By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 28 July to 3 August 2012
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READS OF THE WEEK
Even if it’s the only thing you read this week, take the time to browse through both of the following reports. CERES and Greenpeace (both coming from a similar perspective, but nonetheless…) have released detailed analyses of risk assessment and disclosure for some of the oil companies at work in the Arctic and elsewhere. I strongly recommend that you register for and download the new report from CERES, which has a broad scope and plenty of detail. A similar report from Greenpeace is focused strictly on Arctic projects and provides a slightly more general analysis. Both pieces are outstanding contributions to this discussion, and together they provide a great education.
I love science news in general, but sometimes I almost swoon with astonishment at the things we can do. An unbelievable interview from MacLean’s with oceanographer Kate Moran highlights the many capabilities of the amazing NEPTUNE project, which I cannot believe I had never heard of before this week. It is “a massive underwater observatory that uses fibre-optic cables wired across the ocean floor to deliver a constant stream of data via the Internet.”
An excellent article on the history of the Alaska Highway (one of the great engineering marvels of the WWII era) and the challenges that it faces as a result of melting permafrost and forest fires was republished this week in ADN – highly worth the read.
I’ve never been anything but impressed with Mary Simon’s writing, and I hope you’ll take the time to read her thoughtful article “How do Canada and Inuit get to a win-win in the Arctic?”
I didn’t ever think I would point to the Tehran Times for a Read of the Week, but a tart article from Gwynne Dyer that answers several meaningful Arctic-relations questions in one page made me chuckle. Enjoy!
BLOOD & TREASURE
The armed forces everywhere, and particularly in Russia, are famed for their sensitivity and keen attention to people’s feelings. Canada is no exception, as the country’s armed forces demonstrated with a recruiting advertisement (theoretically intended to attract engineers) that was pulled for being “comically offensive” to aboriginal people (HuffPo). Reports say that it compared building a canoe to working on a warship. I did some half-hearted Googling but could not find the original ad for you; my apologies. The deployment of this ad probably would not have helped to solve Canadian Forces’ failure to meet diversity recruiting goals (CBC).
It’s nice to lead with something amusing, but the real news for Canada’s military was the launch of Operation Nanook 2012, including 1,250 military personnel as well as representatives of “the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Public Safety Canada, representatives from the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Nunavut, as well as local officials from Tsiigehtchic, Inuvik and Churchill” (NN). If you’re the sort who likes to dissect the language of press releases, go for it here. This week also saw the arrival of a new commanding officer at Canada’s most northerly station, Alert (aviation.ca).
On the US side of the border, Mia Bennett provided a nice overview of the US Coast Guard’s Operation Arctic Shield as well as NOAA’s activities (FP blogs), and I must thank Ms Bennett for digging up the link to a Coast Guard blog that highlights the diversity and load that stations in Alaska’s Arctic face. Senator Lisa Murkowski used a hearing in Kodiak, AK to highlight the need for an expanded Coast Guard presence in Alaska (AD), a need highlighted by the GAO’s own assessment of the sorry state of the Coast Guard’s legacy ships (Maritime Executive). The GAO recommended to the Coast Guard that, in essence, it stop making such optimistic estimates of costs and conditions of the fleet. In an effort not entirely unlike Senator Murkowski’s, Senator Mark Begich made a naked pitch to bring military dollars to Alaska by recommending to the Air Force Space Command that it “maximize the use of the Kodiak launch complex in Kodiak” (Alaska Native News).
Over to Russia, where the delivery date of the nuclear sub Yury Dolgoruky has been postponed to late 2012 thanks to a laudable desire to make sure all weapons systems on the sub are functioning correctly (Naval Today). Next in line to begin construction (the Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh are both already underway) is the Knyaz Vladimir, to be built at the Sevmash shipyard near Severodvinsk (RIAN). President Putin attended the ceremony to open the construction of the latter vessel (photo of the ceremony here). Four more such are expected by 2020, and they’ll be used to establish Russia’s role as a naval power in the Arctic, sayeth the President (Reuters). Across the border with Norway, for reasons incomprehensible to me, Norway’s border guards have been told that they may no longer wear police badges to indicate their powers, but must instead show papers if their authority is questioned (BO).
THE POLITICAL SCENE
I didn’t ever think I would point to the Tehran Times for a Read of the Week, but a tart article from Gwynne Dyer answering several meaningful Arctic-relations questions in one page made me chuckle. Enjoy!
Since most things involving China in the Arctic are seen as political, it’s easy to lodge them all here. The Xue Long completed its journey along the Northern Sea Route (Xinhua). The journey was kept lively by a poker tournament and singing contest, as well as actual research (chinare5.com). The internet was also alive to further news on the next icebreaker that China will be building for polar expeditions (phys.org). The details of its category and so on are available via gcaptain.com, which tells us as well that basic design and planning alone will cost €5mn. Gcaptain in general is recommended for those of you interested in more than just the headlines; I enjoy what they publish. The release from Aker Arctic, the Finnish company that will design the icebreaker, is here.
