Monday, September 9, 2013

The Arctic This Week: 1 September - 7 September 2013




Courtesy of Lauren Farmer
By Kevin CaseyMaura FarrellDoris Friedrich and Seth Myers 
The Arctic This Week 2013:32
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Beginning the week of September 16, we will be moving distribution of TATW to Wednesday mornings Washington DC time. The format and coverage of TATW will remain the same.

As always, all editorial choices, opinions and any mistakes are the authors’ own. To comment, to point out an error or to request a back issue, feel free to contact Kevin, Maura, Doris or Seth directly. You can access the PDF copy of TATW by clicking here.

READS OF THE WEEK

Short for time this week? Trying to squeeze out the last drops of summer as the days get shorter and shorter? Here’s the pick of this week’s material:

In what might be the funniest piece he’s written, Michael Byers dubbed Stephen Harper “the Austin Powers of the Arctic.” If you’ve started to get tired of the “harper hoopla”, read his article in the Toronto Star anyway. Beneath Byers’ comedic face-off of Arctic brawn is some thoughtful analysis on Arctic leadership.

Moving on to energy, our thanks go out to Bradford Keithley for his ability to translate the intricacies of Alaska’s energy policy into clear, concise prose. Take some time to read through his commentary for Alaska Business Monthly if you want to better understand why offshore oil development is not a remedy for the state’s current fiscal woes.

 In science reads, Ned Rozell uses the occasion of the celebration of 50 years of far-north biology at the Institute of Arctic Biology to summarize some of the most fascinating findings of the Institute’s researchers in an article for the Alaska Science Forum.

The best read this week in military news is a fantastic profile from CBC of the Canadian Rangers - the 5,000+-strong force responsible for patrolling Canada’s Arctic and being the Canadian Forces’ “eyes and ears” in the region. The article traces the Rangers’ roots from the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers of World War II – who guarded the coasts of British Columbia and Yukon against a possible Japanese invasion – to their formal founding in 1947, to their present-day role and character.

On the social scene, a series of pieces published in Alaska Dispatch this week by Craig Medred examining the “Perils of Prohibition” are well worth a read. The series includes “History repeats in Alaska’s failed attempt to stamp out booze” as well as “Alaska’s failed war on booze” and “Drowning the past in rural Alaska.” While the other two articles address provide an interesting look at the historical context, “Alaska’s failed war on booze” sums up Medred’s assessment of the current problem.

It’s not often that we get to highlight exceptional writing in the mining section, but this week it’s a pleasure to recommend Elaine Corden’s detailed portrait in Up Here Magazine of the Yukon town of Keno and its complex relationship with the mining industry. Well done!

Finally, in economics and business we recommend Kathrin Keil’s recent analysis of the “exaggerated hopes and false images” of the “questionable Arctic Bonanza” conveyed in a great number of recent articles (see for instance Emory Journal of International Affairs or Foreign Affairs). Keil examines different industries, such as oil and gas, shipping, and fishing to show the challenges and difficulties that stand in the way of the economic development of the Arctic (TAI).

THE POLITICAL SCENE

The Arctic and Beyond

U.S. President Barack Obama visited Sweden this week. His visit, the first ever bilateral visit to Sweden by a sitting American president (the Economist), was chronicled in a “Live Blog” put together by The Local, a news outlet which provides European news in English and has also compiled a list of the top ten moments of the visit. Some journalists took advantage of the occasion to show their funnier sides, giving us headlines such as “Stockholm Syndrome: Obama lavishes praise on Sweden” (from the Washington Times) and “On clean energy, Obama thinks we should Sweden the deal” (Grist.org). In a joint statement released by President Obama and Prime Minister Reinfeldt, the two leaders affirmed the two countries’ status as “very special friends” (White House Press Office).

Mr. Obama also met with Nordic leaders from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland as part of his visit (Iceland Review Online). The leaders of the six countries agreed it is important to reach a binding, comprehensive agreement on climate change by 2015 (Environment News Service), amongst other commitments such as advancing global development and protecting human rights. Their joint statement is available through the White House Press Office and is offered in PDF format through the Swedish Prime Minister’s office. Climate change, it was revealed this week, will also occupy “an unprecedented number of sessions” at next year’s Davos Summit, including plans to create a new public-private partnership addressing Arctic environmental risks (BusinessGreen.com).

Also traveling abroad this week was Canada’s Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq, who traveled to Oslo September 2-3 to participate in the assembly of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (Digital Journal). There, she delivered remarks on Canada’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in the newly-opened Gjøa Wing of the Fram Museum (Website of the Gov’t of Canada).

Concerning the non-Arctic states, two Indian explorers are beginning a journey from the Arctic to the Antarctic this month to spread awareness about climate change (NDTV.com). The Indian Ministry of External Affairs is sponsoring the trek, and Indian missions across North and South America have been enlisted to help facilitate their journey (The Indian Express). An article from the International Relations and Security Network – “The Asian-North Atlantic Race for Greenland” – urges North Atlantic states to “take the example of China and South Korea's diplomatic efforts and readjust their attitudes towards the increasingly self-confident Greenland.”

Russia

After much speculation and worry in Murmansk, the Russian Ministry of Regional Development has decided to include the Murmansk region in its definition of the Russian “Arctic Zone” (BN). In Salekhard, preparations are currently underway for the Third International Forum “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue” (to be held September 24-25), which Arctic Info reports will be attended by the Heads of State of Russia, Finland and Iceland.

