The Arctic This Week 2013:17
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As always, all editorial choices, opinions and any mistakes are the authors’ own. To comment or to request a back issue, feel free to contact TomKevinMaura directly.
Reads of the Week
If you’re pressed for time this week, we’d suggest you spend your time on these stand-out articles.
There are some fascinating reads and videos this week regarding the problem of managing nuclear waste in Russia’s Arctic. Two articles by Anna Kireeva and Charles Digges explore the issue. The first looks at the continuing effort to map and account for the vast amounts of nuclear debris in Russia’s Arctic (Bellona). The second describes a conference that brought together Russian and foreign experts on Russian nuclear remediation to discuss dangerous radiation hazards in Russia’s northwest, including the case of the decommissioned Russian nuclear ship “Lepse” and the abandoned nuclear waste site at Andreyeva Bay (Bellona). If you want to learn more about the history of the Lepse and the technical challenges of cleaning up the contaminated ship, see this video documentary available here.
After that, you’ll want to move on to an excellent piece on the International Maritime Organization’s slow development of a Polar Code for Arctic navigation (Antoine Kedzierski, writing in Bunker World), and then to the blog Thoughts on Alaska Oil and Gas, in which Brad Keithley provides a clear explanation of how different types of taxes and subsidies in Alaska impact the investment decisions of private companies.
Finish up with a beautiful profile of Wrangel Island, a unique ecosystem in the Russian Arctic with a fascinating history (National Geographic, from Hampton Sides and Sergey Gorshkov).
The Political Scene
On May 15 at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, the ministers will sign an agreement on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response. It will be the second legally binding agreement among Arctic states (Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Approximately 300 ministers, delegates, indigenous peoples representatives, scientists and observers will be in attendance (IceNews). Members of the media who wish to cover the Ministerial Meeting can register online via the Arctic Council website, which will also be streaming the event live.
|Arctic News Map|
Commissioned by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japanese think tank Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) released a lengthy report (in Japanese) on Arctic governance and Japanese foreign policy. If Japanese is not your first language, or if you’re pressed for time, turn to a nice overview from Aki Tonami on the TAI website.
Iceland, instrumental in legitimizing China’s bid for observer status (Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict) and in establishing the new forum the Arctic Circle (EOTA), held elections at the end of last month. With nearly 194,000 votes cast, Iceland’s center-right opposition, the Independence party, gained the popular vote with 26.7 percent support and 19 seats in Parliament (The Telegraph). The opposition victory (the Progressive Party also came close to the popular vote at 24.4 percent) will likely mean that Iceland will not join the EU anytime soon, since both parties oppose Iceland’s bid. Mia Bennett wrote an editorial for Foreign Policy Blogs that goes into the Arctic implications of Iceland’s election in depth.
Arctic Summer College, an online webinar on Mondays this July and August, is accepting applications (PDF) until May 30th. We recommend you check it out.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Russia for the first high-level meeting since Junichiro Koizumi visited Moscow in 2003. At the meeting, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin agreed to hold talks to resolve the dispute surrounding the four islands referred to as the Northern Territories by Japan and the Southern Kurils by Russia (BBC). Regarding the island dispute (Russia has had the islands since the end of World War II), President Putin remarked “we sincerely want to solve it on terms that would be acceptable to both sides” (ITAR-TASS).
The Russian government has been cracking down on NGOs in recent weeks. Under a new “foreign agent” law passed by the Duma almost a year ago, NGOs receiving foreign assistance or participating in “political events” must register as foreign agents or face closure, fines or jail time (BO). Environmental NGOs, maintaining their activities are “entirely apolitical” and thus not requiring foreign agent registration, are especially coming under fire. Alexander Nikitin, chairman of ERC Bellona, an organization also under scrutiny, maintained “I can not remember such a massive attack on NGOs, even in the Soviet period.” The Nordic Council of Ministers’ Information Office in Kaliningrad was subjected to a “control visit” as part of the checks on foreign-funded NGOs, which met strong protest from the prime ministers of Sweden, Finland and Norway (BO).
Freedom of speech and the press in Russia was high on the agenda at the annual meeting of Barents Press International in Murmansk Oblast April 25-28. The board of Barents Press Norway issued a press release condemning the efforts of Russian authorities to control the free press (BO), and Alexey Simonov of the Glasnost Foundation, a journalistic advocacy group, spoke of the occupational hazards that come with being a journalist in Russia and the many unsolved journalist murder cases in the past ten years (BO).
Likely in response to both Russia’s crackdown on NGOs and to the proceedings of the Barents Press meeting, the EU’s Economic and Social Committee released an opinion stating in no uncertain terms that civil society groups in the Barents region should be given a stronger role in Arctic and Barents regional cooperation (BO).
Following an investigation by regional prosecutors in Murmansk, Teriberka’s mayor Aleksander Savkov confessed to forging his educational credentials to qualify for the position of mayor after his predecessor was forced to resign (BN).
Two reports from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, one by Ken Coates and Brian Lee Crowley and one by Douglas Bland, ponder Canada’s recently tempestuous (CBC) relationship with its aboriginal residents. While Coates and Lee see aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians cooperating on mutually-beneficial resource development, Bland warns of the potential for insurrection by a “warrior cohort” of aboriginal Canadians. John Iviston provides an overview of both reports in a comment for the National Post, eventually leaning towards the more “gloomy” approach adopted in Bland’s report. Mr. Coates, along with Kimie Hara, also wrote an article in Policy Options (PDF) arguing that Canada should welcome the technological and scientific advancements that Japanese and South Korean investment could bring to the sustainable development of the Arctic.