China’s ambitions for the Arctic may be analogous to its ambitions for the moon, which is not entirely dissimilar in terms of the law that applies to it (popsci.com). Ho-hum information on China’s interests comes from the Global Post, which does however point out the useful tidbit that China’s planned expenditure for the icebreaker mentioned above is $200mn.
In Alaska, the debate over a reinstated, reinvented, state-level coastal management program is coming to a head as a vote at the end of August draws nearer (ADN). Although opponents of the measure seem financially better-off than supporters, confusion appears to reign as to why that might be (AD). At any rate, Shell appears not to favor the idea. In other issues, the tiff between Senator Murkowski and the EPA over new regulations, intended to go into effect this past week, which would force ships to use less-polluting fuel is a classic example of the business/environment divide (EOTA).
A deceptively-titled article in Eurasia Review claims to cover “simmering tensions” between the US and Canada, but appears instead to simply review a SIPRI study from earlier this year and point to two minor, well-covered scuffles between the two rich, liberal democracies, both of which need the other to continue living rich, liberal democratic lives. Faces may be turning a bit red on the US side of the border, however, over a perception that Canadian Pacific ports are “stealing business” (read: providing better service for lower cost) from US ports (Politico). At the regional level in Canadian politics, the battle for the few voters resident in Québec’s far north makes for interesting reading, mostly because it’s weird politics (NN). The mayor of Igloolik, Nunavut (one of the communities that would be impacted by Baffinland’s Mary River mine) will be stepping down from his duties because of a conflict of interest; he is also a Baffinland employee (CBC).
Northern Public Affairs harbored some good work this week, including an article from Peter Russell arguing for greater self-determination in the Canadian north, and a thorough and competent response to Anthony Speca’s article “Arctic saviour complex” from Diego Creimer of Greenpeace Canada (see the comments section).
Across to Russia, whose current and future tensions with her many neighbors formed the staple crop of this week’s international relations news. Let it first be pointed out that President Putin did just appoint a new special envoy for the Arctic and Antarctic, Arthur Chilingarov (Gazeta, auto-translated). Now to tensions: A Danish/Greenlandic seismic expedition to Arctic waters made headlines, as reporters rubbed their hands together in greedy anticipation of a Danish-Russian fight over the North Pole itself. It’s doubtful that’s what the Danes care about so much as the 150,000 square kilometers of extra territory they’ll be hoping the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will say is rightfully theirs (Moscow Times, New Scientist). Thousands of miles away in the Pacific, Russia continues to struggle with Japan over the Kuril Islands. The contretemps is awkward in light of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit coming up in Vladivostok in September (Reuters). Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it quite clear when asked that Russia would not hold back from sending official visits to the Kurils (RIAN). One doubts that even Japan’s delivery of a furry, warm Akita puppy as a state gift to President Putin will be an adequate balm for the situation (RIAN); young Yume will join Putin’s two other dogs, a Labrador named Koni and a Bulgarian sheepdog named Baffi, who was also a state gift.
In a final note on Russia’s internal politics, the state of Karelia is going after dissident blogger Maxim Yefimov, who expressed himself more freely than was wished regarding the peccadilloes of the Russian Orthodox church. Mr Yefimov has apparently left the country, but an international warrant for his arrest has been issued. Run, Maxim, run (BO).
I’ve never been anything but impressed with Mary Simon’s writing, and I hope you’ll take the time to read her thoughtful article “How do Canada and Inuit get to a win-win in the Arctic?” For a deeper dive into the narratives that underlie US and Russian Arctic strategies, head to TAI’s most recent feature article from Sebastian Knecht.
Back on 10 July, Statoil’s Melkøya plant in Hammerfest, which processes gas from the Snøhvit field, was closed due to water ingression in the natural-gas dryers. On 1 August, the famed field was back up and producing (Reuters, BO). That plant is in for an expansion, in all likelihood, as Statoil opts to increase LNG production from Snøhvit and other nearby fields rather than lock itself in to particular customers by building a pipeline (BO). The Norwegian government may not be in full agreement with Statoil’s plans.
A decade-long decline in Norway’s oil output appears to be leveling off, and Petoro CEO Kjell Pedersen sees positive things ahead for the country’s hydrocarbon industry thanks to new discoveries and prospects for improved recovery technology in mature fields (AB). One would hope so, considering that the state’s 2012 investment in its hydrocarbon sector was almost 10 times its investment in all other industries combined, assuming I am understanding this graphic correctly (AB). A portion of that other investment goes to wind energy, highlighted in this photo of Norway’s first offshore wind farm, which strikes me as weirdly futuristic (AB).
