|Céline Clanet / extract from her project on the sámi village |
of "Máze""Waiting for Ante, 2008" - celineclanet.com
By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 8 September to 14 September 2012
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Thanks for joining us this week! We take the time to find the most interesting stories, the best writing and the threads that tie it all together. If you like what you read, please share it with others. Your feedback and comments are always welcome; feel free to contact the author directly. All opinions and any mistakes are the author’s own.
Please note: there will be no TATW next week as the author takes a well-deserved vacation.
READS OF THE WEEK
I’ll be honest with you; no one article struck me as an absolute must-read this week. This selection of six will nonetheless give you some good breadth, some interesting perspectives, and some decent writing if you haven’t got the time to burrow further.
First, two on Russia. One from Voice of Russia goes into appealing depth and detail on the past, present and future of that country’s icebreaker fleet. There’s lots of great information here. A second from Natural Gas Europe stunned me primarily in its last paragraph, where – if I interpret it correctly – it suggests that prices for gas imported to Europe range from $2 per million BTUs up to $12 per million BTUs. Is this even possible?
Now to two articles on the US. In Eye on the Arctic, Tony Hopfinger asks the extremely important question: If politicians, oil executives and environmentalists were forced to choose today between drilling in waters sixty miles offshore or drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – both federal territory, both environmentally sensitive – which would they pick? It’s an important way to reframe the debate on drilling in the Arctic. Second, an article from E&E on the science that Shell itself did prior to entering waters off of Alaska is useful because, to be frank, it’s neither challenging nor novel to condemn Shell’s Arctic work these days, and I appreciate seeing the other side of the story as well.
Moving finally to Canada, Facebook itself put out a nicely-written narrative of the “Feeding My Family” initiative, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which exists to monitor the world for signs of nuclear explosions, put together a fascinating video about upgrades to a seismic-monitoring station near Yellowknife.
Our thanks to Céline Clanet for use of the photo “Waiting for Ante” illustrating this week’s news. Ms Clanet’s photographs of the Sámi in Norway, among other things, can be enjoyed at leisure on her website.
BLOOD & TREASURE
The US Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf‘s patrol of the Arctic Ocean as part of Operation Arctic Shield is an exciting first for the USCG (Coast Guard Alaska blog). Not a first, but also exciting, the Coast Guard was called upon to medevac a man off of a fishing vessel far out in the Bering Sea (ANN). An article in Alaska Dispatch covers the Canadian Coast Guard’s Swiss-army-knife function in that country’s Arctic waters, while the debate over whether it’s appropriate and/or legal for Canadian drones to monitor Canadian soil continues to simmer in political and legal circles (HP).
The world is evidently fascinated by Russian plans to build the largest nuclear-powered icebreaker ever. The BBC points out that the new equipment could help to increase trade volumes through Russian waters, as does EOTA, while Voice of Russia provides a fun 4-minute video explaining the plans behind the vessel. A good article from Scientific American gives a couple more details on the ship itself, and puts the development plans in context of Russia’s broader Arctic nuclear strategy (including a floating nuclear power plant?), but the best article of the batch comes from Voice of Russia, which looks at the past, present and future of Russia’s nuclear icebreaking fleet.
It isn’t just icebreakers, either: the new nuclear sub Kazan will apparently be outfitted with a whole suite of new state-of-the-art technologies (BO), and Russia’s only nuclear-powered cruiser has apparently gotten underway for a training session in the Kara Sea (BO). Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that strategic bombers had done overflights of the Barents, North and Norwegian seas as well (RIAN). Next door in Norway, the sale of a submarine base near Tromsø is taking a while (AB), while in Iceland a four-day joint exercise under the auspices of the Arctic Council agreement on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue is underway (Iceland Review). Finally, an article from Duncan Depledge and Klaus Dodds via the Royal United Services Institute (UK) takes a very positive perspective on British participation in Exercise Cold Response earlier this year.
For general writing from reputable sources on the risks and potential benefits of pursuing Arctic resources, check out this article from National Geographic or this popular op-ed from the New York Times, neither of which covers new ground but both of which are decently written.
[Shell in Alaska]
It was entertaining to watch online as posts announcing that Shell’s drilling had come to an abrupt halt preceded, and mingled with, posts heralding the end of civilization as that same drilling began. After a remotely operated vehicle had surveyed the sea floor for any unexpected hazards, the Noble Discoverer began drilling an 8 ½ inch pilot hole down to 1300-1400 feet (ADN). The rig has eight anchors holding it in place at the Burger prospect and 900 people stationed on- and off-shore to support its activities. Not 24 hours later, the web was alight with gleeful tweets proclaiming that Mother Nature had decided to put a stop to things herself as a 30x12-mile ice field moved to within 105 miles of the drilling site (NOAA photo), and Shell moved the rig away from the prospect.
