Monday, July 23, 2012

The Arctic This Week: News for 14 July - 20 July 2012




By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 14 July to 20 July 2012

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READS OF THE WEEK

If you’ve only got a few minutes, the six items below are the best-written, most interesting and/or most information-packed of those I came across this week.

A moving and interesting article from Waubgeshig Rice highlights the disconnect between many First Nations Canadians and the Assembly of First Nations officials who represent them, suggesting that a shift towards direct popular vote might better-represent the will of the people themselves (CBC). Also in Canada, an interesting article from the CBC suggests, perhaps surprisingly, that big mining companies have a heartfelt interest in having aboriginal representatives deeply involved in planning and negotiations because their support and engagement are so critical to the long-term viability of any project. 

Novatek may be the first Russian gas firm to break Gazprom’s iron grip on exports. The politicking behind the deal and the major change it would signal in Russia’s gas-export landscape are covered quite readably in the New York Times. The development of a management infrastructure for the Northern Sea Route is also a critical issue to Russia’s Arctic future, and the sorting-out of those details is covered in fascinating detail by Barents Nova.

A map of the speed of the Greenland ice sheet, via Discovery News, is a simple way to represent a ton of complex information. I am deeply indebted to creators Eric Rignot and Jérémie Mouginot of the University of California, Irvine. Relatedly, Alaska Dispatch provided a fascinating article on a collective initiative to photo-map the entire coastline of Alaska. This I find important as an example of a rare instance in which all parties – business, civil society, government, etc – agree that better information is needed, and work together to get it. 

BLOOD & TREASURE

The announcement that the United States would be opening a temporary base in Barrow, Alaska was greeted with general approval. The Coast Guard announced two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters “with supporting air, ground and communications crews” had been repositioned from Kodiak, AK to respond to search-and-rescue needs or to “reduce response time in the event of an incident in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.” This creates the largest presence the Coast Guard has had in the Arctic, and it is planned to remain open through October (EOTA). MarineLink points out that the addition of the national security cutter Bertholf, the medium endurance cutter Alex Haley and the buoy tenders Hickory and Sycamore to the Coast Guard’s assets in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as part of exercise Arctic Shield 2012 makes the US presence in the North fairly substantial. The detailed article is well worth your time. A hawkish article from Defense News starts off well with the interesting suggestion that increased attention to US Arctic waters should be a natural extension of the US’ Pacific strategy, but descends quickly into the standard laundry list of how far behind the US is in military and legal sovereignty assertion in Arctic waters. 

In Canada, Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay announced a CAD$1.1mn upgrade to equipment at Naval Radio Station (NRS) Aldergrove, which supports communications for Canada’s Arctic military presence (defpro.com), while the Conservative government appears to be considering disposing of an expensive fleet of Challenger jets (CBC). Mia Bennett in Alaska Dispatch proposed, sensibly, that a decision to invest in multi-purpose ships for potential deployment to any of Canada’s three coasts is less prudent than the separate development of open-water and ice-water fleets. In the Northwest Territories, search-and-rescue exercises took place near Yellowknife (EOTA), while the Canadian Army revised its fitness-testing regimen (via YouTube).

Across the waters in Russia, an announcement that the defense budget would be upped by 25% in 2013 (while education, health and culture will be cut) (BO) came simultaneously with the announcement that Murmansk is no longer being considered as a host station for an “Arctic Brigade” (Interfax – subscription required). While Russia’s last Cold War-era nuclear submarine is reaching the final stages of its dismantling (which dismantling is paid for in large part by Italy and the US under a 2002 agreement by the G8 countries) (BO), the revamped INS Vikramaditya is undergoing its second round of sea trials in the Barents before delivery to the Indian Navy (RIAN). An interesting, engagingly written and appropriately caveat-filled article from James Holmes via The Diplomat compares the capabilities of the INS Vikramaditya with China’s own former Soviet aircraft carrier, also undergoing sea trials. Some of Russia’s icebreakers meanwhile took a break from service to appear at the Tonnerres de Brest festival in France (bymnews.com).