Not all is roses, however, and Statoil CEO Helge Lund is making an effort to get rid of the bad taste in everyone’s mouth from the recent broadly-publicized labor dispute (AB). The Faroe Islands meanwhile are enjoying the windfall of increased drilling and exploration activity, as they become a hub for supply ships and other vessels working in the North (AB).
A worthwhile article from thetyee.ca considers the question: Could Canada run itself as another Norway? Obviously the two countries are quite different, but there might be useful similarities. Other interesting thoughts on the Canadian energy landscape are available in the most recent newsletter from the Arctic Energy Alliance.
IT’S HAPPENING!! Across the US, fingers flew over keyboards and touch-screens as Shell’s Aiviq, Tor Viking and Fennica headed north from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to the Burger Prospect in the Chukchi where Shell will begin its exploratory drilling. The Aiviq is carrying anchors for the future platform, while the Fennica will be deploying acoustic equipment to monitor sound from the anchor placement (AD). The ships will be dropping acoustic buoys along the way that will monitor sound levels from the flotilla of succeeding ships set to head north in the near future.
Because of weather delays and issues with the Arctic Challenger and Noble Discoverer, Shell has scaled back its ambitions for this season to two wells, one in the Chukchi and one in the Beaufort. The well in the Beaufort might present an issue because of a whaling blackout (mysanantonio.com). Shell’s ultimate goal is still 10 wells by the end of 2013 (LA Times). The Kulluk also has one permit that’s in questionable territory, but the ship is legally usable nevertheless. Petroleum News offers the most comprehensive article on the situation, and fuelfix.com reviews the successful test in the Gulf of Mexico of the capping system intended for use if needed (god forbid) at Shell’s Arctic sites. The challenging nature of Arctic drilling was also highlighted by BP’s announcement of a $1.4bn loss for Q2 2012, due in part to the company’s decision to semi-abandon its Liberty project on the North Slope (AD).
A really interesting opinion piece, not entirely positive, on Greenpeace’s ArcticReady campaign popped up in the Guardian this week, while Travis Nichols of Greenpeace wrote an extended defense of the campaign on CNN. The letters to NOAA and the BSEE from Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Doc Hastings that requested tit-for-tat monitoring of Greenpeace’s activities around the Shell operations are now available as PDFs.
A beautiful thing has happened. CERES and Greenpeace (both coming from a similar perspective, but nonetheless…) have both recently released fairly detailed analyses of risk assessment and disclosure for some of the oil companies that are active in the Arctic. I strongly suggest that you register for and download the just-released report from CERES, which has a slightly broader scope and more detail than a similar report from Greenpeace. The latter is focused strictly on Arctic projects and provides a slightly more general analysis, and both pieces are outstanding contributions to this discussion. Forbes reviews the former report and gives a useful overview of its meaning in the context of the Arctic.
Revenue-sharing between the US federal government (which owns offshore waters) and the states that may or may not get revenues from offshore projects near to their coasts is a central issue in hydrocarbon development in the US, highlighted in a wonderful article in Alaska Dispatch from A L Parlow. Such questions are becoming increasingly important in Alaska as payouts from the Alaska Permanent Fund drop thanks to our global economic crisis and, of course, other factors (FNM). I’m pleased to read that the Alaska Interagency Working Group is preparing “a centralized and accessible database of scientific information and traditional knowledge relevant to resource management in the Arctic.” The resource is intended to support an Integrated Arctic Management approach to questions of development in the US Arctic (Department of the Interior, original memo here).
On the Russian side of the fence, foreign interest in Russian properties seems to be growing. An Indian consortium of ONGC, Indian Oil Corp and Petronet LNG is considering a purchase of about 15% in the Novatek/Total Yamal LNG project (Fox, Reuters), while Petrovietnam is considering working with Zarubezhneft to undertake a project in the Barents (MT). Important detail on the latter: Zarubezhneft is not yet officially licensed to work on the continental shelf (BO). The Narjanmarneftegaz project has been no bowl of skittles, however, for ConocoPhillips, which appears to be throwing up its hands and walking away (BO).
Lukoil, the largest private oil company in Russia, is excited about its upcoming engagement on Norway’s continental shelf, and considers its deal favorable when compared with the Rosneft-Statoil deal struck earlier this year (RT). That same devilish Narjanmarneftegaz project that ConocoPhillips is trying to escape from was also the source of a $16.9mn environmental lawsuit against Lukoil, and the company was surely thankful to hear that said lawsuit was dismissed this week (RAPSIN). The decision will, however, be appealed by the federal environmental watchdog (RAPSIN), so it’s not dead yet.