The HuffPost managed to speak with Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith who, accurately, pointed out that this was the safe thing to do and was “in accordance with our approved Chukchi Sea Ice Management Plan,” and the company says it is still a decade away from actual production (LA Times) anyway. “Chevron drilled the last Chukchi Sea well 21 years ago. Shell was responsible for the only other wells in the sea — four that were drilled from 1989 to 1991” (fuelfix.com). If you prefer video coverage of the whole thing, CNN.com can serve your needs. A quick search today didn’t lead to any articles suggesting that drilling has gotten started again yet.
Here’s something you hadn’t heard about Shell: they (a team led by Michael Macrander) have in fact done a good bit of science of their own on the ecosystems at and around their drilling sites. Read this article from E&E News for a perspective we don’t often get.
[The Scarabeo 8]
Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) early this week did agree to investigate the recent incident in which the massive drilling rig Scarabeo 8, working for Eni in the Barents Sea, began to take on water in a ballast tank and listed several degrees, causing a general and well-warranted freak-out on board (AB). Apparently the Norwegian Maritime Authority had warned the PSA about issues with the rig’s ballast tanks before it was approved (AB). Let the finger-pointing begin. And indeed, a day later, the PSA suggested that “there is no indication of any connection between [the defect described by the Maritime Authority] and last Wednesday’s stability incident” (AB).
[Other news from Alaska]
First, you’ll enjoy a photo series on the communities and infrastructure near to the drilling operations in Alaska, from Alaska Dispatch.
A couple of weeks ago we pointed to news that the Department of the Interior had presented its preferred plan for development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, with about half the square mileage of the NPR open to development and half left for wildlife conservation. This week, Governor Sean Parnell announced that he felt the state’s point of view on the matter had been flagrantly ignored, and that it would thus be pulling out as a “cooperating agency” from federal development plans (AD, LA Times). Tony Hopfinger via EOTA asks the fascinating (but, sadly, useless) question – “If politicians, oil executives and environmentalists were asked today to make a choice between drilling in ANWR or in the Arctic Ocean, which would they choose?” It’s this kind of re-framing of the question that helps to make the economics of these issues clearer for everyone; nicely done. Lastly, a report covering fossil-fuel and geothermal resource bases that could serve communities around Alaska was released today by the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, complementing a similar survey on renewable resources that’s already been completed (akbizmag.com).
[Other news from Norway]
The state of the Norwegian oil industry generally is becoming more and more of a hot topic these days, as salaries in the industry explode and the industry’s share of the overall Norwegian economy – currently one-fifth of GDP, and half of government spending (AB) – continues to grow. The industry is becoming increasingly attractive to young people (AB), who are beginning to tailor their studies to meet the demand for engineers. Worries that this is damaging all of Norway’s other industries and leading to an imbalanced economy led Statoil CEO Helge Lund to suggest, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the desired changes should be accomplished “with cutbacks in the state budget, not by regulating the industry” (AB). At the same time, the industry is asking the government to do something to hold oil-sector wages in check, fearing that the high costs of working in Norway are making Norwegian oil less cost-competitive with equivalent resources from other nations (Bloomberg).
Despite all this hullabaloo, both total production and sales numbers for August 2012 for the country seem to be below the numbers for July (AB), although more companies than ever before (47) have applied to seek resources even in mature areas of the Norwegian Continental Shelf (AB). The Petroleum Directorate announced this week that a new batch of seismic data in the Barents near Jan Mayen has been acquired as well, with no problems in the process (Offshore), and the industry’s eagerness to make long-term investments is clear, with Statoil looking ready to purchase a $230mn floating storage unit for use in the Norwegian Sea (AB). There’s incredible new subsea technology in the works as well (AB). Statoil also signed two long-term contracts for shuttle tankers to be used in the North and Barents Seas (Tanker Operator), but all is not roses: dramatic cost overruns at the Yme platform on the Norwegian Continental Shelf appear to be part of the reason that John Manzoni, CEO of Canadian energy company Talisman, has stepped down (AB).
News from Russia was haphazard this week as a couple of big stories fell off the first page. Gazprom and Lukoil may be considering a “strategic partnership” to work on deposits in the Russian Arctic (UPI), while President Putin instituted new rules intended, in essence, to make it very difficult for the European Commission to investigate Gazprom’s possibly anticompetitive trading practices with Europe (BBC). President Putin attributed the investigation to a venal European desire to relieve itself of the burden of subsidizing Eastern European economies (Natural Gas Europe). Gazprom is meanwhile looking to perhaps-friendlier partnerships eastward, signing as it did this week an agreement with Japan's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy to build an LNG plant in Vladivostok (Natural Gas Europe).
A great blog from Platts covers Nord Stream, Shtokman, and what the success of the first and failure of the second might mean for Russia’s oil and gas industry as a whole, while a short but informative article from Natural Gas Europe points to the insane variation in natural-gas prices across sellers and buyers in Europe per million BTU (from $2 from the US to the UK, up to $11 from Russia to Germany – am I misreading this?). More seismic surveying is underway in Russia’s Pechora and Kara Seas (Offshore), while Voice of Russia took the time to assemble a good profile of the Prirazlomnaya platform itself, which I at least appreciate.