Heather Conley, author of the CSIS report “The New Foreign Policy Frontier: U.S. Interests and Actors in the Arctic,” released April 22, addressed “How America can ‘win’ the Arctic” on CNN’s GPS Blog. In the article, Conley summarizes past Arctic policy and provides a five-part plan (including everything from appointing an Arctic envoy to “rediscover[ing] our great American pioneering spirit”) for the Obama Administration to “win” the Arctic.
In Finland, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs released a report on Arctic Economic Potential (click here to go directly to the PDF version), and Murmansk Governor Marina Kovtun visited Helsinki to boost coordination between the two Barents neighbors (BO).
In Norway, the Labor Party approved a conscription measure that would make military service obligatory for all Norwegians, regardless of gender. The measure, which would likely only come into effect in 2015, will likely be put to a vote in Parliament before its current session ends (IceNews).
Morten Brugård writes for Barents Observer that “peak oil” may be more gradual and less disruptive than many once thought, thanks to the expansion of renewables and increasing use of natural gas (BO).
Canada and the Keystone XL
Delays and uncertainty with the Keystone XL pipeline and opposition to an alternate route for Alberta’s tar sands through British Columbia have Alberta’s government looking at options for an Arctic pipeline (AD). These delays, along with lack of transportation infrastructure and excess supply, mean that Alberta oil has been selling at well below global market rates, cutting into profits (Reuters). Alberta has invested CAD $50,000 in a feasibility study for an oil pipeline running to the Beaufort Sea through the Mackenzie Delta, though local First Nations groups are concerned that that level of investment does not reflect the magnitude of the project (EOTA). Alaskans are watching these developments with interest: an Arctic route for the tar sands would likely mean a rapid expansion of tanker traffic along the state’s Arctic shores, raising concerns over spill response (AD). Writing for the Huffington Post, Conor Kennedy takes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to task for double-speak on the Keystone XL pipeline. While Zuckerberg has spoken out against the pipeline, his political action group is funding advertisements endorsing the pipeline in a campaign to bolster vulnerable legislators as part of a strategy to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Besides an analysis of this complicated political strategy, Kennedy’s article provides a clear statement of Keystone opponents’ environmental and economic case against the pipeline project.
Shell has announced that Ann Pickard will take over the company’s Arctic operations following the departure of David Lawrence after the troubled 2012 drilling season (AD). More leadership changes are in the offing at Shell. CEO Peter Voser announced he would retire next year (ABC), and analysts point to Simon Henry, Shell’s current CFO, as a potential successor (Bloomberg). In spite of difficulties in the Arctic last year, Shell posted better than expected earnings last quarter (ThinkProgress).
Pipelines, or at least expensive plans for pipelines, are all the rage with the Alaska legislature (AD). Harry Noah, writing for Alaska Dispatch, details the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on plans for a wide spectrum of energy projects and pipelines by the state government and takes legislators to task for wasteful spending and not prioritizing promising energy solutions. Energy policy expert Dr. Melanie Hart also warned Alaskans not to get too invested in “pipeline dreams” of lucrative LNG exports to Asia; many other suppliers, including Russia and Australia, are queuing to satisfy Asia’s energy demand, and large consumers like China are making incredibly rapid advances in renewable energy investments (EOTA).
The Alaska legislature may have passed the long-debated oil tax cut, but that hasn’t stopped the bill’s opponents, many of whom are organizing and gathering signatures to repeal the bill through a voter referendum (AD). If you’re looking for a clear explanation of the economics of oil tax rates and investment, go to Brad Keithley’s blog, Thoughts on Alaska Oil and Gas, where he discusses the link between the two in a post this week (ABM).
Rural Alaskans are well aware of the sky-high utility rates in their communities. The Rural Alaskan Community Action Program has started a campaign to educate Alaskans about simple behavioral changes that can lead to substantial energy savings (Tundra Drums). The Alaska Rural Energy Conference was held this week in Anchorage. See the conference’s website for conference details and agenda.
Two companies announced progress on development of fields in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. Linc Energy announced it had started flow testing of a new well at the Umiat field, a major step in the field’s development (PN). Meanwhile ConocoPhillips has completed work on an exploration well in the Bear Tooth unit and has demobilized the drill rig for the season (AJC).
ConocoPhillips announced that it will delay drilling exploration wells in its Chukchi Sea licenses until 2015 at the earliest (Upstream).
A new appraisal well has been started in the Norvarg structure of the Barents Sea to better assess the gas potential of this promising reservoir (Offshore).
Statoil’s first quarter oil production was down 9%, though company officials say that plans for long term production increases are on target with new large fields in development (Platts). Profits fell as well and the company’s share price took a hit after the shortfalls were announced (AB).
Local industry has felt left out of the recent debate over oil and gas exploration in the Lofoten region; that debate has focused largely on issues of conservation rather than economic growth. To correct that, several manufacturing companies took out four full-page ads in northern Norwegian newspapers to express support for oil exploration (AB – Norwegian).
Tax exemptions have helped make the Nissan Leaf electric car the second best-selling car in Norway in April. The tax exemptions make the Leaf competitive price-wise with conventional cars and have helped drive up sales (AB).
