By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 25 August to 31 August 2012
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READS OF THE WEEK
This week’s must-reads are true must-reads. Stop what you’re doing if you can, get a coffee, and sit for a bit.
Must-Reads: Levon Sevunts produced some of the best journalism I’ve read this year, Arctic-themed or otherwise, in a series of articles on the diamond industry in the Northwest Territories (Parts one, two, three and four in Eye on the Arctic). Follow it up with an outstanding retelling of the awful strike and murders at Canada’s Giant Mine in 1992, from Up Here magazine. Another absolute must is this model post from the Canadian Museum of Nature, covering an Arctic botany expedition. It includes good writing, video, photos, statistics (cakes eaten: 3) and a music playlist for a midnight pressing session. The final pieces you won’t want to miss are two jaw-dropping photo essays, one on Russia’s Arctic cities, from Justin Jin, and one of the west coast of Greenland, from Olaf Otto Becker via Fast Company.
Other highly commendable articles include a great post from Up Here Business which will tell you everything you need to know about the sea-lift business in Canada, and a long profile in the Telegraph of the city of Kirkenes, the boom times that are coming its way, and its complex relationship with next-door neighbor Russia. On oil and gas, an outstanding article from Matthew Hulbert on Forbes uses the Shtokman decision as a jumping-off point to talk about the Russian gas industry as a whole and its likely future in a world where shale gas is coming online with astonishing rapidity, while Alaska Business Magazine covers the many obstacles that North Slope LNG must overcome before it becomes a lucrative export commodity.
Lastly, the best article on the Franklin search explores the yellow torpedo-shaped unmanned observer that will be used to look for hulks on the sea floor (CBC), and another article in the series looks at the combination of local folklore and scientific knowledge that is being used to try to narrow the field of search (CBC).
BLOOD & TREASURE
[Circumpolar issues and joint exercises]
Irvin Studin is, like many others, worried about the eventual possibility of Arctic conflict (FT blog). Mr Studin at least takes the trouble to make an illustrative analogy to the South China Sea to explain his concerns, which is more than most people do. Russia, Norway and the US, in bold defiance of Mr Studin’s concerns, signed on to agreements to conduct further joint military exercises in the future – POMOR 2013 and Northern Eagle 2014 (Naval Today) – while Russian and Canadian forces are joining together for this year’s Watchful Eagle anti-terrorism exercise in Canada and the US (China Daily). As part of Watchful Eagle, some Russian forces members were even welcomed to NORAD headquarters in Colorado (Wired). Russian aircraft are also conducting their regular overflights of American territory under the Open Skies treaty (ITAR-TASS).
At a national level, Voice of Russia looks briefly at Russia’s growing evident interest in cooperation with former military adversaries, while the Russian Military Reform blog looks at the increasing presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Russian military. RIA Novosti wins the prize for most creatively-titled video this week with “Special Forces Climb through Barbed Wire and Jump from Concrete Walls.”
Plenty of news on Russian submarines. The two new Borey-class submarines that have been much in the media recently will be split up. The Yuri Dolgoruky will go to the Northern Fleet while the Alexander Nevsky will join the Pacific fleet (RIAN). The Yasen-class nuclear submarine Severodvinsk meanwhile will be receiving Caliber-class cruise missiles, with a target accuracy of 2-3 meters and a flight range of up to 2,500 km with conventional warheads (Naval Today). Zounds! The ship is still having some issues though and is not quite ready for service. Meanwhile the fire-damaged Yekaterinburg is in Zvezdochka for repairs (ITAR-TASS).
You’ll raise your eyebrows when you read about the quantity of nuclear waste of diverse sorts dumped at the bottom of the Kara Sea, including the K-27 submarine which, in a worst-case scenario, might regain criticality and explode (Bellona). Super. But Norwegians and Russians are on the case together, examining the possibility of raising the submarine and looking at levels of nuclear contamination in the area generally (BO).
Moving to surface forces, I’m a little horrified to hear that there are still mines bobbing around in the Kara Sea. The minesweeper Vladimir Gumanenko is working diligently to clear up that little issue (Naval Today). A new border patrol vessel is set to enter service prior to the APEC summit in Vladivostok (ITAR-TASS) and – also to the East – ships from the Pacific Fleet are paying a quick call at the Japanese port of Maizuru on their way home from Hawaii (RIAN). Back in the Barents, the Naryan-Mar and Onega worked with a submarine to complete some training drills (Marine Link), while the Northern Fleet’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier has been recommissioned after a round of repairs (Naval Today).
In Canada, Stephen Harper continues to talk about the importance of an expanded military presence in Canada’s northern reaches (Vancouver Sun), while federal funding cuts in the Yukon might be making a critical negative impact on the territory’s search-&-rescue capabilities (WS). You might want to flesh out your understanding of Canada’s military by browsing some through some fun photos on flickr of Operation Nanook, or you could simply enjoy this single photo of someone clad mostly in foliage pointing a rifle directly at you.
Those interested in a daily dose of aggregation and analysis on Canada’s military would do well to turn to the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds” blog.