A seriously amazing series of photos covering the preparation and execution of Greenpeace’s action at the same platform is definitely worth perusing (captions in Russian), and in the Komi Republic, a group of representatives of indigenous peoples from Russia’s Arctic regions signed a declaration asking for, in essence, a dramatic scaling-back of existing and planned Arctic drilling (Intercontinental Cry). Elsewhere, Murmansk is preparing a new database to support its oil-spill response capabilities (BN).
The absence of discussion of a national energy strategy at a meeting of Canada’s federal and provincial energy ministers was duly noted in the Canadian press (G&M), and the presence of a tiny British firm – perhaps stupidly named “Franklin” – as a player in a recent Canadian Arctic auction drew some attention as well (G&M). The Liard First Nation in Yukon indicated that it would plan to veto oil and gas development in the southeastern Yukon over a sense that it’s not being treated as an equal partner by the territorial government (EOTA), while the Kluane First Nation will be monitoring conditions on the shore of Kluane Lake for a year prior to installation of some planned wind turbines (CBC).
At a personal level, the Arctic Energy Alliance in the Northwest Territories is undertaking a project to train students to install wood-pellet stoves, offering a substantial rebate to homeowners who are willing to let this training happen in their houses. A new machine that converts waste plastic into crude oil – the first of its kind operating in North America – might meanwhile add to the energy independence of Whitehorse (CBC). Other than that, a HuffPost writer pointed out that Canada’s taxpayers could well be on the hook for most, if not all, of the damages caused by any spill in Canadian Arctic waters, as the country’s absolute liability cap is CAD40mn. In Scandinavia, Finns are crossing the border en masse to reach cheaper Russian gas (BN).
The biggest mining news of the week was that the Nunavut Impact Review Board approved Baffinland’s Mary River iron project, though it imposed 184 conditions on the project’s operations (NN). If you’re interested in exploring all 184, the full report is available online. The $4bn project will hold a number of records, including its titles as the largest industrial development in Canada’s North and builder of the only railroad in Canada north of the treeline. An important direct quote from the CBC article: “Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), Nunavut’s land claims organization, and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), a regional organization under Nunavut Tunngavik, which represents the Inuit of Baffin Island, stand to earn billions in royalties if the project goes ahead. But they're also supposed to represent Inuit, and advocate for the culture and health of Nunavummiut. The QIA is negotiating an Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement with Baffinland.”
[Other Canadian news]
The Conference Board of Canada published a study indicating that declining commodity prices for minerals and a number of changes to projects in Canada’s three northern territories are negatively impacting near-term assessments of GDP growth for the North (mining.com), and the Northwest Territories in particular is looking at a decline in mining revenues (APTN). Other warnings of a bleak future for mining came from NNSO, which looks at the success of Parti Québecois as a herald of increasing hostility to private business in Québec. Some NWT residents are worried about the government’s plans to clean up the infamous Giant Mine (CBC), and dividends coming from Xstrata’s nickel mine in Nunavik to residents of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq can be a mixed blessing, as they also bump people into an income level that excludes them from welfare benefits (NN). Simultaneously, positive test results for the Freegold Mountain copper-gold project (CMJ) came through, and artists in Nunavut may benefit from soapstone and marble discarded at major metal mines in the Canadian North (CBC). The Diavik diamond mine’s underground sites have begun production (NNSO), and DeBeers and Peregrine have agreed on a cooperative agreement for the Chidliak diamond prospect (diamondintelligence.com).
For the best possible information and detail on the business side of mining north of 60, you’ll want to read the monthly newsletter of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines (August edition available here).
Next door in Alaska, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been tapped by the state government to ramp up its research into processing methods for rare-earth minerals (akbizmag.com), while the state’s Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys is busy with a $3mn effort to create a comprehensive map of Alaska’s “strategic and critical minerals” (FNM).
[Russia and Scandinavia]
Yakutia’s recent Diamond Week is the inspiration for a breathless article in Voice of Russia about the wonders of Yakutian diamonds, while a drier and shorter bit from diamondintelligence.com reports that Alrosa successfully rid itself of $2.2mn worth of large rough diamonds during the event.
The much-contested plan to develop a road through a nature park in the Khibiny Mountains to serve an apatite mine is being challenged by the Russian Geographical Society (BN). Suddenly this week as well, news cropped up of Korea’s interest in mining projects in Russia (Prensa Latina) and in Greenland (Reuters).
ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE and WILDLIFE
[New data on the changing climate]
An excellent article from Alaska Dispatch and another from the Korea Times cover the field in terms of the weird climatic changes we’ve seen this year and the potential weather impact of decreased Arctic ice cover. A dry but interesting post from a researcher with the NSIDC illustrates that larger ice floes are tough to find even at 83N this year, but – never fear! – though ice floes may vanish, you might be able to see trees in Nunavut in the next 100 years (NN). The continued disappearance of the Arctic sea ice was covered, briefly, by Aftenbladet, and a takedown of one Arctic-melt skeptic on the Arctic Sea Ice Blog is also worth reading, while one “Arctic” veteran believes – as I do – that it is too late to “turn back the clock” (Daily Record). [Side note: What do we talk about when we talk about “saving” the Arctic?]
Increased discharge of freshwater from Arctic rivers into the ocean may decrease salinity and support warming (SitNews). If you’re a visual learner, you can enjoy a video and some graphs from grist.org that illustrate the melting of ice near the North Pole this year, or check out a poster from APECS on the dangers that accompany thawing permafrost. Indeed, a new study suggests that thawing permafrost in Canada could release 68bn-508bn tons (that’s quite a range) of additional carbon into the atmosphere by 2100 (CBC).
The US election is sparking meta-observation about where climate change is being discussed and where not, including an acerbic article on the Huffington Post about the candidates’ competition to soft-pedal climate change as an issue. In contrast, it will be a central issue at the upcoming International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk in late October (BO). The apparent inaccuracies in the standard IPCC predictions of decline in Arctic sea ice may be cause for a change in the basic assumptions of Arctic climate science (ReNewEconomy), and improvements in the modeling that is used to predict weather in the UK are covered in Environmental Research Web.
How might we deal with this brave new world? A new study from MIT tracks the route that chemical pollutants take to reach Arctic environments, thus pointing out some possible areas for future research (MIT). Other researchers from Stanford University suggest that re-routing intercontinental flights to go around, rather than over, the Arctic would go some way to slowing the melting process (Conservation). Norway is planning to build a new observatory at Ny-Ålesund (BO), but in Alaska it’s the analysis of ancient human artifacts that might help to develop new strategies for living in a world of rapid climate change (phys.org).
And, if you’re the betting type, an amusingly dismissive post looks at prediction markets, where, by guessing that 2012 will be one of the warmest years on record, you can make “literally dozens of dollars of month”.
Recent reports from Alaskan Arctic waters of large groups of killer whales – unusual so far north – are interesting, but not necessarily indicative of generally increased presence of the large marine predators in Arctic waters (ADN). Recent research published in Science indicates that male killer whales lead much shorter lives after the decease of their mothers; the reasons are probably complex, and are not covered in the research, but I was also interested to learn that female killer whales live a lot longer than males on average (AD). Sticking with marine mammals, walruses are likely to be making good use of the giant ice field that’s been making life difficult for Shell (EOTA), the Center for Biological Diversity is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service to get them to hustle up and enact federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for bearded and ringed seals (AD, Chicago Tribune), and Alaskan sea otters might be not only adorable but also champions at keeping kelp forests flourishing, thus keeping carbon out of the atmosphere (EOTA). Finally, on the much smaller end of the spectrum, some fascinating new observations of tiny ice-dwelling Arctic crustaceans suggest that the creatures may in fact be adapting quickly and competently to a world with less ice (EOTA).
Next, to land animals living and dead. A biologist reports that he is seeing polar bears crammed into smaller and smaller areas and competing harder with one another for food as the ice pack recedes (NBC). The polar bear count in Northern Hudson Bay is scheduled to continue this year, with a voluntary quota of 60 for the year distributed between Nunavut, Québec and Ontario (CBC). Sticking with predators, a Science Friday post on Arctic wolves and their hunting methods is an interesting read. A mummified mammoth in Russia might – might – be the source of cells that would eventually enable cloning of the extinct animal (EOTA), but I am not holding my breath.
The famed Franklin expedition, and the contribution that Inuit histories are playing in the search, are covered in an interesting video from the CBC. The conclusion of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s role in the search is covered in a post from Captain Bill Noon. Though no ships were discovered, some human remains discovered are believed to be those of a crew member (CBC, WFP, National Post – National Post is the best of the bunch). A second new discovery was that an island has “broken free,” so to speak, of Franz Josef Land in the Russian Arctic (RIAN), while Russian and Canadian scientist-adventurers are planning the first ever over-ice venture from Russia to Canada via the North Pole in February of 2013 (BO, Arctic Portal).
In other news, the expedition to replace the crew of Russia’s floating Arctic research station North Pole 39 has set sail from Murmansk aboard the icebreaker Rossiya (VOR). The icebreaker Oden is meanwhile carrying a group of Norwegian researchers on a marine research cruise (BO), and the importance of the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s mission to map more of the Arctic this summer is covered in a good blog from Lieutenant Stephanie Young. A delightful post from graduate student Maria Pisareva with the RUSALCA cruise makes it easy to imagine life aboard her ship and others (NOAA). Lastly, a paleomagnetic research group from the University of Rochester is undertaking research in the Canadian Arctic (Campus Times).