THE POLITICAL SCENE

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, wrote an editorial pointing out the commercial benefits of Senate ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea (Free Enterprise). His piece drew a collection of frighteningly angry responses from the peanut gallery. Lawsy me, what people won’t write. These angry folks need not have worried; the ratification was killed in the Senate after all (Politico). CNN Money pointed out after the fact that, without being partner to the treaty, the US has no formal venue in which to influence the land claims of other nations or to press its own claims. Walter Russell Mead sees this failure as a side effect of clumsy handling of their Republican colleagues by Democrats. 

On the other side of the Arctic, Russia’s condescension to abide by the rules and standards of another international organization, the WTO, has European businesses’ representatives in Murmansk pleased (BN).

In other political news, India’s National Maritime Foundation came out with a broad-brush overview of Arctic policy debates that concludes that the Arctic Council should expand its membership to include India and, one presumes, other interested “outsider” states. In Canada, an unsurprising but informative interview on the devolution process and Nunavut’s priorities with Peter Taptuna, Nunavut’s Minister of Economic Development and Transportation, came out in the Financial Post.

 [Serious Lit’rature]

For reasons shrouded in mystery, Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic, released in February of this year, popped back up on Twitter this week. Here’s a direct link to the PDF, should you wish to relive those halcyon days in which you first read it. Those of you who read German may also be interested in a (now somewhat vintage) study by the German Ministry of Education and Research on the changing Arctic.

ENERGY

To explore TAI’s recent series on US policy for Arctic drilling, click for part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Struggle as I might against the deluge of news on Shell, its upcoming exploratory drilling off the Alaskan coast, and Greenpeace’s opposing activities, this signal overwhelmed all other “noise” this week. An everything-you-need-to-know article on Arctic drilling from Popular Mechanics was quite popular, while an end-of-the week article from the Washington Post put everything nicely in context as well. Lt Governor Mead Treadwell seems to have said that waiting to see if the anticipated reserves constitute a bonanza or a bust is like waiting “to see if Santa comes.” 

Bloomberg dug deeper into the reallocation of Coast Guard resources that “babysitting” the Shell project will demand, as well as pointing out the fairly dramatic discrepancy in icebreakers needed for the work and icebreakers available. CNN meanwhile got in on the game with two good articles, the first a profile of former North Slope Borough mayor Edward Itta’s shift in perspective on Arctic drilling and the second an opinion piece from Dan Sullivan which very strongly advocates Arctic drilling in US waters as a way to provide secure energy resources for the country. General reviews for those just getting introduced to the issue came from CNN (1 & 2), thinkprogress.org, Reuters and UPI.com, among others.

A few key points were covered cursorily in the press, including uncertainty about the usefulness of dispersants in cold waters (BusinessWeek). Shell and the USCG have both included dispersants as part of their spill-response plans, but both the EPA and environmental groups are unconvinced of the wisdom of doing so. Meanwhile the Arctic Challenger, a 38 year-old barge undergoing a massive overhaul to become an oil-recovery vessel, has won the USCG’s approval to go forth with somewhat less-stringent hardiness standards, set to weather a 10-year storm rather than a 100-year storm (fuelfix.com, the International). The Arctic Challenger is not ready to sail yet, though, with several systems yet to be installed and regulatory approvals yet to be given. Most readable details come from Kim Murphy in the LA Times

EPA air permits for the Noble Discoverer – one of the drilling rigs to be deployed – were also the subject of interest, as ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions from the main generators for the drilling apparatus are not quite up to standard (AD). The permitting process may not be completed until 15 August, giving Shell a narrow window of opportunity for its exploratory drilling (The Hill, NY Times blog). The Noble Discoverer also became a celebrity this week when it slipped its anchor and did / did not run aground off of Unalaska on 14 July. KUCB seems to have been the first to report the story, with a lovely picture showing the rig right up on the shoreline. Despite what looks to my eye like clear photographic evidence to the contrary, the USCG’s first official statements suggested that the ship only came within 100 yards of the shore (AD, ADN, CNN, Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Initial submarine inspections showed no appreciable damage, and the ship was towed away from shore by a Shell-contracted tug. The mooring system used on-site in the Chukchi will obviously be quite different from the one used near Unalaska (AD). The Seattle Times and Washington Post pointed to a previous incident with the same ship, under quite different circumstances, offshore last year during a heavy storm in New Zealand. A thorough, tidy and readable review of the whole situation came out of the Huffington Post, while a strongly-worded opinion piece came out of ADN, and the Dutch Harbor Telegraph pleaded for the opportunity to speak with someone who was on the scene, instead of PR officers thousands of miles away. Hear, hear! 

