Monday, December 10, 2012

The Arctic This Week 2012: 1 December – 7 December 2012




By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week 2012:44
1 December – 7 December 2012

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READS OF THE WEEK

The single best item I came across this week is a truly breathtaking series of black-and-white photographs taken of the Nenets people of Siberia by photographer Sebastião Salgado (Guardian). Following that, you may well wish to ease your way back into the world of text with a beautiful but more humble series of photos of the Finnish countryside in winter from Maria Laitinen.

The release of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card garnered much well-deserved attention this week, but the most engaging climate reporting was to be found in a series of three pieces from CNN, of all places. The first goes into fascinating depth about Greenland’s ice sheet. The second covers an “iceberg patrol” run off the southern coast of Greenland by the Danish Meteorological Institute, and the third is an “exposé” of ice islands, which are calving with ever-greater frequency into northern waters and becoming a “clear and present danger” to navigation and offshore platforms.

Move next to a fascinating article from Alaska Dispatch, which considers whether wind turbines held aloft by massive helium balloons could help solve the energy problems of Alaska’s remote communities. Follow that with the Economist’s thoughtful and thorough catalog of ongoing efforts to identify the technologies likely to be most useful for finding – to say nothing of cleaning – oil on the underside of floating ice. Finish with a rare and well-written article from Aki Tonami and Stewart Watters on Japan’s Arctic policy (Arctic Yearbook).

BLOOD & TREASURE

Cooperation between NATO countries and Russia experienced ups and downs this week. NATO and Russia appear to have agreed to a sort of free-form “better collaboration” which, though its few specifics have little to do with the Arctic, nonetheless speaks to the generally amicable relationship between the parties (NATO). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was at pains to make clear that their security collaborations are “aimed at no one” (ITAR-TASS). This week also saw the 20-year anniversary of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, a joint initiative on reduction of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons which Russia plans not to renew next year (RIAN). And Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was fairly clear about his feeling that protection of Russian sovereignty (which he seems to feel is under imminent threat) in the Arctic is a core element of Russia’s overall place in the world (RIAN).

One almost wants to look away from the Admiral Gorshkov situation, a foul stew of embarrassing failures and finger-pointing (Jamestown Foundation), but the submarine Severodvinsk has cleared its builder-testing phase (it will undergo state trials next year) (NTI) and the destroyer Severomorsk is hard at work on combat training in the Barents (Naval Today). It appears that Danish drones may soon have their day in the Arctic skies as well (Ingeniøren, in Danish).

In Canada, the Department of National Defence released word that inspection and design work for the Nanisivik Naval Facility is underway (CBC), and in the US a new communications system successfully connected Navy representatives in Barrow, Kotzebue, Anchorage, Colorado and Virginia on handheld devices (Arctic Sounder). While communications may be advancing, the lethargic development of the US icebreaker fleet led Popular Mechanics to sound a muted alarm bell this week in an interesting and informative article.

THE POLITICAL SCENE

[Circumpolar issues]

Let’s lead off with a great article by Heather Exner-Pirot which catalogs both the Arctic states’ growing interest in the region over the past few years and the jockeying between them for the “top spot” (EOTA). Ms Exner-Pirot’s article is usefully complimented by an interview from the Russian Council with Scott Highleyman and Ambassador David Balton, where the desire for Arctic cooperation, rather than competition, is reinforced. If you wish, follow that with an article from the Calgary Herald looking at the slow-motion legal gaming between the various concerned nations to see whose continental shelf goes the farthest, and finish up with a rare and well-written article from Aki Tonami and Stewart Watters on Japan’s Arctic policy (Arctic Yearbook).

And for the wonkiest among you, a conference (which looks fascinating, actually) is coming up in France (Wine! Cheese!) in summer 2013. It will be considering public policy in the Arctic. Have an abstract to submit?  E-mail Cécile Pelaudeix.

[Indigenous Actors]

An article and podcast from Radio Canada International, plus a short video from Eye on the Arctic, look at the EU’s seal-product ban and the efforts of Inuit in Canada and elsewhere to dispatch it. This week, however, it was the possibility of a trade ban on polar bear goods that brought Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, to Brussels to talk to the European Parliament (NN). A collapsed market for polar bear products could have a palpably negative impact on some Inuit communities (ITK).

