Monday, August 27, 2012

The Arctic This Week: News for 18 August - 24 August 2012




By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 18 August to 24 August 2012 

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Thanks for joining us this week! We take the time to find the most interesting stories, the best writing and the threads that tie it all together. If you like what you read, please share it with others. Your feedback and comments are always welcome; feel free to contact the author directly. All opinions and any mistakes are the author’s own.

READS OF THE WEEK

The most surprising and interesting piece this week is a new booklet on Arctic-specific design from the U of Lapland. Free as a PDF. Also educational in a way that is almost a relief is a feature from Up Here Business covering the devolution process for the Northwest Territories in detail, while sticking to layperson’s English. More of this, please.

On shipping, a great article that gives narrative flavor and lots of detail to the now-and-future of the Northern Sea Route comes from Japan’s Asahi Shinbun.

Among numerous good articles on extractive industries this week was an article from the Ottawa Citizen (noteworthy more for information than for stylistic distinction) on PM Harper’s visit to the Yukon. It paints the landscape of northern Canadian mining quite competently. Follow it up with a complementary article from the Montreal Gazette that provides a comparable look at energy projects in the North. Across the Atlantic, the tiny Faroe Islands could become “the new Kuwait,” said Aftenbladet this week; a significant oil discovery could completely change life on the islands, and not all residents are convinced that such a change would be positive. Finally we look to Alaska, where extractive companies are dumping tons of money into defeating a revived Alaskan Coastal Management Initiative, nakedly demonstrating how effective a tool money can be in American politics (EOTA). 

An expedition to waters off of Greenland, funded by the NSF and the British Antarctic Survey, published three excellent (if somewhat romantic) posts on Jan Mayen, the laying of sensors to measure ocean salinity, and the thickening of sea ice as the team heads north.

If you’re a gearhead at all, you’ll enjoy a writeup from Popular Mechanics (with video) on the two amphibious Arctic craft that were demonstrated to the USCG this week for possible military use in the North.

BLOOD & TREASURE

[Circumpolar issues and joint exercises]

The US/Russia/Norway exercise Northern Eagle ran this week, with participant vessels sailing from Bodø in Norway around Nordkapp to the port of Severomorsk in Russia. The exercise also features air assets including fighter jets, surveillance planes and helicopters. The dual focus is on counter-terror and search-and-rescue activities (BO, RIAN, VOR, ITAR-TASS). Russia commanded the trilateral fleet in its final days (BO, VOR).

[United States]

A nice article covering the US Coast Guard’s exploits in the context of Operation Arctic Shield off of Barrow, Alaska highlights several unexpected lessons, like what to do with walruses and duck hunters (E&E - $). If you’re a gearhead at all you’ll love the Popular Mechanics in-depth profile (with video) of the two amphibious Arctic craft that were demonstrated to the USCG this week. Other new equipment for the US military’s Arctic efforts might include DARPA-developed unmanned submarine trackers (defpro.com) and small UAVs for observation purposes (Frontier Scientists), though military use is not referred to in the latter article. Unrelatedly, kids got to visit and enjoy the Fort Greely interceptor site in the neighborhood of Fairbanks, Alaska this week (FNM).

[Canada]

The Canadian government was apparently concerned about participating at all in NATO’s Exercise Cold Response (March 2012), part of what seems to be a gradual diminution in both rhetorical and concrete efforts to establish physical Arctic sovereignty in the Canadian North (CBC). Internally, Canadian Forces’ Operation Nanook has been clicking along, including its use of the Dempster Highway as a landing strip (two fun photos from @JointTaskForceN). Its concluding exercise took place in Hudson Bay, in which Canadian Forces (including special forces, Joint Task Force 2) practiced intercepting a boat smuggling a dangerous person into Canada (CBC).

Upgrades and renovations to Canada’s military are a regular matter of discussion, and it looks as though there is substantial internal push for additions to the nation’s submarine fleet as a cost-effective source of power (G&M). The Coast Guard’s helicopter fleet is also up for a modernization – up to 24 new ones over the next five years (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) – and the Royal Canadian Navy is looking at “six to eight” new patrol ships for summer operations in the Arctic (actionplan.gc.ca). Canadian Forces may also be looking at a CAD1bn Arctic-surveillance satellite system, for which funding will begin in 2016 (satellitetoday.com).

[Scandinavia]

Finland is working on destroying its stock of landmines at a site in Arctic Lapland (EOTA).