It’s morning on Russia’s Arctic shelf; Prime Minister Medvedev announced this week a general revamping of the legal regime that governs offshore exploration there. “Let’s expand activities, let’s include [new] partners, let’s create the foundation for private-state partnerships” said the PM (BO). Russia’s Arctic properties under the revamped plan ought, in theory, to yield 66.2mn tons of oil and 230bn cubic meters of gas (Note: Annually?) by 2030 (VOR). Deputy PM Arkady Dvorkovich has been appointed to lead the working-out of details for the revamp, covered nicely in the Moscow Times. The philosophy of such a change is covered (in Russian, Google-translated) by the Russian Council. The article is readable and interesting even in translation. Much of the revamp will have to do with taxes, of course, and my limited experience would suggest that none of us should hold his or her breath while waiting for the details of any tax changes to crystallize. Mr Dvorkovich does seem to suggest that state control of the Arctic shelf should remain in one form or another (RIAN).
Final hearings on Baffinland’s Mary River project drew to a close this week in Pond Inlet, and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s final statement on the hearings offers an actually quite readable debrief of the key issues and how the process has played out. Though concerns about human rights persist, and probably always will, a decision is expected in September (CBC). The CBC has gone to the trouble to provide a nice interactive map allowing you to explore the planned project area.
Elsewhere in Canada, an apparently first-of-its-kind deal on another mine near Thor Lake in the NWT brings in the local Denin K’ue First Nation as part-owners, or at least leaves the option for that open (EOTA). The community also hopes the project will bring around 300 new jobs to the area. In Nunavut, Areva’s proposed Kiggavik mine is the subject of a lengthy piece on Intercontinental Cry. The piece very clearly takes the point of view that the Government of Nunavut is at least partly in Areva’s pocket, and is not responding to the will of its citizens, but despite its political lean it raises a lot of important points. Similar tensions between indigenous communities and the territorial government of Yukon over the “spoils” of a mine-cleanup project are boiling over as well (CBC).
For further good info on mining in Canada, the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines newsletter is greatly to be recommended.
Outside of Canada, a big article highlighting Europe’s interests in Greenlandic raw materials was incredibly popular this week (Guardian). It would seem that Greenland is suddenly the prettiest girl at the garden party, with eager partners in Europe, Asia and North America all falling over themselves to win her attentions. A second and much more interesting article, also from the Guardian, covers the efforts of Antonio Tajani (VP of the European Commission) to secure Europe’s future access to raw materials – in this case, rare earth elements in particular – abroad, not just in Greenland but in Africa and Latin America as well as at home on the continent itself. Mr Tajani sees Europe’s contribution of state-of-the-art technology and mining practices as useful for the countries in possession of the materials. Elsewhere in Eurasia, Yakutia – producer of 1/3 of the world’s diamonds – will be running its first Diamond Week tour in late August (VOR), while the huge Oleny Ruchey phosphorous mine near Murmansk got its official start as well (BO). Output is expected to be 1mn tons of ore annually.
BUSINESS & INDUSTRY
Runs of many types of salmon in Alaska’s southerly rivers have been godawfully bad (AD); this may be due to the presence of factory trawlers in Alaskan waters, which are nominally looking for pollock but which take many salmon as bycatch (ADN). Despite such bad news, sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay’s tributaries are running reasonably well (AD) – well enough, apparently, to end up on school lunch menus in the state, through what seems like a win-win sort of program (AD). More broadly in Alaska’s fisheries, what looks to my eye like a rubber-stamp, please-evaluate-yourself kind of ten-year evaluation for the community development corporations that own large chunks of the Bering Sea fish quotas are underway (KUCB).
Across the border in Canada, numbers of Chinook salmon reaching the Whitehorse Rapids fish ladder are worryingly low (CBC), and politicians of different stripes are battling one another over the best way to tackle the problem (CBC). Next door in Nunavut, narwhal rather than fish are the cause célèbre. If I understand the issue correctly, there are some significant discrepancies in the stock management plans submitted by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Some see this as the debate between native knowledge and formal science, which is of course touchy (NN).
Last week we pointed to reports that Norway had fined a Russian trawler for dumping a bunch of fish illegally. Now it seems that said trawler was escorted to Tromsø for resolution of the issue, and Russian authorities are more than a little miffed at the dollars lost in inactive time (BO, BN). Other set-tos over fish are taking place between Iceland and Ireland as part of the broader “mackerel wars” between Iceland and, well, Europe generally (IceNews). Despite this irritation, Iceland’s fisheries appear to have bumped up in value by 25% in Q1 2012 vs Q1 2011 (IceNews).
