Take Five is The Arctic Institute’s news roundup that gives you everything you need to know about what’s happened in the Arctic this week. Short in length but big on insight, from politics and culture to the environment and security, we look beneath the headlines to see what’s really going on. Published each Friday, our quick and fun redux breaks down the five biggest circumpolar stories with fresh editorial analysis so you can get caught up on the region in under five minutes. Take Five means you’ll never miss a beat on what matters most.
Circumpolar Inuit Economic Summit looks at cross-boundary cooperation
At a recent meeting in Anchorage facilitated by the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Inuit government and business leaders from Canada, Greenland, Russia, and the US gathered at the Circumpolar Inuit Economic Summit to work on a “groundbreaking” idea to start an organization dedicated to trans-boundary economic cooperation (TAJ, TAJ, The Arctic Sounder)*. Given the complexities of working across multiple jurisdictions, the organization, called the International Inuit Business Council, would certainly have its work cut out for it, but once it’s up and running—hopefully by next year—it could be quite a force in helping people across the region create and take advantage of opportunities (ADN).
TAKE 1: But although many Inuit find themselves in difficult economic circumstances, leaders say this is even more than about making money. It’s also about keeping power in the hands of the people and communities where it belongs, rather than continuing to see it go to interests from the south (The Arctic Sounder). For the Inuit, working together across boundaries that were never theirs to begin with is a logical step in this direction.
Oil drilling in Russia’s northernmost Arctic shelf begins
With blessings from President Vladimir Putin, Rosneft, Russia’s giant oil company, began its drilling operations in the Khatanga license area of the Laptev Sea last week, which is at the northernmost part of the Eastern Arctic shelf (Energy Live News). These are exciting times for the oil company: being that this is the first time ever that this particular shelf has been drilled, it’s estimated that there is about 9.5 billion tons of oil equivalent in the Laptev Sea; as for the Arctic shelf itself, in the 28 blocks that Rosneft owns, it’s estimated that there is 34 billion tons of oil equivalent (Oil Price, Arctic.ru). And there are big plans for the Arctic shelf: analysts say that it will make up as much as 30% of all Russian oil production by 2030 (Arctic.ru).
TAKE 2: Putin was quoted as saying that “we are seeing the start of work to develop a whole oil and gas province,” and this seems like no exaggeration (Energy Live News). Though there are many plans either in progress or yet to begin that focus on infrastructure development in Siberia, the Khara-Tumus peninsula, which the drill site is adjacent to, has no seaport: meaning that for the time being, ships will have to carry cargo the whole 3,600 km to Arkhangelsk on the Northern Sea Route. No doubt it’s with an eye towards the future of ambitious projects like this that Moscow is pondering having tighter rules on oil polluters along the Siberian coast (TBO).
Study: Arctic ice melt hastened from below by warm Atlantic water
A report published last week in Science by an international team of researchers found that warmer water, not just warmer atmospheric air, is contributing to the rapid loss of sea ice in the eastern Eurasian basin of the Arctic Ocean. They’ve called it “Atlantification:” while warmer, saltier (and therefore heavier) Atlantic water normally finds its way north into the Arctic Ocean by way of an offshoot of the Gulf Stream, it’s normally well below the ice, insulated by a layer of colder, less-salty water. What they’ve been observing since 2002, however, is that the warmer water is penetrating that top layer of cold water more often, leading to more ice melt (Science, Daily Herald).
TAKE 3: As one scientist uninvolved in the study pointed out, that this happens is nothing terribly new to Arctic Ocean researchers: it’s a well-known phenomenon in the part of the ocean between Greenland and Norway, for example (Washington Post). But, what the study really underlines is how this is now spreading eastwards, and because ocean currents are great at moving heat around, this could help drive more winters with record-low ice.
China and Norway officially agree to normalize relationship, cooperate more
After a diplomatic chill that began in 2010 after the Nobel Committee (based in Oslo) gave political prisoner Liu Xiaobo a Nobel Peace Prize, things have warmed again between China and Norway with an agreement for respect and discussion on cooperation (TAJ)*. Prime Minister Erna Solberg seemed upbeat in advance of the meeting in Beijing with President Li Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, expressing a desire to go back to working on a bilateral trade agreement with China, Norway’s largest trading partner in Asia. For his part, Premier Li stated China’s interest in, among other things, cooperating along the lines of agriculture, fishery, the business community, and in having a dialogue on energy policy (TAJ)*.
TAKE 4: From expanding businesses in northern Finland to collaborating with Russia on Arctic infrastructure projects and from trying (unsuccessfully) to buy an unused military base in Greenland to President Li’s recent surprise stopover in Alaska (ADN), “near-Arctic” state China has definitely been a growing presence in the region. Coming bearing trade opportunities with its massive economy, it’s also no secret that China is looking high and low for energy to fuel that economy… which the Arctic has an abundance of. A match made in heaven?
Alaska Army brigade to stay intact, after all
Although the Anchorage-based 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division was on the budget chopping block, the US Army has decided to retain their full numbers rather than cut the brigade down to a smaller size as originally planned (KTUU). Needless to say, Alaska’s congressional delegation, which had been pushing to keep it intact since the Army announced in 2015 that it was going to downsize the number of soldiers throughout the entire force by some 40,000, is pretty pleased with the decision (ADN). About 1,500 soldiers from the brigade are slated to be deployed to Afghanistan later in the year to fight in the ongoing war there (ADN, Stars and Stripes).
TAKE 5: Alaska’s congresspeople are pleased because keeping the brigade’s numbers up means that thousands of sorely-needed jobs are going to stay in Alaska (Must Read Alaska). But it’s also a geostrategic move, considering Alaska’s proximity to Russia and North Korea as well as the fact that the brigade, being trained in Arctic combat, is also the US’s only airborne division in the Pacific region (KTUU, ADN).
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.