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.
Four missing after tsunami in Greenland
It was a wave that crashed on the shore of west Greenland, but was felt all around the Arctic: on June 17th, a tsunami hit the small village of Nuugaatsiaq, flooding it (CBC). Four people are presumed dead after going missing when their home was washed out into the ocean, and local sources say there were several injuries (The Guardian). Scientists say that the direct cause of the tsunami was very likely a landslide on a mountain across from the village; while earlier explanations theorized that the landslide had been caused by a nearby earthquake, more recent research suggests the landslide was more “spontaneous” (CBC, ADN, CBC).
TAKE 1: In case you were wondering, western Greenland is far from a major faultline, but in spite of that, earthquakes aren’t all that uncommon, with events similar to the one on Saturday only involving a tremor having happened before (The Guardian). Research is suggesting that with the melting of Greenland’s ice cap picking up pace due to climate change, the lighter load on the rocks underneath can cause the ground to shift (read a more technical account of that here). But more ice melt can also mean more ground sediment instability and more landslides, meaning that Canada’s nearby and similarly-terrained Baffin island could also see a higher risk of landslides (CBC).
Russian oil giant discovers new oilfield in eastern Arctic
Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, announced last week that it has found a new hydrocarbon deposit in the Laptev Sea. This is the first oil deposit to be found in the eastern Arctic, where oil companies have been increasingly looking because deposits in western Siberia, where the majority of Russia’s oil production comes from, are beginning to deplete (Reuters, Fortune). Although there are no estimates as of yet as to the size of the new finding, Rosneft sounds optimistic (TASS).
TAKE 2: All this, in spite of conditions not exactly being optimal for exploration in difficult-to-reach (read: costly) places. Western sanctions against Russia are still ongoing, meaning that the Russian oil industry can’t benefit from the investments and technology deals with Western companies would bring. And even though in March OPEC tried to curb production to drive oil prices up (Reuters), they continue to sputter: normally an economic disincentive to exploration that has also kneecapped oil-dependent economies like Alaska and Russia. Yet, Rosneft is planning on investing $8 billion in offshore energy in the next 4 years (Reuters): clearly, it thinks the gamble will pay off down the road.
A tale of two Arctic security strategies
First Canada, and now Denmark: within the span of a week, the two countries have announced updated foreign and defense strategies. Where the Arctic is concerned, Canada is looking to expand its surveillance and emergency response capabilities, among other things (CBC). Meanwhile, Denmark’s updated strategy for the next two years also lists the Arctic as one of five “challenges,” seeking to promote economic development in Greenland and the Faroe Islands as well as regional stability through cooperation (Copenhagen Post, Xinhua).
TAKE 3: The respective Arctic security strategies reflect not only differing concepts of what security is, with the Danes taking a decidedly broader, human-centered approach in contrast to Canada’s military focus, but also demonstrate what each state views as being the more urgent ongoing or emerging issues it faces in the Arctic. In Canada’s case, unpredictability in its southern neighbor and Russia’s Arctic buildup are combining with its relative lack of capabilities in its vast and sparsely populated Arctic archipelago to stoke its historic anxiety over its sovereignty in the Arctic. For Denmark, Greenland’s melting ice cap is opening up the potential of mining riches: which, if developed, could perhaps quell a growing independence movement which is in part propelled by poverty and social problems that plague many Greenlanders. And yet, people in the Canadian Arctic face remarkably similar problems: a security issue that the Canadian strategy falls silent on.
Between plastic, diseases, and tourists, a lot of stuff from the south is finding its way north
Svalbard’s beaches are becoming littered with plastic, a recent scientific expedition found. And no, it’s not because of tourists (although Svalbard is expecting more visitors, and meanwhile, Franz Josef Land is expecting about 1000 people this year): the culprit is the Gulf Stream, the ocean current responsible for keeping northern Europe (relatively) balmy (The Guardian). But with climate change warming up the world’s oceans and air, plastic can also be accompanied on its way north by new diseases and their animal hosts, spelling the potential for major public health issues (NG). While they are in a remote part of the world, the tourists currently headed to the North Pole on a Russian nuclear icebreaker are definitely not alone (Arctic.ru).
TAKE 4: This week’s news highlights how the Arctic is changing because of things that happen outside of it. The Arctic has held a particular fascination for a long time in the European cultural imagination, inspiring hundreds (if not thousands) of intrepid explorer-types: and today’s documentation of the changing Arctic inspires a new generation of adventure-seekers. But, just like two centuries earlier, today’s travelers—human and non-human alike—have an impact on the people who call the Arctic home.
With possible July 1st government shutdown looming, state of Alaska budget still in limbo
The saga continues. As of Thursday the 22nd, Alaska’s Senate and House of Representatives have yet to approve a compromise budget that would tap into the state’s budget reserve (Juneau Empire). Although lawmakers know they’re under the wire—failing to approve a budget means that the state’s government will shut down on July 1st—as of time of writing, the budget’s fate is still very uncertain, as part of the issue stems from the House and the Senate clashing over how much to fund what, such as education (ADN). A government shutdown would spell big trouble for many, like those in the fishing industry, and have far-reaching ramifications (AJOC, KTUU).
TAKE 5: The government’s difficulty in establishing a budget is ultimately rooted in the fact that Alaska is in the middle of a revenue crisis and is also trying to come up with a new fiscal plan to restructure the state’s finances (ADN). Low oil prices plus reduced oil production in Alaska has led to a deficit of $2.5 billion: and part of the disagreement on the fiscal plan has to do with whether and how much to continue subsidizing the oil industry versus investing elsewhere.