[Russia]

Seemingly with no particular explanation, Russia suddenly appears to have banned civilian flights to Novaya Zemlya, thereby stranding about 100 people in Arkhangelsk (BO). It is submarines, though, that have captured most of the headlines. The Yasen-class Severodvinsk should be entering service by the end of this year (Naval Today, BO), while the Borei-class Yury Dolgoruky should be ready to go in September (ITAR-TASS, EOTA). Russia is also in the process of constructing a new icebreaker, the world’s largest, as yet unnamed (Bellona).

ENERGY

[Scandinavia]

The tiny Faroe Islands could become “the new Kuwait,” said Aftenbladet this week. A significant oil discovery could completely change life on the islands, and not all residents are convinced that such a change would be positive. Aftenbladet’s interest was spurred by news that Statoil would be investing NOK1bn in exploratory drilling nearby. A discovery could be the necessary push for the Faroe Islands to become independent from Denmark, should they wish to (AB). This week also saw the Faroe Petroleum PLC make a purchase of 12.5% in the Darwin prospect in the Norwegian Barents Sea (Fox Business, Rigzone). License partners include Repsol and Marathon, among others.

The vessel Nordic Explorer has finished a 2D seismic survey of waters off of Jan Mayen as part of a longer-term initiative running through October (BO). Bente Nyland, Director of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, is optimistic about the country’s future production prospects (AB), and if you’re interested in overall hydrocarbon activity in the Barents, you can find it in a soon-to-be-released map from Infield Systems (Offshore). Encouraging news came from Statoil’s investments in Canada’s tar sands as well (AB).

In miscellaneous news from Norway, a Japanese delegation came on a visit, hoping to find neutral territory on which to learn how the fisheries and offshore-energy industries could be trained to coexist amicably (AB). Norwegian surveying company EMGS has had a successful Q2 2012 (Reuters). 

[Russia]

Der Spiegel plunged into the oil-vs-polar-bears fray with an article looking at Russia’s “Arctic roulette” of oil exploration. The article focuses particularly on the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnoye field in the Pechora Sea and the on-shore fields of the Komi Republic. Greenpeace issued a report on the dangers of a spill from the Prirazlomnoye platform and on the absence of a valid cleanup plan for such an event, while Russia’s own Federal Service for the Supervision of Natural Resources Usage (Rosprirodnadzor) released a second report concluding that Rosneft is the  worst oil-industry polluter by far in the okrug of Khanty-Mansi (Bellona). The report leads NGO Bellona to suggest that the Norwegian public might wish to take note and make its opinions known regarding any Statoil-Rosneft cooperation. 

Greenpeace made its own effort to draw attention to danger at Prirazlomnoye with an occupation of the platform (video). You can hear a phone call with Greenpeace’s Executive Director Kumi Naidoo (Democracy Now) recorded from the platform itself, or look at a quick rundown of the group’s efforts from Al Jazeera. The group brought supplies for several days, but after being hosed down with ice water the action must surely be coming to an end at some point this weekend. 

Elsewhere in Russia, a 2,200-ton April spill in the Yamal-Nenets from a Bashneft facility has, says the company, been cleaned up ahead of schedule (MT), while Gazprom Neft heralded the first production out of its Arctic Novoportovskoye field (Reuters, Bloomberg). Rosneft and ExxonMobil have undertaken a massive August-to-October seismic mapping initiative in the Kara and Pechora Seas, coupled with the preparation of a tender for a harsh-environment drilling rig (Upstream), which is likely to be picked up by a company like Odfjell Drilling of Norway. Odfjell Drilling Managing Director Simen Lieungh says that drilling in the Arctic is as safe as it is anywhere else (AB). Barents Observer provides a full list of the companies and ships involved in the seismic mapping, and MarineLink mentions the regulations that have been put in place to protect marine mammals. Also note that India’s state-owned ONGC oil corporation is apparently nosing around for a way to obtain a partial stake in this or another Russian Arctic project (Business Standard). 

In the Yamal, Rospan International, a TNK-BP subsidiary, announced that it was seeking proposals to build an oil pipeline system to connect Yamal oil to larger networks (UPI). The company also made a relatively small sale of West Siberian fields to Rosneft, in order to better-focus on its preferred projects elsewhere (Reuters). 