First and foremost, please read a fascinating article from Dr Bjorn Gunnarsson of the Centre for High North Logistics on the soon-to-be-launched ARCTIS and ARCLIO systems, which will be filling big gaps in logistical knowledge for the Northern Sea Route (Institute of the North). Along the Northern Sea Route, the government of Yakutsk hopes that the construction of an ambitious logistics center will eventually connect the ocean to the region’s rail, road, river and air transport infrastructure (rzd-partner.com), while at the Route’s eastern edge in the Bering Strait, NOAA is busily at work doing a reconnaissance survey of water depths along Alaska’s coast. NOAA provides both an interesting post explaining the plan and an ongoing ship-tracker for the Fairweather and NOAA’s other vessels…cool! A similar initiative in Norway has been ongoing for ten years; the MAREANO project has been collecting enormous quantities of oceanographic, environmental and biological data helping to describe Norway’s coast in painstaking detail (Epoch Times).
It looks like the Northwest Passage is “as good as open” (Arctic Sea Ice Blog), while the Northern Sea Route, which is usually the easier half of the Arctic to travel, may become an important commercial route for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group (ITAR-TASS). President Putin signed off on a bill that codifies the state’s view of the Northern Sea Route’s legal status and updates the existing management system for it (ITAR-TASS). Meanwhile the surprising and frustrating shift of mass quantities of ice near to Iqaluit has left the sealift beach looking like a ghost town (twitpic, @jameshenrybell), and storms in Alaska were expected to blow ice on to shore near Barrow, making navigation temporarily difficult or impossible (AD). A satellite photo of the moving ice is available from the National Weather Service. The small-craft harbor in Pangnirtung, Nunavut enjoyed a comparatively positive week, as the 120-ton crane that toppled over while making improvements to the facilities has apparently been cleared, and a larger crane has been brought in to take over the work (CBC).
Chinese businessmen are establishing a joint venture in Naryan-Mar to process reindeer delivered by the Nenets people (BN), while Google is dropping sacks full of money in Finland to upgrade its server facilities there (YLE).
[Transport and infrastructure]
I’m sure there are very complicated and laser-guided algorithms that guide the pricing of airline tickets, but one does have to wonder occasionally whether there is actually a market at all for flights from Alaska to Altoona (AD). Air taxis are much more useful in the Alaskan Arctic than flights to semi-rural Pennsylvania, but the landscape of the air-taxi industry changes regularly; player PenAir is reducing its taxi-service offerings in some communities (EOTA). Air taxis may also be looking at some fairly hefty fines, thanks to what we will call a difference of opinion with the IRS (AD).
Assessments of the new air route between Iqaluit, Nunavut and Nuuk, Greenland seem to indicate that the route is worth running, though not as lucrative as might have been imagined (NN), but perhaps the addition of Nuuk’s newly-opened mall – the first of its kind in the city – will draw yet more shoppers from Iqaluit (NN). Meanwhile, on the Norwegian side of things, it turns out that northerners are by a comfortable margin the country’s most frequent fliers (BO). The crash of a military plane in far northern Sweden earlier this year is having long-term impacts, as the fuel from the plane begins to leach in to glacial runoff (BO).
An excellent article on the Alaska Highway’s history and the challenges that it faces because of melting permafrost and rashes of forest fires was republished this week in ADN – highly worth the read.
Health news followed no particular storyline this week. In Yukon, health-service delivery is a challenge because of shortages of doctors; the issue is getting worse as doctors retire or move away, but are not replaced (CBC). The heartrending problem of youth suicide in aboriginal communities in Canada’s north was also a topic for discussion in Whitehorse, Yukon this week at a meeting of the National Association of Friendship Centres (CBC). In Hay River, NWT, a new state-of-the-art health center is slated to open its doors at the start of 2015 (CBC), while the Northern Québec Module, a health center specifically for Nunavimmiut in Montréal, released a set of guidelines to help its patients and their escorts understand their rights and responsibilities as visitors to the hospital (NN).
One might be surprised to learn that Icelanders’ health improved after the country’s economic collapse thanks to reduction in the consumption of unhealthy luxuries…smoking, drinking and artificial tanning, for example (IceNews). Artificial tanning in particular will surely be a major theme at the International Congress on Circumpolar Health, which is set to get underway from 5-10 August in Fairbanks, Alaska (AAAS). One issue sure to be on the agenda is food security; an op-ed in Nunatsiaq News offered the suggestion that programs directed at food security are too small a solution for a problem better-dealt with by establishing minimum income levels for northerners.
A seemingly drunken shooter this weekend let off a few rounds at an RCMP detachment in Kimmirut before being arrested by his fellow citizens (CBC). Though no one was ultimately injured, the incident has sparked discussion of the unique challenges of northern policing (CBC) and the wisdom of allowing alcohol in remote towns in the first place (o.canada.com). The Whitehorse RCMP detachment has been dealing with a growing number of brazen public drunkenness and drug-dealing cases (CBC) by increasing downtown patrols, while the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in Yukon are making efforts to address these issues by setting up support programs that provide much-needed services to residents of the territory (Yukon News). The same two First Nations announced this week that, in their view, development in southwestern Yukon is happening too quickly and without proper input from First Nations residents (EOTA). A totally separate police matter is the boldness of squatters in the NWT, who have been setting up ramshackle illegal homes with impunity. The territorial government is preparing to crack down on the squatters (CBC).
