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.
- Obama sinks Trump Arctic Ocean drilling aspirations
In a veritable “drop the mic” moment, the Obama administration, no doubt wishing to cement a legacy of environmental protection, has just put the kaibosh on the incoming administration’s ambitions to open up the Arctic Ocean to more oil and gas drilling for the next five years. (BOEM, NPR, Huffington Post). The removal of the Bering and Chukchi Seas from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s list of approved lease areas for oil and gas (which would be very hard to reverse) is seen as a step in the right direction by many, including environmental groups, given the fragile Arctic environment. But it’s also ruffled the feathers of those who see it as a kick to the state’s economy while it’s already down – think Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (Politico, Washington Post). And Arctic Iñupiat Offshore, which seeks to promote “responsible development” for its members, slammed Obama for “ignor[ing] the voices of the local indigenous people” (TAJ)*.
TAKE 1: This bold move came faster than you can say “drill, baby, drill.” In spite of all the talk in DC, it’s Alaska’s Indigenous peoples who stand to gain—or lose—the most. Affected by climate change more than anyone, they will both be on the front lines of any ecological disaster and profits from future energy development.
- The Arctic is really, really, really warm right now
This time of year the North Pole is shrouded in darkness, the sun not set to emerge again for several months. This is normally the entrance cue for those frigid winter temperatures that the Arctic is so well-known for. But not this year. Continuing the warm trend from last month, November has also seen slow sea ice growth or actual ice melt—in part because surface temperatures in some places have been as high as 20°C (36°F) above normal, with many places in northern Norway and Russia up to 14°C higher (Climate Central, TBO). However, it’s not just warm air that’s a factor: it’s also warm water, caused by this summer’s substantial ice melt (The Guardian).
TAKE 2: Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers, had some strong words, especially for a scientist: “[t]he ridiculously warm temperatures in the Arctic during October and November this year are off the charts over our 68 years of measurements” (Climate Central). Mic drop.
- Arctic Indigenous cultures taking center stage… literally
It’s an exciting month for Arctic Indigenous cultures in the US and Canada. In Alaska, two brothers from Kotzebue teamed up to create an app for all 20 of Alaska’s recognized Native languages (RCI). Meanwhile, in Canada, thanks to Iqaluit quintet The Jerry Cans, Nunavut now has its first record label Aakuluk Music, which will share “the sounds of the Arctic with the world” (Hamilton Spectator). And next year, the prestigious Canadian Stratford Festival will showcase a play set in the Arctic that’s directed by an Inuk and stars Inuit actors (CBC).
TAKE 3: The Arctic arts scene has taken off in the last few years, especially in North America. And as artists, musicians, and writers blend cultural forms from literally all over the world, the North is definitely a place to watch.
- Melting US-Russia chill could start in the Arctic
After talking up Putin on the campaign trail, US president-elect Donald Trump and the Russian president had a phone chat earlier this month where they talked about normalizing relations (Politico). There are many places to start, but with historic ties between the two in the state of Alaska, shared cultural roots in Indigenous eastern Siberians and Alaskans, and, perhaps, a shared economic anxiety over China’s strong circumpolar interest, there’s a good case for starting in the Arctic (ADN, National Interest).
TAKE 4: But let’s not let this budding bromance get to our heads: there’s still that perennial thorn in Putin’s side – NATO. Because of that, the relationship between the two leaders is probably more aptly described as “it’s complicated.” While Trump has said he thinks the US is paying too much to the defense organization, it’s unlikely that he’d bail from the treaty altogether. A place to watch in the months to come: the Norway-Russia border.
- Making bird poop cool again
…or is it the other way around? Turns out a recent scientific study has found that migratory bird by-products actually have a small cooling effect on air temperatures in the Arctic. The droppings that migratory seabirds deposit on rocks during the summer months have a high ammonia content which influences the chemical composition of the clouds overhead, making them reflect more sunlight (Huffington Post, Science World Report). But don’t get too excited: it’s not enough to reverse the overall warming trend in the Arctic (Live Science).
TAKE 5: Given that bird guano is also white and reflects light easily, this research is literally a bright spot in climate research. But jokes aside, it also means that migratory seabirds are that much more important to protect.
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.