What looks like a pretty massive Scandinavian air force exercise, the Nordic Air Meet, got started this week and will continue through 7 September. 65 aircraft are involved, with up to 54 of them in the air at once, and the countries represented are Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, the USA and the UK (forsvarmakten.se, BO).
[Shtokman is over. Probably.]
The Shtokman project has been lumbering along in its ailing, ungainly way for years now, each step bringing it closer to what seemed an inevitable end. Now it appears to have really given up the ghost. Following Statoil’s withdrawal from the project, Gazprom and Total announced this week at the ONS conference in Norway that the project would be indefinitely on hold (Reuters, BO,). The Guardian’s article on the announcement, rich with detail, points to both demand-side and cost-side reasons for the decision, and takes the trouble to talk with an analyst at Chatham House who sees it as a not-necessarily-positive development. Bellona and the Sydney Morning Herald covered many of the same issues. Later in the week, a Gazprom spokesman amended the statement a little bit, saying that the project is NOT absolutely done, simply on hold, and Total will apparently announce on 4 September whether it plans to continue as a project partner or not (NYT - $). A Total spokesman also announced that the project partners have not let it go indefinitely and are instead simply looking for “ways to make it economically viable” (Reuters). This seems at odds with a Total representative’s recent statement that it’s too risky to drill in the Arctic (AB).
The FT’s Beyond BRICS blog asks what comes next for Russia post-Shtokman, and another outstanding article from the reliable Matthew Hulbert in Forbes uses the Shtokman decision as a jumping-off point to talk about the Russian gas industry as a whole and its likely future in a world where shale gas elsewhere is coming online with astonishing rapidity. For a Spiegel infographic looking at pipelines and sites of hydrocarbon exploitation around the pole, click here.
[Greenpeace at Prirazlomnoya]
As last week ended, the news that a team of six from Greenpeace had attached itself in various ways to Gazprom’s Prirazlomnoya platform in the Pechora Sea to draw attention to the dangers of Arctic drilling and to Russia’s “suboptimal” record of environmental safety was just breaking. The activists also attached themselves to the anchor chain of the supply ship Anna Akhmatova (What would she think of all this?), a decision which later led to the flipping of their inflatable boat with high-powered water cannon and some simple physics (BO, video of the flipping). It did not look like a fun time for those activists, including Greenpeace head Kumi Naidoo (NYT - $). The team officially ended its action on Tuesday (RIAN); for photos, go to Greenpeace’s flickr stream.
An interview with Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace looks at the scope of the organization’s activities in the European Arctic (AP), and you can listen to our own podcast interview with Senior Policy Advisor for Greenpeace International Ruth Davis about the action, the dangers, and how Greenpeace plans for them (iTunes, TAI). Gazprom claimed the action caused no disruption to its work at Prirazlomnoya (MT), and Mr Naidoo followed up with a well-written and reasonable letter to President Putin explaining why the group is so committed to slowing the progress of Arctic drilling (Greenpeace). Radio Free Europe posted a further piece early Saturday morning looking at Greenpeace’s action and the risks of drilling in the Russian Arctic generally.
[Other news from Russia]
Gazprom briefly halted shipments on the Yamal-Europe pipeline as part of scheduled maintenance this week (Bloomberg, Reuters). Supplies to Germany were made up by increased volume through Nord Stream (WSJ). The company announced as well that it would invest RUB6bn in developing the gas supply and distribution network in the Karelia region (ITAR-TASS). Rosneft is doubtless pleased that Statoil will fund 100% of the drilling of six exploratory wells in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk from 2016-2021 (Reuters). A wind-diesel system is getting ready to begin operations on Bering Island in the Kamchatka region (VOR).
[Shell in Alaska]
On Saturday the 24th, the Noble Discoverer at long last began its journey northward to Alaska’s northwestern coast as part of Shell’s entourage of drilling equipment (fuelfix.com), but it didn’t get far before a crew member, suffering from an irregular heartbeat, had to be medevac’d off the ship and sent to Anchorage (USCG News). Simultaneously, Shell began speaking with the Department of the Interior in the hopes of obtaining permission to proceed without the assistance of its Arctic Challenger barge which, said Pete Slaiby, needs only “some pretty basic stuff to get it ready” (LA Times). Seems like “basic stuff” would have been done long ago, doesn’t it? Shell also asked, based on predictions it obtained of likely ice conditions this fall, to extend its end-of-season deadline (a nice article in ADN), while the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement demanding public release of the actual data acquired during tests of the capping system Shell will use as a safety measure (peer.org).
Drilling isn’t – or wasn’t – supposed to start at either the Chukchi or Beaufort site until after the Arctic Challenger had completed its two-week voyage to the drill sites, but lo – some good news for Shell – on the 30th it was announced that they had gotten permission to drill down about 1,400 feet without having the Arctic Challenger on site. The company may not drill into the actual oil reservoirs, however (fuelfix.com, McClatchy). The crew on-site was excited to hear about the development, and is waiting to hear if the requested 18-day extension to the end of the drilling season is approved as well (LA Times).