Greenpeace is also doing a bang-up job of goading folks into indignance about Arctic drilling. I could barely believe it as I watched their cleverly-conceived and 100% fake crowdsourced ad campaign enjoy a second life fooling a whole new round of dangerously credulous people (Forbes, digitalspy.co.uk). (My note: Seriously, folks? You cannot possibly imagine that a company in a politically touchy industry that netted $30bn in 2011 would wish to crowdsource its ad campaigns.)  Forbes, whose balanced reporting I enjoy, talked with a Greenpeace media representative but also took the time to reference negative reaction to the campaign in New Statesman. Audubon California also added its two cents on Arctic drilling via audublog.com

Three new components of the Greenpeace campaign made news this week. First was an international round of polar bear-costumed protests shutting down Shell-branded petrol stations in the UK (BBC, Independent, BBC, Guardian), Sweden (Twitpic, @isadora_wronski), Denmark (Twitter, @greenpeacedk) and elsewhere. (My note: I feel the need to point out that these stations, at least in the US, are often independently-owned franchises. If that is the case here as well, then the brand may be slightly damaged, but the individual gas-station owners take a much more serious financial hit. This may not be how it works in the UK, Sweden or Denmark, though; I do not know.) Also covered fairly intensely this week was the hacking of several oil majors’ (Shell, BP, Gazprom, Rosneft) email systems by Anonymous (net-security.org, webpronews.com, BN, treehugger.com). All reports that I saw indicated that this was done without coordination with, or by, Greenpeace. Finally, the environmental NGO went to Texas to roll out a fake Shell billboard close to oil town Houston (San Francisco Chronicle, Greenpeace blog). Greenpeace will have a physical presence in the Arctic this year as well with its ships the Esperanza and the Arctic Sunrise – a nice infographic explaining their voyages is here, slideshow of the Arctic Sunrise is here, and further details of the expedition’s scientific goals (original in German) are here.

US legislators of several stripes are meanwhile pressing NOAA and the BSEE to monitor Greenpeace’s activities as closely as it does Shell’s (SitNews.us). What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I guess. 

Moving briefly next door to the Canadian Arctic, the Financial Post competently covered the entanglements of devolution negotiations and oil-&-gas exploration in Canada’s northern territories, which is a fascinating subject. Such ruminations were the product of news that the Canol Shale, a formation near Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories, might come to be that territory’s equivalent of North Dakota’s Bakken shale, the development of which has meant boom times in the American state. Indeed, North Dakota now has the US’s lowest unemployment rate (Dickinson Press). Investment commitments in the Canol Shale now total CAD$628mn, and the estimated recoverable resources are 2-3bn barrels of oil (Reuters, Calgary Herald).

Finally, in Russia and Norway, we saw this week the news that Gazprom is continuing to sharpen its focus on markets to the East, both for supply and sales. The company is apparently considering purchases of LNG from Brunei (RT), while simultaneously negotiating sales to China’s CNPC (pennenergy.com). Shtokman fell off the radar this week, save for a tail-end article from Barents Observer marking Alexey Miller’s announcement that negotiations for a new (and improved?) Shtokman setup ought to be done by fall. Gazprom also had competition for headlines this week, as Novatek and partner Total broke ground on a new $30mn Arctic port to ship the LNG exports coming from the Yamal project, expected to open in 2018 (Reuters). Rosneft followed suit with the purchase of an existing (derelict-sounding) terminal in Murmansk, which might serve the company’s future Arctic projects in any number of ways (BN). Word also emerged that a coalition of India’s oil majors is bidding for a stake in Novatek’s Yamal LNG project (Business Standard). 

Rumours continued to spread that Novatek is the unnamed supplier in a large recent deal with Energie Baden-Württemberg in Germany (naturalgaseurope.com). The politicking behind the deal, and the major change it would signal in Russia’s gas-export landscape, is covered readably in the New York Times

Briefly, in alternative energy news, Russia is preparing an experimental wind-power generator on an island in the Lena River delta (VOR), and another wind project is underway near Anchorage (EOTA).