Within Canada, the elections for the corporate secretary and vice president of Nunavik’s Makivik Corporation will take place early in 2013 (CBC). Elizabeth Copland, who has a long-standing involvement with the Nunavut Impact Review Board, has been named its new chairperson for a three-year term (NN). And a fascinating – and probably contentious – piece from John Ivison in Canada’s National Post looks at the developing mutual mistrust between First Nations and Canada’s federal and territorial governments. You’ll want to partner Mr Ivison’s article with a piece from Petroleum News looking at recent efforts by aboriginal residents of British Columbia to put a halt to the development of pipelines there.

[Canada & US]

The Canadian government’s announcement that it would use its Arctic Council chairmanship to “promote development and defend its policies” was met with a sort of skeptical frown by several experts who see that conception of the country’s two-year chairmanship as, perhaps, too narrow and a bit wrong-headed (CBC). Canada also appointed Dan McDougall as its latest ambassador for climate change (ipolitics.ca) and added Elisabeth Cayen to the roster of Nutrition North Canada’s Advisory Board (AANDC), but any enthusiasm over either appointment may well be dampened by the latest word that the government asked/instructed/ordered yet more federally-funded scientists not to speak to the press about their (one assumes politically sensitive) research (Canada.com).

Nunavut’s land-use planning commission is preparing to get to work on a unified map to guide development across the two-million-square-km territory (AD). Also in Nunavut, the RCMP’s territorial head will be retiring (CBC) and the RCMP has been unable to identify any meaningful evidence of wrongdoing by two Qulliq Energy administrators accused of using public goods for the most ordinary sort of private gain (CBC). Moving west to the Northwest Territories, the territorial government released the takeaways from its 2012 budget dialogue, most of which will be no surprise, and city councilors in the territorial capital of Yellowknife have found ways to cut CAD 300,000 from next year’s budget (CBC). Lastly to Yukon, where the mayor of Yellowknife spoke perhaps more plainly than clearly about federal cuts to the Parks Canada budget and how they should be remedied (WS). Also in Yukon, legislation to protect whistleblowers within the government is plodding along slowly but surely (CBC).

Next door in Alaska, Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell announced that he is considering running for the US Senate against Senator Mark Begich (AD).

[Russia & the Nordics]

The Valdai Club re-published a good analysis of the Russia-Europe relationship, asking whether current tension at the political level will overcome or be overcome by the impetus toward greater economic integration. Foreign Policy meanwhile asked whether Putin’s recent corruption purge has gotten out of hand, becoming less the showy plucking-out of a few bad apples and more an unanticipated exposé of apparently pervasive corruption. Barents Nova fleshed out the story with a brief note suggesting that state police have been told they are free to pursue corrupt officials, no matter what titles those officials may hold. The BBC considered what impact Putin’s re-election has had on media in Russia, while Prime Minister Medvedev went on television to defend the foreign agent law which has been so talked-about in international press in recent weeks (RIAN).

At the more local level, a criminal investigation continues into possible embezzlement in the course of the sale of the Murmansk oil transshipment terminal (BN), and border crossings between Russia and its neighbors Finland (BN) and Norway (BO) have been booming in recent months. Relatedly, it appears that Russians’ demand for Schengen visas very nearly exceeds the Finns’ ability to stamp and sign them (BO). In light of its massive neighbor’s ongoing corruption purge, it’s perhaps interesting to see that Finland is one of the world’s three least-corrupt countries in a recent ranking by Transparency International (YLE). One might note as well that while President Putin’s approval rankings plunge, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö enjoys approval ratings of 68% among his countrymen (YLE).

Lastly to Norway: Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide enjoyed a meeting with his American counterpart Hillary Clinton in which the two covered Arctic issues, among many others. Secretary Clinton’s smile in this Twitter photo makes one think the meeting can only have been amicable.

SCIENCE, CLIMATE & WILDLIFE

[The Arctic Report Card from NOAA]

The release of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card: Update for 2012 occasioned a real storm of articles revisiting, in different ways, the apparently disastrous course on which the Arctic finds itself. You’ll want to begin by going straight to NOAA’s own list of the key talking points or to an interview with NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. Should you wish for outside analysis, you can turn to the Guardian (plus a follow-up), the LA Times, Global News (Canada), Business Insider, Mother Jones and/or Discovery.