The Beaufort is off limits to Shell anyhow until mid-September to allow for an undisturbed whaling season (E&E - $). Alexis Flynn, looking at the many delays in reaching this point, points out that “the fact that an industry behemoth like Shell is finding it hard going is making the rest of the sector sit up and pay notice” (WSJ blog). For an actually quite interesting video from Shell going through the routine of pilot-hole drilling, check out Alaska Dispatch, which also provides a lengthy article from Craig Medred profiling the town of Wainwright, its people, and what might happen there as a result of oil activity.
An incredibly useful country briefing on the Norwegian oil and gas industry came out via Alaska Business Magazine this month. Great info, all in one place.
Statoil announced that it would be upping its efforts to explore in the Arctic by tripling its Arctic research budget, among other things (marinelink.com, BO, AB). The leader of environmental NGO Bellona said of the plans that they are “terribly immoral” (newsinenglish.no), and described Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe’s comments that he would like to see Norwegian companies drill all the way to the North Pole as evidence that the man is an “extremist” (AB). Even PM Jens Stoltenberg apparently quashed a little of Minister Moe’s enthusiasm with subsequent remarks indicating that the Norwegian government’s perspective is somewhat more cautious and conservative than Minister Moe had led his listeners to believe (theforeigner.no).
Aftenbladet took a look at how increased exploration in the Arctic is seen by some as the continuation of many decades of experience, while others see it as something brand-new. The CEO of ConocoPhillips is unsurprisingly in the former camp, saying that the company already has four decades of Arctic experience under its belt in Alaska and Canada (AB). The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre also took the opportunity this week to give a comprehensive and actually interesting speech on Norway’s official views on Arctic resource development and management (MFA of Norway).
Polling at the Offshore Northern Shore conference in Norway revealed that “74% of participants said that the development of sizeable reserves in Arctic waters offshore Norway could reverse the country's diminishing North Sea production rates by 2030” (oilvoice.com), and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate inaugurated a new initiative to support research into improving rates of extraction on the Norwegian continental shelf (NPD). Meanwhile all this increased interest in the Norwegian Arctic has prices for equipment and services going through the roof (Bloomberg). Indeed, there’s growing buzz in Norway about the astronomical wages paid to oil and gas workers, which is great for them but which may be harming other industries in Norway (AB).
The bad press that Statoil has received for its involvement in Canada’s tar sands has led the company to file a complaint against NRK Rogaland, a Norwegian media outlet, for using images of tar-sands facilities that are NOT Statoil’s in a news report (AB). The company assuredly won’t get any good press, at least, for its announcement that it’s likely to cut up to 500 jobs in the near future (AB).
In other Norwegian news, DNV and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute released a study whose results seem to be mostly observational (Marine Link, AB). The Labour Party is pushing for expansion of the oil industry’s hubs northward (AB). Aftenbladet listed out the 20 most powerful people in the Norwegian oil and gas industry. Hydrocarbon company Lundin says it believes Barents Sea hydrocarbons will remain unprofitable until a southbound pipeline is built (Bloomberg), and Total likewise expressed some caution about Statoil’s ideas for expanding the LNG plant at Hammerfest (Bloomberg). Lastly, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is expanding its outreach to tweens worldwide with a new app, currently available for iPhone/iPad but soon also available for Android and Windows phones (NPD).
In Alaska, the Point Thompson project on the North Slope is being spanked along as part of an “enhanced” permitting process for North Slope projects (akbizmag.com). The challenges facing the development of Alaskan LNG from the North Slope for export are covered in wonderful detail by Alaska Business Magazine – highly recommended! The prospect of shale oil on the North Slope is also covered competently by the Washington Post, while Doyon Ltd announced that it will invest $37mn in exploration in the Nenana Basin (FNM).
Shell meanwhile is busily making itself beloved by The People worldwide by pointing out that it “has not noticed any effects of the financial crisis” on its own business (AB). I am so very, very happy and relieved to hear that they have escaped this crisis unscathed. Fellow Dutch entity Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, came out this week in favor of greater regulation of Arctic drilling (UPI, AB). Minister Verhagen’s speech is actually quite lovely and worth a read – the full thing is available here, from the Dutch government. Director of the International Energy Agency Maria van der Hoeven, also Dutch, expressed her belief that an “all of the above” global energy strategy, including oil sands, is necessary to support worldwide development in the years ahead (AB).
Finland undertook a massive concerted oil-spill response drill in the Baltic (YLE). A nuclear reactor in Pyhajöki in northern Finland waved farewell to another (small-stakes) investor (EOTA). Wood pellets are making gradual inroads as an energy source in Norman Wells, NWT, which is in a bit of a fix regarding hydrocarbon energy sources (Arctic Energy Alliance).