A group of researchers has made some projections about likely fire and vegetation patterns in interior Alaskan parks under altered climate conditions (National Park Service). The Lepse, a ship that has been sitting in Murmansk’s harbor holding tons of nuclear waste, will be towed north and dismantled, with its nuclear contents taken for on-land storage elsewhere (Bellona). Looking for interesting opportunities for Arctic research next year? Check out Transnational Access’s call for applications.
THE POLITICAL SCENE
Canadian interest in establishing trade and investment relationships with China is the driving force behind a visit to the Asian giant by the Council of the Federation, a group of provincial and territorial premiers stopping in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from 13-20 September (GNWT). Premier McLeod of the Northwest Territories spoke to the Canada China Business Council, painting glowing pictures of the mineral and hydroelectric opportunities available to foreign investors in his territory (GNWT). An editorial in the Star Phoenix suggests that it’s in Canada’s interest to support China’s bid for observer status at the Arctic Council in order to build a stronger bridge to this “emerging” power, and Iceland’s President Grimsson also appears to see the potential of Chinese involvement in the region positively (PRI). Russia is also clearly interested in turning its attentions gradually eastward, sensing its own potential as a new trade corridor between the EU and Asian economies (RIAN). China Daily took a look at the simple logistical advantages of obtaining raw materials from Siberia vs overseas, while President Putin focused instead on cooperation at the higher end, working together on aircraft and nuclear technologies (ITAR-TASS). A solid overview of President Putin’s long list of interests in developing Russia’s Eastern connections during Russia’s APEC chairmanship comes from Global Times. China’s Arctic overtures aren’t universally friendly, though – Vice President Xi Jinping recently cancelled a visit with the premier of Denmark, giving no reason (IceNews), and Norway, without offering any particular explanation, appears to have had a coast guard vessel follow the Xue Long on part of its recent trip across the Arctic (BO). For a map of the Chinese vessel’s journey, turn to Arctic Portal.
China wasn’t the only Asian country in the news this week; South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visited Greenland and Norway, where – according to Yonhap News – PM Jens Stoltenberg agreed to work with South Korea to forge a “green” plan for development of the Arctic, as well as supporting South Korea’s bid for observer status at the Arctic Council. The talks also included discussion of future shipping routes and cooperation on science and technology (BO). A similar set of issues was discussed on President Lee’s visit to Greenland, where he met with Premier Kuupik Kleist and with the crown prince of Denmark (Korea Herald).
[International and Arctic Council news]
Ars Technica took a brief but competent look at the constellation of interests defining the Arctic as a policy bailiwick, and the CBC rehashed a series of territorial disputes, but the big news this week was that the EU may, at long last, be looking at an observer’s seat at the Arctic Council. It’s getting ready to set up an EU Arctic Information Center in the High North as well (BO). Researchers at the Hull High North conference at the University of Hull meanwhile suggested that having the EU at the table is likely to help produce more balanced outcomes in Arctic policy debates (campuspr.co.uk), but TAI’s own Andreas Østhagen points out – as the Hull High North researchers do, too – that the EU is in fact not an especially coherent actor, and that internal divisiveness could have a negative impact on its ability to usefully influence Arctic policy debates.
Further on the cooperative side, Iceland’s Foreign Minister Össur Skarphéðinsson at the Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians expressed his desire to see greater cooperation among Arctic states on environmental issues and search-and-rescue (MFA Iceland). You can read the complete end-of-conference declaration here. Russia’s Ambassador-at-Large Anton Vasilyev meanwhile expressed his belief that the overall political situation in the Arctic is positive, stable and predictable (ITAR-TASS, VOR). This was supported by Aleksander Gorban, the director of the economic cooperation department at Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said elsewhere that there was no likelihood of Arctic wars over energy or anything else (BN), and by Russian State Duma deputy Mikhail Slipenchuk, who is on the search for a way to formalize public-private partnerships in Arctic development (BN). The Russian foreign minister and US secretary of state also expressed their mutual belief in the importance of cooperation in the Bering Strait region, highlighted by a Transboundary Agreement for a special area of protection on both sides of the Strait (US State Dep’t). Simultaneously, a simplified visa process for businessmen and tourists wishing to travel in either direction came into effect (RIAN).
While US-Russia relations enjoyed some improvements this week, no love appears to have been lost in a recent meeting between Prime Minister Harper and President Putin (G&M), even if the two may have enjoyed talking hockey, and Canada’s relationship with the United States, though in no real danger, may be somewhat stressed by differing perspectives on the Northwest Passage (Geopolitical Monitor).
Lastly to the Law of the Sea Treaty, which Alaska’s senior Senator Lisa Murkowski continues to try to push in the face of opposition that thus far has been adequate to keep the US from ratifying it. Alaska Dispatch suggests that a concerted push from all of Alaska’s lawmakers, federal and state, would help matters (also see a video here of a brief interview with Senator Murkowski). There have been rumors that there might be an attempt to get it ratified during the lame-duck session post-election, but I wouldn’t bet on it (The Hill).