Satellite imagery shows that snow cover all around the Circle since June 2012 has been the lowest ever recorded (UPI). Perhaps even more dramatic, the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet and the rise of massive ice islands coming from the island’s glaciers are cause for no small alarm. CNN goes into fascinating depth about how, precisely, measurements of the thickness of Greenland’s ice sheet are captured, while Discovery provides more granular information about how Greenland’s regions and glaciers differ from one another. CNN continues its streak with engaging coverage of an “iceberg patrol” run off the southern coast of Greenland by the Danish Meteorological Institute, and follows last with an “expose” of ice islands calving with ever-greater frequency and becoming an ever-greater hazard to navigation and offshore platforms in northern waters. Climate Central published a similarly-themed article, and a new article in the Annals of Glaciology looks at the distribution of ice thickness during spring and summer for first- and second-year ice off of Svalbard.

[Doha]

NOAA’s release of the updated Arctic Report Card coincided with the ongoing round of climate talks in Doha, Qatar. Much of the reporting on this year’s round will look quite familiar to regular observers, but you’ll get a much more interesting perspective from John Crump’s blog posts for the UN Environment Programme’s GRID-Arendal center, all five of which illuminate beneath-the-surface issues from the talks. The UNEP also published a report recently looking at the danger posed by thawing permafrost to Arctic ecosystems and infrastructure, as well as in terms of the carbon dioxide that a mass thaw would release (BO).

The Arctic States released a statement at Doha calling “urgently upon the international community to limit the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius by cutting emissions of long lived greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, but also prioritizing Short Lived Climate Forcers (SLCF)” (WWF, NN), and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed to the drastic ice melt this summer as but one sign of an ongoing crisis (EOTA). Chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Aqqaluk Lynge urged representatives in Doha to recognize both the critical role that the Arctic plays in the world climate and the right of Inuit living in the Arctic to a healthy environment. He proposed the creation of a green technology fund to assist Arctic communities to cope with the impacts of climate change, which is largely not of their own making (NN). Lastly, representatives of opposing Norwegian political parties used the occasion of Doha to snipe at one another’s parties’ environmental platforms (AB).

[Other climate notes]

A new undersea deposit of methane hydrate discovered in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Canada is the shallowest yet discovered, and thus also the most susceptible to even mild warming (Nature). Another bit of new research indicates that soot dropped from Arctic overflights by commercial aircraft may contribute meaningfully to an increased rate of melting (NN). The National Snow and Ice Data Center released word that November had seen rapid ice growth, though overall extent is still near record lows for this time of year. The Leonard Lopate Show in the US interviewed the National Resources Defense Council’s Frances Beinecke and photographer Paul Nicklen about the changing Arctic climate, and the Terramar Project took a closer look at a couple of Greenpeace campaigners who are focused on the Arctic. Off of Alaska’s coast, amazing analysis of an undersea sediment core has helped scientists to identify a 1,500-year climate cycle in the Arctic (National Science Foundation).

Lastly, you’ll want to take a minute or two with NASA’s stunning visualization of winds around the Arctic over this past summer, and how they relate to changes in ice cover. I can’t even begin to imagine the volume of data and work that went into this brief visualization. Beautiful.

[Animals]

Canada’s policies on the hunting and management of its polar bear population have come in not just for criticism but for an actual dispute under NAFTA (CBC), while Nunavut residents who deal with polar bears as part of everyday life suggest that there are more and more polar bears, and that they are increasingly dangerous (APTN).

Black guillemots off of Alaska’s coast are likely to provide a fascinating case study; ice retreat may help or harm the colony on Cooper Island, and only time will tell (BBC). Whether it’s due to warming or not, it’s been a rough year for snowy owls, which are being seen in greater and greater numbers further south as they pursue food supplies which, scientists speculate, are inadequate up North (CBC).