[A Girl’s Best Friend]
My most sincere thanks go out to Levon Sevunts of Eye on the Arctic for one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve read this year, period. His series of lengthy articles on the diamond industry in the Northwest Territories defies any attempt I might make to summarize it, so I can only say: go read parts one, two, three and four yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Mr Sevunts was not the only one writing on diamonds this week, however – an explosion that killed 2 at Alrosa’s Udachinsky mine in Yakutia was sensational enough to make its way into English-language press (diamonds.net). Strangely, this was insufficient to warrant a cessation of operations at the mine (Russia Beyond the Headlines). The explosion is poorly-timed, as Yakutia’s first-ever Diamond Week began on 29 August (VOR). Awkward. Alrosa is meanwhile embroiled in an appeal of a conviction under antimonopoly laws (RAPSI).
As is so often the case, much of the remaining mining news is on Canada. First and foremost is an historical article from Katherine Laidlaw on the Giant Mine incident, a long strike and a group murder in NWT in 1992. It is yet one more example of the wonderful reporting that Up Here magazine provides. Also in the NWT, Canadian Zinc and the NWT government have agreed to a continued development plan for the Prairie Creek zinc-lead mine (CBC, Canadian Mining Journal). A hearing on a proposed multi-mineral mine by Fortune Minerals on Tlicho lands in the area of Yellowknife is a subject of some contention as indigenous groups feel their opinions are not being heard (CBC 1 and 2). Next door in Yukon, an informative if dry article on the Minto (copper) Mine’s unexpected longevity came out in Yukon News, while urban mining rules in Whitehorse apparently need to be clarified (WS) and the staking of new claims in the Peel Watershed has been banned for the time being (CBC).
Across the border in the US, poisons of various kinds are apparently all the rage this week. 45,000 gallons of cyanide spilled near the Fort Knox gold mine outside of Fairbanks (FNM), while health officials near Nome are offering free testing to amateur miners who may be using techniques that expose them to mercury poisoning. (Reuters).
ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE and WILDLIFE
[New ice extent minimum]
I really made an effort to be selective this week in terms of the articles I saved on the new ice minimum, recognizing that every sentient, on-line being on earth would be commenting on it somehow. Even so, I ended up with pages’ worth. The most intelligent articles on the melt came from the Atlantic, from a collective of intelligent observers on the NYT Dot Earth blog and from Yale’s environment360 blog. The stats/graphs geeks among you should turn to our own set of interactive graphs and analysis, as well as to Neven Acropolis’s blog or to this simple and illustrative animated GIF. If all that is insufficient, keep reading.
The warning bells were already ringing frantically over the weekend, but word really hit on Monday, when the NSIDC’s official announcement of the new extent as 4.1mn square kilometers was released, along with a NASA visualization of the new, slimmer ice cap. Basics of the calm, reasonable variety came from the excellent Arctic Connections blog, the Economist, Al Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and from Forbes. A long article from Kim Murphy in the LA Times gave a little more in the way of context and details, ThinkProgress covered the implications of a melting Arctic for the broader world, and Climate Central chief climatologist Heidi Cullen went on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline to talk about the new record.
If you want your commentary with more of a political charge to it, George Monbiot in the Guardian contributed an oft-retweeted article that’s a little on the won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children side for my own taste. Later in the week, a professor from Cambridge predicted, as he did in November 2011 and April 2012, that the sea ice would be gone by 2015 or, possibly, this year (Climate Code Red). He may very well be proven right, but the comment ignited an irritatingly predictable firestorm of clothes-rending, teeth-gnashing articles and tweets. Voice of Russia took the brash step of publishing the opposite vision, suggesting that this year’s extreme melting is the nadir of a cycle, and that extent and volume should start trending back upward in the years ahead. My heart, however, belongs to Reuters, which instead used the dramatic prediction as a way to start a discussion of how wild variation in ice and climate predictions makes life difficult for those who have to actually use and live in the Arctic.
Four quick related bits: NASA’s IceBridge project is looking for new ways to observe the Arctic ice cover, and NASA’s MODIS produced a new image of the big ice island from the Petermann Glacier floating its way along the Nares Strait, while scientists from the U of Delaware took some great (if lo-fi) footage from an icebreaker and a helicopter in the same part of the world. Also published in Nature Geoscience this week is an interesting article looking at the response of ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere to other episodes of climate warming over the past couple million years.
[Other environmental news]
The release of carbon dioxide and methane gasses from thawing permafrost in Siberia and in Alaska is the subject of increasing scrutiny. A study in Nature seems to indicate that ten times as much as originally thought is being released from thawing Siberian permafrost (Science Daily, U of Manchester). The scale of the problem appears pretty massive (Cosmos), and similar issues in Antarctica could make the impact immeasurably greater (Guardian). A poster covering some of the science behind the issue was also just released by several APECS researchers.
