The Arctic This Week: February 13 - February 19, 2012

News for February 13 - February 19, 2012


Lots of news in icebreakers this week. The latest US Coast Guard budget includes 8 million dollars for the design of a new icebreaker (Barents Observer), and the Russian navy 2012 budget includes 1.1 billion Euros for the largest and most powerful icebreaker ever built (Barents Observer). As a general rule, Russia is way ahead and the world's go-to resource for icebreakers (Stars & Stripes), while oil majors are renting whatever icebreakers they can find to help with exploration in the Barents. (Arctic shipping)

Project 2049 published an admirably comprehensive note on China's Arctic interests, (Project 2049) and Norwegian prime minister Store confirmed that Norway supports China's bid for observer status on the Arctic Council.(Norwegian gov't site) In further Arctic Council politicking, the United States and Canada are looking to form a North American bloc within the Arctic Council as a counterweight to (what is perceived as) the de facto Scandinavian bloc. (Embassy magazine Canada)

There's also been plenty of talk about military action in the Arctic. Eight NATO countries are preparing for war games in the Arctic this year, in what is called Cold Response, (Voice of Russia) and you can see current photos from the Canadian military's exercise Arctic Ram on the photostream of Land Force Western Area on flickr. ( This all might be making Russia nervous; the nominal head of the Russian armed forces gave a prickly response to the idea that NATO deployments of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System might find their way to the Arctic. (Barents Observer)

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon has publicly requested government support for improved search and rescue capabilities in native communities in Canada's far North, (CBC News North) and the difficulty of balancing the often-competing needs of traditional economies and modern economies in the North is becoming clearer. (Nunatsiaq Online)

In miscellaneous other news, the flagship of Russia's navy, the admiral Kuznetsov, has returned to Murmansk after stopping on its way from the Black Sea in, among other places, Syria. (naval today) There is speculation that a US-Canada territorial dispute in the Beaufort Sea could turn Canada and Russia into neighbors, ( and Alaska claims that increased drone presence in its airspace would help to monitor  development and research. (Eye on the Arctic)


It was a busy week for dumping on the Russian oil and gas industry, with a major opinion and research piece on Russia's pursuit of arctic hydrocarbons and the country's inadequate preparation to protect the surrounding environment. Point of view is unsurprising, but it's comprehensive and well written. (The Ecologist) In addition, a really damning article on the potential dangers of drilling in Russia's Arctic was published in Foreign Policy in Focus. If this is an accurate representation of the record of Russian oil production in the Arctic, it is scandalous. (Foreign Policy in Focus) In contrast, Shell's plans for oil spill response in the Arctic got a tentative OK from the federal government, in spite of a plethora of Internet-based petitions. (New York Times)

Russia proceeds nevertheless with its exploration plans. Barents Observer reports that Sovcomflot, Russia's largest shipping company, is preparing to take ownership of a seismic-surveying firm whose largest clients are Gazprom and Rosneft, with the assumption that they will invest at least US$ 300 million in the company's fleet, (Barents Observer) and there is speculation that the Bovanenkovo gas field on the Yamal peninsula could be the key to Gazprom's future. (

In Canada, it was a sobering week for industry in which we saw that the Arctic mining bonanza might not be a foregone conclusion (Eye on the Arctic) and that a $CDN 16.2 billion gas pipeline running from the Beaufort Sea to Alberta is going to be tough to keep on schedule because of drawn-out decision-making processes and permitting requirements. (CBC News, via Eye on the Arctic) This reader also heard for the first time about China's investment in Canada's oil sands. (The Diplomat)

In other news, even eminence grise Nature is getting in on the discussion about "vast hydrocarbon resources" in the Arctic, (Nature) and Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, discussed the future of Greenland's Inuit in light of increased interest in Greenland's sub-ground resources. (The Dartmouth


Physician, heal thyself. US scientists wring their hands about cuts in Environment Canada's aerosol monitoring program, which has been an important source of information on airborne pollutants in the Arctic. (

Simultaneously, the US Coast Guard vessel Healy's emergency escort for a Russian fuel tanker on its way to Nome, Alaska has created headaches for scientists hoping to conduct their scheduled research on board. With the loss of the Amundsen, it'll be a tough year for Arctic science. (Science Insider)

And of course, there is no shortage of bad news. We've heard that the Kara Sea is ice-free in February, and we've seen legitimately shocking satellite photos for the past ten years. (Barents Observer) The Independent has reported on recent research that has discovered giant plumes of methane leaking from the seabed in Russia's far North. (The Independent) We've even enjoyed anticipatory disaster porn from the Guardian: will the loss of ice sheets herald an onslaught of volcano, earthquake and tsunami activity? (The Guardian)

In other news: for the geek in you, here is a treasure trove of time-series arctic data. Enjoy. (NOAA) We also learned that the cause of a mysterious illness among ring seals is still TBD. (Alaska Dispatch)


The wild release of zoo-born wolf cubs in Sweden is unlikely to be met with rapturous oohs and aahs. (Eye on the Arctic)

Competition is heating up for ice hotels in Canada. Why does this sort of news make the major press? (WSJ)

Posted Sunday, February 19, 2012 by Tom Fries