Moving to the Arctic Ocean, you’ll enjoy the WWF’s narwhal tracker,  but research in Nunavut’s Cumberland Sound into deep-water species like turbot and Greenland shark has been summarily cut after locals expressed concern that acoustic sensors deployed as part of the project were driving away other species that are regularly hunted (CBC). In Alaska, an invasive plant in a waterway near Fairbanks has had a seriously negative impact on stocks of Arctic grayling there (Alaska Public Radio).

Those of you who prefer your animals fossilized or mummified will be pleased with an article from Radio Free Europe on the woolly rhinoceros, an Ice-Age inhabitant of Siberia.

[Weather]

Record lows and brutal temperatures are being recorded around the circle as winter deepens; Finland’s Vuotso in the North saw a new record low of -31.3 Celsius (YLE), photos from inuvikphotos.ca would suggest that the city is a frosty dystopia, and Fairbanks dropped to -40 Fahrenheit (FNM) with strong winds and blowing snow that affected travel on nearby roads (FNM). Nonetheless, air quality in North Pole, near to Fairbanks, has become worrisome in recent days (FNM), and North Pole residents are being asked to heat with oil rather than wood, if possible, to cut down on particulates in the air (FNM).

[Uncollected]

The 40th floating Russian Arctic research station will also be the last; suitable ice floes have become too difficult to find (BO). / Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC applauded Finland’s leadership in environmentally-friendly technologies (YLE). / The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge celebrated its mostly-unheralded birthday this week (Common Dreams). / The oil-fouled animals that have been found scattered around St Lawrence Island in recent weeks will remain a mystery (FNM). / Enjoy a grainy picture of a Norwegian diver approaching the hulk of the Maud under the Canadian ice.

ENERGY

[Russia]

A nice précis of the challenges facing Russia’s oil and gas champions in the years ahead is available from Thane Gustafson in the New York Times, and it dovetails neatly with a BBC interview in which Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, talks about a future in which European demand for Russian gas grows rather than falters. An op-ed in the Telegraph asks quite reasonably whether it’s sensible for Gazprom to pursue a Nord Stream pipeline extension that would bring Russian gas to Britain, and Gazprom appears to be looking eastward as well as it re-starts talks with China on a massive gas deal which, for the moment, is stalled by “differences of opinion” as to the appropriate price (RIAN).

ExxonMobil is doubtless feeling good about its newly-signed agreement with Rosneft to explore, and possibly to develop, 23 tight-oil license blocks in Russia’s Bazhenov and Achimov areas (Telegraph). Fellow giant Gazprom has meanwhile decided to increase its investment in the Yamal megaproject, which might be a boon for the Yamal region itself (rusbiznews.com). The project is already the fourth most expensive development project in the world (BO). Relatedly, Novatek’s development of the Yamal LNG project is ahead of schedule, or at least the development of the port at Sabetta seems to be (BO). Nearby, Lukoil and Zarubezhneft continue to lobby for access to Russia’s Arctic shelf (BO), and Lukoil – Russia’s largest privately-owned oil producer – also put in bids for 72 licenses in Norway’s Barents Sea (BO).

[Norway]

Like a puppy, everybody loved Norway’s oil industry when it was small. But as it grows, the requirements of its regular care and feeding are causing low-level anxiety in the country that “owns” it. The country’s latest oil-licensing round, with focus on 72 blocks in the Barents Sea, drew applications from 36 companies (AB), and the industry’s explosion means 3,000 new jobs coming on-line in the years ahead for rig workers on the Norwegian continental shelf (AB). It’s news that the US would kill for, but some businesses in Stavanger are desperate for qualified workers – in particular, hydrocarbon engineers (AB). Unlikely to drive further burly tradesmen to the industry’s welcoming bosom is the news that offshore welding work can lead to “reduced sex drive in male workers, [increased] risk of brain damage, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and prostate cancer, amongst other things” (AB). Dear god; what “other things”? Plague?

Though their health may be at risk, the souls of offshore workers are being well-cared for by priests who include the rigs in their regular rounds at Christmastime (AB).

