in 2004, as forty-eight nations have made full claims and dozens more have made preliminary submissions. Using a mini-sub, Russia planted a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole in 2007, an area Denmark is also expected to claim. Other territorial disputes have formed between Japan and Russia in the Pacific, between China and neighbors over the South China Sea and between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. ... But the commission cannot decide ownership of the seabed around disputed islands, Brekke said. Nations can exploit the seabed if their continental shelves extend beyond territorial seas stretching 200 nautical miles from the coast under existing law. But until now the exact limits have not been defined on the map. The U.N. Commission has already approved large parts of claims by Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico and a joint submission by European countries around the Bay of Biscay and the Celtic Sea. ... While any country missing the 0400 GMT Wednesday deadline risks losing the chance of U.N. endorsement, Brekke said it would still take years to resolve all claims, even those that do not overlap. Since the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the U.S. is among dozens of nations not bound by the May 13 deadline. However, President Barack Obama hopes to ratify. The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) with the Norwegian Grid-Arendal foundation has helped 50 to 60 developing nations, including many in Africa, in making claims.
Posted 12 May 2009; 1:26:28 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 7 May 2009) -- A recently completed map of Arctic geology across Greenland, Norway, Russia and other polar nations offers new hints about where Canada might find energy and mineral deposits across its vast north, says the geologist who co-led the mapping project. "The Europeans, the Russians, they've been at it much longer than we have in terms of mineral and energy exploration in their Arctic," said Marc St-Onge, a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada in an interview Thursday. "Knowing where they have their mineral deposits and gas and oil fields, we can use the geology of this consistent map ... to see where else we should be looking Canada." Similar geological features often yield similar mineral, oil and gas deposits, St-Onge explained to government officials at a Thursday morning breakfast talk on Parliament Hill sponsored jointly by the Royal Society and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. For example, an area that has yielded zinc deposits in Norway is geologically similar to an area on Bathurst Island in Canada that has not yet been explored for zinc, St-Onge said. The geological map of the Arctic that he was explaining was completed in November 2008 as part of a two-year, seven-nation collaboration led by St-Onge and colleague Christopher Harrison.
Posted 9 May 2009; 11:41:48 PM. Permalink
(Haider Rizvi/OneWorld US, 8 May 2009) UNITED NATIONS - Environmental groups and indigenous rights activists are calling for the White House and U.S. Congress to ratify an international treaty against the use and production of certain hazardous chemicals. "Time is running out. The Congress has to take a stand and fight for the lives of the contaminated people and environment of the North," said Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council. Carmen and other activists, who are attending international talks on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Geneva this week, say they have grave concerns about the impact of toxic chemicals on the health of native communities -- especially those living in far northern parts of the globe. Numerous studies have concluded that exposure to toxic chemicals, such as DDT, endosulfan, and lindane, is afflicting the indigenous populations in the Arctic region with illnesses of various descriptions. "The indigenous Arctic peoples are suffering the most from these chemicals," said Vi Waghiyi, an activist from Saint Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea, "because the chemicals are long lasting, and drift North on wind and water currents. ... That means these chemicals are also in our traditional foods and affecting our health and the health of the children," she added in a statement, citing studies that conclude that even minimum exposure to POPs could cause immune system suppression, learning and development disabilities, diabetes, impairment of reproductive health, and certain kinds of cancer. Public health research shows that the indigenous people in the Arctic relying on marine food are exposed to levels to POPs that are associated with significant health effects.
Posted 9 May 2009; 5:52:25 PM. Permalink
(Betty Mills/Fairbanks News-Miner, 6 May 2009) -- WASHINGTON — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., pledged on Tuesday to address the issue of global warming in the Arctic and to seek a new icebreaker for the region. Kerry’s comments came at the end of a two-hour hearing on the global implications of warming in the Arctic. “This is a very challenging and very urgent problem,” Kerry said. “It is in our economic and national security interest to get on this issue fast.” He added, “There is no question that we need to add an icebreaker.” Kerry was joined by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich at the forum, which featured a discussion with international experts and environmentalists. All participants agreed the rapid retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is a serious problem with many ramifications. Murkowski said a global chess game is beginning in the Arctic, and the U.S. “is playing with a serious shortage of pieces.” She said the U.S. Coast Guard operates two aging Polar class icebreakers, while Canada has six and Russia has 18. Begich agreed, saying he found it strange that a House committee recently approved an icebreaker for the Great Lakes but not for Alaska.