Reporting on wild creatures was largely crowded out this week by news of the new ice-extent minimum, but a little room remained on the interwebs for a few brief articles. Al Jazeera took a video look at the risks posed by climate change to Arctic wildlife (see note 1), and Trip Sideways published a video “profile,” if I can call it that, of the Arctic fox. An extremely rare whooping crane has died, possibly as a result of an injury sustained when captured by researchers for tagging (CBC). The population of Saimaa ringed seals – also very rare – in Eastern Finland is creeping upward (EOTA). The annual hunt of the Fortymile caribou herd may only be open for one day; sounds like officials would rather not open it at all, but…(FNM). An article on a narwhal-tagging expedition leaves me with the impression that bad weather, sleep deprivation and interference from various fauna are leaving the researchers feeling successful but grouchy (Vancouver Sun 1 & 2). Lastly, a poster from APECS researchers covers some of the many changes that are likely to take place in terrestrial Arctic ecosystems thanks to the warming climate.
Stop what you are doing and read this post from the Canadian Museum of Nature. It gives you the little vicarious pleasure of imagining yourself as an Arctic botanist out on the tundra discovering new species, it gives you fun video, good pictures, statistics (cakes eaten: 3) and a playlist for a midnight pressing session.
The Franklin expedition gets my vote for most diligent bloggers of the week. Where they find so much free time to write, I would not care to guess. The magnifiable map of all Franklin-related finds that came out earlier is a lot of fun to play with, and this week’s posts from Bill Moon and the team aboard the Wilfrid Laurier are all available here. Several don’t make the blog stream, oddly, including one on an immersion-suit survival drill and one on polar bears and sea-floor mapping. Even with all the first-hand accounts, for my money the best article on the expedition talks about the technologies that took Franklin to the Arctic in the first place and, there, failed him, while going into more detail about the yellow torpedo-shaped unmanned observer that will be cruising the Arctic to look for hulks of the lost ships on the sea floor (CBC). Another excellent related article looks at the blend between local folklore and scientific knowledge that is being used to try to narrow the field of search (CBC), while a third highlights the important point that one of the Laurier’s jobs will be to lay out navigation buoys and beacons in a configuration that permits larger traffic – a new feature of these waters – to come through (CBC).
An expedition to study the effects of changing ocean acidity in the Arctic also got plenty of notice this week. The USCG Cutter Healy is off, under the auspices of the US Geological Survey, for a four-week trip. The staff includes Scientists from the USGS St. Petersburg (Florida) Coastal and Marine Science Center, the Woods Hole Science Center and the University of South Florida (ouramazingplanet.com, North Country Times, Latin American Herald Tribune, US Department of State). What looks like a really excellent and comprehensive trip website is available from the USGS as well.
Several other expeditions are also underway. Hall and St Matthew Islands off of Alaska appear to have harbored communities, at least temporarily, in the 1600’s (ICTMN). Why were they here? Chris Luszczek of York University is doing some up-close-and-personal research of a creek in Iqaluit to examine the effects of nearby humans on the water (CBC) (see note 2). The BBC’s expedition to document the life-cycle of an iceberg continues, with company of the bear sort. A group from the University of Victoria is installing a system of underwater cables near Cambridge Bay to track many different metrics for that environment; it’s a fascinating and really useful initiative run by the inspiring Kate Moran (nice article from the Times Colonist). An archaeological expedition in northwestern Alaska uncovered ancient stone tools (Frontier Scientists). Lastly, Nancy Maynard of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center took a week in northern Norway with Sami reindeer herders to study climate change through traditional knowledge (U of the Arctic).
Let us all now praise the Arctic Institute of North America for its useful ASTIS database – new uploads, all fascinating, are available here. Earthquakes were an unusually large part of the scene this week, with a 6.6 near Jan Mayen (WaPo), a 4.6 in Iceland (IceNews) and a cluster of quakes in the Western Aleutian islands (FNM). Al Jazeera’s Nick Clark provided a nice video touching on several different issues related to Arctic climate change. Local sites in Canada’s North are being challenged by budget cuts to Parks Canada, particularly in Yukon (CBC, CBC). The Hay River in the Northwest Territories has dropped below two meters thanks to a summer drought (hayriverhub.com). The season’s first snow fell in Finnish Lapland (Helsingin Sanomat). If you’re an APECS member, don’t miss the chance to apply to help lead the program as part of the APECS Council. A workshop on science and photography is coming up at the Oulanka Research Station in Finland (U Arctic), and the Yukon North Slope Conference looking at wildlife conservation and management is coming up in Whitehorse as well (U Arctic).
(Note 1: Greeze Fjord? C’mon, folks.)
THE POLITICAL SCENE
[Around the pole]
The Centre for International Governance Innovation took a hard look at what changes, if any, might come to the Arctic Council’s agenda with Canada at the helm (spoiler alert: not that much), while Joël Plouffe makes the intelligent suggestion that the model of collaboration demonstrated by the Barents Euro-Arctic Region could be usefully expanded to, or replicated in, the North American Arctic (ION).