In an article that seems to manage to contradict itself despite its brevity, Marine Link looks at a praiseworthy project led by Det Norske Veritas to develop universal standards for design of ice-ready offshore structures. If such construction is your thing, you’ll enjoy an article and video on the recent addition of the housing structure to the top of the Goliat field’s floating rig (BO); whatever your feelings about Arctic oil & gas, it’s hard not to be impressed by the engineering feat. Goliat is just one of the fields expected to contribute to the rising productivity of the Barents & Norwegian Seas; production from those two is expected to exceed that from the North Sea by 2037, says Rystad Energy (AB). Interest and activity is also growing in the Icelandic offshore; the government finalized licenses this week for the Dreki zone for Norway’s Petoro (Iceland Review, Arctic Portal), and for Scottish firm Faroe Petroleum (BBC), among others.

Last bit of news from the Nordics: An offshore wind project in Norwegian waters has been canned for the time being (AB).

[Alaska and the US]

Early in the week, the Flint Hills refinery announced it was no longer considering leading a project to truck LNG from Alaska’s North Slope to the Interior (Petroleum News). One wonders if they spoke too soon; at the week’s end Governor Sean Parnell announced a USD 355 million potpourri of incentives to encourage the production of LNG on the North Slope and subsequent delivery to the state’s Interior (FNM). Another potential solution for Alaska’s rural communities could be wind turbines lofted aboard massive helium balloons, a fascinating idea examined by Alaska Dispatch. Pair that with an article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek looking at the Diavik (NWT) diamond mine’s deployment of harsh-weather windmills to power its operations there.

Though Shell’s long sojourn under the penetrating gaze of press and NGOs this summer is at an end, the post-mortem continues. Democratic Congressman Ed Markey is after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to explain why the full results from the failed test of Shell’s well-capping stack (that crushed-like-a-beer-can thing) were not revealed (Northwest Public Radio & Fuel Fix). The company’s recent project update delivered at The Hague does mention that the capping stack was damaged, but eschews illustrative similes.

In preparation for an eventual spill of some kind in Alaskan offshore waters, Mike Myers of the U of Alaska Fairbanks is lobbying for the establishment of an oil-spill research center at the university (Petroleum News). Seems logical to me. The Economist also went to some pains to catalog efforts to identify the technologies likely to be most useful for finding – to say nothing of cleaning – oil on the underside of floating ice, while the research agenda for a Joint Industry Program looking at potential cleanup techniques and technologies for the Arctic environment is long and diverse (Oil & Gas Journal). The project, housed nominally under the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, has a budget of USD 21 million over four years, which does not seem like a painfully large commitment ($585,000 per year, per company) from funder-collective BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, ExxonMobil, North Caspian Operating Co., Shell, Statoil, and Total (Offshore Magazine).

There were many articles that came out of the Arctic Technology Conference in Houston this week, including word that – Stop the presses! – “oil spilled in icy areas may actually be easier to clean up” (Houston Chronicle). While China kept an eye on the proceedings (Xinhua), Minister David Ramsay from the Northwest Territories produced several pages of top-of-the-line politispeech nodding coldly to Canada’s National Energy Board while giving a come-hither gaze to the companies in attendance at the event (Gov’t of the NWT). Of interest to me, at least, were the two awards made for innovative new technologies to assist hydrocarbon operations in the Arctic environment (Oil & Gas Technology); one does so love new toys.

[Canada]

The Northwest Territories expects Imperial Oil to submit an application to drill offshore in the Beaufort; it will be a closely-watched trial run under the new standards of Canada’s National Energy Board (G&M). At the residential level, residents of Mendenhall in the Yukon are exasperated by their flaky electricity, but the Yukon Energy Corporation says it needs time and funds to upgrade the overtaxed transformer that is responsible for the ongoing issues (WS). And if innovative new residential energy solutions are of interest, you’ll definitely want to take some time with the articles in the new newsletter from the Northwest Territories’ Arctic Energy Alliance.

MINING

An article from the Conference Board of Canada offers a rosy outlook on the economic prospects of the northern territories, thanks to anticipated mineral development. The Mary River iron project, currently the best-publicized project in the northern mining industry’s complement of projects, received its official approval from the federal government this week (AANDC); it now moves into the certification process. The workshop for that certification will take place on the 18th and 19th of December in Iqaluit, and will involve representatives of numerous different regulatory bodies, all of whom will be working on sorting out licenses for the project (NN). Residents near to the eventual mine site seem to be looking forward to the jobs that the mine will hopefully create, helping to “get the younger generation into the wage economy” (CBC), and the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines is also happy to see the project move forward.