[Shell in Alaska]

Shell’s rig the Kulluk departed Dutch Harbor this week on its way to a drilling site in the Beaufort Sea, as the window for drilling begins to close. The Noble Discoverer is expected to depart at some point very soon from Dutch Harbor as well, while the Arctic Challenger remains in Bellingham, Washington (KTUU, fuelfix.com, UPI). Shell has also been meeting with federal regulators to see if preliminary drilling is possible without having the Arctic Challenger in place, and has agreed as well to halt drilling in the Beaufort from 25 August until aboriginal whalers have completed their hunt of bowhead whales in the area (AD). For Shell’s info sheet on the mooring systems to be used for the Noble Discoverer and Kulluk, see here, and for a diagram of the full fleet of assets planned to support the drilling efforts, take a look at a presentation (page 11) from Shell’s Robert Blaauw to the Arctic Summer College.

Shell’s various setbacks both natural and man-made have forced a change in plans this summer (PRI). Part of the issue may be a petition submitted to the Department of Commerce under the Endangered Species Act by the Center for Biological Diversity asking for protection for endangered coral near to the site (Cordova Times). The petition comes on the heels of a failed lawsuit attempting to delay drilling by establishing stricter protections for polar bears and walruses in the Chukchi (ADN). The company remains nonetheless confident that it will drill this summer (NYTimes - $). 

[Other United States news]

Outrage at the very idea of Arctic drilling continues to figure prominently in the news (Guardian). The National Resources Defense Council just released a report arguing that Arctic drilling needs a lot more preparation before it can go forward, and the Center for American Progress just released a popular video covering our obvious inability to deal with – god forbid – a serious Arctic spill. In Bristol Bay, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council is pitching to make Bristol Bay permanently off-limits for oil and gas drilling (Cordova Times). For the other side of the coin, read Governor Sean Parnell’s opinion piece stating that the jobs that would come from Arctic drilling are too important to walk away from. Governor Parnell’s is a viewpoint likely supported by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who this week released his own plan for energy independence. The plan would put shift determinative power from the federal government to states (fuelfix.com). 

In assorted other US news, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ruled that BP is not wasting useful propane at its North Slope facility (AD), and a movie review with the merest hint of a political lean looks at a new documentary on the town of Kivalina and its relationship with extractive companies (straight.com). If you’d like to see an assessment of the available hydrocarbon resources in shale formations on the North Slope, check out this presentation from the USGS.

[Canada]

Briefly, on Canada, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans review of the Northern Gateway pipeline concludes that the project poses an acceptably modest level of risk to fish and fish habitat, while critics are saying that DFO’s budget cuts have meant that it’s rushing sloppily through these reviews rather than giving things a careful look (CBC). Also from the CBC, we heard that China’s CNOOC is investing in the development of local oil and gas resources in Yukon, with at least the idea of providing fuel to the territory itself, whose demand has long since outstripped its local production capacity.

MINING

[Canada]

PM Harper’s visit to Capstone’s Minto Mine in Yukon prompted the company to remind its workers not to talk to the media (yfrog user DHamamdjian). Also in Yukon, ATAC Resources of Vancouver is happy with what it’s getting out of its Rackla project near Keno City (Canadian Mining Journal). Next door in NWT, the Diavik diamond mine, owned by Rio Tinto and Harry Winston Diamond Corp, has updated its projections for the mine’s future (Canadian Mining Journal), and BHP Billiton reported that its Ekata mine production has fallen off sharply since last year (diamondintelligence.com). Moving to Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc’s fight against the federal government over failure to implement some details of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement continues (NN), while Canadian and Chinese companies are working together to plan for investigation of two potentially lucrative iron deposits on the Melville Peninsula (NN). 

An expedition of mineralogists to Baffin Island under the auspices of the Canadian Museum of Nature found plenty of interest. A debrief of the trip is here, and we’ll look forward to hearing more about what they find after their analyses back home. Lastly, a letter to the editor regarding Plan Nord and the upcoming provincial elections in Québec gives some insight into the legal and political tug-of-war that accompanies resource development in that province (Canadian Mining Journal). 

[Other news]

In Sweden, the town of Kiruna is host to 1,000 mining workers who must be flown in every week because of insufficient local housing. Indeed, the majority of industrial investment in Sweden right now is in northern mining (EOTA). The influx of industrial money is of course great, except that Kiruna itself will soon have to relocate thanks to a sort of subsidence that’s taking place due to subsurface mining (EOTA). In Alaska, two government officials were found to have their own business affairs tied to the success of the contentious Pebble Mine, and were dressed down by the state superior court for making personal profit from their government positions (AD).

ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE and WILDLIFE

[New ice extent minimum]

The biggest news this week was of course the run-up to a new record low in Arctic ice extent. Predictions and warning klaxons came early in the week (Bloomberg, Reuters) while other organizations revived the hubbub about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet (Cabot Institute, Science, Climate Code Red). At the end of the week, tentative confirmations of a new low began to come in from a couple of institutions. For comprehensive links to multiple original sources as well as painstakingly-constructed interactive graphs illustrating decades of data, check out the Arctic Institute’s own overview. The University of Illinois’s ice-cover comparison tool, which allows side-by-side visual comparison of Day X to Day Y from 1979 through today, was shared around generously on Twitter, and there is also an updated series of false-color satellite images illustrating the decline at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog. Interested in how our use of satellite data has changed over time? NOAA has a good introductory video.

[Weather and environmental news]

The unfortunate people of Northwest Alaska are suffering through repeated assaults by soaking rains that are flooding rivers and, in the town of Kivalina, polluting even their drinking-water supply (AD). Kivalina declared the situation a disaster on 21 Aug even before further storms moved in (EOTA). In a rare bright spot, forest fires in Siberia have finally yielded to firefighters’ heroic efforts (RIAN), but fires in Alaska have caused air-quality alerts to be issued for the towns of Fairbanks and North Pole (FNM).

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published US, Canadian and Russian thoughts on the consequences of climate change, which is probably great and which I would love to read if it didn’t cost $32 for short-term access to each of the three articles. Ah well; perhaps you, readers, have a subscription.

[Animalia]

Next month in Nunavut, harvests of beluga, narwhal and walrus will be determined under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NN). The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is asking hunters to participate in the determination of appropriate numbers (EOTA). The Vancouver Aquarium has a team of researchers tagging narwhal in Tremblay Sound. They’re sharing some great blog posts on the process of tagging narwhal (21 Aug) and on the symphony of sounds that narwhals make (24 Aug). There’s also a great series of photos from ABC News of narwhals that you can check out here.

Bears of several kinds were very much in the news this week as well. A chuckling article from the National Post covers the WWI-era Lee-Enfield rifles, surprisingly well suited to Arctic use despite their age, that are issued to Canadian Forces for use in the North. The article’s associated illustration is an older, hilarious infographic looking at the possibility of exchanging Canada’s national animal, the beaver, for the more lethal and majestic polar bear. A polar bear spotted near Iqaluit has residents watching warily (CBC), while forest fires near popular denning areas in Manitoba have the bears themselves on the lookout (Polar Bears International). A discovery of dens near the Manitoba-Ontario border on Hudson Bay has surprised scientists (CBC). 

If you’d like to track the polar bears Callista and Aurora on their capers around Hudson Bay, you can do so from the comfort of your own couch with the WWF’s online tracker. The WWF also published the latest issue of “The Arc,” their own Arctic-news online mag. In Sweden, brown bears are the subject of population-reduction efforts because of the threat they pose to reindeer husbandry (BO), and hunters’ efforts to train themselves and their dogs for more humane and safer hunting are on the rise (EOTA). In Alaska, a bear-scare on the Granite Tors hiking trail is, for the moment, over (FNM).

Other news of creatures great and small includes wonderful posts from Chris Buddle on Arctic arthropods and arachnids (20 Aug, 22 Aug & 24 Aug), which I love because it’s the only window into a critical part of the Arctic ecosystem that one just doesn’t read much about. Another wonderful series from National Geographic covers a paleontology expedition on Spitsbergen which has been unearthing fossils of marine dinosaurs, including a plesiosaur named Britney (17 Aug, or see the whole series here). 

[Expeditions]

In a crowded field of good expedition-chronicling, perhaps the best piece this week is a love letter to St Matthew Island, Alaska’s most remote place, from Alaska Dispatch, though the chronicle of a fabulously successful botanical trip along Canada’s Soper River is also a great read (NN). (Did you know there were orchids in the Arctic?) An expedition funded by the NSF and the British Antarctic Survey to waters off of Greenland provided three excellent, if somewhat romantic, posts on Jan Mayen, the laying of sensors to measure ocean salinity, and the thickening of sea ice as the team heads north. The WWF’s voyage to what they call the Last Ice Area is trackable online, just like Callista and Aurora above, and brief written coverage is also available of: an expedition to learn more about microalgae in the Arctic (AUCian in the Arctic); the Greenland field school run by the US/Danish/Greenlandic Joint Science Education Program (NSF); and a large expedition to learn more about Alaska’s thermokarst lakes (Frontier Scientists). 