Prime Minister Harper’s northern visit has generated another round of discussion about Canada’s northern destiny, and others are asking whether it actually has one. The difference between rhetoric about northern development and the actual condition of northern communities can be very stark (Toronto Sun). Most of the PM’s remarks during his trip were focused on exploitation of mineral resources (Times Colonist), and many observers were bothered by an impression that PM Harper had really “stayed inside his bubble” rather than getting his hands dirty with the complicated issues that the North faces (HuffPo). Several unfulfilled promises are cataloged in an excellent article – the best of the lot – in the Edmonton Journal, which also points out that Harper’s willingness to at least make visiting the North an annual priority is a plus. The presence of Russian bombers up to the borders of Canadian airspace is also causing some to fret that the pace of military expansion in the Canadian North is inadequate to the threats that may be present (G&M). Abroad, Canada’s diplomatic mission in Denmark appears to have played host to a pattern of untoward behavior by embassy staffers; investigations are underway (Times Colonist).
Despite substantial negative press, PM Harper’s northern visit was an occasion to meet with several important Inuit leaders. Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, appears to have had a positive interaction with the PM (ITK blog), and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak debriefed her own meeting with the PM in a radio interview with the CBC. The broad consensus on the appointment of Health Minister and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq as the chair of the Arctic Council appears to be positive as well (CBC). Aboriginal groups are nevertheless concerned that the push for a “one project, one review” process in order to expedite resource-development projects in the North will mean inadequate attention to environmental and social concerns (firstperspective.ca). In Nunavik in Québec, parliamentary elections are coming to a head this week, with only one candidate (Gérald Lemoyne, Liberal) actually taking the time to visit the Ungava riding (NN). To my mind, the real story here is the lowest-in-province voter turnout in the province’s northern communities. Why might that be?
Primary elections for Alaska’s senate seats took place this past week (FNM). The most expensive race was for a seat representing a massive district stretching from Fairbanks down to Valdez, and even early in the week the prospects for ballot initiative #2, to reinstate a coastal management plan in Alaska, looked grim at best (AD). The initiative was ultimately defeated, and a really interesting opinion piece on the history and details of the initiative is well worth your time to read (AD). Another issue that reared its head in this most recent round of elections is the fact that Alaska is still subject to federal reviews intended to prevent de facto discrimination against minority voters (AD). Relatedly or not, the role of social media in these elections got a little coverage of its own (FNM).
Citizen engagement and the value of a comprehensive Arctic strategy for Alaska was the subject of a well-written opinion piece by Joshua Wilson of Commonwealth North (ION), while Icelandic president Grimsson took the podium at the Arctic Imperative Summit in an effort to convince those present to push the presidential candidates to bring Arctic leaders to Alaska for a summit next year, thus signaling that the US has taken “its proper and objective leadership role in this part of the world” (E&E - $).
[China & Asia]
Chinese interest in the Arctic was the subject of blessedly sensible analysis by the Economist this week (quoting TAI, which we’re proud of). The Diplomat meanwhile makes the point that China’s stance on territory issues in the Arctic may well be influenced by an ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, much closer to home. An intelligent and thorough article in the Korea Herald looks at China’s shipping interests, while crew and scientists aboard the Xue Long continued their work in the Arctic (china.org.cn, Arctic Portal). In Canada, the government is preparing to review CNOOC’s bid to take over oil company Nexen (Platts).
Elsewhere in Asia, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and a coterie of Finnish businessmen are probably making a visit to Japan as you read this to discuss economic, energy and business issues (YLE), and Korean travelers are finding themselves more warmly welcomed in Alaska (Korea Herald).
Voice of Russia took a concise look at the strategic and economic value of Russia’s hydrocarbons, minerals and fisheries in the Arctic, and later in the week presented an interesting, if not especially novel, overview of how various concerns play into the country’s Arctic strategy. If one changed the names involved, it could just as easily describe Canada.
PM Harper’s manifest-destiny rhetoric about Northern resources was perhaps exasperating to many people living developing-world lives in that chilly El Dorado. Nunavut residents asked PM Harper to visit their own local grocery stores to get a feel for food costs (APTN), and one little girl pointed out that hungry kids have a harder time learning (photo from Madeleine Redfern). Protests were held again on 24 and 25 August in Pond Inlet, Grise Fiord and elsewhere (CBC, NN, CBC video), and it’s a head-shaking moment to look at the dollars that are already being poured into the Nutrition North program (NN). One wonders what it would take to fix this issue once and for all. As an emergency-management measure, remote communities in Alaska are also considering establishing warehouses full of emergency food and necessities (FNM).
Briefly, on infectious diseases, good news came from Nunavik, where an expanding TB pandemic is now considered resolved (NN, CBC), while a localized anthrax outbreak in a Siberian village seems to be no real cause for concern despite one death (Bloomberg).
In other health-related news, the water supply in Kivalina, AK is still fouled, and cleanup is looking like a complicated process (Sacramento Bee). The Embrace Life Council in Nunavut is looking forward to using World Suicide Prevention Day as an opportunity to break down taboos about discussing suicide in local communities and families (NN). Throatboxer Nelson Tagoona of Baker Lake will be there (NN). An experimental greenhouse in Hay River, NWT will hopefully present a useful and effective way to grow fresh, healthy food earlier and later each year for local communities (CBC). A new rent-subsidy program in the Northwest Territories may be a critical step towards helping the territory’s working poor (CBC), and you may wish to take a look at the government’s plan for improved housing delivery (PDF, quite large) in the NWT. Drowning rates are quite a bit higher in the three northern territories than in Canada’s provinces; could differing views on swimming lessons and lifejackets be part of the issue (OC)?