A Finnish Forestry association is calling for more utilities to use wood and logging waste in energy production to help cut dependence on coal (EOTA). Sweden is also looking for ways to increase the use of biofuels as a promising path towards energy independence (EOTA).
Despite reports of a 13% drop in profits for the last quarter, Rosneft is looking stronger than ever after finalizing its 100% acquisition of TNK-BP, new deals with ExxonMobil, Statoil and Eni over Arctic exploration, and strong increases in oil and gas production (AFP). Greenpeace’s “Protest Bears” surfaced again this week, this time in front of Statoil’s Moscow headquarters. The bears beat oil drums and chained themselves to a railing to protest Arctic oil exploration (BO).
Moscow awarded four new licenses to Gazprom in the Barents Sea (BO). Gazprom expressed satisfaction with the increased pace of new licenses being developed in Russia’s Arctic, saying that the region is poorly explored and has suffered from a period of neglect (NGE). A Gazprom press release summarizes the company’s planned projects on Russia’s Arctic shelf.
A deal between Gazprom and Polish state-owned gas company PGNiG regarding the prospective Yamal 2 gas pipeline recently went ahead without the knowledge of Poland’s Prime Minister, who apparently found out about the deal through the press. Poland’s Treasury Minister was already let go over the affair, and this week PGNiG’s chairwoman, Ms. Piotrowska-Oliwa, was dismissed (Polskie Radio). Her deputy was also let go (G&M).
Lukoil announced it will drill production wells in a new Western Siberia license by September of next year (OGJ).
Sakhalin Governor Alexander Khoroshavin has called on Japanese gas buyers to provide support for the Sakhalin-1 LNG project (NGE). During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Russia this week, President Putin announced that Russia was eager to increase oil and gas exports to Japan, saying that Gazprom was ready to invest in infrastructure in Japan to facilitate increased levels of imports (Platts).
A second pipeline oil spill in less than a year has hit the Nenets region, which has seen a spike in new pipeline construction recently (BO).
A documentary looks at Russian nuclear waste dumping in the Arctic and the Kremlin’s attempt to cover up the extent of the problem and punish whistleblowers. A preview is available here (French). Russia is also experiencing difficulties decommissioning the nuclear service ship “Lepse.” The ship was taken out of service in 1988, but spent nuclear fuel remains on the ship, which was towed last year to the Nerpa shipyard near Murmansk. Unfortunately there’s no room at the yard to bring the ship out and perform the difficult and challenging extraction of the spent fuel, and the project is caught up in red tape (BO). A video documentary on the ship is available here. A conference brought together Russian and foreign experts on Russian nuclear remediation to discuss dangerous radiation hazards in Russia’s northwest, including the Lepse and the abandoned nuclear waste site at Andreyeva Bay (Bellona). Anna Kireeva and Charles Digges write for Bellona on the continuing effort to map and account for the vast amounts of nuclear debris in Russia’s Arctic oceans (Bellona).
Science, Environment & Wildlife
A dramatic video illustration of the loss of sea ice volume since 1979 has been shared around a good bit, while several articles suggest that the stage is being set for another summer of extremely low ice extent and volume, thanks in part to the prevalence of first-year ice and in part to geographic distribution that puts a good deal of the remaining multi-year ice into a “graveyard” in the Beaufort Sea (Christian Science Monitor). The National Snow and Ice Data Center provides, as usual, the most comprehensive and easy-to-grasp recap of conditions in April, while new research published in the American Geophysical Union’s “Eos” digs deeper into the loss of 580 gigatons of ice from Canadian glaciers over the period 2004-2011. Further new research published in Nature Climate Change attempts to tease out the springtime atmospheric factors that influence summer sea-ice extent, and Carbon Brief summarizes the paper tidily for a lay audience. If you’re a professional in this field and are interested in contributing to “a community-wide summary of the expected September Arctic sea ice minimum”, take part in the 2013 Arctic Sea Ice Outlook.
All the gloom and doom is slowly beginning to register in the halls of government; the World Meteorological Organization expressed its concern about climate change and sea level rise, citing 2012’s ice-extent minimum as one indicator of concern (The Australian), while news that a special briefing on disappearing Arctic ice and its implications for security was to take place at the White House spread quickly (Guardian, Examiner – facts seem scanty).
Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography announced that it looks as though “the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level [of atmospheric carbon dioxide] without losing a beat” – it’s not unexpected, but neither is it good news. In Canada, this sparked inter-party accusations of laxness in fighting climate change (NN), while global warming must seem like an inviting mirage to the residents of Fairbanks, AK, who are suffering through “the winter that won’t end” (FNM).
Carbon dioxide seems to seep out of Arctic soils even in winter, according to some new research in Soil Biology & Biochemistry, and researchers writing in Nature Geoscience have discovered that atmospheric chemistry in the Arctic is likely to be affected in some very unexpected ways by declining sea ice extent (science20.com).
The role of Arctic Council Working Group AMAP in monitoring chemical pollutants in the Arctic is the subject of an interview with Lars-Otto Reiersen (phys.org), while AMAP’s Arctic Ocean Acidification conference is coming up this week in Bergen, Norway. Harald Loeng of the Institute of Marine Research will be opening the conference; check out an interview we did with him back in January.
