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.
Green light for Greenpeace: Lawsuit against Norway over Arctic oil gets court date
Back in October, Greenpeace, along with fellow environmentalist group Nature and Youth, announced that they were jointly suing the Norwegian government over its decision to open up new sites in the Barents Sea for oil drilling — on the heels of signing the Paris Agreement (Business Insider). Now, the Oslo District Court has officially given them a date: November 13 (SATPR). The lawsuit argues the government’s decision to give new licenses to oil companies in the Arctic Ocean violates Norway’s constitution, which lays out that every person has “the right to an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained” (Greenpeace). This will be the first time this right will be tested in the courts.
TAKE 1: Oil companies, however, aren’t put off. In spite of oil prices languishing below $60 a barrel, they’re on track to drill a “record number” of wells in the Barents (Bloomberg). It’s speculated that the area could hold nearly half of Norway’s resources, and with its economy dependent on oil, the country is likely to not let this go down without a fight — especially considering that the government is putting forward a plan this spring to develop ocean resources, which will likely involve Arctic oil drilling (Bellona).
Norway blasted by Russia for “unsatisfactory” relations
Norway’s been in the hot seat a lot lately. Last week, the Russian Embassy in Oslo issued a lengthy statement and a laundry list of issues it has with the present “unsatisfactory” relationship between Norway. While acknowledging longtime areas of cooperation like fishing and border security, the statement argues that it’s not enough, referencing Norway’s adoption of sanctions alongside the US after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea (News in English, TBO). Brushing it off as “propaganda,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg indicated that the country has no intention of dropping the sanctions (News in English).
TAKE 2: The statement comes during a rough patch in the Russian-Norwegian relationship: among other things, last week Russia denied entry to two Norwegian MPs, and the Norwegian Police Security Service stated that Norwegian individuals are experiencing an increasing amount of Russian espionage (TBO). To try to dispel tension, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende is making plans to visit Arkhangelsk in March—his first Russian visit in three years (TBO). While tensions have been simmering between NATO member and Russia for some time, cooperative and friendly relations still exist in other ways between the countries. In other words, this too shall pass (News in English).
Canadian Far North glaciers melting 900% faster than 10 years ago
A recent study by researchers from the University of California Irvine shows that in the span of a decade, Canadian glaciers have picked up the pace of melting by a whopping 900% (CBC).The trend was found looking at data collected from 1991 to 2015 on Queen Elizabeth Islands, which make up the northern expanse of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The culprit, unsurprisingly, is warmer air temperatures (Seeker). While Greenland’s ice cap gets a lot of attention, this Canadian ice is no small deal. It represents about 20% of the world’s glaciers and is the third-biggest contributor to rising sea levels (CBC).
TAKE 3: From the looks of it, this trend will probably continue. With both Antarctic and Arctic sea ice at record lows in January, 2017 is already shaping up to be a year of significant ice loss (ADN, Daily Kos). But as David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme put it, surface air temperature is a “small hair on the long tail of a very big dog.” Translation: it isn’t the most reliable way to track climate. It’s ocean temperature to look at. And that, he says, “is going up and up and up” (ADN).
Looking east, US and Canada mull icebreaker woes
Considering the attention Russia has been lavishing on its Arctic in the form of icebreaking capabilities and general military development, the US and Canada are puzzling over ways to make a dent in the “icebreaker gap.” Teamwork anyone? In the US, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard, is not only pushing to add six new icebreakers to the Coast Guard. He also wants to put it under the aegis of the Pentagon rather than the Department of Homeland Security, which, he says, will streamline procurement (Defense News, Washington Times). With just one icebreaker, and with its southern neighbor having just 2, Canada has far more Arctic real estate to look after. A plan announced last week for both countries to work together to formulate and test new icebreaker designs is one way to help their woes (TAJ)*.
TAKE 4: There are concerns that the US and Canada might have missed the boat, so to speak. Icebreakers take a long time to plan and build. Russia, meanwhile, has a head start with 41 vessels currently in operation and more in the works (News Deeply). Retired Canadian Colonel Pierre Leblanc put it this way: human activity in the Arctic will keep increasing the more the ice melts, but considering the lack of vessels, will “icebreakers be there when we need them?” (News Deeply).
Scientists come up with ambitious—and costly— plan to grow more sea ice in Arctic
Arctic ice, of course, has a big impact on climate as well as shipping routes. With projections of ice-free summers at the North Pole to begin around 2030, that’s decidedly bad news for the planet’s climate systems. To help deal with this, a team of scientists from Arizona have come up with a design that would help ice grow back during the winter. The catch? At a price tag of USD $500 billion, the plan would also be a feat of engineering, involving 10 million wind-powered pumps to be set up throughout the Arctic that would bring deep water to the surface where it would freeze, causing ice to thicken and be more resilient (Gizmodo, CBC).
TAKE 5: It’s a daring proposal that seems to have been met with more than a little skepticism. But, it’s also a sign a very worried scientific community is racking its collective brain to find a solution. With ice melting way faster than predicted, professor Julienne Stroeve of University College London remarked that “it is now much more dire than even our worst case scenarios originally suggested” (The Guardian).
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.