[Infrastructure and transport]
Urbanization in the North was the topic of a conference in Nuuk, Greenland this week (nordregio.se), where a major issue of interest was how current, long-time residents do or do not adjust to new ways of life in the cities that grow up around them (CBC). It’s tough to create infrastructure that’s robust enough to support those growing cities, as evidenced by the fact that Yellowknife has already had 52 unplanned power outages this year (CBC). Iqaluit’s emergency-preparedness committee is also working on disaster-scenario planning for dealing with catastrophic power losses (NN), while the Yukon Government is offering CAD$3.5mn in relief for flood-damaged Upper Liard (CBC).
Many of the North’s largest cities are coastal, and development of new ports is a matter of concern to coastal communities in Alaska and to Senator Mark Begich, who has proposed “an independent, semiprivate US Arctic Deepwater Port Authority that would have the power to plan, finance, build and maintain at least one new port in the region” (E&E - $). A port for Iqaluit would also help to solve a whole slew of logistical issues that the city faces (CBC). In air transit, the new Deadhorse Aviation Center has opened on Alaska’s North Slope to support companies working there (akbizmag.com). I bet this turns out to be a profitable venture for operator Fairweather, LLC. Corporate business is also a primary source of income for Yukon’s Air North, which is expanding service in Alberta this summer/fall (CBC). For Russia, the upcoming APEC conference in Vladivostok will serve partially as an opportunity to drum up interest in itself as a highway between Europe and Asia (RZD).
[Culture, education and community life]
Iqaluit’s Inuksuk high school is nearing the end of a CAD$21mn renovation, and it looks like there are a lot of nice elements to the facility now (NN). The U of the Arctic has also appointed Pat Pitney of the University of Alaska Fairbanks as its new VP for finance (UAFairbanks).
On the arts side, the Winnipeg Art Gallery is showing a collection of 121 carvings by Inuit artists (NN). In Igloolik, two different filmmakers are taking different approaches – one narrative, one observational – to recording life in the area (EOTA). A lengthy post from Bluffton Today takes a good historical look at the history of the Sami people as cultures from the South began to encroach on their lands.
A recent spate of gun violence in Nunavut, much of it using stolen or borrowed weapons, has RCMP members saying that all guns should have trigger locks on them (NN). Hunting of beluga whales in Hudson Strait has reopened for the season, though some communities’ quotas are already used up (NN). In Nunavut, hunters are seeing an apparent decline in ring seal populations, possibly as a result of competition with harp seals (CBC).
BUSINESS & INDUSTRY
The Arctic Imperative Summit generated a lot of writing about the industrial future of the Arctic. In Alaska, Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell argued that developing a business-friendly climate in the state in terms of taxes, regulation, etc. could lead to up to $100bn of investment in the years ahead (SitNews). Other speakers catalogued the different infrastructure investments that are necessary to prepare the state for upcoming development (AD). Similar analysis of the Northern Sea Route came from Voice of Russia, which in a second article reviewed the opportunities that exist for Russia’s Arctic if appropriate investments are made. Across the globe, a long profile of the boom times that are coming to Kirkenes, as well as the city’s complex and now-positive relationship with next-door neighbor Russia is really worth a read as well (Telegraph).
Looking towards Alaska’s likely future international shipping requirements, Senator Mark Begich is pushing for the institution of a semi-private Port Authority and “working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to locate a site for a deep water port” (alaskapublic.org). Russia’s leading state-owned operator of ports, Rosmorport, said in a statement that creating special economic zones at more Russian ports (currently only Murmansk and Vladivostok) is a necessary step towards making Russia an inviting economic destination (MT). There was a change in leadership at the Murmansk Commercial Seaport this week as well (Bloomberg). Traffic on the Northern Sea Route isn’t looking like the predicted Los Angeles rush hour just yet; full details on traffic to date come from Trude Pettersen at Barents Observer. On the Canadian side of things, a great post from Up Here Business goes through the landscape of players in the sealift business – it’s a Read of the Week. Finally, Foss, a shipbuilding company in the US Pacific Northwest, announced that it’s building the first of a new class of Arctic tugboats to support oil & gas work in the Alaskan Arctic (gcaptain).
If you want every possible number of interest on the fisheries that operate out of Unalaska, the place to get it is the Dutch Harbor Fisherman. Low runs of king salmon in Alaskan waterways continue to spark discussion about bycatch from trawlers out at sea, and calls for lower caps for bycatch (Cordova Times), while pollock trawlers are under close scrutiny by the National Marine Fisheries Service for the same reason (AD). Also in the Bering Sea, NOAA is seeking protection for several different areas that likely serve as “nurseries” for skate (fishnewseu.com), while along the Yukon River sonar fish-counters are gradually replacing human counters as monitors of fish runs each year (CBC).