First, we commend to your attention an excellent and highly personal post on one woman’s transformation from activist against hunting to advocate for indigenous people’s rights (Polar Bears International). While such personal views offer critical insight into the political debate on polar bear preservation, the Norwegian Polar Institute is leading an joint initiative of the five littoral states to develop a common framework for monitoring polar bear populations around the Circle (Norwegian Polar Institute, in Norwegian). Preservation was a hot topic in Yukon this week, as MP Ryan Leef was accused (o.canada.com) of referencing inaccurate and discredited studies of polar bears in a letter to a constituent who asked about polar bear conservation in Canada.
Gathering good data on polar bears is an enormous challenge for many reasons, but you can keep a close eye on at least four of them via the WWF’s polar bear tracker, spend your summer on the lookout for them as a polar bear spotter on Svalbard (EOTA), or check out a recent addition to the sub-Arctic population with a visit to adorable cub Kali, who will soon be resident at the Buffalo (NY) Zoo (AD).
Another big decision in animal politics was made this week, as an EU court upheld the Union’s decision to ban trade in seal products. Rachael Petersen provides a thorough and compelling analysis of the decision (Global Voices), and the woman behind the “No Seal, No Deal” petition (to deny the EU observer status to the Arctic Council while the ban stands) lays out her reasoning in Nunatsiaq News.
Browsing by caribou / reindeer has an appreciable impact on vegetation density even in areas where populations are not dense; this means that Arctic vegetation projections have one more factor they ought to consider (Journal of Ecology, phys.org).
A really interesting story looks at the history of the serendipitous relationship between a small tourist camp on Somerset Island in Canada and the Mystic Aquarium, which does research on beluga whales (The Westerly Sun). Four killer whales in Iceland died after beaching themselves repeatedly (IceNews).
In other animal news, PCBs are still the most prevalent contaminant found in shellfish around Svalbard (Norwegian Polar Institute, in Norwegian), and tiny, territorial pikas appear to prefer feeding in areas where caterpillar larvae have been dining as well (Summit County Citizens Voice).
Expeditions and events
The most recent round of NASA’s IceBridge mission is drawing to a close, after collecting many terabytes of information on glaciers and sea ice from Greenland to Alaska. Check out a few highlights from the team’s recent public Google Hangout, and spend some enjoyable time with a gallery of photos from the expedition (by Michael Studinger). Meanwhile, a remotely operated vehicle from NASA is preparing to spend some time collecting data on the Greenland ice sheet in the island’s far North, and one scientist from the expedition takes the time to explain the history of volcanic activity in the formation of Greenland (NASA).
Other scientific campaigns are underway in remote locations, including: the CLEOPATRA II Rijpfjorden campaign, looking at copepods and phytoplankton in the waters around Svalbard; an expedition intended to help a Russian team identify possible final resting places of the 1912-1914 Brusilov expedition; a preparatory meeting for the team of students and scientists who will be cleaning up Franz Josef Land this summer (VOR); and the just-completed expedition of researchers from U Alaska Fairbanks who’ve been cruising across the American and Canadian North via snowmachine (CBC).
On the events side, check out a description of an outreach trip to Igloolik by some of the scientists behind the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change, or keep an eye on the website for the Arctic Observing Summit (completed 2 May) to see what outcomes appear.
Start with an excellent read from National Geographic on Russia’s Wrangel Island, and then check out the most recent records added to the wonderful ASTIS database, which houses all manner of Arctic research (sample 1, sample 2).
The bio-, geo- and enviro-mapping MAREANO expedition will be starting in the Barents in June of this year (ngu.no, in Norwegian). / Norway’s Research Council has invested NOK 850 million in the country’s “science week”, which is coming up in September (Norwegian Research Council, in Norwegian). / Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has given Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans an “F” for press freedom this year (CBC). / Norway’s Minister of the Environment Bård Vegard Solhjell will be visiting Svalbard to hear about some of the research underway there (Norwegian Polar Institute, in Norwegian). / Congratulations to the French-German team that’s been operating their joint research station in Ny Alesund, Svalbard for ten years now (Deutsche Welle). / A new exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia explores the Canadian Arctic expeditions of 1913-1918 (Chronicle Herald). / Alaska’s wetlands appear to be losing some of their water surface area due to changes in the climate (EOTA). / Cindy Shogan of the Alaska Wilderness League digs into the Republican-driven preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from years past (The Hill).
Military / Search-&-Rescue
Rescue officials in Finland used rowboats and hovercraft to rescue nearly twenty fishermen trapped on floating ice off Hailuoto Island in northern Finland. The fishermen’s access to shore was cut off by weakened sea ice, which Finnish authorities had warned would be extremely treacherous at this time of year (EOTA).
Canada plans to spend CAD 1-1.5 billion to enhance its unmanned air system (UAS) capabilities, so that Canada’s next UAS will be able to carry a search-and-rescue package that could be dropped at any time during Arctic patrols. Israeli Homeland Security reports that Israel Aerospace Industry’s Heron UAS will compete to supply Canada in expanding its UAS capabilities. Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay also announced an additional $16 million for satellites to improve Canadian search-and-rescue capabilities (CBC). The announcement came just days after Auditor General Michael Ferguson chided the military for not prioritizing search-and-rescue (CBC). MacKay is also coming under significant criticism from Arctic expert Michael Byers for the “remarkable slowness” of the Navy’s long-awaited Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (A/OPS), which Byers says are unlikely – thanks to their maximum speed of seventeen knots – to have a chance of catching smugglers.