United States

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has initiated an investigation into the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force’s inspections of gold-mining operations near Chicken, Alaska [MH1] last month (AD). The armed task force, as a press release from the Governor’s office described it, “took it upon themselves to swoop in on unsuspecting miners,” searching for state environmental violations and breaches of the Clean Water Act (AD). Governor Parnell will face opposition during next year’s election from both Republican-turned-independent Bill Walker and Byron Mallott, who announced his candidacy for the race on Monday (AD). Both an Alaska Native and a rural Alaskan, 70-year-old Mallott will run as a Democrat in the gubernatorial race (Arctic Sounder).

The first in a series on Arctic policy published in Alaska Business Monthly, an article by Shehla Anjum on “The Continuing Evolution of Arctic Policy” highlights the foresight of Iñupiat leader Eben Hopson, illustrating that Inuit leaders were the first to realize the need for a coordinated Arctic policy. Now, over three decades after the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference in 1977, when Arctic policy has become what the author calls a “mini industry,” policy makers must not forget that “Arctic policy cannot be formulated without the active participation of the people who have lived there for thousands of years.” Recent Arctic policy discussions have focused less on the participation of Native Alaskans in policymaking and more on the relationship between state and federal authorities in the region. Both the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) and the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission (AAPC) met in Unalaska last week, where White House representative Brendan Kelly, speaking on behalf of USARC, attempted to quell AAPC’s concerns that there would be little coordination between federal and state Arctic policymakers (APM). Kelly offered to meet with AAPC’s two co-chairs via teleconference this week to discuss some of their concerns (BBT).

Canada

Self-government negotiations in Deline, a community in the Northwest Territories’ Sahtu region, are now complete (AD). The finished land-use plan, seventeen years in the making, was completed coinciding with celebrations for the twentieth anniversary of the Sahtu Dene and Métis comprehensive land claim agreement (Northern Journal). Deline is the first of five Sahtu communities to conclude self-government negotiations with federal and territorial government authorities (AD).

Eva Aariak announced this week that she would not see a second term as Nunavut’s Premier, although she will still run for her seat in the Legislative Assembly (NN).

A short film released last week by the Fort McKay First Nation – Moose Lake: home and refuge – explains the First Nation’s position on oil sands development in the Moose Lake area, proposing “an alternate plan for coinciding habitat protection and economic development in the region” (Northern Journal).

ENERGY

Alaska

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency announced Thursday that it reached a settlement with Shell over air quality and emissions violations by two of the company’s ships during Shell’s 2012 drilling season in the Chukchi Sea (AD, ADN). Shell agreed to pay USD 1.1 million in fines for a total of 34 emissions violations by its Discoverer and Kulluk drill ships. A full copy of the settlement can be found here. Putting the best spin possible on the news, a Shell spokesperson stated that the company had learned from the previous lapses and was now better prepared to operate in Arctic conditions (FuelFix). Cold temperatures hampered operation of pollution control equipment and heavy seas meant anchored drilling vessels often had to fire up their engines in violation of previous agreements with the EPA. For Shell’s critics, these violations are clear evidence that Shell was unprepared to operate in the Arctic (ABC). After Shell’s travails, we shouldn’t be surprised that other oil companies with exploration plans in the region including ConocoPhillips and Statoil are not moving forward with any sense of urgency (Reuters).

With all the interest in marketing Alaska’s natural gas to the world, observers have been left scratching their heads at the cold reception Governor Sean Parnell gave to a consortium of Japanese investors interested in financing an LNG production and export system in Alaska. Tim Bradner, in an article for the Alaska Journal of Commerce, details Parnell’s attempts to keep the Japanese Resources Energy Inc. (REI) at arms-length in favor of a state-subsidized plan to market Alaska LNG headed up by North Slope players BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and pipeline company TransCanada. Parnell decided not to meet with representatives from REI when they visited Alaska in August and has declined to sign a confidentiality agreement, limiting direct cooperation. Former Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski stepped in to pinch hit for the Parnell administration, meeting with REI representatives and providing a sharp critique of the Governor’s position on REI. Alex DeMarben unpacks the political flap over the affair in more detail in an article for the Alaska Dispatch. Time may be running out on Alaska LNG exports, though. See this article by Gary Park for Petroleum News on the stiff head winds forming against U.S. and Canadian plans to export LNG. In another article Park takes a closer look at the failure of the Mackenzie Gas Project and the precedent it has set for other pipeline projects across Canada’s North (PN).

A detailed interview in Petroleum News with Alaska State Representative Mia Costello touches on Senate Bill 21 (the recent revamping to Alaska’s state oil taxes), natural gas development, and state-federal relations. A petition to submit SB21 to a referendum has been certified by the state. The issue will appear on state ballots in 2014 (FNM). A major provision of SB21 is Gross Value Reduction, which allows oil companies to pay lower taxes on oil extracted from new fields, a measure meant to incentivize new production. As the state drafts regulations to enforce the law, ConocoPhillips has lobbied that GVR measures be kept confidential, limiting the amount of information the public can obtain on tax credits that companies benefit from under the new law (AD).

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell wrapped up a trip to Alaska last week where she visited both the site of the proposed Pebble Mine above Bristol Bay and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. See this article in Petroleum News for a summary of Jewell’s press conference where she discussed Arctic drilling regulation and ANWR.

In other Alaska oil patch news, Rampart Energy Ltd. Reported promising results from a study of shale oil recovery rates for its leases on the North Slope (ABM). Regarding renewabales, the Nome Chamber of Commerce has chipped in funds to support research at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks on the use of geothermal energy in the region (ABM). The Alaska Native Brotherhood has lent its support to the Domestic Fuel Solutions Group as they try advocate for exploring alternative fuels across the U.S. to lower the burden of fuel costs (ABM).