At the federal level, an editorial in the Globe & Mail makes a plea for, in essence, older lawmakers to make way for younger people who, in the eyes of the authors, are better-equipped to deal with the concept of a multipolar world. The authors’ basic assertion that the times in which we now live are somehow fundamentally different from all preceding eras indicates to me that they haven’t bothered to read much history or fiction, but I’m probably just too wizened, crotchety and addled to get it. The Ottawa Citizen meanwhile asks whether exemplary Canadian leadership at the head of the Arctic Council might not lead to a generally higher profile on the international stage.
At the provincial and local level, a proposed redistricting in Québec would split Nunavik – where voter turnout for the recent provincial elections was only 28% (NN) – into two separate ridings (NN). Madeleine Redfern responded to an editorial in Nunatsiaq News last week with a series of corrections and additions. In the NWT, budget negotiations for the coming year will now take place in part in each of the territory’s major population centers (GNWT), and the important news came that the Gwich’in Tribal Council has decided to re-join the devolution negotiations between the federal and territorial government (GNWT, CBC).
A lengthy piece from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace laying out a vision for Russia’s future climate strategy is thorough, well-researched and well-reasoned, though whether it might be actually read and adopted into Russian policy…who can say? Perhaps the biggest news out of Russia, however, was President Putin’s parrying at the APEC conference of derision hurled at him after his white-crane stunt last week; he said that, indeed, it was only the weak birds who had failed to follow him aloft (Guardian). This was followed by a confession (was it needed?) that some (many?) of his stunts have been staged (Telegraph).
Elsewhere, the rising value of Iceland’s krona is slowing inflation in the country (IceNews).
Based on the quality of most of the “discussion” that takes place on Facebook, I didn’t expect to thrill to the “Facebook Stories” telling of the Feeding My Family initiative, run by Leesee Patapsie, but it’s well done, comprehensive with an appealing narrative. When food is apparently not so easy to afford in many Northern communities, it’s incomprehensible to me that vandals would have taken it into their heads to trash the food bank in Inuvik (CBC). But then, so many things are incomprehensible to me. In Iqaluit, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board held a meeting to look at harvesting practices and policies for beluga, walrus and narwhal (NN). Nunavut Tunngavik Inc said that “Inuit need all of the total allowable harvest for all of those species within the Nunavut settlement area” (NN), but Makivik, which represents Inuit from Nunavik, did not attend the meeting (NN).
Health issues other than nutrition were on the table as well, with a new documentary working to tackle suicide rates among native Alaskans (AD) and a difficult-to-read open letter in Alaska Dispatch from a Kotzebue resident addressed to those who bring alcohol and drugs into the community, and who thus light the fuse on a powder keg of sexual violence, neglect and abuse. Next door in the Northwest Territories, the town of Hay River is preparing a new outpatient addiction-treatment program to attack just such issues (CBC), and Nunavik is preparing an aggressive and comprehensive new plan for the same purpose (NN), but an editorial in NNSO argues that a treatment center is missing where it’s needed most: in Yellowknife.
The Canadian Paediatric Society is considering how to reduce the gap between rates of accidental injury and death for aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadian children (CBC), while medical students at the U of Ottawa are getting an education in Northern native cultures in an effort to encourage more medical staff to head North, where the need is great (APTN). For a more comprehensive understanding, you may want to look at the government study “Well-Being in Inuit Communities” which covers the period 1981 to 2006.
[Infrastructure and transport]
The presence of a new mine could do more harm than good for individuals’ power prices in Yukon (CBC), while upgrades to water and waste infrastructure in Unalaska will come with commensurate cost increases for residents there (AD).
Construction and demolition featured prominently in this week’s news as well with the opening of the new Nunatsiavut government assembly building in Hopedale, Newfoundland & Labrador (ITK, a picture of the chamber here), record-setting home sales in Yukon (CBC) and the announcement of “Plan Nunavik” to complement the Québec government’s Plan Nord with a greater emphasis on self-direction of development by Nunavimmiut themselves (NN). It was also announced that a massive new Orthodox cathedral is being built in Murmansk (BO). On the demolition side, a decommissioned bunker and two communication towers in Iqaluit are slated to go (NN), and inspection work on a government-owned dock in Yellowknife means that houseboat owners will have to clear out for a bit (CBC).
[Culture, education and community life]
In tri-lingual Nunavik, the Kativik school board declined a plan to hire two full-time French-speaking teachers to teach francophone children in French (NN), but the Québec provincial education department sees the issue differently, and ordered Kativik to accommodate the children; the school board was given two days to come up with a plan (NN). A representative of the Inuit community used the debate to assert that there’s a need as well for Inuttitut language and culture education, as both traditions are slowly fading (NN). Next door, Nunavut Arctic College has added two new teachers of Inuktitut language and culture to its staff (Nunavut Echo), while a children’s show focused on aboriginal language, Tiga Talk!, is returning for its fourth season on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (ICTMN).