NATO Ambassadors are scheduled to visit Tromsø, Norway on May 6 (NATO website). Norway has confirmed plans to acquire a fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A combat aircraft and has requested that Parliament give the go-ahead to secure six per year; this would replace the outdated Lockheed F-16 fleet by 2020 (Flight Global).
The US Environmental Protection Agency has released a revised watershed assessment for the controversial Pebble Mine. The mine could potentially disrupt over 90 miles of streams and have far-reaching impacts on Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery (APM).
Karelia Governor Aleksandr Khudilainen announced after meetings with President Putin that the Kremlin had agreed to invest USD 150 million to keep the Nadvoitsy aluminum plant open, even though the company that owns the plant, Rusal, says production and job cuts will go ahead (BO).
Russian state-owned mining interest Rostec announced a deal with ICT Group to begin development of the Tomtor rare earth metals deposits in the Sakha Republic of eastern Russia. This massive project will transform Russia into a major player in the rare earth metals market and place it in direct competition with China, which currently controls 95% of the earth’s rare earth deposits (mining.com).
In an indication of the broad impacts of the Idle No More movement on Canada’s extractive industries, a new report by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute says that the success of these industries may depend on their ability to build stronger relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples (WSJ). A copy of the report can be found on the Institute’s website.
The Nunavut Impact Review Board announced new water regulations that will ease several wastewater requirements for mining interests with an eye towards encouraging investment (NN). Mining interests throughout Nunavut are grappling with the business implications of falling gold prices. While several mining operations are scaling back in Nunavut under tough economic conditions, Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. expressed optimism concerning its Back River project, saying that development plans for 2013 would go ahead (NN). Elgin Mining is one of those companies scaling back, reporting that it has shut down operations at the Lupin gold mine due to falling gold prices (EOTA). In spite of price volatility, Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. will go ahead with plans to spend $90 million on exploration and development at their Meliadine project near Rankin Inlet (NN).
Canada’s mining interests are facing a different, and perhaps more existential, threat than price volatility: Idle No More. Martin Lukacs writes for the Guardian about how this indigenous-rights movement has the potential to change the political and cultural calculus of resource extraction in Canada, with implications that will be felt not only in Canada, but around the world.
The Tlicho Government, a First Nations organization in the Northwest Territories, announced completion of a Land Use Plan for the 39,000 square kilometers under its ownership. The region is rich in mineral resources, and the land use plan takes a pro-development approach to the region’s resources (press release). With the plan complete, companies will be able to apply for permits beginning 1 June (CBC). A recent report by Seattle Diamonds highlights the ethical and transparent operation of NWT’s diamond mines; the report also says, however, that much of the wealth generated by these mines is not trickling down to enrich local residents (PRWeb).
An announcement by Swedish mining company LKAB in Kiruna that it would be expanding operations and hiring an additional 400 workers resulted in the company receiving over 22,000 applications (BO). Canadian company Northland Resources announced that it had secured sufficient financing to maintain operations at its iron ore mines in Pajala, northern Sweden (AD).
Rising prices for precious metals have caused a spike in mining claims across Finland, even in the country’s protected national parks. While prospecting claims are easy enough to procure, moving to actual mining operations requires significant permitting which limits mining in sensitive areas (EOTA). Protestors interrupted a shareholder’s meeting of the Finnish mining company Talvivaara in Helsinki (YLE).
Environmental groups are urging Greenland to not move ahead with plans to open up uranium mining in that country. The new government in Greenland, elected last month, is supportive of lifting a ban on uranium mining (NN). Will Hickey provides a warning of a different sort for Greenland as it contemplates development of its mining sector: Explore development options thoroughly before rushing into a partnership with Chinese companies that are aggressively courting the island and seeking access to its resources. Chinese companies, while technically capable, have generally shown less interest in hiring, developing and training local workforces, a necessary process if Greenland is to enjoy the benefits of resource development (Epoch Times).
Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News
There’s plenty of international fellow-feeling when it comes to fisheries this week. The US and Russia have reaffirmed their 1988 agreement to – among other things – work together on science and management of Arctic marine resources (fis.com). It seems this was part of a meeting of the five littoral states in Washington, DC, another outcome of which was the planning for a fisheries-science meeting in Norway in October (Norwegian government, in Norwegian).
The Chukchi Sea village of Shishmaref is making efforts to shoulder its way into a share of Alaska’s Community Development Quota; that effort is related to the likelihood that the community will have to relocate soon (A fascinating article in EOTA). There’s also unhappiness in Russia with fresh Norwegian fish, which the larger country’s pertinent food-safety agency says has been arriving with evidence of salmonella, listeria and threadworms (BO).
There was much talk of crabs this week, as apparently surprising data came in about the relative biomass of snow crab and king crab (1o-to-1, respectively) in the Barents Sea (BOInstitute of Marine Research, in Norwegian). Meanwhile in the Bering Sea, one small fish processor is hoping to capitalize on the high premium that live (vs. frozen) crab gets when sold on the Korean market (KUCB).
In assorted miscellaneous fisheries news: the source of a walleye pollock boom in Bering Sea fisheries is still a source of mystery despite one Stanford researcher’s best efforts (Peninsula Press); Norway’s fisheries directorate is engaging young people in the industry (Norwegian government); the questionable state of the Pacific cod fishery is one stated reason that Icicle Seafoods has elected to close its plant in Adak, in the Aleutian Islands (ABM); and a fisherman was airlifted off a vessel in the Bering Sea when he showed signs of internal bleeding (APM).
