The Arctic This Week - News for February 27 - March 4, 2012

by Tom Fries - News for February 27 - March 4, 2012


The World Politics Review published an interesting article pointing out the incentives that might mean Arctic cooperation could be the seed for a reinvigoration of the US-Russia foreign relations “reset”. Meanwhile, Moscow and Ottawa are considering working together to jointly establish the geological basis for their territorial claims in the Arctic (Globe and Mail). Russia is also planning to open the first of ten planned Arctic search and rescue centers to be placed along its arctic coastline in Krasnoyarsk this summer (, and hopes are that this and other increased bustle in the Russian Arctic will help to create jobs in the south as well (Alaska Dispatch). It’s a challenge to distinguish how this all plays in to Moscow’s list of “priorities” for Northwest Russia, which is so long that it’s hard to see what any actual priorities could be (Barents Observer).

Russia is also working together with Norway on naval drills coming up in May, as they have for a couple of years (Ria Novosti), although the two countries are simultaneously tussling over an illegally-erected satellite station on Svalbard (Barents Observer). 

On the military side, the Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy said that the newly-opened Arctic seas would demand increased use of Canada’s “space-based assets, unmanned aerial drones, submarines under the ice and a human presence on Canadian ships” (Winnipeg Free Press). The US Coast Guard also seems to be making due with less, planning to send cutter, helicopter and small-craft patrols off the north and west coast of Alaska for the first time (LA Times), and Russia has recommended serial production of the Layner, a submarine missile to be included in the Northern Fleet’s arsenal (BarentsObserver).

The Business Standard this week offered a nice, clear article on China’s different options to dominate the world of commercial shipping in the coming decades. Coincidentally, China announced that its new icebreaker should be done by 2013, and that the country has two arctic missions planned by 2015 (

A smattering of other interesting news:

A recent article from the Arctic Sounder surprised us with the news that no big cuts are anticipated in the United States’ funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service. We also heard that Iceland may be looking eventually to replace the “fragile and volatile” krona with - maybe, possibly - the Canadian dollar (Globe and Mail), and that the Finnish government is making efforts to keep Sami languages, which are dying out, alive and kicking (Eye on the Arctic, viaYLE). 


Lucy Lawless was a buzzword this week, as she and her fellow protesters were hauled off of a drilling rig in New Zealand and arrested (Washington Post). In response to this: a federal judge in Anchorage issued a temporary injunction against environmental activists (note: generally?), making similar such protests illegal (LA Times); and Shell undertook a preemptive lawsuit against what it apparently sees as its most likely environmental opponents, in order to bring the anticipated debate on its Alaskan drilling permits to a head sooner rather than later (Fox Business News). Meanwhile, Shell’s massive Kulluk drilling rig prepared to head north to begin this summer’s efforts (LA Times). The escort for this ship might want to read this delightful piece (thanks to @Becca_Pincus for finding it) from Maritime Executive on best practices and practical advice for the management of such protests.

In preparation for increased demand for support, response and what-have-you associated with Shell’s upcoming drilling, the Coast Guard announced that it will station personnel on the North Slope for the first time ever ( Shell doesn’t think they’ll need to engage in much spill-response work, as the company shows in a slick video intended to convince skeptical viewers of its preparedness to deal with a blowout in the Arctic (Shell). Despite all this to-do, the tenor of the debate in the US hasn’t changed much: the debate in the halls of the US government continues to consist of industry offering to increase investment and production in Alaska in exchange for lowered tax burdens (Alaska Dispatch).