Widespread power outages were reported in Fairbanks Friday (FNM).

Norway

In a significant announcement, Austrian energy firm OMV discovered oil in its license on the Hoop structure in the SW Barents Sea (OGJ). The discovery, the northernmost yet in Norway’s Barents region, is estimated to contain between 63 and 164 million barrels of oil (Rigzone). This will certainly provide a big boost to the region as uncertainty continues to surround Statoil’s nearby Castberg project.  UK oil company Tullow, which has a 20% stake in the project, saw its share price jump after the announcement (Guardian). Statoil plans to explore two additional nearby leases to the north of the OMV discovery in 2014 (NRK, Norwegian).

Russia

Private energy firm LUKoil is pressing the Kremlin to allow private companies to take part in offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, an activity which is currently reserved for state-owned enterprises (MT). LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov is confident that private companies will eventually gain access to the Arctic shelf, saying that the current prohibition is inhibiting economic growth (AIR, Russian).

Russian state-owned Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) inked a series of deals this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg regarding future gas supplies for China and the eventual construction of a pipeline between the two countries (RIAN). Novatek finalized the sale of a 20% stake in the Yamal LNG project to CNPC this week (AIR, Russian; NGE; Platts). Rosneft also jumped on the bandwagon, taking the opportunity of the G20 summit to sign an agreement with CNPC to partner on offshore exploration and the construction of a refinery in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin (AIR, Russian).

Gazprom has opened up two new “Gazprom Classes” for middle school kids in the town of Urengoy in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, complete with spiffy Gazprom-blue laptops and company logos emblazoned on the wall. The highly competitive classes focus on science, math and engineering and set local kids on a track for future employment with the gas giant. The town of Urengoy is, incidentally, located adjacent to Gazprom’s massive Urengoy gas field (AIR). Gazprom also wrapped up a three-week “environmental expedition” that seems to have been intended to provide an environmental and social baseline for the region around the Kruzenstern gas condensate field in the Yamal (AIR). While we’re lingering on Gazprom’s softer side, Gazprom’s has released a copy of its oil spill response plan for the Prirazlomnoye field in the Pechora Sea (Offshoreenergytoday.com). A summary of the response plan can be found here.

According to Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, Russian shipbuilding is lagging behind oil and gas exploration on the Arctic shelf as his company has had to lease foreign-owned equipment to begin exploring its Arctic licenses next year (AIR, Russian). What’s the solution? For Rosneft, it appears to be getting into the shipbuilding business. The company pulled off a major coup this week when it was granted to control of four navy shipyards in the Murmansk region to hasten development of ships and equipment for work on the Arctic shelf (BO). Rosneft is also nearing completion of a gas pipeline that will feed gas from the Vankor oil and gas field into Gazprom’s pipeline system (Yamal.org).

Following up on last week’s confrontation with the Russian Coast Guard in the Kara Sea, Greenpeace released a well-produced video on YouTube with footage from the event and their negotiations with the Russian Coast Guard.

Finland

The Finish power consortium Fennovoima has chosen to partner with Russian state-owned nuclear company Rosatom in the construction of a new nuclear reactor planned for Pyhäjoki in northern Finland. Rosatom will take a 34% stake in the project which is projected to be operational by 2024 (YLE).

Canada

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver continues to speak of the need for Canada to diversify its oil and gas exports away from the U.S. by finding buyers in Asia, even though essential pipeline projects to get oil and gas to the Pacific have been stonewalled by environmental and First Nations groups (NJ).

An official review of pipeline safety regulations in Alberta that only sought input from regulators and industry, not environmental or First Nations groups, unsurprisingly reported that all is well with Alberta’s pipelines (NJ). Meanwhile, the Northwest Territories Chapter of the Council of Canadians has demanded that ConocoPhillips release information on their fracking fluids before doing work in the territories (Rabble.ca). NWT Environment and Natural Resources minister Michael Miltenberger agrees, saying it is a reasonable request that industry provide information on fracking fluids to local residents (EOTA).

Chris Puglia of Northern New Service interviewed the new mayor of Norman Wells, NWT, Gregor Harold McGregor, focusing specifically on the challenge of developing new energy sources for the town and capitalizing on the revitalized interest in the regions oil and gas resources (NNS). Yukon, it seems, is marching in the other direction. The province has already exceeded its renewable energy targets for 2020 and currently derives 90% of its power needs from renewable sources (YN).

SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT AND WILDLIFE

Ned Rozell uses the occasion of the celebration of 50 years of far-north biology at the Institute of Arctic Biology to summarize some of the most fascinating findings of the Institute’s researchers in an article for the Alaska Science Forum. Rozell highlights the work of ornithologist Ed Murphy, who discovered that Kittiwakes experience zero chick survival in their colonies every four to five years after cold springs; Donie Bret-Harte, who came to the conclusion that the tundra is recovering much faster than expected after a recent large tundra fire (find more details on the study here); Laura Prugh, who came to the counterintuitive conclusion that wolf control programs result in more coyotes eating more lamb; Diane O’Brien, who examined Alaska Natives’ intake of sugar-sweetened drinks by using hair samples; and Joan Braddock’s work that enabled oil-eating microbes to clean a contaminated site in Barrow.

Climate

Weston Morrow writes that the summer in Fairbanks was abnormally hot and dry and both the average low and the average high were three to four degrees higher than usual. In mid-August, however, the pattern was reversed and it has since cooled down and precipitation has increased (NM). More generally, Alaska’s record heat this summer resulted in an extended wildfire period, "very unhealthy" air polluted with smoke, floods caused by fast melting ice and snow, difficult conditions for northern tree species and fish covered in algae (Reuters). In the meantime, University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have been investigating the greening of the Arctic tundra along the coastal areas in relation to sea ice decline (AD).