Begin your reading on shipping with a well-crafted piece of writing on the development of a Polar Code for ships traversing Arctic waters; it comes from Antoine Kedzierski via Bunker World. Follow with an article from Mia Bennett on Maine as a developing hub for shipping to Iceland; the mere idea makes my heart leap a little bit, as I am a Maine native and love Portland. Moving northward across the border, Canada’s release of an “Arctic Voyage Planning Guide” should help mariners large and small prepare for travels through the Canadian Arctic (MarineLink). A similar service giving mariners in southern Norwegian waters regular updates on weather conditions might, in future, be expanded to cover northern waters as well (Norwegian government, in Norwegian). And for those interested in Arctic shipping, a wonderful opportunity to study its ins-and-outs is available on Svalbard this summer. More info from Arctic Portal is available here.
In Finland, it’s been a sad-but-not-unexpected week as two shipyards owned by South Korean firm STX were, first, described as “safe” despite the company’s financial difficulties (YLE); later in the week, it was announced that they would be sold (YLE).
Oslo’s startup scene and a new co-working space are profiled by Greg Anderson on Arctic Startup, while entrepreneurship and the development of new industries are highlighted in Barents Observer (which looks at Kolarctic program Young Innovative Entrepreneurs) and marketwire.com (which looks at the launch of an Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program in northern Canada). The upcoming issue of Up Here Business will also feature the Yukon’s developing knowledge sector, at least according to their Instagram feed…
In other economic news, Fitch Ratings has given a new bond issue from Yakutia a long-term rating of AA+ (Reuters). Check Wikipedia if you’d like that translated into layman’s English. The establishment of an Icelandic-Arctic Chamber of Commerce – a joint venture of Iceland’s Chamber of Commerce, the Icelandic-Arctic Cooperation Network and Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs – means a better channel for Arctic information and opportunities to Icelandic businesses (Arctic Portal). And lastly, a meeting is coming up at the end of May in Murmansk bringing together the Norwegian Business Association and Foreign Investors’ Business Association to discuss the investment climate in Murmansk (BN).
Finnish tourism to St. Petersburg boomed last year and is expected to grow again this year (IceNews). In the other direction, increases in the number of Russian visitors heading to Rovaniemi are making up for declines in the number of Western European tourists (BO). The more adventurous among you with a yen to visit Russia should check out the Yakutia tours being offered in summer 2013 (visityakutia.com), while those in North America might want to add themselves to the growing number of people engaging in Alaska Native cultural tourism (Native News Network). It will certainly be cheap to get to the state from other West Coast destinations – brutal fare wars are ongoing (AD).
Consultancy Ramboll is opening a new office in Tromsø this summer to provide environmental consulting to oil & gas projects (press release), while Icelandic payment-processing giant Valitor has finalized a new piece of software which will facilitate contactless payments using no-touch Visa cards and smart phones (IceNews). A Yellowknife businessman thinks a new microbrewery would be “a wonderful shot in the arm for Old Town” (CBC), and it looks like Canada’s fur industry would be grateful for a similar shot in the arm, having seen attendance at this year’s North American Fur and Fashion Exposition drop meaningfully from last year (NN).
Health, Education, Culture & Society
With spring comes bowhead-whaling season in the Alaskan Arctic. If you’re interested in how Alaskan Arctic communities conduct this age-old ritual while respecting International Whaling Commission regulations and using new technologies such as bomb-tipped harpoons, check out this article in Alaska Dispatch.
Northern cuisine was proudly on display at the 7th Annual Terroir hospitality and food industry symposium last month. Superstar guests at the symposium included chefs Rene Redzepi of Denmark’s world-famous Noma restaurant and Mangus Nilsson of Faviken, in Sweden. Also celebrating indigenous ingredients, Canadian Chef John Morris of the National Arts Center prepared caribou, muskox, hare, goose and char for an event in Ottawa, “Taste of the Arctic,” organized by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (NN). FoodiePrints did a feature on Morris’s cooking which showcases some lovely photos of his Arctic-inspired cuisine. In other food-related news, Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. is changing the way groceries reach northern Canadians, terminating its relationship with First Air and coordinating deliveries between Canadian North, Cargojet and Calm Air (CBC). The shift is due in part to the switch from the Food Mail program to the Nutrition North program in 2011.
Iqaluit will host acclaimed pianist Angela Hewitt at St. Jude’s Cathedral on June 7th, in an event to raise funds for the cathedral’s reconstruction. While Hewitt is renowned for classical music, Tanya Tagaq is raising funds for a different type of musical tradition: throat singing. The Cambridge Bay native hopes to raise $15,000 to create her third studio album (NN). The young members of Iqaluit’s fiddle club traveled to Ottawa last month, teaming up with inner-city children from Ottawa’s OrKidstra program and the NAC Orchestra for two concerts entitled “Adventures in Canada’s North” on April 27 (NN). National Youth Arts Week also kicked off on May 1 in Iqaluit (NN).
In the Inuit art world in Nunavut, sales have been slow to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Wholesale buyers say they are working with Inuit artists to adapt to the newer market, where more is known and appreciated about Inuit art and collectors have come to seek work of a higher quality (AD).