In miscellaneous other energy news, the Scarabeo 8 has completed an unsuccessful round of exploratory drilling on a Statoil well in the North Sea, and is on its way to the Barents to drill for ENI (Offshore Magazine). An Arctic Council task force on marine oil pollution response has recommended a legally binding intergovernmental agreement (Arctic Council). Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve is apparently the subject of a tug-of-war, covered by Carl Portman in the Institute of the North’s Top of the World Telegraph. Oil services companies Aker Solutions and RigNet have both landed substantial contracts or contract extensions (MarineLink). Finally, what sounds like an awful mess of radioactive waste at Andreeva Bay near Murmansk has finally been afforded some measure of long-term containment (BO).

MINING

Beginning this week in the Eurasian Arctic, an iron-ore mine in Kirkenes is under close monitoring after receiving permission to continue dumping waste directly into nearby waters, which cross the Finnish border to form one of the most important salmon streams in Finland (BO). A survey of Finns suggests that the population in general favors the imposition of a tax on mining concerns in the country (YLE). 

Next door in Russia, a mining road to be developed between the Oleney Ruchey and Partomchorr mines through a proposed nature reserve on the Kola Peninsula has environmental groups up in arms (BO). As the WWF Barents Sea Ecoregion’s press officer said: “Why can’t they just build a tunnel under the area of the coming national park instead of breaking through the beautiful nature? They are miners; they should know how to build a tunnel.” Meanwhile Russian President Putin suggested that WTO membership should help the country’s mining concerns to tear down barriers against Russian exports of metals, allowing them to become major world players (RIAN). Taking this enjoinment apparently to heart, Russia’s largest gold producer Polyus Gold announced that it had improved first-half year-on-year results by 18% over 2011 (RIAN), and Oleg Deripaska announced investments of $25mn in Russia’s far-Eastern metal, oil and gas assets in order to meet growing demand from Asian neighbors (RT). 

Moving to Canada, the review process for Baffinland’s proposed Mary River mine occupied most of the headlines. Early in the week, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association submitted a lengthy list of proposed conditions for the mine to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NN). Unsurprisingly, Tom Haddon, Baffinland president and CEO, expressed his belief that the project is good for the Inuit, Nunavut and Canada (NN). One assumes Mr Haddon is reasonably certain that it will also be good for Baffinland. Hearings began on Monday, and few seemed to believe that the mine project would be blocked any further (EOTA). The hearings this week focused on social and economic impacts, including employment and social programming (CBC). Baffinland representatives included in the hearings their own research on the potential impact of sound from shipping traffic on marine animals (NN), as well as their plans to make Baffinland an alcohol- and drug-free zone, and to have an Inuit elder on-site at all times. Nunatsiaq News, which provides by far the most comprehensive coverage of the project, cites the value of the project as follows: “The first phase of the mine is expected to […] generate revenue of $3 to $5 billion, while creating 950 jobs.” Similar concerns were on the table during renegotiations of socio-economic support plans between the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the owners of the Brewery Creek gold mine in Yukon (CBC). 

On the government side, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is deeply concerned about potential cetacean deaths from the Mary River project’s transport ships (NN). Concern from other stakeholders about the project’s failure to consider impacts on small mammals in the area seemed like it could be a last-minute sticking point (NN). Mayor of Iqaluit Madeleine Redfern appeared at the hearings on Friday to elaborate the potential impact of the project on Iqaluit, which houses much of the infrastructure that will be needed to support the workers (NN). The Nunavik Makivik Corporation continued to request a review of the project by the Nunavik Marine Impact Review Board, and it seemed ready to demand major changes to the proposed shipping routes for the project (NN). An interesting article from the CBC on the landscape of Canadian mining generally suggests that big businesses are genuinely interested in having aboriginal representatives deeply involved in planning and negotiations because their support and engagement are so critical to the long-term viability of any project. 