Though Fairbanks was hot, Arctic sea ice has not reached the low levels experienced in 2012, leading to the question: “Is Annual Arctic Sea Ice On a Decent Track For A Change?” New York Times Science Writer Andrew Revkin suggests  “yes,” though Greg Laden, writing for Science Blogs, shows that optimistic assessments of this year’s ice melt don’t stand up to scrutiny. Although 2012 was an outlier and fairly distinct in terms of sea ice melting, this year is average compared to data from the last decade. However, this does not mean that the last decade was average. Indeed, this last decade represents a “new normal” of excessive melting. For more details on the underlying theories and graphs showing sea ice extent from the 1980s onwards, read the article on Science Blogs. To compare this year’s with last years’ sea ice, have a look at a graph from the US National Ice Center. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) provides good insight into the sea ice situation in late August in their recent Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis. NSIDC analysis confirms that the current ice extent is below the 1981 to 2010 average and points to open water close to the North Pole. An article on Nunatsiaq News provides further insights into the exceptional year 2012 with “record low Arctic ice-melt.” A new study published by the American Meteorological Society on 2012’s extreme weather events finds that anthropogenic climate change contributed to some of the year’s extreme events, including the extremely low levels of summer ice (NN).

This is in contrast to several articles cautioning that these unusual weather patterns cannot be directly associated with the warming of the Arctic. Jason Samenow calls attention to a recent study by Elizabeth Barnes of the Colorado State University, which does not find clear links between “weather mania in the mid-latitudes” and Arctic warming (WP). An article by Stephanie Paige Ogburn compares Barnes’s study with an earlier attempt by Rutgers climate scientist Jennifer Francis to explain how climate change leads to extreme weather events through the modification of the jet stream (E&E News). Agnieszka Gautier explores how Arctic storms have changed in the last few years: in spite of the perception of the exceptionality of recent summer storminess, August and September usually see a lot of cyclonic activity in the Arctic. In addition, according to a study by Zhang et al., the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 contributed to less than 5% of the ice loss that year. Gautier’s article includes gripping pictures of the November 2011 Arctic storm (AD). Even more interesting, instead of destroying sea ice, storms can actually “bolster Arctic ice” by carrying snow and cooler air that slow the melting (Nature).

A recently published study suggests that soot (also known as black carbon) from the industrial revolution triggered Alpine glacier retreat long before the temperature rise at the end of the 18th century (PNAS). Because of the increased heat absorption stemming from dark surfaces, in this case soot deposits, melting accelerated and the 500-year period known as the Little Ice Age came to an end (Nature). Currently, soot coming from the rapid industrialization in Asia, especially China and India, has caused concern. Initial measurement results suggest that soot and dust already have a great impact on the snows of the Himalaya (Independent). What is more, even though there are currently few sources of black carbon emissions within the Arctic, this is likely to change with increased human activity in the region. Soot emitted in the Arctic is more likely to stay at low altitudes and be deposited on snow and ice and is therefore more detrimental for the Arctic region (SC). Find the abstract of the underlying article by Sand et al. here. Another article by Stohl et al. examines the “underestimated role of gas flaring and residential combustion emissions” in the accumulation of black carbon in the Arctic. The abstract is available here (ACP). Andrew Glikson looks at climate change as an existential risk to our planetary life-support system and busts climate change misconceptions related to the Little Ice Age, volcanoes and cosmic ray flux. Like Greg Laden, he also acknowledges a “new normal” (Arctic News).

Eckhardt et al. investigate the effect of cruise ship emissions on air pollution in Svalbard and come to the conclusion that even in the remote Zeppelin station near Ny-Ålesund, emissions from tourist ships influence data. Considering the statistics on tourist cruises in Svalbard, large parts of the archipelago are likely to be affected. This has to be taken into account, not only when interpreting data from the area but also when contemplating future emission regulations (ACP).

Flora and fauna

Don’t feed the wild bears in Alaska! Or anywhere else. Or any other wild animals for that matter. This message is clearly conveyed by a video posted by the Alaska Dispatch, which features a man feeding a brown bear mother and her two cubs with leftover fish. Wildlife control and law enforcement officials also advise not to feed the wildlife, as feeding wildlife is illegal in Alaska and punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and a year in jail. One of the reasons is that bears accustomed to people as a source of food might be judged as aggressive when they approach their new “food source” and problematic encounters are bound to occur (AD). Unfortunately the video seems to have been removed, but a quick search on YouTube offers good alternatives. However, food is not always involved. Rick Sinnott, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist wrote a review of Keith Rogan’s book “A Kodiak Bear Mauling: Living and Dying with Alaska's Bears” about the author’s encounter with a grizzly on Alaska’s Kodiak Archipelago. Rogan closely escaped death when he came across a sow with four cubs, too close to use his rifle. Because he recommends reading the book, Sinnott takes it upon himself to rectify “a few errors” (AD).

As we reported last week, bison are having a hard time in NWT as their numbers are diminishing. A flyover survey in the Mackenzie sanctuary this March counted only 714 bison compared to 1,530 the year before. Besides an anthrax outbreak, other factors such as road accidents should not be left out from the analysis. In addition to harvesting restrictions, the NWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources will consult with Aboriginal communities to ensure the recovery of the herd (NJ).