A report from the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association revealed that 44 percent of job offers in Canada’s Northwest Territories are turned down due to lack of satisfactory housing (EOTA). In Fairbanks, Alaska, the Fairbanks Educational Association will continue talks on May 6 with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, after mediation at the end of last month failed to produce new teachers’ contracts for the districts (FNM).
Nunatsiaq News highlighted a growing problem in Greenland: Danish-speakers, who comprise twelve percent of Greenland’s population of 58,000, are increasingly being spoken ill of for not speaking Greenlandic. The language divide, which had been a feature of election season, resurfaced during a Partii Inuit meeting in Nuuk on April 28. Promoting discussion in Nunavut, the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation has launched an online forum – “Playing to Strength” – created to encourage young people to post their thoughts on “the pressing issues that affect their lives,” such as addiction, mental health issues, school dropout rates and abuse (NN). Nunavik’s Saputiit Youth Association, which has struggled with financial and governance issues for the past year, hopes to regain credibility and secure funding from Quebec to begin serving the youth of Nunavik again (NN).
The Whitehorse RCMP has charged 4 people with drug trafficking in three separate crack cocaine-related incidents (CBC). / The state of dental care in Nunavut was debated in the House of Commons in response to an Inuit oral health action plan released last month by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (NN). / An editorial in Nunatsiaq News advised that the government of Nunavut must proceed with caution in its attempts to change the learned “drinking culture,” which “won’t change overnight” despite the recommendations of the government’s task force on the issue. / McGill’s Climate Change Adaptation Research Group conducted a participatory video project (click here for report and photos) with students in Rigolet, Labrador.
Aloft, Norwegian investors have purchased regional airline Widerøe from SAS (BO), and while Iqaluit may offer great potential as a cold-weather test site for new airplane models (NN), Canada’s northern airports overall get very poor grades in a new federal report (NNSO).
Back on earth, the governor of Russia’s Nenets Autonomous Okrug says that development of transport infrastructure overall is a major goal for the region (BO), while across the sea in Canada there seems to be some well-founded skepticism that a road between Churchill, Manitoba and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut will ever be built (CBC). Also in Canada, Iqaluit’s potholes have been compared to those on Afghanistan’s roads (CBC), while in Alaska a new Wasilla-Fairbanks bus link will fill a gap in the state’s public transportation infrastructure (EOTA).
Finnish companies are hoping to get a piece of the pie when it comes to contracts to update Murmansk’s public water supply (YLE). / A rough-hewn article in Alaska Dispatch argues for the necessity of better broadband in rural Alaska. / Iqaluit has chosen a location for a new cemetery (CBC). / The Iqaluit fire department will be using four new shipping containers as search-&-rescue simulation facilities (NN).
A Russian team has successfully driven across the North Pole from Russia to Canada in special amphibious vehicles designed specifically for navigating ice floes and thin ice in the Arctic. Check out this article at ExplorersWeb for some pictures and descriptions of these unique vehicles.
Nunavik athletes gathered in Kangiqsualujjuaq this last week to compete for slots on Team Nunavik-Quebec and a trip to the 2014 Arctic Winter Games to be held in Fairbanks, Alaska, next March (NN).
The town of Kangiqsujuaq hosted the second annual Nunavik Kite-ski Championship this week. 10 skiers competed in the event, with Tommy Tuniq of Kangiqsujuaq taking first place (NN).
Large crowds turned out at Rankin Inlet Qaqurnaq Racing Club's annual snowmobile race. The race is a fairly informal affair, with some racers sporting new machines, while others “make a snowmobile out of scraps just to enter,” according to race coordinator Ross Tatty (NNSO).
Some overzealous cross-country skiers with chainsaws have gotten the Whitehorse Cross-country Ski Club in trouble with the law. Members blazed an illegal trail through a forested area without proper permits, leading to a $1,500 fine and an order to repair the damage (CBC).
Plans are moving ahead for a new aquatic center for the city of Iqaluit. Last year a measure passed allowing the city to borrow up to $40 million for the aquatic center for this city of near 7,000 in Nunavut. This week the city awarded a $3 million design contract to an architectural firm to begin drawing up plans (NN).
The Northern Hockey Challenge finished up this week in Yellowknife; see this video on CBC with highlights from the championship match between Yellowknife and Iqaluit. The Yellowknife Flyers won the final game, 7-3, securing the trophy.
The Yukon Table Tennis Championships were held at the Whitehorse Elementary School last week. Kevin Murphy took the men’s title (his 19th), while Edna Knight took the women’s (her 12th) (Yukon News).
Winter has been slow to leave interior Alaska this year, meaning that the ice is still thick on the Tanana River and locals who every year have a betting pool on the day the ice will break are wondering if spring will ever arrive (FNM).
A two-man mountaineering team successfully climbed the challenging east face of the Moose’s Tooth, a 10,335-foot mountain in the Alaska Range, along a previously unclimbed route. Not only did the two climbers establish a new route, they finished the climb and returned to camp in a single day (EOTA).
Anchorage hosted the Native Youth Olympics this week as over 500 student athletes from around the state came to compete in events like the toe kick, the stick pull and the seal hop. Check out this article in Alaska Dispatch for descriptions of the events, a photo album, and a story of a 33-year-old record in the toe kick that was finally broken this year.