In unrelated news, BHP Billiton announced that its Ekati diamond mine in the Northwest Territories produced a full 29% less volume in Q2 than for the same period in 2011 (Diamond Intelligence). And, if you’re a mining buff, you may wish to subscribe to the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines newsletter.

BUSINESS & INDUSTRY

[Fishing]

In Alaska, low salmon runs for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers have caused Governor Sean Parnell to ask the federal government to declare a disaster, which would be the first step to bring federal funds to the affected communities (Reuters). The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has responded to the crisis by banning most netting for salmon in these rivers with the equipment that most local fishermen own. This ban led to a “rebellion” of sorts, and the salmon fishermen were “rescued,” after a fashion, by gifts of unusually-sized equipment, legal under the new regime, from local pollock-fishing businesses. This is significant because these businesses have been battling salmon fisheries over bycatch issues (AD). The pollock fisheries requested that those who took the expensive legal-sized nets sign a statement acknowledging that pollock fisheries do not contribute to reduced salmon runs, thus drawing a storm of criticism for perceived coercion (KTUU). 

In contrast to the Yukon and Kuskokwim fisheries, sockeye salmon in the Bristol Bay region are coming in in excellent numbers, following on last year, in which half of Alaska’s sockeye catch came from Bristol Bay. Reasons for the discrepancy are the subject of research (ADN). Research into several different components of fisheries management in Nunavut are underway this summer as well; to take a look at the Nuliajuk’s planned research, see this page from the Government of Nunavut. 

In whaling, an initiative at the IWC meeting in Panama a couple of weeks ago to hand more power to the UN to set standards was blocked by Iceland, Japan and Norway (IceNews).

[Shipping]

Noncommercial ship traffic through the Northwest Passage is a subject of increasing concern for the Canadian Coast Guard (EOTA), while the sorting-out of many details regarding the Northern Sea Route will, Russia doubtless hopes, lead to increased traffic and increased revenues. Barents Nova’s coverage of the details is fascinating, while PortNews points out that the financing for the new administrative body to manage the route is unclear, and that Arkhangelsk and Murmansk are vying to house the organization. Murmansk is also preparing to set up a “one-stop shop” for investors interested in setting up businesses in the city (BN), a wise idea that may help to counteract some of the dissuasion of foreign business brought about by the persistently corrupt and impenetrable Russian customs system (BN).

In general business news, the Arctic Council announced it would convene its first Business Dialogue in Reykjavik this September, and existing frameworks for economic development in Alaska are the subject of a rather choppy article from Susan K Bell in this week’s Top of the World Telegraph from Institute of the North

SOCIAL

Politics within Canada’s aboriginal communities appeared prominently in this week’s press. An interesting article from ipolitics.ca looked at the growing role of social media in aboriginal politics, with a special focus on the recent elections for the Assembly of First Nations. The presence of four female candidates and the extension of the campaigning to social media were new features of the campaign (CBC). Shawn Atleo, reelected by a comfortable margin (CBC), serves as a touchstone for the debate between those who feel that the relationship with Ottawa ought to be adversarial, and that First Nations are being bullied, and those who would rather see the relationship be cooperative (CBC). The Government of Canada issued its official congratulations to Mr Atleo, at any rate. In a larger sense, the actual representative nature of the bodies that govern the lives of First Nations citizens has been called into question during the recent election (CBC).

In Sheshatsiu, Labrador, allegations of corruption (or simply tastelessly high salaries) within the upper ranks of the Innu Development Limited Partnership have made it clear that politicians are politicians, wherever you go (National Post, Vancouver.24hrs.ca). In the Northwest Territories, analogous perceptions of corruption within the leadership of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation have led to calls to dethrone Ed Tsetta as chief (NNSO). 

Small initiatives by locals and MPs are helping to restore the town of Nahanni Butte after awful flooding (NNSO), while the Carcross Tagish, one of Yukon’s 11 self-governing first nations, have rejected Ottawa’s funding proposals, seeing themselves as uniquely underfunded. Failure to sign an agreement with Ottawa will stop funding altogether on 1 October (CBC). 