Expeditions & research blogs

The Students on Ice expedition has come to an end. This video on YouTube shows the journey and the most impressive moments: icebergs, soft moss, throat singing, cottongrass, polar bears balancing over ice floes, Inuit games and a refreshing dip into the water. Watch the video, learn alongside the students and get inspired!

An international team of scientists and students from the University of Nevada on the Polaris Project on climate change spent the past month in the Siberian Arctic fighting bird-sized mosquitoes, sunburns and muddy bogs. During the three-year project, the scientists experienced an ever-receding permafrost and the release of ancient carbon from the Pleistocene era. Sudeep Chandra says the aim of the projects is to “explore the transformation of this carbon along different paths” (Sparks Tribune).

The Centaur optionally-piloted aircraft (it can fly with crew on board, or remotely) of Aurora Flight Sciences has completed its month-long science campaign to measure the flux of gases contributing to global warming - carbon dioxide, methane, and their isotopes - over a large area in Alaska (Aurora). Similarly, the value of drones in environmental and conservation projects is increasingly recognized as NASA started to measure melting sea ice patterns in the Arctic using an eco-drone (Trust). Indeed, Alaska, with its long distances and lack of infrastructure, appears to be a good area for testing drones and their use is expected to drastically increase in the next few years (AD).

Parks Canada’s search for the lost 19th-century ships of the Franklin expedition, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, off the coast of Nunavut continues this year. Unfortunately, three weeks after the start of their six-week search, the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which enables sonar scanning in more shallow waters, and the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with its high-definition camera, have not yet arrived (CBC). To learn about the daily life on the crew onboard the research vessel, watch the short video (CBC). More on the search here (Parks Canada). In the meantime, archeologists in Salekhard, Russia, found a ring documenting the bear cult (ST), and a dig in Alaska hints at old Arctic trade routes (BDH).

Miscellaneous

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) is recruiting a Chief Scientist (Gov’t). / Russian NGO Green Patrol claims that Norway is polluting Murmansk. This comes after similar claims against Finland. The Norwegian Institute for Air Research NILU rejects the claims and emphasizes paramount methodological mistakes (BO).

MILITARY / SEARCH & RESCUE

Canada

Canada’s proposed deep-water port facility in Nanisivik, Nunavut, remains completely mired-down in potential legal action, and is over-budget and increasingly behind schedule. The facility, a key part of the Conservative government’s plans to more actively assert sovereignty over Canada’s Arctic regions, is still controlled by the federal fisheries department awaiting environmental remediation of a defunct zinc mine (CBC and Yahoo News). The Nanisivik facility (or lack thereof) is, perhaps, indicative of a broader failure by Canada vis-à-vis its Arctic defense capabilities: Dr. Robert W. Murray of the University of Alberta argues that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has largely failed to carry through any aspect of his vision for the Canadian Arctic, arguing that “Canada has fallen so far behind in being able to achieve the goals Harper articulated that his Arctic failures are becoming a stain on his time in office” (Times Colonist).

Finally, an upcoming television documentary series – “Watchers of the North” – will highlight the exploits and unique role of the Canadian Rangers (Nunatsiaq Online).

Russia

According to RIA Novosti, a task force from the Russian Fleet, led by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky, is en route to the eastern Arctic. The task force will follow the Northern Sea Route to the Novossibirsk Islands and carry out training missions. Northern Fleet Commander Vladimir Korolyov has said that the exercises are part of the Ministry of Defense’s role in fulfilling Russia’s Arctic policy – namely to demonstrate its role in the region as a leading military power (see also BO, AIR, and InSerbia). For more on the Pyotr Veliky – the flagship of the Northern Fleet – check out this surprisingly entertaining interactive from RIA Novosti (and bring your 3D glasses!), and if you’re a total glutton for pictures of ships, also check out these photos from Voice of Russia’s Twitter account.

Similarly, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is gearing up for a series of large-scale exercises with the Northern Fleet (Itar-Tass).

A senior defense minister has said publicly that Russia’s defense industry technology is outdated, lagging behind that of other nations, and suffering from a decline in quality. He also expressed concerns about a deficiency in personnel, and the industry’s reliance on foreign suppliers (RIA Novosti). Similarly, Russia has unveiled a set of “new rules” for naval shipbuilders that will aim to shift the paradigm in military shipbuilding to quality over quantity. The new program will, among other things, attempt to shift manufacturing towards a smaller variety of ships that will last longer, and which can be more easily upgraded to modernize them as needed (RIA Novosti).

As reported last week, Russia has opened the first of ten planned SAR centers along the Northern Sea Route. From the Foreign Policy Association’s blogs comes a nice summary which provides both an overview of the centers and a juxtaposition of what it sees as the “efficiency” of countries like Russia and China as compared to western democracies in terms of building capacity in the region – both in terms of potential positives and negatives.

The Russian diesel icebreaker Admiral Makarov has evacuated the crew of the French catamaran Babouchka, which became trapped in ice roughly 460 miles from the North Pole (AIR and EconNexis).

Finally, a NATO spokesman has said the alliance has not ruled out the possibility of inviting Russian warships to participate in exercises in 2014, particularly as scheduled exercises may include sea rescue scenarios (RIA Novosti).

United States

According to Alaska Native News, units from the Alaska Air National Guard had quite the week, performing two separate rescue missions in the course of the same night. Meanwhile, two researchers and their pilot are still awaiting rescue from a remote volcano southwest of Anchorage after their helicopter became iced over (FNM).

The President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce has come out vociferously against a proposal to move Eielson AFB’s F-16 squadron to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, noting that Anchorage is currently lacking in affordable housing, and quite literally has nowhere to put the personnel  (FNM).