Posted 6 May 2009; 10:25:18 AM. Permalink
(Deutsche Presse-Agentur via Monsters and Critics, 4 May 2009) -- Kiel, Germany - After studying ice formation on the Siberian coast, German scientists forecast Monday that regular ships would be able to sail through the entire North-East Passage between Europe and Asia in summer in 10 to 15 years. Heidemarie Kassens of the Leibniz Oceanography Institute in Kiel said earlier estimates this would happen by 2050 were out of date because of the rapid pace of climate change. The passage through Arctic waters north of Russia would link the Atlantic and Pacific. Speaking after a six-week expedition to the Laptev Sea off Siberia, she called the development alarming. The region was a major source of new ice, but this year it had produced very little, she said. It was noticeable that many Atlantic species of plankton were invading the Arctic and displacing Arctic species. 'The ice cover on the sea is melting faster than our models forecast,' Kassens said, adding that Siberia's permafrost was thawing too. The expedition saw buildings on the permafrost cracked and in danger of collapse. The Transdrift Expedition was tasked with studying so-called polynyas. A polynya is open water between the coastal ice field and the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean which remains ice-free despite the cold of winter. A polynya directly responds to changes in sea currents or air circulation, and can indicate changes in the whole Arctic.
Posted 5 May 2009; 9:31:45 AM. Permalink
(Alister Doyle/Reuters, 4 May 2009) -- A thaw of the Arctic linked to global warming may slow a drive to get rid of industrial chemicals that are harming indigenous people and wildlife, an expert said on Monday. Skip related content About 150 nations are meeting in Geneva this week to consider adding nine chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants, to a "Dirty Dozen" banned by a 2001 U.N. pact partly inspired by worries about the fragile Arctic environment. But an Arctic melt may be complicating the clean-up even though levels of some of the "dirty dozen" chemicals are falling in the region, said Lars-Otto Reiersen, Executive Secretary of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). "There's some good news and some bad news," he told Reuters. The shrinking of summer sea ice may allow some of the dirty dozen persistent organic pollutants (POPs), long trapped under sea ice, to evaporate into the atmosphere and so spread further around the polar region, he said. "Climate change may ... delay the impact in the environment of policy actions against POPs," according to an AMAP report due to be presented in Geneva on Tuesday. Arctic sea ice shrank in September 2007 to the smallest since satellite records began. And some chemicals trapped in glaciers or permafrost may get washed out by a melt, blamed by the U.N. Climate Panel mainly on greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels.
Posted 4 May 2009; 12:03:33 PM. Permalink
(Cambridge University press release, 18 April 2009) -- Scientists have warned that world leaders are in a race against time to make key decisions about the future of international co-operation in the Arctic. In a new policy paper researchers argue that the international community has a waning opportunity to establish the central Arctic as an area of peaceful, trans-national governance before sovereign interests and commercial activities accelerate with the disappearing sea ice. The paper will be presented by Dr Paul Berkman from the University of Cambridge to the Aspen Commission on Arctic Climate Change in Monaco this weekend. The Commission includes scientists and policy experts and will make recommendations for the future of international co-operation in the Arctic. The article also appears in the new issue of the journal Science.
Posted 21 April 2009; 1:10:31 PM. Permalink
(Louise Robertson/The Guardian, 21 April 2009) -- Explorers on the Caitlin Arctic Survey expedition have come up with a novel way of communicating, according to team photographer Martin Hartley. The close-knit team are careful to stay in view of on another in the hazardous conditions but pathfinder Ann Daniels is always 200m in front, followed by Pen Hadow, and then Mr Hartley. To combat the distances between them, they have been writing messages in the snow but there is a big difference between the men’s messages and Ms Daniels, the only woman on the team. “If I see something that I think will make a great picture I write a big ‘P’ for photo with my ski pole for Martin to read when he follows in my tracks”, said expedition leader Mr Hadow. “At least that’s how it began. I have to admit that over time my messages to Martin have become frivolous as well as pragmatic. “I’ll often write something provocative just to turn round and see him laugh when he reaches it.” Ms Daniels on the other hand leaves the schoolboy humour to the boys, preferring to leave sweet messages of encouragement and kisses. With Mr Hartley bringing up the rear, he has nobody to write to but the polar bears but he has warned his cheeky colleague that he will have the last laugh. “All your rude messages to me are noted Pen and I just want to remind you that I’m the photographer and I can make you look good or I can make you look gross,” he joked. “It’s really your choice. Perhaps you may want to edit your comments accordingly in the future.”
Posted 21 April 2009; 12:48:42 PM. Permalink
(Siku Circumpolar News, 15 April 2009) -- Eric Philips notified ExplorersWeb this week that two of his clients, Alexis Fredrick and Billy Browning from the United States exchanged vows at the North Pole with Russian trekker, Victor Boyarsky, as celebrant. “We believe this to be the first wedding ceremony on the ice at the North Pole. It was attended by over 20 witnesses.” He wrote on his blog that it was a most glorious day in the Arctic at –35. The wedding was followed by a dance around the pole, champagne and photographs. “It was truly an amazing experience.” See also The Poles.com/Week-in-Review, 19 April 2009: Barneo’s M18 helicopter dropped last degree skiers, resupplies, a bride and groom and their 20 guests. Alexis Fredrick and Billy Browning from the USA exchanged vows at the North Pole with Russian explorer, Victor Boyarsky, as celebrant.