In terms of physical connectivity, air safety in Canada’s North has been a matter of concern, as the New Democratic Party’s transportation critic Olivia Chow called on the government to staunch the bleeding of funds from Transport Canada, increase pilot training and staff training, and make other physical and technological improvements to air infrastructure in the North (NN). The Air Line Pilots Association International made a few concrete suggestions as to how that might be done, including the seemingly low-cost effort to put GPS approaches at both ends of the runways of 28 northern airports (CBC). In other air news, Canada Newswire announced the sale of Arctic Sunwest Charters, based in Yellowknife. 

In Whitehorse, plans for a road through a sensitive wildlife area near McIntyre Creek were put on the back burner (CBC) while, next door in Alaska, the feasibility of a road connecting Fairbanks to the community of Tanana (the first link in a road that might ultimately reach the coast) was under debate (alaskapublic.org). I was also interested to find the schedule of stops online for the fleet of ships supplying Canada’s northern coastal communities. It’s interesting to see what the actual plan is like. The North’s fragile transportation infrastructure delivers both much-needed supplies and illicit luxuries like pot and alcohol, as police in Cape Dorset discovered during a “big” bust this week (NN).

Communications are also critical to the North, and Arctic Fibre released word that it has undertaken a market-sizing study for the small towns in the North that could benefit from its proposed fiber-optic cable from Tokyo to London and New York. Meanwhile city workers in Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories have gone out on strike (CBC) and Nunavut organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to place people on their boards (CBC).

In health news, commendable photo-blog Waseya Images offered a more personal view of the TB outbreak in Kangiqsualujjuaq in Nunavik, while high rates of suicide among Inuit are a chronic and emotional issue covered by EOTA. Costs for health care for public employees in Alaska are also beginning to empty state coffers, and Governor Sean Parnell has apparently suggested exploring the option of sending state employees to other states for health issues in order to save money (AD). In what we will call “preventative medicine,” the Gov’t of the Northwest Territories is encouraging greater adherence to basic boating-safety practices in the wake of several tragic accidents in the last weeks (CBC), and planning officials of several stripes are wondering whether there might not be some way to create financially-sustainable greenhouses in northern communities to help deal with food security issues (G&M).

Nunatsiaq Online profiled the efforts of an Australian man to help sustain the Inuit language in Nunavut, while Russia’s only Sami-language station in the North is getting set to go on the air later this year. It plans to be self-sustaining (Arctic Portal).

In miscellaneous bits of social news, the US and Russia successfully negotiated first-time quotas for subsistence hunting of polar bears in the Bering and Chukchi Seas: 29 per country, per year (KNOM, alaskapublic.org). Meanwhile NOAA is doing what it can to work with coastal communities in Alaska and elsewhere to assess and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In northern Sweden, Muslim communities are finding it practically necessary to use sunset and sunrise times in Stockholm or Malmö to organize their sunup-to-sundown Ramadan fasts (EOTA). 

ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE and WILDLIFE

The biggest – quite literally, the biggest – segment to break into this week’s news was an ice island the size of “two Manhattans” (so much more useful than actual km2) that broke off of Greenland’s Petermann Glacier. The crack has been visible for eight years (Arctic Sea Ice Blog). In terms of its relevance as a climate change indicator, Ohio State University ice scientist Ian Howat said: "We're still in the phase of scratching our heads and figuring out how big a deal this really is" (AP). An ice island in 2010 broke off the same glacier; that one was the size of four Manhattans (Christian Science Monitor). The most amazingly useful map of the speed of the Greenland ice sheet’s move towards the ocean came out via Discovery News; I am deeply indebted to the creators Eric Rignot and Jérémie Mouginot of the University of California, Irvine. We referred last week to an impressive video of Greenland’s meltwater taking out bridges; further such videos were provided this week via the Danish Meteorological Institute

In other such news, the International Polar Foundation shared research that flows of warmer water from the Atlantic into the Barents have been shown to correlate with sea ice extent in the region. NOAA released its survey of unusual meteorological events worldwide for the month of June, and Alaska Dispatch provided a surprisingly fascinating article on a collective initiative to photo-map the entire coastline of Alaska. Considering this as a fairly unique instance in which everybody agrees that we all need better information of a particular sort, this is a read of the week. 