The Ice Hockey World Championships kicked off this Friday in Helsinki. The tournament runs through May 19 with the final rounds held in Stockholm, Sweden (YLE). The event’s organizers learned some hard lessons about ticket pricing last year: high prices for tickets led to fan protests and half-empty arenas. This year, fans can get tickets for as little as 9 euros, and tickets are selling briskly (YLE).
Tragedy struck a three-man expedition that was attempting to cross Greenland’s ice cap to raise money for charity. The group got caught in a heavy snowstorm and one of its members, British adventurer Philip Goodeve-Docker, died of exposure (EOTA).
If you’re looking for a unique and non-traditional fishing vacation, why not try fly fishing in Iceland? The island nation has pristine lakes and rivers, and the long days of the Arctic summer means you can pack a lot of fishing into one day (Ice News).
Images & Videos
A special mention for sheer volume goes to our friend Bolot Bochkarev, who must be doing more to publicize Yakutia as a tourism destination for English speakers than any government ministry ever could. Enjoy several photo galleries of: the Lena River; the Lena Delta in summer; strange stones – Kihilyakhi – emerging from the ground; May Day celebrations in Yakutsk; Yakutian Laika puppies; and a spring trek through the hills flanking the Lena River.
Also worth a read is a brief interview with photographer Dave Walsh about the life of one of his iconic photos.
On to our Instagram heroes for the week. Enjoy photos of: (1 & 2) of Tromsø’s picturesque harbor (@mskedsmo); north Norway landscapes from @tree_wisdom and @liselottehh; the city of Akureyri (@haraldurhelgi); a leaping polar bear (@polydipsia); a sunset over Inuvik, NWT (@ecojackiejo); the Glen Alps trailhead in Alaska (@musclesmarinara); two more Tromsø landscapes from @beritb and @inaastrup; and the team that helped @mvpgeo catch some massive fish.
On Flickr, we’ve got two great photos of dog sleds in action from Clare Kines (1 & 2), several recent photos of Baffin Island from user Damien Montalan, a sharp portrait of a ptarmigan from Jason Simpson and an interesting shot of the aurora from Paul Aningat.
Others: a quick group photo of the four Nordic foreign ministers aboard a boat in Sweden (@espenbartheide); a Putin fan in Murmansk on May Day (@BarentsNova); the Deh Cho Bridge from an unusual angle (@markyeg); and amazing light pillars in Saskatoon (Sebastian Riel).
And here’s a first: Vine is like Instagram for 6-second video clips, and the first Vine clip we’re sharing is of a sunny day in Troms county (Atomsmurf).
The Grab Bag
We’ll begin with news of several expeditions. Yet another group of adventurers is preparing to row the Arctic, this time via the Northwest Passage (PV Magazine). / You can save yourself the expense, the close quarters and the blistered hands by sticking to the Northwest Passage app that’s just been released (Live Science). / An ongoing expedition helmed by John Huston shared an entertaining interview with one of the expedition members. / We’re thrilled for Myles Rumley-Nukon of Yukon who will be taking part in this summer’s Students on Ice program with support from the Yukon government and Yukon College (nationtalk.ca). / One ice road driver shares his story on the 56 days 30 nights blog. / The most recent Taissumani feature from Nunatsiaq News tells the story of an Inuk in the 1800’s taken from his home and brought to “civilization”. / Fires in Iqaluit caused enormous damage over 2012; 80% were either “suspicious” or confirmed arsons (NN). / A calendar of upcoming Arctic-related conferences worldwide is available here from ARCUS; good to bookmark. / Joël Plouffe graced students at the U of Washington with a presentation on agenda-setting and framing of Arctic issues in media today (UW). / Pets will need passports to travel between Sweden and Norway, in an effort to prevent the spread of tapeworm (EOTA). / The time is growing short for you to contribute to the next issue of U of Tromsø’s “Labyrint” magazine. / The Norwegian Geological Society has completed the work of translating names of the world’s ages into Norwegian (Norwegian government). / A new book chronicles a WWII tragedy in which a plane crash on the Greenland ice cap left survivors freezing and alone for 148 days (Boston U). / Salvaging from the town dump – or “free Ikea” – is apparently a popular local sport in Yellowknife (CBC). / The Finnish consulate in Murmansk is suffering; its workers are trying to put in overtime to deal with a backlog of visa applications, but the office is directly above a booming club (BN). / Alaska Public Media and PBS are working up a TV series – Indie Alaska – highlighting the state. / This week ushered in May Day, a celebration virtually unknown in the US but popular in the Nordics (Arctic Portal). Details on Helsinki’s celebration are here (YLE). / May events North of 60° are chronicled by Up Here magazine. / Puppet theater in Ottawa recreated an Arctic tale, holding local children spellbound (NN). / The Norwegian Polar Institute hosted a book evening on a biography of the first woman to set foot on Spitsbergen. The Google translation of the article is whimsical. / May holds lots of holidays for us here in Germany, but even more in Russia (BN). / A B&B in a houseboat in Yellowknife seems like just the thing for the world-weary and harried. / Terry Audla and Martin Sheen got together this week – we have photographic proof (ITK). / The Northern Scene festival in Ottawa has been underway since the 25th of April – looks like a great time has been had by all (NN, G&M). / A French-language interview with a map scholar looks at Mercator’s 1595 map of the North, which suggests that the Northwest Passage might have been open at that time (Radio Canada).
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