Last but not least, check out this beautiful photo from the USCG Alaska’s Twitter account of a Hercules departing Kodiak for Barrow.

MINING

Alaska

An economic assessment of the Arctic deposit located in the remote Ambler mining district of northwest Alaska has returned promising results concerning the feasibility of open pit mining at the site. The state is moving forward on a parallel track exploring routes for a potential road to the district, and the prospect for LNG facilities on the North Slope could provide cheap fuel for the project, further boosting the mine’s prospects (North of 60).

I am surprised to hear that any Alaskans, much less a group of small-claims miners, felt uncomfortable in the presence of firearms. That appears to have been the case, though, as several miners complained about feeling intimidated after armed federal agents conducted environmental inspections of several mining claims in the Chicken area (FNM). Governor Parnell has ordered an investigation (FNM).

Tribal leaders from the Bristol Bay region took offense when former Governor Frank Murkowski stated that the Environmental Protection Agency “self-initiated” its controversial Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment in response to the proposed Pebble Mine. In fact, the EPA was responding to a petition organized and promoted by the region’s tribal leaders (AD).

If you are fascinated by heavy equipment, you’ll love this article in the Alaska Business Monthly on the massive trucks that are used to haul ore at the Fort Knox mine in the Fairbanks Mining District. Apparently they can carry 35 adult male African elephants. I have no idea how they came up with this measure, if it is an industry standard, and how exactly they test it. Everyone knows male African elephants can be quite aggressive. For more on mining tech, see this article in Yukon News on building a better sluice box and this article on drones being used for mineral prospecting in Canada’s Northwest Territories (EOTA).

Canada

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation finalized an agreement with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association on the benefits local Inuit communities will derive from the proposed Mary River iron mine on Northern Baffin Island (CBC). Although financial details of the agreement are yet to be released to the public, a “plain language” summary of the benefits was made available by the QIA and is accessible here (NN). Leona Aglukkaq, Canadian Minister of Environment and Minister for the Arctic Council, congratulated both sides to the agreement in an official statement.

Dominion Diamonds announced the discovery of a new kimberlite deposit on the site of their Ekati mine in the Northwest Territories that could extend the life of the mine up until 2030 (EOTA).

Ottawa is pushing ahead with plans to eliminate the regional land and water boards in the Northwest Territories in advance of devolution in spite of local opposition. The removal of the boards is meant to streamline the permitting process of mining and oil and gas projects in the region (CBC).

Russia

A small fire in the Polar mine near Vorkuta in the Komi Republic brought a halt to work this week, though no injuries were reported (AIR, Russian).


FISHERIES, SHIPPING AND OTHER BUSINESS NEWS

The Arctic booms. Or maybe not. Kathrin Keil of The Arctic Institute analyzes the “exaggerated hopes and false images” of the “questionable Arctic Bonanza” conveyed in a great number of recent articles (see for instance Emory Journal of International Affairs or Foreign Affairs). Keil examines different industries, such as oil and gas, shipping, and fishing to show the challenges and difficulties that stand in the way of the economic development of the Arctic (TAI).

Fisheries

One of this week’s few articles on fisheries comes from Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia. He advocates a pact regulating commercial fishing in the Arctic, which he says is urgently needed. With the warming of the Arctic Ocean and the melting of the sea ice, fish species such as sockeye salmon, pollock and Arctic cod could move northwards. Even though the exclusive economic zones of coastal states allow them to halt fishing, fish are likely to migrate beyond the exclusive economic zones, which extend to 200 nautical miles from the coast. This is a mostly unregulated area when it comes to fishing. Earlier this year, the five Arctic coastal countries agreed to ban commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean for the time being, but failed to establish an Arctic Ocean fisheries organization, which would manage the Arctic waters (Al Jazeera).

In Yukon, the Chinook run has been one of the worst on record. Despite expectations of 49,000 to 71,000 successful “runners”, only an estimated 31,700 Chinook made it to the Eagle sonar counter near the border with Canada. The obligation to let 42,500 fish pass the border to Canada, in addition to enough fish for Yukon’s First Nations to take their share, is established in a treaty between the US and Canada. However, in the last seven seasons, it has only been met twice (YN).

Shipping

In shipping, the wave of news on the Chinese cargo ship Yong Sheng, the first Chinese cargo ship to use the Northern Sea Route (NSR), continues. Exact Earth provides the ship’s detailed location and route (Exact Earth). After Mia Bennett’s article last week (AD), this week Ben Anderson explains why the hype around the “business as usual” trip is exaggerated. However, the voyage of the ship also highlights some interesting points. First of all, the advantages of the NSR dwarf the use of the Northwest Passage with its tricky waters and patchy infrastructure north of Canada and Alaska. Second, the NSR is not a competitor to the Suez Canal, but rather a “seasonal supplement,” states Lawson Brigham, an Arctic shipping and policy expert at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. What is more, the Arctic is still largely frozen for nine months each year (AD). Similarly, John Helmer argues that the NSR’s profitability is still very questionable. A few additional days on the route due to pack ice may eliminate the cost advantage because of the very high costs of the nuclear icebreaker. In addition to providing icebreakers, Russia plans to establish ten new Russian navigational and emergency centers along the route, as well as reinforce customs, coast guard, and special forces units. Despite all these efforts, 2012’s traffic on the NSR - 46 vessels carrying 2 million tons of cargo - is still dwarfed by the traffic through the Suez Canal - 17,225 vessels carrying 928.5 million tons of cargo (BI). Thomas Ricks also does not expect the Arctic to become “an economical shipping route anytime soon” (FP). See also these slides by Gary Li of IHS Maritime, who confirms the prevalence of the Suez Canal over the NSR, despite the current turmoil in Egypt.