In miscellaneous other social news, city workers in Fort Smith, NWT agreed to end their strike by signing off on agreement that apparently forbids the local government from contracting out work (CBC). In Whitehorse, the hydropower facility that uses water from Marsh Lake is asking permission to keep levels of the lake higher, but residents are nervous that doing so will result in increased flooding (CBC). In Russia, representatives of the Inuit Circumpolar Council paid a rare visit to Anadyr, Chukotka (NN), while Murmansk is losing its workers to St Petersburg, for some fairly obvious reasons (BN).
ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE and WILDLIFE
I love science in general, but sometimes it makes me swoon in wonder at the things we can do. An unbelievable interview from MacLean’s with oceanographer Kate Moran highlights the many capabilities of the amazing NEPTUNE project, which I cannot believe I had never heard of before this week. It is “a massive underwater observatory that uses fibre-optic cables wired across the ocean floor to deliver a constant stream of data via the Internet.” Also highly recommended: The Arctic Institute of North America’s ASTIS database of Arctic research has (gasp!) a well-designed search engine that actually helps you find what interests you (I tested it myself). Revolutionary!
This week we’ll start at the top of the food chain with polar bears, and we’ll work our way down. An adorable video of a mother polar bear plucking her floppy young son or daughter from the water at the ice edge made the rounds (care2.com), but for an emotionally balanced diet, you might also wish to browse through one of the photo essays from last week’s news showing one polar bear eating another. They’re not all cuddles, folks. It also appears that, like certain US Olympic athletes, they’re romantically indiscriminate, as polar-grizzly hybrids are beginning to appear further and further north (E360, Yale). A personal reflection from Chris Packham via the BBC on his relationship with a much smaller omnivore, the Arctic fox, makes me think: Don’t they always tell us we’re not supposed to feed wild animals?
Moving on to herbivores, the Nelchina caribou herd in Alaska has turned out, unexpectedly, to be living at or near the maximum population density that scientists estimate the area can support. As a result, a couple thousand new hunting permits for the caribou are going to be issued (EOTA). Banner year, hunters! The anthrax outbreak among bison in the NWT grows and grows, and reinforcements are being called in to help safely dispose of the corpses (CBC). What hasn’t changed is the single photo of a bloated corpse that every news outlet is using to illustrate this story. Also in the NWT, the difficult-to-pronounce erysipelas bacterium has been killing off muskox on Banks Island. The disease has never before been seen in this population (CBC).
On to sea mammals. A USGS program has been putting radio-tracking devices on walruses in the area of planned future Chukchi Sea oil leases, and now you can watch online as their little yellow dots travel around the Arctic (USGS). Most of them seem to hang out close to home, while a couple adventurers roam far afield. Not that different from people, really. New research has also shown that highly endangered bowhead whales in the Atlantic Arctic sing their Volkswagen-sized hearts out, much more so than researchers were expecting (EOTA). If you’d like to hear them being chatty and burbly, you can do so via Wired magazine. It’s definitely worth a listen. Humpback whales near Svalbard are the subject of a nice, if short, photo essay and personal reflection via Alaska Dispatch.
In slightly more lab-coated science, I was surprised to learn that trout in Lake Ontario often serve as “patient zero,” so to speak, for contaminants that later spread up the St Lawrence Seaway into the North Atlantic (Environmental Health News). Another study suggests that dispersed oil in the Gulf of Mexico may have disrupted food chains at the very lowest levels, impacting productivity of higher species as well (PLoS). If you are a lab-coated scientist yourself, you may wish to know about a call for papers for Advances in Polar Science.
[Doomsday environmental news]
Further reporting (though, thankfully, less) on the Greenland ice cap melt came out this week. Danish scientists suggested that the ice cap may in fact melt in bursts, not at a steady pace (BBC), and that the primary driving force may be the interaction between the ice cap’s “tongues” where it meets the ocean, and not surface melting up above (Scientific American). And – wow – a team of scientists from the Ohio State University seems to have been able to use GPS data to measure the uplift and sinking of GREENLAND ITSELF under the changing weight of its ice cap, among other things (OSU). Dear science: You are my hero.
The slow-motion car crash of the Arctic environment and climate continued. Wildfires continued to rage in Siberia, devouring 11-12mn hectares of land and employing 18,500 firefighters (ITAR-TASS). For perspective, 12mn hectares (which I believe = 120,000 square km) is a greater land area than Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria, South Korea, the Czech Republic or the island of Sri Lanka. Smaller fires are burning elsewhere, including in Yakutia (ITAR-TASS). You can also gnaw your nails down to the quick as you watch trees advance northward in the Arctic (EU-CORDIS), the volume of Siberia’s three major Arctic rivers increase dramatically (EOTA), or an increase in the frequency and volume of rain in already-rainy Norway (AB).