Posted 19 April 2009; 8:02:30 PM. Permalink
(PhysOrg.com, 17 April 2009) -- Scientists have warned that world leaders are in a race against time to make key decisions about the future of international co-operation in the Arctic. In a new policy paper researchers argue that the international community has a waning opportunity to establish the central Arctic as an area of peaceful, trans-national governance before sovereign interests and commercial activities accelerate with the disappearing sea ice. The paper will be presented by Dr Paul Berkman from the University of Cambridge to the Aspen Commission on Arctic Climate Change in Monaco this weekend. The Commission includes scientists and policy experts and will make recommendations for the future of international co-operation in the Arctic. The article also appears in the new issue of the journal Science. The five Arctic coastal states, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the United States, are in the process of asserting their presence in the Arctic Ocean as diminishing sea ice opens up new opportunities for activities such as fishing and the extraction of energy resources. Many of these claims are based on legal ownership of the sea floor. In their paper, however, academics point out that the water overlying the sea floor in the central Arctic is already an undisputed international space, both under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law.
Posted 19 April 2009; 7:21:59 PM. Permalink
(UC Santa Barbara press release, 16 April 2009) -- Environmental researchers at UC Santa Barbara have issued a rallying cry to protect Arctic resources, in an article published in the April 17 issue of the journal Science. Paul Berkman, researcher, and Oran Young, professor, urge the world's nations to develop integrated, science-based governance regimes and ecosystem-based management policies to protect the Arctic environment, where disappearing summer sea ice is providing access to a wide realm of previously unavailable natural resources. Both authors are with UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Berkman is also head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Program at the University of Cambridge. "The Arctic Ocean is crossing an environmental threshold expected to transform it from a perpetually ice-covered region to a seasonally ice-free sea within the next few decades," the authors write. "This environmental change has awakened global interests in Arctic energy, fishing, shipping, and tourism. The Arctic could slide into a new era featuring jurisdictional conflicts, increasingly severe clashes over the extraction of natural resources, and the emergence of a new ‘great game' among the global powers." But Berkman and Young see in the changing environmental circumstances the potential not only for escalating international competition, but also an opportunity "to link government interests," and create a template for "addressing transboundary security risks cooperatively." In the paper, the authors note that summer sea ice has been disappearing at a rate that could make the Arctic Ocean ice-free and seasonally navigable by summer 2050, but, Young added after the article was written, "A fair number of people are now saying that the Northwest and Northeast Passages may be ice-free by August/September by 2015."
Posted 17 April 2009; 2:58:30 PM. Permalink
(Nunatsiaq News, 17 April 2009) -- Arctic sea ice continues to shrink and thin, say two major U.S. agencies. The bad news came from The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Scientists who track Arctic sea ice cover from space announced April 6 that this past winter had the fifth lowest ice cover on record. Researchers said the sea ice cover during March 2009 averaged 15.16 million square kilometers. That's 590,000 square km below the 1979 to 2000 average. "Ice extent is an important measure of the health of the Arctic, but it only gives us a two-dimensional view of the ice cover," said Walter Meier, research scientist at the centre and the University of Colorado. "Thickness is important, especially in the winter, because it is the best overall indicator of the health of the ice cover. As the ice cover in the Arctic grows thinner, it grows more vulnerable to melting in the summer." New evidence from satellite observations shows Arctic sea ice is thinning as well. Thinner ice that melts and re-freezes every year, now makes up about 70 per cent of the Arctic sea ice in winter, up from 40 to 50 per cent in the 1980s and 1990s. Thicker ice, which is two or more years old, now makes up just 10 per cent of winter ice cover.
Posted 17 April 2009; 2:51:13 PM. Permalink
(AFP, 15 April 2009) -- OSLO - Norway has won the backing of the UN in its sovereignty claim over a potentially resource rich area of seabed, including a region in the much-courted Arctic Ocean, the government said Wednesday. Based on the evidence supplied by Norway in 2006, the UN Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) approved Oslo's claim to the vast chunks of seabed in the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. "All that remains is to incorporate (the decision) into Norwegian law and then the extension of our continental shelf will be effective," said Rolf Einar Fife, director of legal affairs at the Norway's foreign ministry. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone. Nations can also extend that limit to up to 350 nautical miles from their coast if they can provide scientific proof that the undersea continental plate is a natural extension of their territory. The CLCS decision means Norway's continental shelf has been extended by 235,000 square kilometres (146,000 square miles), or "the equivalent of seven football pitches" for each Norwegian citizen out of a population of 4.8 million, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said. The decision means Norway will benefit from exploitation rights in almost two million square kilometres in the Arctic region, Fife added. However, Norway has yet to agree with Russia how to share one chunk of the Barents Sea in its newly extended continental shelf, the so-called Loophole, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.
Posted 15 April 2009; 10:11:10 PM. Permalink