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.
Facebook gets new Iñupiatun language interface
Thanks to an effort spearheaded by a man from Kotzebue, Alaska, Iñupiatun speakers and learners will now be able to use Facebook in their language. While Facebook already had interfaces in a few other Indigenous languages like Cherokee, there was nothing available in Iñupiatun, one of the 20 Native languages officially recognized by the State of Alaska (TAS). Facebook has become an important medium of communication for the Iñupiaq community, linking people in small rural villages together to share news, events, and stories (TAS).
TAKE 1: Efforts like this and a recent app called Chert (thanks to two brothers also hailing from Kotzebue) that let you write in Alaska’s languages using their own alphabets (RCI), are part of a wider global movement to keep Indigenous languages alive and well that’s increasingly led by a younger generation. Their concern over their linguistic heritage is with good reason. As a recent performance art piece points out, language loss in the circumpolar region is a big issue, with 21 languages having become extinct since the 1800s and with more at risk of being next (TAJ)*.
Putin pays a visit to Franz Josef Land archipelago
In a symbolic action meant to solidify Russia’s presence in the Arctic, President Putin spent some quality time last week in the remote Franz Josef Land archipelago before heading to the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk (Quartz). While uninhabited save for a military base that got some recent renovations, the islands, which border the Barents Sea, form the northernmost part of Arkhangelsk Oblast. Putin’s visit comes at a time when many are eyeing the Arctic’s resource riches, which he said current estimates put at $30 trillion; at the forum, he emphasized the importance of cooperation in the region especially with regard to developing resources, but he also said that the military would “implement their plans to protect national interests” (Telegraph, Quartz).
TAKE 2: Russia has been active in the Franz Josef Land archipelago in other, less obvious ways. Another purpose to Putin’s visit was to oversee a massive cleanup effort underway to remove thousands of pounds of scrap metal and waste oil (Quartz, TBO). And just last year, the islands got included in the Arctic National Park, making it at 8.8 million hectares the largest protected nature reserve in Russia (TBO). All great news for Arctic wildlife,but last week Putin expressed that the biggest threat to wildlife globally, climate change, is not necessarily driven by humans (TBO).
Oil pipeline springs a leak in Cook Inlet
Crude oil leaked into Alaska’s Cook Inlet last week from an underwater pipeline, prompting the pipeline’s owner, Hilcorp Alaska LLC, to take emergency measures including immediately cutting off the flow into the pipeline and creating a “unified command center” to deal with the spill, which was quickly contained (ADN). Although the company estimates that the total volume of the spill was about three gallons of oil, the exact amount is unknown (ADN, AJOC). Located off of the Gulf of Alaska, the Cook Inlet is known for its rich wildlife. The pipeline, built in the 1960s, connects two drilling platforms in the gulf (ADN).
TAKE 3: Hilcorp has another problem on its hands: at a different oil platform in Cook Inlet, a pipeline is leaking natural gas into the water and they are unable to fix it until ice conditions improve (Petroleum News, ADN). It’s a timely reminder of oil’s environmental hazards, and people especially in south-central Alaska remember well the disaster that was the Exxon Valdez spill, which happened in 1989 in Prince William Sound just on the other side of the Kenai Peninsula.
Broadband internet makes it to the Western Arctic
After months of laying down both terrestrial and underwater fiber optic cables, Anchorage-based telecommunications company Quintillion says that the long-awaited connection will go live in mid-April. The present project, which will link up places like Utqiaġvik (the city formerly known as Barrow) and Nome to the larger North American broadband network via Fairbanks, is just phase one of three: the company’s final goal is to connect Asia and Europe with a fiber optic line that runs under the Arctic Ocean (Webcenter 11).
TAKE 4: High-speed internet across the Arctic region varies tremendously. While many Alaskans and northern Canadians have been relying on slow text-based internet and satellite—and have been paying out the nose for it—Nordic countries are by comparison light years ahead. How to best get more North American communities up to speed will be among many things discussed at the upcoming Arctic Broadband Forum in Fairbanks (eNewsWire).
“Ice camp” Barneo kicks off another season at the North Pole
Each year since 2002, Barneo, the Russian station at the top of the world, has been a destination for explorers, researchers, and tourists alike, and now that its icy airfield is in operation, Barneo-2017 is now officially up and running (TBO). The temporary camp is located on a carefully selected ice floe, and as such, it’s never at exactly 90º N on the nose: the current site at 89º24’N 135ºW will drift a bit as the summer goes by (TBO). Its logistical hub in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, is the jumping-off point for intrepid travellers keen on visiting the North Pole.
TAKE 5: But a scandal around Barneo-2016 shows how easy it can be to step on toes in the Arctic. When Norwegian authorities found out that Russian military instructors were planning to use Longyearbyen to head north for conducting drills, they responded by drastically restricting departures (TBO). According to the Svalbard Treaty, the islands can’t be used for “war-like purposes,” and in any case, it was seen by Norway as a threat to sovereignty (TBO). In response to all this, Russia said it would move logistical operations to Franz Josef Land in 2017: which seems to have gotten pushed to next year (TBO).
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.