Arctic tourism is heating up, and Cambridge Bay has noted a jump in tourists visiting the town by 30% over the past five years (CBC), but it can be harder for cities in the interior like Deline, NWT to generate flourishing tourist traffic (a nice article from Eilis Quinn in Alaska Dispatch). Nunavut has been enjoying a boom in tourism this year as well, but local residents are realistic about the trend, pointing out that “the fad next year might be deserts, or the rainforest in Brazil” (NN). One highly public component of increased tourism has been the arrival of The World in Cambridge Bay and other communities (photos on Facebook).
In other industries, Canada’s Bombardier will be delivering to Yakutia Airlines several of their next planes (Montreal Gazette), and home-brewing of beer is getting increasingly popular in Juneau (FNM). The Finnish timber industry is doing poorly, with little light on the horizon (YLE); how Russia’s entry to the WTO may affect that situation is entirely unclear (BO).
THE SPORTING LIFE
A father and son out sheep-hunting had to be picked up by helicopter after the father was taken ill (FNM), while a master guide was fined $125,000 for several counts of illegal big-game hunting in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (FNM). While animals elsewhere live in fear of humans, reindeer in Sami lands are indulging their love of bananas (Canadian Geographic).
On the nautical side of things, the Belzebub II successfully made it through the most northerly version of the Northwest Passage ever to be traversed by a sailboat (CBC), and the Arctic Row crew successfully made it from Inuvik to their finish line at Point Hope, setting several records in the process (arcticrow.com).
In other sports news, Iqaluit’s citizens will get to vote on a referendum deciding whether the city gets to borrow CAD$40mn to build a new aquatic center (CBC). The Yukon Ultimate Frisbee Association is enjoying a few last games towards the end of its season (WS), as are skateboarders in Whitehorse (WS). The Whitehorse Curling Club’s rink should in theory become a lot more expensive over the course of the next couple of years, and the city is deliberating as to whether the club should get a break or not (CBC). Two sisters just biked 1,000km of the Dempster Highway from Whitehorse to Fort McPherson (CBC).
THE GRAB BAG
Now to all the news that fits nowhere else…
A 931-pound pumpkin appeared at the Alaska State Fair (FNM). / Apparently there were topless women having paint splashed on them at the ONS conference in Norway? What? (AB) / A jet carrying 163 people skidded off a runway in the northern Yamalo-Nenets region, but all aboard escaped before the jet burst into flames (MT). / A “lost” hiker in Iceland spent several hours as part of a search party looking for…herself (HuffPo). / A really fun profile of the adventures of cameraman Doug Allan in the Arctic is worth a read (Scotsman). / The latest edition of the Arctic Herald is out, and looks awesome. Looking forward to having time to read it myself. / The Venice Biennale will play host to an exhibition of possibilities for Greenland’s civilian future (archdaily.com). / A grizzly killed a lone hiker in Denali National Park, the first time a fatal mauling has occurred in the park. The bear was killed afterward by rangers (FNM). The area near the kill site was closed (FNM). It was speculated that the hiker’s camera might hold clues (FNM), and indeed, the last photos show the bear looking up and moving towards the photographer (FNM). / A sailor reported missing from a boat in port at Kirkenes has (probably) been found dead on the town’s outskirts (BO). / Rich-person transport vessel The World has gotten permission to transit the Northwest Passage (NN, photos on Facebook). / The latest issue of Environment Industry Magazine is out. / Glaciologists are helping crews in Alaska to recover the remains of a plane crash from the 60’s (AD). / Greenland’s Vice Premier and Minister for Housing, Infrastructure and Transport, Jens Frederiksen paid a visit to a satellite installation belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA). / Back in 2011, Nature released a series of useful maps of the “new” Arctic – here they are again. / 70 historic vehicles are on their way back southeast along the Alaska Highway (CBC). / A personal memoir of a childhood at a fishing camp from the Athabascan Woman blog is a nice read.
It’s been another great week for photo essays. Enjoy (1) a surreal, edited series of Arctic landscapes from Sarah Anne Johnson, (2) a selection from Olaf Otto Becker’s “Broken Line” series, taken off the west coast of Greenland, (3) a tumblr blog of photos from Alaska’s National Forests, (4) a library of historical polar images from Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute, (5) a series from the Arctic Imperative Summit, (6) the last days of a trip to Greenland from Rebecca Barfoot, (7) the city of Norilsk – a great photo-essay for industrial-wasteland junkies and (8) Russia’s Arctic cities, from Justin Jin, which is also a read of the week. Amazing photos.
Or you could enjoy these individual photos of (1) Svalbard’s ocean and mountains, (2) bison on the side of the road in the Northwest Territories, (3) a group of young singers on stage in Kuujjuaq, (4) Varanger, Norway, photographed from the air, (5) Alexandra Falls in the Northwest Territories, (6 & 7) awesome photos of sled dogs, (8) Banks Island, Nunavut, (9) a small cairn overlooking a valley, from the wonderful Clare Kines, (10) Reindeer on Richards Island, NWT and (11) a little bunting in Varanger.
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