The difficulties associated with shipping in the Arctic are exemplified by the ice buildup in the Amundsen Gulf in Canada’s NWT, which is responsible for delays in the communities’ replenishment of stocks, meaning some could run short of essential supplies (EOTA). In the Russian Kara Sea, the tanker Nordvik collided with an ice floe on the northern coast of the Taimyr Peninsula on September 4. According to experts of the Russian Trade Union of sailors, the ship is of river ice class and should not even have been in the region. It is now feared that the ship’s diesel fuel could leak and cause environmental damage (AIR, in Russian).

So far in better conditions than the Nordvik, the ship “Engineer TRUBIN” left the Chinese port of Dalian and is heading to Yamal as part of an experimental expedition to deliver goods from China to Russia via the Northeast Passage (AIR, in Russian). Meanwhile the first-ever nuclear-powered icebreaker Lenin has been converted into a floating museum at the port of Murmansk (BN).

Despite the challenges associated with the NSR, Russia’s president is poised to develop the country’s civilian shipbuilding sector with an eye to the Arctic. According to Putin, big Russian companies such as Rosneft, Gazprom, and Sovkomflot will need 512 new ships until 2030 “to develop offshore oil and gas fields and make active use of the Northern Sea Route” (Kremlin). Although Russia traditionally has a strong position in the segment of vessels with ice-class "river-sea", the forward-looking development of new types of ships, especially container ships and LNG carriers, is necessary (AIR, in Russian).

Swedish icebreakers are testing a new monitoring system for Arctic maritime traffic. The research and development project MICE (MONALISA Ice) adapts the MONALISA project of the Swedish Maritime Administration, for the Arctic environment (Sjöfartsverket). A short video explains how the system works and how it can not only make shipping in the Arctic safer and more efficient, but also contribute to the protection of the environment (YouTube). In Asia, environmental protection is Greenpeace’s main concern as it pleads for the ASEAN to protect the Arctic region and to stop Singapore’s increasing involvement in the “icebreaking industry” (GMA News).

In the meantime, the Arctic Tern I, a polar expedition and science vessel operated by the Students on Ice Foundation, explores uncharted waters in the Arctic (Twitter). Their blog, celebrating their encounter with narwhal, these “beautiful and crazy looking unicorns”, is worth a read. Check out the narwhal cake, which the occasion certainly warranted (Arctic Tern).

Other business and economic news

Telus, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies, now offers its wireless products and services in Yukon and the NWT (NJ). / Staff at the airline Canadian North could strike over issues of northern living allowances and vacation times if no settlement is reached next week (CBC). / In Finland, the 700-strong workforce at the Rauma shipyard stopped working on Thursday in protest over the transfer of a large order to its sister shipyard in Turku, which will have an important negative impact on the shipyard’s financial situation and the workers’ employment opportunities (AD). / In Russia, Chukotka authorities intend to diversify the region's economy, which is currently predominantly oriented towards mineral production. The production and processing of oil and gas, mining ores, and tourism will receive priority (AIR, in Russian).

HEALTH, EDUCATION, SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Health

A series of pieces published in Alaska Dispatch this week by Craig Medred under the headline “Perils of Prohibition” examine “the failures of the state's war on alcohol and why a better, but more difficult solution is to address the many reasons people abuse alcohol in the first place.” The series includes “History repeats in Alaska’s failed attempt to stamp out booze” as well as “Alaska’s failed war on booze” and “Drowning the past in rural Alaska.” Adding to the conversation and reflecting on Anchorage Daily News’s decision to revisit the topics of its 1988 special report “People in Peril” is an article from John Tetpon, who hopes something more will come out of the paper’s effort than simply re-opening a conversation about the issue (AD). Alaska Dispatch also published other health-related articles on reducing obesity in schools and the new Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Barrow.

Education

North of Sixty° invited a small group of schools from Arctic countries to participate in its project, and the documentary Hi-Ho Mistahey!, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, brings to life the story of thirteen-year-old Shannen Koostachin and “illuminates the dark reality of funding for aboriginal schools” (rabble.ca).

Society

A UN report urged Sweden to take greater care in ensuring that its Sami people are not adversely affected by mining projects in the country, also noting that the government should better compensate Sami reindeer herders when their reindeer are killed by predators (EOTA). The Valdai International Discussion Club discussed Russia’s treatment of its indigenous peoples, expressing concern that political decisions will unlikely be taken in favor of indigenous peoples if their interests collide with Russian “national” interests or the interests of big business in the Russian Arctic.

Other societal news included pieces on the opening of bear hunting season in Finland (EOTA), St. Lawrence’s “disastrous” walrus hunt (EOTA), vandalism in Nunavut (NN), and Tlicho’s community government orientation (NJ). Agricultural pursuits were a topic of several articles this week, ranging from the promise of geodesic greenhouses in Pangnirtung (NN) to the summer honey season in Arctic Russia (AIR, in Russian) and a Swedish and US-sponsored grant program to improve clean access to water for farming (EOTA).

Culture

Hay River, Canada hosted a fiddling and jigging competition last week (NJ), and the new organization Native Arts Fan Club is working to connect Alaska and Siberian Natives (ABM). Arctic Anthropology also posted a very interesting summary of “Visualizing Arctic Mobility,” a project where art and design students from Finland and Russia visited Yamal to conduct “Arctic-based design research.” Another element of Arctic culture, Canada’s “underwater cultural heritage,” is the object of underwater archaeologists’ continued quest to find the lost ships of the Franklin expedition (CBC). Parks Canada is spending an additional $475,000 to buy two high-tech research tools that could aid in the search for the 19th-centry vessels.