Science itself was a popular subject this week, with multiple press releases regarding ongoing Arctic research initiatives. The Austrian Academy of Sciences gave notice of a joint Austrian-Canadian expedition to study heavy metal accumulation in Arctic lakes, while Voice of Russia published interesting coverage of the “floating university” of Russia’s Arctic Federal University. A quote from the article that will enrich your life: “Remarkably, girls make up the bulk of the Floating University`s team. Rector Yelena Kudryashova comments, ‘They are like valkyries - strong and brave.’” I’m sure the young Brunnhildes aboard were touched by the compliment. An expedition using the same ship, the Professor Molchanov, is currently carrying WWF scientists to the Russian Arctic for wildlife research (BO, VOR & scanex.ru, original in Russian), while details of the research to be conducted by the team aboard the Xue Long are available from chinare5.com. Finally, a nice post from Page21, an international project looking at the vulnerability of permafrost, really brings home the miserable conditions that researchers endure…Arctic research is often a labor of love, no? 

Special mention: thanks to reader Florence Fetterer from the NSIDC for bringing to my attention a blog that mirrors the journal entries from Arctic researcher Harry F Reid’s 1890 (1890!!) expedition to Glacier Bay, Alaska. Each day, his journal entry from that day is published. A great idea for bringing history into the present day.

Onward to wildlife news. 

No rest for the weary: After exhausting themselves with appearances at gas stations around the world, polar bears had to submit upon their return home to continued intense scientific and journalistic scrutiny. The WWF relayed research conducted by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute demonstrating that dens on the island of Kongsøya in the Svalbard archipelago are not nearly as numerous as they once were. Similarly negative news came out of the University of Alberta, suggesting that populations are likely to shrink drastically in the next 30-50 years if Arctic warming persists as predicted (Edmonton Journal). Even if the bears might disappear altogether by 2070, they are currently making their presence felt to startled residents in Kimmirut, Nunavut (EOTA). Residents of Whitehorse meanwhile were forced to dispatch a black bear who’d gotten too cozy with their community (CBC).

Caribou herds were welcomed in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut (EOTA), while declines in the population of Alaska’s Western Arctic herd may mean reductions in harvest allowances (AD). The Alaskan caribou do seem to remain healthy, it should be said. Meanwhile walruses – which, it must be said, are substantially more graceful underwater than on land – were the subject of a great photo essay by Steve Kazlowski (Daily Mail). A lone hooded seal, Eve, to whose misadventures we have pointed in an earlier edition, received with silent equanimity the news that she would spend the rest of her natural life in a British seal sanctuary, rather than be shipped back to her native Iceland, for fear that she might carry back diseases (IceNews).

In miscellaneous other news from the science community, further details on the causes of phytoplankton blooms in the North Atlantic were covered on an NY Times blog, massive forest fires in Siberia can be seen sending smoke plumes well across the Pacific (spaceref.com), the first thunderstorm in eight years was heard in Barrow, Alaska (AD), and weird noises were tracked during an episode of northern lights in Finland. Watching the YouTube video of the last takes me back to watching “The Blair Witch Project” (aalto.fi).

THE SPORTING LIFE

The two biggest stories to come out in sports this week were the launch of a four-man team's row across the Arctic Ocean (CBC, WSJ). They'll be starting from Inuvik, Canada and heading across to Provideniya, Russia. The trip is expected to take 30 days. I'm uncertain whether I ought to be happy or sad that one of the primary "off-hours" tasks they mention is sending emails. What a Time to Be Alive and all that, but is it a real adventure if one is still checking email? I'm also less than totally convinced of the Wall Street Journal's view that this is a salvo against a rising tide of narcissism, but I probably Just Don't Get It. Wouldn’t be the first time.

The week's other sporting bit to attract more than one headline was the announcement by the Sakha Republic that it would like to see mas-wrestling, involving two men grabbing a stick and pulling against one another very hard, to the Olympic Games (MT). I'd be surprised to see that happen in my lifetime. For more on the sport, see askyakutia.com.

In other sporting news, the US apologized to Russia for the ridiculous caper of four Americans on jet skis who crossed the Bering Strait (RT), while young John Fraser (perhaps of Australia?) appeared to be making good progress on his drive to cross Alaska's Brooks Range on foot (Fraser Coast Chronicle). In addition to bears, Mr Fraser has apparently been battling swollen ankles. We can also congratulate Finland’s Minna Kauppi on winning the world middle-distance orienteering championships (YLE).