Three expeditions got plenty of coverage this week. A program in Canada that brings 75 teens ages 14-18 from around the world to the Arctic, Students on Ice, brought much excitement. The students were expected to set sail on 1 August for a 12-day educational trip to Baffin Island and Greenland (NN). The lengthy list of staff bios shows a cool range of adults shepherding the younger students through the experience, and blogs from some of the students will help offer some insight into what happens. If it happens at all, that is. The same ice that hindered the progress of the supply ships to Iqaluit in earlier weeks is preventing Zodiac boats from taking the students out to their main research vessel (NN); as of this writing, there wasn’t a great deal of slack-time left before the trip would need to be cancelled (audio interview from CBC), but it sounds like people in Iqaluit are helping the students make the most of their time there (NN). [NOTE: They did make it! Great news.]
In Russia, President Putin’s stated plan to establish a much greater footprint in the Arctic is the nominal driving force behind a dual-purpose mission of scientists headed off to clean up toxic waste in the Franz Josef Archipelago (VOR). Two vessels with a total of 135 people aboard will undertake the mission, which departs from Arkhangelsk (BO). Putin made an oft-quoted speech to launch the expedition (MarineLink, video from RT). Next year’s expedition will tackle similar situations on the islands of Graham Bell, Heiss and Rudolf (RIAN). A second expedition to the Yamal Peninsula to conduct environmental and health research also launched from Arkhangelsk this week (VOR).
There are other expeditions underway that have garnered slightly less press attention, for no good reason. A team of federal, state and U of Alaska scientists are getting ready to undertake a massive and ambitious collection of oceanographic and fisheries data in the Chukchi and Bering Seas (SITNews); A UA team member calls it “a bit of a scientific dream team”, and I wish I could go too! Meanwhile the NOAA-run Fairweather is on a 30-day mission to “help NOAA prioritize its efforts to update navigational charts in the Arctic” (NOAA). Useful, as much of the charting here dates from 1778. The ship’s course will take it from Dutch Harbor up and around the coast to the Canadian border (Commerce Dep’t). Things also seem to be going well for “Operation Iceberg,” a project of the British Antarctic Survey hard at work off of Baffin Island. Their blog posts are quite readable, have interesting information, and are accompanied by photos of the kinds of things you don’t get elsewhere. Greatly to be recommended. Bad news, however, for an expedition that has been using Devon Island in Nunavut as a stand-in for Mars; the Canadian Space Agency will no longer support the program (NN). A picture of two very dejected-looking astronauts accompanies the article.
Subhankar Banerjee expressed what must be almost all of his feelings on the foolhardiness of Arctic drilling in an epic opinion piece in The Nation, while Canada’s Mounties declassified an intelligence report pointing to an “increasingly radicalized environmentalist faction” in Canada, arraying itself to do battle against extractive industries (CBC).
The WWF announced it would be opening an office in Iqaluit this fall (NN), and Greenpeace uploaded a quick but cool video of the retrieval of one of its two mini-subs post-research in the Zhemchug and Pribilof canyons.
NOAA has just released an awesome tool that integrates information from many different sources to put together a living map that should help “emergency responders and environmental resource managers in dealing with incidents that may harm the environment” (NOAA). Her name is ERMA. [Warning: I practically deafened myself; there is an unexpected auto-play video with the NOAA link.] Another awesome map for those of you who cannot afford to make your way to Svalbard will help you to explore the topography of the land and get to know the archipelago better.
THE SPORTING LIFE
It would be madness not to talk Olympics here; so let me go through a current medal count for the five littoral states as of 3:00 PM GMT on Sunday 5 August:
USA – 56 total, of which 27G, 14S, 15B
RUS – 31 total, of which 3G, 15S, 13B
CAN – 10 total, of which 1G, 3S, 6B
DAN – 7 total, of which 1G, 4S, 2B
NOR – 2 total, of which 1S, 1B
In this crowd, Denmark is punching well above its weight both in medals-per-capita and medals-per-GDP.
The news that Okalik Eegeesiak, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, has been invited to attend the Olympics at the expense of Baffinland’s parent company, British firm ArcelorMittal, caused fingers to wag and tongues to cluck in Nunavut (CBC, NN). Both news outlets that reported the story, however, did point out that the Nunavut Impact Review Board and not QIA will be taking the final decision on Baffinland’s Mary River project.
In Alaska, the dangers of recreational mushing with non-experts are highlighted by a near-tragedy in Fairbanks in recent weeks (AD), but the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic (which also seems dangerous, but whatever) seems to have finished up with no tragedies and a cool video that you can watch (AD). Oh god, oh god – the mosquitoes!!