Due to the high costs of shooting in the Northwest Territories, the Yellowknife-set series Arctic Air will now be filmed in Manitoba (NJ). Travis Mercredi, a freelance post-production sound engineer, considered the move a testament to the fact that the Northwest Territories must prioritize arts and culture. Also depicting life in the Canadian Arctic is Anne Mosscrop’s book “Weather Permitting: Letters from the Arctic,” a collection of the author’s letters home while working in several isolated northern villages in the 1960s and 70s.

INFRASTRUCTURE

United States

The Arctic Fibre subsea fiber that is projected to bring broadband internet to a number of communities in Nunavut may also provide service to northern Alaska. Quintillion Networks is selecting landing sites in Alaska to connect to the Arctic Fibre backbone; under current projections landing locations will be at Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Wainwright, Kotzebue, Nome, and Shemya. There is also a chance that a branch may connect Unalaksa (Alaska Business Monthly).

For the aviation enthusiasts: a new FAA policy is threatening to cancel all nighttime approaches to many airports in rural Alaska. The Alaska Air Carriers Association is looking to remedy the problem as quickly and smoothly as possible, lest it cause significant disruptions (Alaska Dispatch).


Canada

Nunatsiaq Online reports on the ongoing debate over a proposed cellphone tower in Iqaluit. While Nunavut lags behind other territories and provinces in cellphone service, local administrators are concerned at the proposal from Bell Mobility, which places the tower right next to a local hospital.

SPORTS


In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, the Canadian Coast Guard was called upon to rescue a group attempting to jet ski across the Northwest Passage for a reality television show. After encountering increasingly harsh weather conditions – and having a bear tear up the expedition’s tent – the group were forced to call for rescue after becoming trapped in ice (Nunatsiaq Online and The Spec).

The weather was no kinder to a group from British Columbia who were attempting to row the Northwest Passage from west to east to draw attention to the impact of climate change in the region. While several members of the group had extensive wilderness experience in similar conditions, the group decided that conditions had become too dangerous to continue and abandoned the expedition at Cambridge Bay (Globe and Mail, CBC, and North Shore News).

Finally, the city of Iqaluit will host women’s and bantam hockey during the 2016 Arctic Winter Games, which will be held in Nuuk, Greenland. In 2002, Nuuk and Iqaluit co-hosted the games (NJ).


United States

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner lays out how Fairbanks is planning to get the community involved – in particular vis-à-vis volunteering – as it gears up to host the Arctic Winter Games in March. It will be the first time Fairbanks has hosted the games since 1988.

Blogs

Check out this blog – replete with lots of photos – from a Scot hiking around northern Norway.

From National Geographic’s Adventure Blog, a group has successfully completed a 1,000-mile, 58-day expedition to the Arctic Ocean via canoe. Both the physical and mental rigor of the participants and natural beauty surrounding the expedition are prominently featured.

IMAGES AND VIDEO

If you’re unconvinced that fall has come to North America, this picture on Instagram and this one on Twitter make it official.

More Arctic landscapes to check out this week including the view from the Toolik Field Station dining hall from Arctic Biology’s twitter, one gorgeous sunset over Barrow (Instagram) and another over the Lena River in Yakutia in a photo gallery from Yakutiaphoto.com.

In this week’s Twitter haul you’ll find a nice panoramic from Sveinn Are Hanssen, some rough waves aboard the Healy from the U.S. Coast Guard, a shot of melting Siberian permafrost from Bolot Bochkarev, an explorer and his gin from Polar World Publishing, and a submerged sub fighting against Arctic ice posted by Maxime Duprez.

GRAB BAG

Where can I find haiku about polar bears, you ask? Here. My favorite:

White against the white
Waiting for supper to show
One quick swipe, you eat.
-        Melissa Russell (Helium).

Four Ecuadorian street performers were arrested for overstaying their visas in Murmansk (BN). Seriously, who goes all the way to Murmansk to busk? In other interesting Arctic arts news, a puppet crew will be performing a play in Yellowknife next January with puppets made completely out of vegetables (NJ). I, for one, do not find this particularly odd, having seen Ubu Rex performed by vegetable puppets many years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now, that was strange. Also on the art’s beat, London artist Chris Browne has released an ink an oil painting entitled “Arctic Petroleum,” a picture of which you can find here.

Here’s some detailed reporting on bigfoot sightings in and around James Bay, Canada (NN).

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is accepting applications for artist-in-residence for 2014. Applications are due October 31, 2013.

“Arctic Tweet Sheikh” – My favorite anagram for “The Arctic This Week”. Check out the Internet Anagram Server if you hanker for more anagrams. Also: “Arctic Week – The S*#T!”

Abbreviation Key
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Business Monthly (ABM)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Journal of Commerce (AJC)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Alaska Public Media (APM)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Arctic Info (Russian) (AIR)
Arctic Institute (TAI)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Bristol Bay Times (BBT)
BusinessWeek (BW)
Canadian Mining Journal (CMJ)
Christian Science Monitor (CSM)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Government of Canada (GOC)
Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)
Huffington Post (HP)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
Johnson’s Russia List (JRL)
Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa (KNR)
Lapin Kansa (LK)
Moscow Times (MT)
National Geographic (NG)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
Naval Today (NT)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern Journal (NJ)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ)
Ottawa Citizen (OC)
Petroleum News (PN)
RIA Novosti (RIAN)
Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)
Yukon News (YN)