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.
Who owns the Erebus? Disagreement over claim on Franklin expedition wrecks
After locating the lost ships of the Franklin expedition in the Northwest Passage in time for its 150th birthday (which it just celebrated this July 1st), Canada is finding itself in an awkward situation involving disagreement over who the wreckage belongs to. According to a 1997 memorandum of understanding, Canada and Britain agreed that Britain would be the wrecks’ owner until they were discovered, whereupon the two would arrange for an ownership transfer to Canada (CBC). In spite of a year of formal negotiations, this is yet to happen, though; meanwhile, Inuit groups as well as the Government of Nunavut also claim them, which has to do with the fact that the ships rest in Nunavut waters (The Guardian).
TAKE 1: There’s more to this complicated legal limbo, though, which stems from the particularities of Canadian federalism. In a formal letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nunavut Premier Peter Tapunta said that artifacts removed from the Erebus, which are now set to be displayed at a temporary museum exhibit in the UK, were taken without the permission of Nunavut (The Guardian, The Times). Nunavut is not a province of Canada, but rather is a self-administering territory; the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement states specifically that permission must be granted by the territorial government in order to explore archaeological sites and remove artifacts. As for the other lost ship, the Terror, the crew that found it didn’t even have an exploration permit for the area that it found the ship in to begin with, and while Nunavut has claimed the site, it’s not yet recognized by the Canadian government (CBC). With Nunavut taking a firm stance, expect the ships to remain in choppy waters for a while.
Report: More sea ice melt means pollution can get around Arctic faster
A new study looking at the movement of Arctic sea ice has found that not only is ice getting around faster, but that this also means that so can pollution. The study, which compared sea ice data from 1988 and 2014, found that because of the fact more warming in the Arctic means more sea ice melt, and therefore smaller chunks of ice, the ice can get pushed around more easily by air and ocean currents—at the rate of 14% more quickly per decade (ADN). The upshot is that with more globetrotting sea ice, it’s even easier for pollution from one Arctic country to end up in another (Scientific American, Science Daily).
TAKE 2: The study’s findings highlight the very international, interconnected nature of the Arctic as a region: they also mean that it’s more important than ever to cooperate to keep pollution at bay and prevent disasters like oil spills from happening. International institutions like the Arctic Council, which has already done a lot of work on pollution, are also more important than ever as they offer a forum for taking action on issues that bridge the local to the international.
China calling on Russia to cooperate in Arctic portion of Silk Road
Right on the heels of making it official that it wants to incorporate the Arctic into its Belt and Road Initiative, China is calling on Russia’s cooperation and partnership, especially in developing the Northern Sea Route. President Xi Jinping made a visit to Moscow last week to meet with Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, where he sounded optimistic about the two countries’ potential in working together, and where Medvedev said that Russia would be willing to cooperate with China on key projects (China Daily). The collaboration is intended to go beyond the Northern Sea Route, of course, also encompassing things from agriculture to finance (China Daily).
TAKE 3: Between getting increasingly involved in the Arctic since becoming an observer to the Arctic Council 4 years ago and with having made a number of smaller agreements with Russia around namely energy and infrastructure, China reaching out like this is unsurprising (Arctic Deeply). But besides being a logical place to invest, expanding soft power has the added benefit of strengthening China’s sphere of influence. At a time when things aren’t exactly coming up roses between the US and Russia as well as the US and China over North Korea, going through the Arctic is a great window of opportunity for China in Russia (Arctic Deeply).
Churchill, Canada “in crisis” after severe weather disrupts rail link to rest of country
The remote Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba is now known for something other than its polar bears—but not in a good way. The town, which is located on Hudson Bay, became in essence cut off from the rest of the country after flooding disrupted the only rail line into it; the town cannot be accessed by road, as there are none. Denver-based Omnitrax, the owner of the rail line, says it can’t repair it until next spring due to lack of funding; meanwhile, local First Nations and the town’s mayor are calling on the provincial and federal governments to step up for “immediate action” because the rail line is the only viable way to bring in supplies (CTV, CBC).
TAKE 4: Churchill’s woes are the result of a kind of “perfect storm” of problems. Formerly an important hub for handling cargo and the shipment of commodities like grain from Canada’s prairies, the town’s deepwater port was closed last year because its operator, also Omnitrax, found it no longer economically feasible. The surrounding terrain, being muskeg, also poses a challenge for permanent roads, meaning that rail and expensive air have been the only ways to get in and out; and whereas permafrost poses engineering problems in itself, its melting in combination with an increased likelihood of severe weather thanks to climate change rather complicates the picture. Unfortunately, while engineers say that a permanent road to Churchill is doable (CBC), its residents can’t afford to wait.
Multipurpose icebreaker to ply the Northwest Passage for science (and Finland’s centenary)
The Finnish commercial icebreaker Nordica set off from Vancouver on July 5th on a scientific expedition called Arctic 100 that will take it through the Northwest Passage, ultimately ending up in Nuuk. With around 70 scientists on board, while the expedition’s main focus is on research, it is also intended to deepen international scientific collaboration as well as to celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversary of its independence and its new chairmanship of the Arctic Council (Arctia, EACCNY).
TAKE 5: The expedition makes sense for a country that is prioritizing scientific cooperation, especially in meteorology and oceanography, as well as education during its Arctic Council chairmanship. However, what also sets this voyage apart is that the icebreaker is commercial, rather than national, which speaks to the importance of being able to draw from as deep a pool of resources as possible that can then be shared. With ways to enhance interdisciplinary and international collaboration on the minds of many in the Arctic, the expedition will no doubt help to solidify partnerships and move science forward at a critically important time.