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.
Proposed 14% cut to US Coast Guard budget is bad news for Arctic influence
Last week, draft documents released by the US Office of Management and Budget showed a proposal that would see the diversion of funds from the Coast Guard, among other agencies, to facilitate the Trump administration’s plans to enhance land border security (Politico). Under the proposal, the Coast Guard would take a $1.3 billion hit, or 14% of its budget. That money is need to bolster the Department of Homeland Security that would, among other things, oversee the construction of the proposed wall along the US-Mexico border (WorkBoat, Business Insider). But as security experts and politicians like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) point out, the plan is self-contradictory given the Coast Guard’s critical role in national security (Business Insider, Inquisitr). Also, this doesn’t really seem to be the right time to cut funding if the US wants to stay competitive in the Arctic (Reminder: the Coast Guard has two icebreakers, one of which isn’t operational, compared to Russia’s 40+, with more on the way) (Inquisitr, WorkBoat).
TAKE 1: It remains to be seen whether the proposal sinks or floats. In addition to getting flack from both sides of the aisle, there’s also the matter of the Pentagon’s recently revised Arctic strategy, which calls for a heightened presence in the region. The obvious place to start is with icebreakers, but if the budget changes go through, plans to design a new heavy polar icebreaker will be in choppy water (WorkBoat).
Russian Arctic infrastructure boom heating up in Yamal-Nenets
Big news for Siberia: the Russian government is considering a plan that would see 209.7 billion rubles, or $3.6 billion, spent on regional development over eight years (Russian Construction). But investments in the vast, resource-rich region also keep on coming: at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi last week, the governor of Yamal-Nenets Automomous District announced that the 707-km Northern Latitudinal Railway would begin construction next year to access its significant oil and gas resources (The Arctic). But that’s not the only recent action in Yamal-Nenets: the yet-to-be-built Bovanenkovo-Sabetta railway also snagged Russia’s annual award for the best infrastructure project (TBO).
TAKE 2: All the development in Yamal-Nenets is, of course, very strategic. Back in 2015, President Putin emphasized that he wanted to see Sabetta, a port on the Yamal Peninsula, become a major port “for all kinds of goods” (TBO). With railways in the works that will link up the hydrocarbon deposits of the northern Ural Mountains and the gas hub of Bovanenkovo, this dream is getting closer to reality.
Norway flexes military muscles in Joint Viking exercise
Norway’s military has increasingly been a focal point for the country, and this week it’s back in the limelight with Joint Viking, an exercise that focuses on defense and managing crises. With participation also from Britain and the US, the week-long event involves 8,000 personnel and takes place in the Arctic county of Finnmark, which borders Russia. Given the NATO participants, one need not spend much time reading between the lines to figure out who they’re training to defend against. But in a gesture of playing nice, there won’t be any activities in the easternmost part of the county closest to Russia (TAJ, TBO)*. On the other hand, Norway and Russia are set to do their annual joint search-and-rescue exercise in the Barents Sea in September (The Arctic, Sputnik).
TAKE 3: In context, Norway and Russia have been warily eyeing each other over the border. While the 2015 exercise was smaller with 5,000 troops and reported then as “Norway’s biggest military training exercise in 50 years” (RT), with a Russian display of similar size this past fall along the border, Norway seems to feel the need to drive up the stakes… and show that it has friends.
To scientists’ surprise, Arctic Ocean acidifying really quickly
The Arctic Ocean can’t seem to be able to get a break. Research conducted by an international team of scientists published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that between 1994-2010, its waters have acidified at least twice as quickly in the Western Arctic Ocean as in the Pacific and Atlantic (Phys.org, ADN). Factors such as the fact that carbon dioxide (the cause of acidification) dissolves more easily in cold water and changes in wind patterns that drive ocean currents are likely reasons for this; however, the big one is, of course, continued carbon dioxide production in the rest of the world (ADN).
TAKE 4: As the saying goes, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; the reverse is also true, especially when it come to pollutants. As sea creatures in other parts of the world, like the coral of the Great Barrier Reef, can attest, a lower pH can mean serious trouble. For the Arctic, this will spell the most trouble for clams, mussels, and sea snails—which are important food sources for humans and animals alike (Phys.org).
Iditarod kicks off in Alaska
The 45th annual Iditarod dogsled race has kicked off once again in Alaska! 72 mushers from all over the world are competing this year in the historic race that commemorates a life-saving 1925 diphtheria serum delivery by dogsled to Nome (ADN). While Nome remains the final destination, this year, as in two previous occasions including last year, the race is being run out of Fairbanks instead of its traditional starting point in Willow, located outside of Anchorage. The reason? Believe it or not, lack of snow. This year, however, is different: Fairbanks has seen plenty of snow this year along with bitter cold (ADN).
TAKE 5: Climate change is, of course, the culprit behind interior Alaska’s trend towards warmer and drier winters. It’s also changing the landscape: a race marshal observed this year that there’s more brush and willows growing along the trail than in the past (Washington Post). Last winter, which saw record-breaking warmth in the state, there was so little snow in places that sleds had to run on bare tundra (The Guardian). Is the legendary race soon to be a legend itself? Time will tell.
* The Arctic Journal (TAI) went offline in June 2017.