In the arts, Kuujjuaq’s young hip-hop club gave their first performance over the weekend (NN) while, in Nunavut, an Oxford researcher is trying to learn more about the history of a collection of miniature carvings, some of great age, from the region (NN). A new memoir by Sheila Watt-Cloutier which explores “the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture […] in the face of past, present, and future environmental degradation” should be released in fall of 2013 (NN), while a photo essay on the Nenets reindeer herders of the Nenets (RBTH) and a photo album and videos on Gjoa Haven, Nunavut (CBC) are both worth your time to look through. Lastly, Cape Dorset artist Shuvinai Ashoona’s drawings are being seen more and more on the international stage (G&M).
On the administrative side of things, federal funding for Northern aboriginal groups in Canada will be cut by at least 10% in 2014 (CBC), and the field running for the office of Iqaluit mayor to replace Madeleine Redfern is shrinking (CBC). In Iqaluit, a 31 year old man took a woman hostage early Wednesday morning with butter knives; a standoff with the RCMP ended peacefully with the man in custody and the woman unharmed (CBC, NN). ITK was active on the international stage at the meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in South Korea, where the organization co-sponsored a successful motion to establish a new active category for indigenous peoples’ organizations (NN).
BUSINESS & INDUSTRY
[Ships and Ports]
Construction of a new port for coal export in Murmansk needs to take place in a hurry to take advantage of the fact that coal prices, which may fall in the future, are still high enough to justify the investment, says Mia Bennett in EOTA. The failure of the Shtokman project meanwhile leaves the development of a special economic zone at Murmansk’s primary port as an important alternative driver for the city’s economy (BN). Nearby, Arkhangelsk is undertaking some much-needed repairs and upgrades to its own river port (BN), while Rosmorport says the city’s major commercial port would benefit mightily from enjoying status as a special economic zone, similar to Murmansk (BO). Next door in Norway, an insanely high production-value pitch movie for Tromsø as the site of a new port and industrial park to support oil and gas work nearby just showcases, to my eye at least, how one must have money to attract money.
In shipping itself, an interesting if not revolutionary article on the Northwest Passage, as well as on Churchill, Manitoba as a possible future port, is worth a scan (Michael Byers’s blog), while the record for cargo volume on the Northern Sea Route looks likely to be broken in the near future (BO). Voice of Russia takes a look at Novatek’s recent runs through the Northern Sea Route as evidence of the corridor’s viability for international shipping, as long as there is strong support from Russian icebreakers. In the US, a Seattle firm is purchasing three new Arctic-ready tugboats to add to its fleet for work in the Chukchi and Beaufort (AD), and the Russian transport agency is investigating a collision between two trawlers that took place in the Barents this past week (BN). Is it already so crowded there?
One of the speakers at the Hull High North conference this past week pointed out that a prudent response to climate change-induced alterations in Arctic fisheries would be to hold off on fishing in international waters until further studies into sustainable management are done (fishupdate.com – a site with terrible layout and lots of ads). At a more local level, the US Department of Commerce has officially declared Alaska’s terrible run of king salmon a “disaster,” which means fishermen in that industry are eligible for federal relief (FNM), and an infant commercial halibut fishery on St Lawrence Island may offer some prospect of income to the local residents, who have little industry to speak of (AD). Much further south, a fisherman whose boat sank managed to stay afloat in a plastic fishing bin for more than a day, until he was rescued by the Coast Guard (FNM). Elsewhere, local small-time fishers near Hay River, NWT are saying that new rules are strangling their businesses (CBC). Russian rules on fishing trawlers are inadvertently keeping away newer, better-condition boats, leaving in Russian waters only more decrepit vessels (BO). Countries that share fisheries with Iceland and the Faroe Islands – most noteworthily, Scotland and Ireland – continue to be livid with the island nations over what are seen as greedy fish hauls (IceNews).
[Other industrial news]
The Russian port of Sabetta is the envisioned terminus for a proposed Russian Northern Latitudinal Railway, which would almost without a doubt help to get the production – hydrocarbon or otherwise – of Siberian industries out and to markets elsewhere (rusbiznews.com). ATCO, a services company working in the Canadian North and elsewhere, has taken over some lodging facilities and construction equipment at Resolute Bay in Nunavut (press release). On the tourism front, Russians are beginning to see profit potential in investing in tourism infrastructure in Rovaniemi, Finland (BO).
THE SPORTING LIFE
A big week for sports! In Scandinavia, a story on the opening of moose season in Sweden is not really about moose season at all, but about a hunter who shot a bear out of season (EOTA). Also in Sweden, two stuck hikers have now been rescued, so we can all relax and go back to what we were doing (EOTA). Hockey violence – which may be a primary reason that many people watch the sport – could turn out to be an expensive indulgence for a couple of Finnish teams (YLE). In a surprising football/soccer upset, Iceland defeated Norway 2-0 in a qualifying round for the World Cup (IceNews). If you’re of the economic class that permits you to consider dog-sledding in Northern Norway as a vacation, then I suggest you take in an article from the Telegraph with some recommendations as to how best to enjoy it. Failing that, you could follow in the steps of some kayakers on a probably-equally-expensive adventure to kayak frigid, dangerous rapids in Norway and Greenland (Outside).