[Other new initiatives]

In an assortment of other developments in Arctic science, the U of Manitoba, Aarhus University (DK) and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources have established a new research and education partnership (U of Manitoba), new radar towers in Clyde River, Nunavut will be tracking space weather (NN), and the US Army’s “open house” of sorts for its permafrost research tunnel drew hundreds of visitors (FNM). The Pew Environment Group released a pitch for an Integrated Management in the Arctic (online article and fact sheet), while the APECS network opened up an “Ask a Scientist” feature inviting people to pose questions on polar science directly to the scientists themselves (great idea, folks). APECS is also getting ready for International Polar Week, coming up 16-22 September. For those of you on the hunt for something new, Tides Canada is preparing to open a new philanthropy program focused on Arctic communities, and is looking for help.

THE POLITICAL SCENE

[Around the pole]

The process of eking out sovereignty over yet-unclaimed bits of the Arctic continues, as Denmark tries to prove to the satisfaction of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the North Pole, is an extension of Greenland (Reuters). The crew is on board the “Oden,” an icebreaker operated by the Swedish Maritime Association (BO). An excellent article on the rise of the Arctic Council and the Arctic itself as subjects of international interest came to us from Peter Harrison via Institute of the North. Rumors and worries that NATO is meanwhile formulating plans to “take over the Arctic” are dispelled by Martin Lindberg of ISN in Zurich, and thriving cross-border cultural cooperation in the Barents Region further illustrates the low risk of a NATO-Russia Arctic conflict (BO). Lastly, Sara French helped push the Canadian public’s understanding of the Arctic Council forward with an interview on CTV in advance of Canada’s accession to the AC “throne” in 2013, and the announcement was made that Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq would be the chair of the Arctic Council during Canada’s leadership (CBC).

[Stephen Harper’s Arctic Visit]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Canada’s northern territories drew a true deluge of commentary from the Canadian press. At a stop at the Minto copper/gold mine in the Yukon, PM Harper highlighted the importance of extractive industries for northern development, pointing to the advancement of the government’s “one project, one review” initiative as well as reviewing China’s interest in the purchase of Nexen. The overall importance of extractive industries for Yukon is high, as that sector provides a quarter of revenue and jobs in the territory. There are currently 9 mines operating in Yukon and 24 projects underway in the North (all the above from OC). 

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett’s critique of Mr Harper’s visit and history of northern neglect also competently captures a point of view held by many Canadians. Coming from another angle altogether, an almost hyperbolically defensive Ottawa Citizen op-ed surprised me by dismissing the PM’s development efforts as valuable only for lovely photo-ops (like this one, of a husky puppy gnawing the PM’s hand) and saying that what’s really needed is “warships, icebreakers, aircraft and military bases” to – and here I am deviating only slightly from the author’s words – prevent the Chinese from taking over the Arctic. This is in fairly stark contrast to a more tempered and easier-to-swallow overview of the PM’s visit from the Globe & Mail.

Much of Harper’s visit focused on resource development, of course, and he opened with a speech on the 20th saying that people “ain’t seen nothing yet” in terms of extractive projects in the North (CBC, 660news.com). The PM also planned a stop at Norman Wells, a town situated close to a massive shale oil deposit (Montreal Gazette). An updated territorial revenue-sharing agreement that sends a greater portion of revenue from extractive projects to Yukon rather than to the federal government garnered the approval of Michael Byers (CBC). The agreement moves from treating mineral, forestry, water and land revenues and hydrocarbon revenues as two separate “buckets” to lumping them all together, enabling the territory in its current condition to keep a much greater portion of the revenue generated by all natural-resource projects taken together (WS). On the other side of things, the Union of Northern Workers and the Public Service Alliance of Canada expressed the belief that the PM’s focus on extractive projects has come at the expense of necessary investments in tackling social issues (EOTA). 

A big feature of the PM’s tour was the opening of a new national park in the Northwest Territories, to be called Naats’ihch’oh (CBC, photos from Pat Kane). The selection of the park’s boundaries was apparently made with some consideration for resource-development opportunities, which one would expect. For details on the planning process you can look to the CBC, and you can find a statement of support for the PM’s decisions from the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines online here. Harper’s visit provided an occasion for the CBC to review five of Canada’s other northern parks as well.