For reasons I cannot even begin to comprehend, now a group of Russians has chosen to emulate their American reality-TV counterparts by crossing the Bering Strait on jet-skis (RIAN). No word on whether they were as warmly received in Alaska as the Americans were in Russia. Other entertainments for people with too much money and free time include surfing trips to Norway and Iceland, covered in the NY Daily News (warning: annoying pop-ups) with a series of admittedly kind of amazing photos.
Also in Russia, a group of cyclists is setting off from Murmansk to tour Sweden and Finland on two wheels, which sounds like fun (BO), and I wish – oh, how I wish – that I could blink myself to Murmansk for the “Arctic Riders” motorcycle festival coming up soon, which will feature competitions in “heavy lifting of beer kegs, throwing distance of rubber tyres, opening beer bottles with eye sockets, and other mind-blowing things.” Is there nobody who will sponsor me to go to this important event and report?
THE GRAB BAG
If you’ve been wondering what to write your doctoral dissertation on, let me help you out: Icelandic folk stories. Here is a 320-page PDF with everything you need to know, thanks to Einar Ólafur Sveinsson.
Justin Bieber’s flippant tweet about his aboriginal status in Canada has been deployed to great effect by the Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto, which published a really clear and informative blog about First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada. Totally worth the read. The Museum also took on a “No Free Gas, but Free Admission” campaign for the month of August (ICTMN). I’m so impressed with the Museum’s quick and clever reaction.
A little history: Nunatsiaq News published a curious piece on the British Admiralty’s Inuit-language phrasebooks of the mid 1800s, and what they say about the relationship between explorers and indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere.
Ice Pilots, a show on the History Channel, welcomed its newest cameo cast-member: Mr Bruce Dickinson of the famous metal band Iron Maiden (Edmonton Journal). Of course.
A satellite image of Alaska’s Yukon River delta took second place in National Geographic’s “Earth as Art” competition (AD).
A WWII-era German U-boat may be resting at the bottom of the Churchill River in Labrador, 100km from the ocean (CBC).
A German prepares to traverse the Greenland ice cap on his own; details of his preparation, in German, are in Spiegel online.
Space technology can contribute in meaningful ways to the improvement of communications, observation, navigation, surveillance and science in the Arctic. For a detailed overview, see spaceref.com.
A short but captivating piece in Alaska Dispatch covers an upcoming trip to St Matthew Island, Alaska’s most remote spot, 209 miles away from the nearest village.
A man in Yakutia was killed by a bear (RIAN).
Missing crew members from the Kolskaya drilling rig, which sank off of Sakhalin Island in December 2011, have officially been declared dead (RIAN).
First, great photo essays on the Arctic Thunder air show (from Alaska Dispatch) and young urban bikers in Sisimiut (from I Love Greenland). If you’re bored at home (not at work, surely!) you could also browse a great flickr photo stream for images of the Canadian North.
Enjoy these individual photos of (1) mountains in the Norwegian Arctic, (2) the Disco Starlight bar in Greenland’s second-largest city, (3) Iqaluit’s empty sealift beach, (4) Arctic char on drying racks, (5) historic home foundations in Nuuk, Greenland, (6) a hot air balloon poised shockingly between two pillars of a massive iceberg, (7) boats navigating the transfer of Students On Ice from shore to the Des Groseilliers, (8) participants in Cambridge Bay’s Polar Bear Dip, (9) a Students On Ice flashmob dance in Iqaluit, (10) the coast of Norway, (11) the Arctic Thunder air show, (12) an insane photo of Alaskan mountains from the air, (12) Chukchi dancers in Anadyr, Russia, (13) crocuses near Whitehorse, (14) sea ice in Frobisher Bay, photographed from Iqaluit, (15) the view from the Biotope office in Norway, (16) a gorgeous webcam shot from hotelarctic.com, (17) an Inukshuk, (18) another pic of ice near Iqaluit, (19) forest fire smoke in Yakutsk, (20) still more ice near Iqaluit, (21) yellow flowers in Nunavut, (22) the ongoing construction of a “skyscraper” in Nuuk and (23) a row of abandoned houses in the NWT.
On to wildlife photos, including (1) a peregrine falcon in Nunavut, (2) a red-throated loon near Arctic Bay, (3) caribou in a surprisingly urban setting, (4) a polar bear collage, (5) seals laid out after a hunt in Alaska, + a person for size comparison, (6) an Arctic rodent of some kind with cruel-looking claws, (7) an Arctic fox, (8) further caribou in a backyard, (9) a yawning polar bear, (10) a totally delightful pic of a napping walrus with the young photographer in the foreground and (11) a polar bear sticking out its tongue at us.
Only a couple of videos this week. First, a naturalist from the BBC comes back to Alaska and finds an old-friend grizzly (I guess?) named Nadine. My god, grizzly bears are HUGE. Second, from YLE, on efforts to revive music traditions in Karelia.
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