In Canada, nine caribou hunters from Cape Dorset found themselves stranded on Coats Island, their return path blocked by shifting ice, but were later rescued and returned, somewhat the worse for wear, to Coral Harbour (CBC). The Pierre Radisson is to be credited with the rescue operation (CBC). The Whitehorse Star tells us this week that the curling club has negotiated an acceptable lease, and thus will have a season after all, and that the Yukon Orienteering Club is going strong, with a weekday evening event last week. Is Whitehorse the most athletic city north of 60? So it would seem. On Baffin Island, two Australians are charged with illegally paragliding off of Mount Thor, which sounds like the title of an independent film (CBC).
Lastly, in Alaska, what seems like a small and strictly-regulated number of permits is being issued to shoot antlerless moose (FNM). About 730 hardy souls were registered for the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon, which was run on Saturday (FNM). More whimsically, a couple from Fairbanks rode unicycles along the unpaved portion of the Denali highway last month. Their dogs went, too (FNM).
THE GRAB BAG
Now to those pieces of news that fit nowhere else.
A wonderful, if brief, profile of the communities on Alaska’s St Lawrence Island almost made it as a Read of the Week (EOTA). / A 5.1 earthquake hit near Severnaya Zemlya (VOR). / The finances of the Yukon Humane Society are apparently a shambles; they were given until Friday to put things in order (CBC). / 10th-century Icelandic sagas appear to show evidence of “racial profiling” of homicidal Vikings (IceNews). / Who should help with the raising of the sunken nuclear sub K-27? Other than Russia, Rosneft? Norway? (BO). / Hermione Granger apparently doesn’t like to eat puffin. What a freak (IceNews). / Iceland is apparently promoting itself as a tourist destination by taking suggestions for the renaming of the island nation (HuffPo). / Pleistocene-era animals of the Canadian Arctic apparently grace a series of Canadian $300 coins (numismaster.com). / The visit of members of the royal family to Iqaluit turned many heads (NN on Facebook). / Plans for remediation work on a tank farm near Whitehorse are generating concern among the city’s citizens (WS). / Statoil’s new Fornebu office building, which looks to me like an abandoned game of Jenga, apparently strikes other eyes as a return to the gentle, flowing aesthetics of the Soviet Union (AB). / Relatedly, an 18-year old in Stavanger, born several years after the Soviet Union dissolved, is starting an oil-services company (AB). I have never felt so ancient. / A man crossing the river border between Russia and Norway to take a picture was arrested, but at least he was arrested in Norway (BN). / The road into Denali National Park has already been closed twice this season for snow and ice (FNM), and a winter-weather advisory was issued for the eastern Alaska Range (FNM). The first hard frost of the season also came in Fairbanks (FNM). / The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which monitors atomic blasts worldwide with sensitive seismic monitors, is upgrading its facilities near Yellowknife (CTBTO on YouTube). / Roald Amundsen’s Maud is, at long last, planned to make the journey home to Norway next summer (G&M), and if you like you can even watch an animation of what the raising process will entail. / Fish in Bennett Lake apparently suffered at the careless hands of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, which dumped dirt and stones into the lake while conducting repair work (CBC). / The University of Alaska Fairbanks has opened its 4th Arctic Innovation Competition (FNM). $10,000 prize for first place.
First, we’re thankful to Céline Clanet for the use of the photograph illustrating this week’s news. Enjoy her whole photo essay on the Sámi of Norway here. Three other worthwhile photo essays come from National Geographic (photos of polar wildlife from Paul Nicklen), from Wired Magazine (glacier photographs from James Balog) and from Cody Forest Doucette – the best series of the lot – looking at the Northwest Territories’ Nahanni National Park from the air.
Then enjoy these individual photos from the reliably awesome Clare Kines of (1) the super-yacht Octopus in Arctic Bay, (2) a beautiful dawn or dusk, and (3, 4) two sandpipers (I think). Follow that with other great landscape shots of Ibex Valley, a snowy forest, Kluane Lake and Alexandra Falls, then with pictures of (5) snow crystals on trees in Oymyakon, (6) the Lena Pillars in Yakutia, (7) a snow-covered mountain in Alaska and (8) a whole slew of adorable white Yakut laika puppies.
On the video side, you can spend a few minutes with an awesome reel of archetypal Arctic scenery, the northern lights in Denali National Park, or an autumn day in Yakutsk.
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Canadian Mining Journal (CMJ)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Huffington Post (HP)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
Moscow Times (MT)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Ottawa Citizen (OC)
RIA Novosti (RIAN)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)