PM Harper also unwittingly rubbed salt in a local wound while pursuing a photo-op on an ATV in a recreation area; local environmental groups have been exasperatedly trying to reduce damage to wilderness from reckless ATV use (National Post). The PM also announced the government’s commitment of CAD$188mn to a new Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay (NN). Plans for government-funded satellite observation and communications systems to serve the High North are meanwhile the subject of general skepticism; nobody seems to believe funding will actually come through at the promised levels (OC). 

[Other Canada news]

Nunavik in Québec’s far northern reaches continues to search for an effective way to press its own issues and concerns at the provincial level. The selection of candidates for the upcoming provincial elections does not look promising in the eyes of Nunatsiaq News. Nunatsiaq News also takes the time to highlight the candidate from Québec Solidaire, a party they describe as “a fringe party.” The government of Nunavut was meanwhile pleased to announce that Moody’s has given it a stable Aa1 rating (CBC), and an awesome feature from Up Here Business covers the devolution process for the Northwest Territories in detail, while sticking to layperson’s English. God bless ‘em.

[United States]

Alaska’s proposed coastal management initiative is really becomin a bitter fight, as extractive companies are dumping tons of money into defeating a reinstatement initiative. It seems to me to be a surprisingly obvious display of how powerful money is in politics (EOTA). Each side is lashing out at the other over violations of political-advertising laws (KTOO). You might want to check out the pro and con websites yourself and make your own judgment. Alaska is also suing the federal government in an effort to get off the Justice Department’s list of states that must submit all redistricting plans for approval in order to ensure that voter-discrimination is not taking place (FNM).

[China]

We cannot but thank the Chinese for keeping Arctic journalists employed and busy. After undertaking several experiments in the North Atlantic (Arctic Portal) and making its public debut in Reykjavik last Saturday (icelandreview.com), news came that the Xue Long is on its way into history books as the first non-Russian icebreaker to traverse the transpolar route from Akureyri, Iceland straight across the sea to the Bering Strait (Arctic Portal, Deutsche Welle, Barents Observer). The director of the Norwegian Polar Institute described China’s interest in the Arctic generally as a “mixture of business, science and geopolitics” (Reuters). You can follow the Xue Long on her voyage with a dedicated website. The announcement was also made that China would be opening its first international institute for Arctic studies (china.org.cn).

[Russia]

Russia’s official accession to the WTO was cause for jubilation (BO), and PM Medvedev is taking advantage of his state- and industry-financed €4mn Arctic villa near Murmansk for a one-week holiday (BO).

SOCIAL

Thanks are due to the CBC for an excellent profile of the life and history of the community of Cambridge Bay, and to the University of Lapland for producing and offering, free, a new book covering many aspects of Arctic-specific design. 

[Health]

Food security was back in the headlines this week, thanks to plans for a 25 Aug protest by the group “Feeding My Family” in Nunavut (NN). An interview with Laisa Watsko, deputy mayor of Grise Fiord, highlights the triple challenge of getting food in, hunting it, and paying for it (water.ca), and similar issues were discussed by residents of the James Bay and Nunavik regions with a visiting MP (NN). Nunatsiaq News tells a personal story of scarcity and the shame of poverty in Paulatuk, NWT, while in Iqaluit a temporary roadside food stand bringing up fresh produce and non-perishables from elsewhere seems to have been a serious boon to the community (NN). Another market in Iqaluit, this one selling country food, is also regularly swamped by demand (NN). The market was apparently inspired by similar things in Greenland; a photo of one such Greenlandic market selling whale meat is here, from Madeleine Redfern. Some good news came out that meat from polar bears shot with tranquilizers is apparently safe to eat much earlier than previously reported (CBC), but reports of allergies among Inuit to traditional country foods are on the rise (NN). Whether this indicates growth in allergies themselves or simply in reporting, one cannot say.

Across the border in Alaska, small-scale farming initiatives are working on training residents what can be grown, and how, locally (Arctic Sounder). 

[Infrastructure and transport]

The need for improved infrastructure in Nunavut and in Greenland was a central topic of discussion for last week’s meeting between premiers Eva Aariak and Kuupik Kleist (Daily Commercial News). In Finland, an upgrade of the Helsinki-Oulu railroad will cost about €800mn and reduce the travel time between the two cities to five hours (BO). Next door in Russia, local passenger rail service is being cut back thanks to budget shortfalls (MT). 

