The Arctic This Week - News for February 20 - 26, 2012

News for February 20 - February 26, 2012 


In a week full of surprises, a 32,000 year-old narrow-leaved kampion was revived from a seed found in the permafrost by Russian scientists (NPR), and zooplankton in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas shocked researchers by staying active over the winter. (NSF) Maybe it’s the result of some unusually lavish fertilization as carbon-rich detritus from centuries of combustion runs off into the arctic seas along with water from melting glaciers. (Eye on the Arctic)

The UK elected to declassify some of the data collected by its nuclear submarines in an effort to support climate research (BBC), and pointed out that, although undersea is a more obvious place to be for arctic research, space capabilities are going to be critical feeders for Arctic policy as satellite information will often be the most up-to-date that we’ll be able to access.


The Canadian military’s Arctic Ram exercise continues, with great photos to be had on flickr. A former commander of the Canadian Forces Northern Area suggested that better support and deployment of the Ranger program is, in fact, a better way to get better eyes and ears in arctic waters. (Edmonton Journal) While Canada publicizes its military activity, the Russian military announced that it’s preparing for the (postponed) launch of its first Arctic-specific brigade, a 200-person force near the border with Norway, and specially equipped with equipment appropriate to the climate. (Barents Observer)

On the US side, the Coast Guard has been most in the news because of proposed budget cuts. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. demonstrated some implicit concern about those cuts at a press conference, saying that the Arctic has economic, energy and environmental implications for national security. He also mentioned that the Coast Guard is pressing further North in large part in order to support the exploration efforts of oil companies, which seems somehow like something one is not supposed to say openly.
(US Department of Defense) The USCG’s only functioning icebreaker, National Security Cutter Bertholf, will spend this summer patrolling the Arctic. Meanwhile, a 1970’s-era icebreaker currently undergoing retrofit will double the USCG’s stable of icebreakers. (San Francisco Chronicle)

From policymakers and think tankers this week, we can read a thorough interview with Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Wegger Chr. Strommen, in which he: welcomes China’s engagement on shipping and arctic research; supports the view that existing legal regimes are in place to manage most questions in the Arctic; and demurs on Norway’s expanded military capabilities in the Arctic as directed towards search-and-rescue, rather than military interests. (The Diplomat) Striking a similar tone, Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt spoke at a conference about the Arctic as a region demonstrating amicable collaboration rather than the potential for harsh conflict. (International Institute for Strategic Studies) On the wonk side, theInstitute for Foreign Policy Analysis came out with a massive and ambitious piece on the development of Arctic Strategy

Focusing attention on the needs of rural communities in the high North, Alaska Dispatch published a thoughtful op-ed on the need for an energy grid connecting Alaska’s rural communities. See also our recent interview with Jason Meyer covering this topic in some detail. On the social side, the Nunavut government has released a new anti-poverty plan for the province of Nunavut, but it will take another 18 months for a firm action plan, and there is no dollar figure yet attached. (CBC) Opening a painful chapter of indigenous peoples’ history in Canada, both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories plan to introduce coursework on Canada’s residential schools program, which, in essence, interned many young aboriginal people, to school curricula this spring. (CBC)

Across the globe at the World Oceans Summit in Singapore, the president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, had the honor of the opening address. (


It’s a great week for all of us when celebrities get involved in Arctic issues, as Lucy Lawless did this week, occupying (with other Greenpeace folks) the Noble Discoverer, a drilling ship bound for the Arctic, in Wellington, New Zealand. (AP) Knowing that Xena is involved, even the Grey Lady felt compelled to offer her own opinion on what it would take to get Arctic drilling right, in an op-ed in Sunday’s edition. (NYT

While Ms. Lawless searches for a toilet on the Noble Discoverer, a group of organizations focused on environmental protection have filed suit in the US ninth circuit court of appeals in the hopes of overturning the air permits given to Shell for its prospective operations in the Chukchi. (Alaska Dispatch) Looks like Shell is going to enjoy some excellent publicity on this front. And maybe it’s warranted: Last week’s blowout in a Repsol-owned gas well had stopped but was presenting challenges as of Wednesday. (Alaska Dispatch) In fascinating, escalating protests, Canadian First Nations groups have taken a complaint to the UN in Geneva against the Harper government for alleged plans to push through the Enbridge Northern Gateway project in defiance of the will of the First Nations. Now, this is interesting. (

From the hydrocarbon enthusiasts, there is further rabid speculation about the North Slope: now the USGS says shale formations there may contain up to 80 trillion cubic feet of gas and (a revised estimate) 2 billion barrels of oil. Halliburton is among the companies prospecting. (Alaska Dispatch) Meanwhile, Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has announced a tender to design a purpose-built Arctic fleet for the Arctic to support Russia’s oil and gas prospecting in the 21st century, (Voice of Russia) and a road to connect the Agnico-Eagle gold mine in Nunavut to the community of Rankin Inlet has been approved. Expected costs of about $1mn per km. (Eye on the Arctic)


This almost warrants its own section: Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s largest electricity generator, has apparently conducted a study demonstrating that the laying of an undersea cable to sell electricity to Europe is likely to be a profitable proposition in the next couple of years. (

Finally this week, a viewing party is in order:
Watch PM Harper briefly “learn” how to harpoon a seal. 

Watch an awesome video taken from a helicopter flyover of pack ice.
Watch full episodes of Nunavut Quest, a marathon dog-sledding race on Baffin Island. 

Browse some of the videos ( associated with the Ice Run, which “takes you 2,500 km across the frozen wastes of Siberia on old school Ural motorbikes with sidecars.”

Posted Sunday, February 26, 2012 by Tom Fries