THE GRAB BAG

Now, those bits of news that fit nowhere else...

For those of us who haven't been lucky enough to make it to Svalbard, an excellent "virtual tour" and proposed itinerary is a delightful read and a peek into this island's strange and diverse story (Reuters).

A bright light and a subsonic blast were observed across much of western Finland when a meteorite entered the atmosphere (EOTA).

Greenland week in Kyrgyzstan's Tyan Shan Mountains appears to have been a smashing success, with lots of good photos (uummannaqmusic.com).

A new collection of Arctic stories and essays, Arctic Voices, has been recently released (sevenstories.com).

The foundation of an International Polar Guides Association will, hopefully, bring a new standard of professionalism to the growing industry (IPF).

A woman, her toddler and her three month-old infant were the beneficiaries of a dramatic rescue from the Yukon River in Whitehorse (WS).

Three directors of the British arm of Kaupthing, one of the Icelandic banks that spectacularly collapsed, have been told they need not apply for senior financial roles in Britain for five years (IceNews).

Tom Cruise departed Iceland on his 50th birthday, some say in a last-ditch attempt to save his marriage to Katie Holmes (IceNews).

Controversial new Russian laws forbidding organization of unsanctioned rallies meant that an annual bicycle ride in Murmansk was cancelled (RIAN).

Tourism in the Yamal-Nenets region is on the rise, meaning an increase in the infrastructure available to travelers (RBTH).

Programs for Italian teachers at the Italian Polar Summer School are bringing polar education to classrooms across the country (IPF).

I was surprised to learn that the city of Jacksonville, Florida is the US sister city of Murmansk. A delegation of city administrators from Murmansk visited the Atlantic-coast town earlier this week (Daily Record).

PHOTOS 

For your visual media fix, enjoy the below…

Why have I not seen this before? Waseya Images assembles captivating – and current! – photo-essays on life in the Canadian North. 

An awesome collection of photos and short videos of many things Arctic from the BBC, a stellar photo essay on a kayaking trip through Greenland by Rebecca Barfoot, a photo essay on Arkhangelsk from Barents Observer and a collection of pictures from EU Interact

Inuit art, ducklings and Arctic flora From DnV photo on flickr

A plover, Arctic heather, four photographs of Victor Bay, a photo essay on baby birds, and a happy bird from Clare Kines photography

An Arctic tern and a kittiwake from Laura Dyer Photography

Two photographs of caribou from Instagram users ruthannscott204 and mariannel1

Swimming in the Lena River and smoke in Yakutsk from Instagram user yakutia

IPY Field Summer School on Svalbard, from Twitter user mvpgeo

Four admirable and ever so slightly touched young men setting off on a row across the Arctic Ocean 

Sea ice from the air, from airchivesloan on Instagram

Iqaluit, from Instagram user khumbu2015

Dawson, from flickr user medwards67

A mid-stream picture of Alaska, from Twitter user @hauskis

Iceland, from Instagram user mogis

The Lofoten, from Instagram user djdirtyhans

Mt St Elias and Malaspina glacier, from Twitter user @Alaska NPS

A dead moose caught in a fence. Yes, seriously. It’s kind of gross, actually. From Alaska Dispatch.

One polar bear receiving a citation from a policeman, while another polar bear waits for police to decide what to do with him. From Isadora Wronski via twitpic.

VIDEOS

Footage from the Bering Sea’s canyons, taken from Greenpeace’s submarines

Fun video from the WWF of icebergs off of Greenland, with a brief discussion of where those bergs end up

An interview with Dr Henry Huntington on the dangers of offshore drilling, from the Baker Institute, and a quick and fairly superficial news segment in a similar vein from CNN

And, if you’ve been hungering for video material that’s been completely sanitized by the IMO’s communications department, enjoy this video surveying the Organization’s activities at Rio+20.

ABBREVIATION KEY

Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
BusinessWeek (BW)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Huffington Post (HP)
Moscow Times (MT)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Ottawa Citizen (OC)
RIA Novosti (RIAN)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)