In air transport, construction at the airport in Bethel, Alaska has meant the diversion or cancellation of up to 20% of flights this summer (AD), while buzz about the idea of using airships for northern transport is on the rise (AD). A long but engrossing article on the topic comes from Barry Prentice via Institute of the North. As a side note, I’m surprised to learn that zeppelins can go 115 mph. Back down to earth, Google Maps is working on mapping out Cambridge Bay in more detail with its Street View tricycle, an odd initiative that has captured people’s imaginations (engadget.com). Lastly, the idea of using High Voltage Direct Current Transmission lines to channel power, rather than fuel, to remote communities in Alaska is being pushed by a couple of local organizations (alaskapublic.org). 

[Culture, education and community life]

Graduation rates from high schools in Nunavik are extremely low, and the director of the Kativik School Board is working on improving the situation by thinking more comprehensively about students’ and staff members’ needs. To explore Ms Popert’s thoughtful suggestions, check out a profile from Nunatsiaq News. Nursing students at Nunavut Arctic College will also soon be required to study basic Inuktitut as part of their degree; definitely a wise choice (NN). In Québec, the Parti Québecois candidate for the Ungava district has told Northern residents that speaking French will not be mandatory to hold public office if his party wins provincial elections (NN).

Data appear to suggest that sexual violence in Nunavut is also an enormous issue, a situation that’s been unfortunately highlighted by two recent court cases. The Qullit Status of Women Council is doing its best to publicize the issue and generate government action (NN).

[Miscellaneous]

Worth reviewing: myths and realities on the Canadian seal hunt, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. History lesson: Tatannuaq served as a translator and “handler” for two expeditions by John Franklin. A great historical profile of Tatannuaq from Nunatsiaq News’s “Taissumani” feature is great to read. Sealskin clothing in Newfoundland isn’t political, it’s just clothing (thescope.ca). A group of four people and two dogs adrift for four days off of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT has been found safe (CTV). Stray dogs like Buddy are a chronic problem in Iqaluit.

BUSINESS & INDUSTRY

Representatives of several different Norwegian business and government entities discussed how the region’s economic “boom,” as such, might be channeled into building thriving communities (BO), and the same question is under consideration in small towns in the Canadian North (EOTA). Russian representatives of the Arkhangelsk regional Centre for Social Technologies paid a visit to Zanesville, Ohio to discuss with their counterparts there the similar challenges of rural business development in Russia and the US (Coshocton Tribune), while in Reykjavik the World Ocean Council is preparing to convene the first Arctic Business Leadership Council (fishupdate.com). 

[Shipping]

Russia continues to push forward boldly with plans for development of the Northern Sea Route (AD), addressing what it now presents as serious deficiencies in the infrastructure particularly along its eastern Arctic coast. An absolutely fantastic article giving a narrative flavor and lots of detail to the now-and-future of the Northern Sea Route comes from Japan’s Asahi Shinbun. Rosneft has meanwhile taken the initiative to establish a search-and-rescue base on the Kara Sea Coast (BO). The massive country’s accession to the WTO may mean great opportunities for the port of Rotterdam – to get a little peek behind the veil of Russian trade, take a look at this wonderful article from Logistics Week

[Fisheries]

The Marine Stewardship Council has awarded Faroese cod and haddock fisheries their seal (ha!) of approval (fishnewseu.com), while the Bering Sea pollock fishery has also been pleasantly surprised to find the pollock fishing good and the bycatch of salmon low this year (Bristol Bay Times). Also in Alaska, American Seafoods is charged with inaccurately reporting the weight of its catch and with obstructing monitors from NOAA; the company is contesting the fine that has been assessed for its malfeasance (KUCB). Next door in Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium is working with the Pangnirtung fish plant to develop a sustainable fishing program, helping it attain the “Ocean Wise” certification for its products (NN). 

A side story: Stefanie Moreland is returning to Alaskan politics as a senior advisor for fisheries, oceans and Arctic policy (Cordova Times). 

[Other industries]

Murmansk opened a new poultry-processing plant this week (thepoultrysite.com), but Russia’s agriculture generally is suffering terribly under a drought which has caused approximately $1.2bn of damage to crops (Bloomberg). A different sort of cultivation is taking place in Iceland, where algae is being grown to contribute to health and cosmetics products (IceNews), and in Canada the Yukon’s homegrown craft distillers are the subject of another great article from Up Here Business. Side note: Yukoners apparently spend nearly $1,300 on alcohol each year on average. 