Elsewhere, the Gahcho Kué diamond project (DeBeers) is under consideration with the cautious and qualified support of the Government of the Northwest Territories (link 1, link 2). In a perhaps-surprising move, DeBeers seems to have reached an agreement with four Dene communities near the proposed mine site to work as one entity during the environmental-review process and in other capacities (CBC).

But not all is rainbows and puppies in Canadian mining. Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit and the Nunavut Impact Review Board are fighting a war of words over dates for an important meeting on the proposed Kiggavik uranium mine project (NN), and supervisors at the Tagish Lake gold mine in Yukon have been assessed a modest fine for ignoring safety orders from the territory’s inspectors (CBC).

For two larger collections of information on Canadian mining, look to the recently released November 2012 issue of Canadian Mining Journal and to the November newsletter from the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

[Elsewhere]

A mining boom in Finland’s North has citizens and government officials concerned about the (mostly foreign) owners’ transparency and openness about their operations (UPI), while the scale of resources and the absence of a mining tax in Greenland are beginning to draw the attention of Australian mining firms as well (miningaustralia.com). The semi-autonomous northern island passed legislation this week which will govern several aspects of mining projects in the country, including wages for any imported labor (Reuters).

OTHER BUSINESS AND INDUSTRIAL NEWS

[General Business and Econ News]

Standard & Poor’s gave the Republic of Sakha a BB+/stable rating this week, though its executive summary shows more concern than anything (Reuters), and Russia as a whole came out poorly against the other BRIC countries for ease and pleasure of doing business, as ranked by foreign firms (BN). Moody’s meanwhile hinted that it will give Finland an AAA rating (YLE) despite the fact that the country has now officially slipped into recession (YLE), and the Iceland central bank suggested that interest rates could rise further dependent on a number of different factors (IceNews).

Canada’s House of Commons released a report this week highlighting the numerous difficulties that attend investment in Canada’s North. Beyond the logistical challenges, the legal trouble of unresolved land claims makes investors wary (CBC). Contrast that with Finland, where two startups have been selected as among the world’s top 100 by Red Herring (YLE). In the US as well, the Chamber of Commerce’s Native American Enterprise Initiative is doubtless glad to be able to count the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation among its members (akbizmag.com).

 [Shipping]

The arrival of the Ob River, carrying its cargo of LNG, in Tobata, Japan was big news this week. A succinct article from Mia Bennett via Foreign Policy is worth a read as a summary, or you could turn to Aftenbladet, the Motley Fool or Quartz. Also this week, Russia announced that the Northern Sea Route administrative offices would be opening in 2013 (BN).

The development of a Polar Code to cover “design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters” for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters was one topic of discussion during a visit to Chile by the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (MarineLink), while an opinion piece in Juneau Empire reviews the Selendang Ayu accident from several years ago and points out that little has changed in terms of the support available to manage Arctic shipping and prevent disasters, at least in Alaskan waters.

[Fishing]

Murmansk authorities see recent data on the region’s fishing industry as “mid-level positive”, whatever that might mean (BN), and the International Pacific Halibut Commission is considering a pretty massive cut in allowable catch for fishermen in the coming year, due to being continually behind the curve in previous estimates of stock size (ADN).

[Other industries]

Chinese investor Huang Nubo’s headline-grabbing plans to build a tourist resort in rural Iceland are being revisited by government authorities, who say the original application was missing critical information (IceNews). Tourist numbers in Iceland are, in general, on a steep upward slope, with a 19.1% increase YTD over 2011 (IceNews). Authorities in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District are considering how a stronger agriculture industry might be developed in the district (Rus Business News), and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency is looking at sinking CAD 190,000 over two years into Nunavut’s fur industry (nationtalk.ca).

INFRASTRUCTURE, HEALTH, EDUCATION & ARTS

[This section is abbreviated; the following eight articles are the week’s stand-outs.]

Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin delivered himself of many, many opinions in an interview this past week which focused on what Mr Martin perceives as failures in Canada’s treatment of its aboriginal citizens (Edmonton Journal). Relatedly, Inuit women vastly outnumber men in terms of college enrollment and government employment; a study by the Nunavut Literacy Council will try to assess the reasons for that discrepancy (CBC).

A wonderful article from the Globe & Mail goes into great detail about the recently-opened Deh Cho bridge, which connects Yellowknife to the rest of Canada by road across the wide Mackenzie River. It’s timely, as an even more ambitious bridge to cross the Lena River from Yakutsk is under consideration. It’s expected to cost RUB 55 billion (so expect 110 billion) in the construction, and three firms are bidding already for the contract (Moscow Times). Barents Observer makes a reasoned pitch for the Barents Link, a rail extension that would link Scandinavian ports with the trans-Siberian railroad. Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come. And while cargo may one day make it safely from Vladivostok to Oulu, your luggage is unlikely to make it through Murmansk’s airport un-pillaged (BN). Beware!

Medical tourism continues to grow, and it’s not just from the US to India or Thailand; Russians are increasingly taking advantage of Finland for the same purpose (YLE).

Continued dissatisfaction in the Canadian North with the services provided by NorthwesTel has finally roused the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to seek out public input not just on NorthwesTel’s performance but on several other telecommunications-related issues as well (G&M).

SPORTS

[This section is abbreviated]

Perhaps a series of charity games played by NHL players in the Canadian North will continue; talks between the players’ union and the league collapsed on Thursday, apparently leaving league commissioner Gary Bettmann literally trembling with rage (CBC).

Four cross-country-skiing Yukoners have been selected as part of Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup in Alberta (WS).

Hunting permits allowing hunters to take caribou from the Fortymile herd near the Steese Highway would have been gone in seconds, had not the phone system shut down under the crush of incoming calls. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stopped issuing permits altogether, rather than continuing to do so unfairly (FNM).

PHOTO/VIDEO

There’s been a remarkable poverty of beautiful photo essays in the recent past, but we begin to make up for lost time this week. One beautiful series of photos of the Finnish countryside in winter comes from Maria Laitinen on her scandifoodie blog. Elsewhere, Katherine Brach chronicles the building of an ice road across the Mackenzie River. Mark Vogler put together a beautiful slideshow of photos from his autumn trip to Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and the Norwegian mainland. But the clear winner of the week comes from Sebastião Salgado, who chronicles in a series of breathtaking, otherworldly black-and-white photographs the Nenets people of Siberia (Guardian).

Beyond these essays, a good number of individual photos will go unmentioned this week, but I did not want to fail to point you to two more great photographs from Clare Kines, another from Flickr user Haukurr – Humpback whale, rising moon – which looks so patently unreal that it can only be real, and a beautiful contribution from Mads Pihl via 500px.com.

THE GRAB BAG

Now for some choice tidbits that fit nowhere else…

A Guinness World Record was set by Charlie Simpson, who played the coldest solo acoustic guitar set ever outdoors in Oymyakon, Russia (Daily Mail). / When you’re complaining about traffic in your city, stop, and instead think about last weekend’s traffic jam between St Petersburg and Moscow, which at times was stop-and-go for as much as 118 miles (RIAN). / Enjoy a slide show of dog-sledding in the Gates of the Arctic National Park (National Parks Traveler). / It’s been so cold in Fairbanks that the ice for a carving competition has been brittle and difficult to work (FNM). / I guess Murmansk will be proud as the home of the largest mall north of the Arctic Circle, slated to open in 2014 (BO). / Icelandic band My Head Is an Animal garnered amazon.com’s Album of the Year 2012 award (IceNews). / Russian volcano Plosky Tobachik continued to erupt last week, spewing ash aloft and offering some dramatic lava flows (BBC). / Google took the trouble to produce a doodle celebrating Finland’s independence day on December 6th (YLE). / The town of Jokkmokk in Sweden’s Arctic is desperate for a tax base and a lively community, and the town is bending over backwards to help foreigners arrive and settle there (The Local). / Among Rudyard Kipling’s many tales was a little-known Arctic story; his only one (NN – Taissumani).

ABBREVIATION KEY

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Bristol Bay Times (BBT)
BusinessWeek (BW)
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)
Naval Today (NT)
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)