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.
Record transit of Northwest Passage for Finnish icebreaker
The earliest time to finish passing through the Northwest Passage is now…Finnish. The multipurpose icebreaker MSV Nordica pulled into port in Nuuk on July 29 after having set out from Vancouver on July 5, making the transit in 24 days; the previous record earliest date was July 30 by a voyage the Canadian icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent made in 2008 (The Independent, PBS). Nordica held dozens of scientists on a research mission and its passage also commemorated Finland’s 100th year of independence (Good News).
TAKE 1: While a trip through the Northwest Passage remains a challenging journey under good conditions—there’s still ice in the summer, after all, so being able to break ice is a must—that ice is thinner and less widespread than it used to be, melting sooner in the year. So while climate change means that ships will be able to transit the strait sooner and sooner in the year, it’s still not a shipping superhighway…not yet, anyway.
Assembly of First Nations call for overhaul of Canada’s MMIWG inquiry
At its annual meeting last week, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which sees over 600 First Nations in Canada represented, passed a vote asking for a “reset” of Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), but stopped short of calling for the commissioners heading the Inquiry to step down (CBC). While opinions on how to get the MMIWG Inquiry headed in the right direction varied, there was broader agreement on what needed to change: namely, to improve communication, transparency, and working relationships with families (CBC).
TAKE 2: The AFN’s vote occurred at a time when a large majority of people are increasingly frustrated at the Inquiry’s glacial pace and, in many respects, flawed approach to an emotionally charged issue that has affected Indigenous families across the country. Many still do not have closure regarding the loss of a loved one; for many others, local law enforcement has failed them in terms of conducting an adequate search (or one at all) or in terms of prosecution (VICE). Both the people behind the Inquiry and families have expressed a need for healing; however, because of the country’s history, this also means there is a need for non-Indigenous people to support the process by, for example, challenging the negative stereotypes that Indigenous people are still faced with in Canada.
Steamboat diplomacy for presidents of Finland and Russia
President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to his Finnish counterpart, President Sauli Niinistö, last week, where the two heads of state talked cooperation and took a ride on a steamboat older than the country itself, which is celebrating its centennial this year (Bloomberg). After the talks, Putin expressed “interest” in working together with Finland on environmental issues in the Arctic (TASS). As new chair of the Arctic Council, one of the specific issues Finland is taking up is the prevention of black carbon emissions, which it says need not prove to be an economic impediment (Helsinki Times).
TAKE 3: Finland shares a long (1,300 km, or 800 mile) border with Russia, and as a non-NATO member that also has many practical (e.g. economic) reasons to cooperate with its neighbor, the two enjoy a friendly relationship (Bloomberg). However, being also on friendly terms with its NATO neighbors and fellow EU states, Finland’s position is rather that of a balancing act. Especially with its leadership of the Arctic Council, Finnish diplomacy could prove useful in smoothing out some of the more blustery circumpolar relationships.
Nunavut’s newest Arctic research station already hosting scientists
It might not yet be officially open (that’s set to happen in October), but a new research station in Nunavut has already been put to good use by scientists. Located in the small hamlet of Cambridge Bay, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station has already seen four operational field seasons, hosting both Canadian and international scientists (CBC). However, it’s also designed with the people who call Cambridge Bay and Nunavut home in mind: in addition to the stated objective of getting people who hold Local Knowledge and those with more formal scientific training working together, with half of the facility earmarked for public use, the station also aims to be an educational hub for kids (The Star).
TAKE 4: The station is undoubtedly an important addition to Canada’s research capabilities in the Arctic. But, with prime real estate right on the Northwest Passage, its presence is also highly strategic. Conceived by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it was part of that government’s wider Arctic strategy to build up its Northern presence and defend Canada’s claim of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage (which has been traditionally disputed by the US). While the current Trudeau government is somewhat less hawkish, it’s more embracing of science than its predecessor, especially when it comes to climate change. The real question, though, is how much residents will benefit. In terms of getting high-paying jobs, at present, the lion’s share go to non-Indigenous southerners who have the educational background. But in spite of the long road ahead of them that will involve going elsewhere for school, the prospect of new opportunities in their own backyard is an exciting one for young Inuit (CBC).
Size doesn’t always matter when it comes to iceberg concerns
A new iceberg of note broke off of a Greenland glacier in late July, and although it’s a good deal smaller than the Delaware-sized ice chunk in Antarctica that calved its way to fame a few weeks ago, scientists say this one is more troubling. Unlike its southerly counterpart, which researchers more or less agree is the result of not-out-of-the-ordinary natural processes, this one appears to be linked to climate change. The iceberg, which is the size of three Manhattans, broke off of the Petermann Glacier, one of the planet’s largest as well as one that has been moving more speedily towards the sea (Scientific American).
TAKE 5: In and of itself, the new iceberg isn’t that big of a deal: what has scientists worried is what it could presage, given the fact that so many changes have been happening at Petermann in the past few years combined with the fact that because it’s land-based, its disintegration would add an extra foot to global sea levels (Scientific American). Back in April, scientists discovered an unusual and “worrying” crack in the glacier that could mean that it’s getting thinner in the middle, making it more prone to breakup (Washington Post).