THE SPORTING LIFE

Nobody does more enthusiastic reporting of the Arctic sporting life than the Whitehorse Star, which reported this week on: senior athletes from Yukon, ages 55 to 87, heading to Nova Scotia to compete in Canada’s 55+ games; the King of the Canyon Yukon Mountain Bike championships; the Yukon 360 canoe and kayak race; a 10-km road race; and the annual Whitewater Rodeo. Elsewhere, teens in Kangiqsujuaq spent the summer building and enjoying a bike trail (video), and a young woman attempting to swim the North Arm of the Great Slave Lake had to be pulled from the water after conditions got too bad to continue (CBC). Canadian Geographic published a couple of great blog posts on traversing the Northwest Passage and solo-kayaking 1300km of the Yukon River. Last but not least, the men rowing the Arctic Ocean together were hunkered down under some poor conditions, and took the time to share some thoughts on The Things That Matter (Business Week).

THE GRAB BAG

Now, the bits and pieces that fit nowhere else. A missing Russian seaman has been the target of a search near Kirkenes for several days (BO). / Hacker group Anonymous targeted some Faroese sites, apparently to punish the islands for whaling (internationalwhaleprotection.org), but then it looks like there was some sort of internal disagreement, and one hacker seems to have left the collective with a long, fairly exasperated goodbye message. / A video and written interview with Alice Annanack of Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik, who survived a polar bear attack last month, is available via the Montreal Gazette. / A lengthy rumination from Craig Medred on the future of the Alaskan Arctic on the eve of the Arctic Imperative Summit is worth a read, but much better is Mr Medred’s consideration of our habit of romanticizing people like Chris McCandless, who vanished into his schoolbus and starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. / Hovercraft in the Arctic seem like a pretty good idea, actually (universityworldnews.com). / Iceland’s recovery from the financial crisis is impressing people, including Christine Lagarde at the IMF (IceNews). / A piece from Aftenbladet offers some insight into the work of deep-sea divers who live in pressurized chambers and work on sea-bottom facilities for three weeks at a time. / Rumors of the popular show Top Chef heading to Juneau are percolating (AD). / In what may be one of the world’s most pointlessly extravagant competitions, a German firm is building a hotel-igloo in northern Sweden to compete with the famous Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel (EOTA). / A fun post on the dangers of life on an ice floe and good videos of narwhal-tracking from ABC News are here. / A missing teenage hunter was found after disappearing on a caribou hunt near Hall Beach, Nunavut (CBC). / Patti Smith and Russell Crowe brought their vocal skills to Reykjavik Culture Night (IceNews). / A young man from Nova Scotia drove a boat to the Northwest Territories and then sailed his way from Hay River to Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake (CBC). Nuts, this kid. / After the removal of the sunken Maud from Nunavut waters, a memorial will replace it (CBC). / Gazprom is ready to start construction at the end of this year on a weird-looking 426-m skyscraper in St Petersburg (RFE). / Hotel Arktika in Murmansk is finally getting a renovation (BO). / Climate change is making the DEW-line cleanup process more difficult (AD). / 

PHOTOS 

First, photo galleries of (1) the Martin Bergmann, one of the ships being used by Parks Canada to search for the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, (2) northern lights displays in Alaska this week, and (3) Iceland, urban and rural.

Or you could peruse these individual photos of (1) amazing glaciers on Baffin Island, (2) weird miniature lichen “towers” growing out of moss in Gates of the Arctic National Park, (3) Bodø, (4) Kluane Lake – wow, gorgeous –  (5) a Greenpeace zodiac on its way to the Prirazlomnoye platform, (6) Varanger, (7) a cabin in Abisko, (8) wildfire smoke near Fairbanks, (9) sunset on the Liard River, (10) a polar bear cruising through wildflowers, (11) a peregrine falcon enjoying a glaucous gull for dinner in the sunset light, (12) an Arctic hare on the run, (13) the Operation Nanook camp outside near Tsiigehtchic, (14) the evening sky over Adam’s Sound, (15) the long, straight Dempster Highway taken from the air, (16) more of the ridiculously beautiful Adam’s Sound, (17) fall colors on an Arctic lake, (18) two young students in Iqaluit practicing throat singing, and (19) a dramatic sunset near Smart River, Yukon.

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)