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.
True to the maxim “what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” scientists bring “Arctic basecamp” to World Economic Forum
Last week Davos, Switzerland, saw the annual convergence of economic and political high rollers at the World Economic Forum to discuss, well, economic matters. While Arctic climate scientists might seem like an unlikely addition, as Professor of sustainability in business Gail Whiteman explained, climate change in the Arctic “poses risks to societies and economies around the world” (Motherboard). To drive home the point about the need for continued research and action, the scientists set up a mock Arctic “base camp” and slept in the -20C Alpine weather (Daily Planet, BBC).
TAKE 1: To many, the Arctic often seems like a faraway place, so it can be hard to understand that what happens there truly doesn’t stay there—and vice versa. But with economies—and climate systems—that are so globally integrated, climate change is making disruptions globally.
More Inuktitut-speaking lawyers for Nunavut thanks to Arctic College partnership
A partnership announced last August between the University of Saskatchewan and Nunavut’s Arctic College will give law students a background in Inuit culture and Inuktitut language courses (Maclean’s). The program, set to start up in September 2017, is not the first collaborations between Arctic College and other Canadian universities, but is ideal due to U of S’s expertise in its Native Law Centre. Lawyer and former Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik seemed to be optimistic, not least because it would increase the number of Inuit lawyers and allow Nunavummiut to get legal counsel in their own language (Maclean’s).
TAKE 2: This will help fill an important gap in Nunavut, where the territory has struggled with finding and retaining legal and government personnel who have not just the right educational backgrounds, but also an understanding of Inuit culture, language, and traditional laws.
Russia to bump up military presence along Arctic coast
As part of a broader strategy that has seen an increase in military investments in the Arctic, like the recent opening of a new base in the New Siberian Islands, a source in the Russian Ministry of Defense has said they’re planning to add two new military divisions to patrol the country’s massive northern coastline (TBO, TBO). Given that the Northern Sea Route is projected to see more maritime traffic as sea ice recedes, a stated objective, according to Moscow news agency Izvestia, is to provide more security along the corridor. The Russian lower house of parliament has amended federal legislation to allow ships flying the Russian flag priority in Russian ports (Russia Beyond the Headlines, Maritime Executive, TBO).
TAKE 3: With one division based in the east and one in the west, military capabilities will have anti-assault, anti-sabotage, and anti-aircraft capacities (TBO). Ostensibly to protect shipping, these provisions also happen to come at a time of trading saber-rattles with NATO and the recent arrival of US Marines in Norway (NYT).
In Russia and the US, Arctic gas and oil ever beckons
Last week saw Russia bring a new 1,265 km long pipeline onstream from the Arctic Yamal Peninsula that will provide Europe with a lot more gas: to the tune of 264 million cubic meters per day (TBO, New Europe). The peninsula is the priority region for Gazprom, with the Bovanenkovo field alone estimated to hold around 4.9 trillion cubic meters of gas (TBO). Meanwhile in Alaska, legislators want to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Two small problems though: nobody knows just how much oil might be in the refuge; and, more awkwardly, with oil prices so low, oil companies might just decide that drilling there doesn’t make economic sense (Bloomberg).
TAKE 4: This won’t keep the likes of Lisa Murkowski and other Alaska Republicans from trying, though, especially considering people in the new US Federal administration would most likely back it.
Global warming changing the way sound travels in ocean
That mysterious “ping” noise near Igloolik, Nunavut isn’t the only weird thing happening in the world of Northern underwater acoustics (CBC): because of climate change, researchers have discovered that sound in the Beaufort sea travels four times farther than it did ten years ago. Why? Thanks to a particular arrangement of warm and cold water dubbed the “Beaufort Lens,” a layer of cold water sandwiched between warmer surface water and another layer of warmer water from the Pacific can transmit sound waves even better than before because of how they’re contained by the warm water (Arctic Deeply).
TAKE 5: This doesn’t just affect whales and other animals that communicate underwater with sound: it also impacts military activities. In fact, the US Navy currently has a team of researchers studying the extent and characteristics of the Beaufort Lens with underwater drones (Arctic Deeply).