In a survey of mining destinations worldwide released recently, the Yukon was listed as one of the most attractive (10th place out of 93 locations) ( The government’s welcoming attitude and policies toward mining companies may underlie the arguments that citizens are making against the opening of the Whitehorse Trough to further exploration (Whitehorse Star). In the same survey, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut fared less well - the disparity was attributable to regulatory differences. The same week that the rankings emerged, Northwest Territories’ Executive Minister David Ramsay gave a comprehensive statement on the opportunities and challenges for energy development of various kinds in the NWT to the Canadian Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Similar questions about regulatory regimes are slowing down the decision-making process of potential investors in the Russian hydrocarbon industry (Barents Observer), but the potential for new tax breaks for external investors in the Russian hydrocarbons sector, to be presented in the Programme on the Development of the Continental Shelf in the Period until 2030, has drawn the interest of Chevron as well (BarentsObserver). Playing into this picture is Putin’s recent expression of the idea that it would be wise to relax Russia’s strict rules mandating partnership with Rosneft or Gazprom in order to work in Russia’s arctic territory, freeing foreign companies to work without direct partnership with the (essentially) state-run enterprises (Reuters). Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a fantastic piece on why, exactly, the Bovanenko gas field is so critical to Gazprom’s future (and Russia’s). Also critical to Russia’s subsoil future is expected growth in production of silver and copper, and Norilsk Nickel is preparing by investing €439 million in its various projects on the Kola peninsula. (Barents Observer)

In Scandinavia, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is preparing for seismic surveys in the formerly disputed portion of the Barents, and simultaneously talking about opening the area around Jan Mayen for exploration simultaneously with the Eastern Barents (Aftenbladet). In response to the latter announcement, a number of environmental groups are demanding a more thorough review of response capacity, calling the speed of progress towards further drilling in environmentally sensitive areas “shocking.” (Aftenbladet)

Elsewhere, IISS published a comprehensive but concise overview of the landscape of mining of rare-earth metals (and other materials) in Greenland.


Triumph and tragedy in Canada this week. While the government of the Northwest Territories announced that the Deh Cho Bridge across the Mackenzie (Canada’slargest river) is finally...well, not completed, but at least connected, as of 26 February, this week also saw a godawful nightmare in Iqaluit: a residential fire in the middle of the night with -51 windchill (Ron Wassink). No thanks enough for the firefighters who took that on. As of Monday evacuations were under consideration for up to 300 (Nunatsiaq Online), and a tweet from @cbcnorth said that schools were closed because of the brutal windchill and the ice slicks created from the water used to extinguish the fire. 

A smattering of other news: the NWT has recentlyinaugurated a new investment promotion agency of the sort that has been an asset for other economies the world over. We hope it also works out for them. Also in the Canadian Arctic, satellite communications company Telesat says it’s ready to spend $40 million of an expected $160 million required over the next decade to double communications capacity. No mention of where the other $120 million might come from (Eye on the Arctic). Across the ocean in Russia, the demise of Arkhangelsk as a booming timber town belies positive talk about the economic flourishing of the far North (BBC).

In rural Alaska, village public safety officers have often served as stand-in police, without much concrete support from authorities. But now: “Go forth and fight crime, my child” no longer. Their role is under review, and more support may be on its way (Eye on the Arctic).


Arctic science continues to struggle for funding, as Canada’s farthest-north research station has been largely defunded, and will now be operational only on an ad-hoc basis. This means an end to year-round collection of unique atmospheric (and other) data, damaging atmospheric science not just in Canada but worldwide (CBC). Nevertheless, researchers continue to track the change in carbon balance (for better or for worse) that is likely to come from a thawing Arctic (National Environment Research Council), as well as how much solar energy the Greenland ice sheet absorbs from June through August each year. From 2000-2011, increased albedo has caused that figure to grow by slightly less than 2x the annual energy consumption of the United States (!!). That’s just the growth, not the net amount (Byrd Polar Research Center). 

Also this week, we saw a new study demonstrating that an increase in new ice (which is salty on top) at the expense of older ice (which is fresh on top) results in an increased release of bromine into the atmosphere. Although the consequences thereof aren’t entirely clear, one effect is the increased precipitation of atmospheric mercury, which can’t be good (Reuters). The receding ice will also, naturally, have a big impact on the lowest levels of the arctic food chain, to wit: algae and other microorganisms (Science Codex). Increased activity in the Arctic should probably come with some fairly well-considered regulation to manage it, so the news that the development of the environmental section of the UN International Maritime Organization Polar Code has been postponed ‘til next year has environmental groups worried about the impact of unchecked boat traffic on arctic ecosystems (WWF). What drives our interest (or lack thereof) in all of these things? A completely fascinating and absolutely necessary study out of Climatic Science, by way of Wired, showed what drives the public’s interest in climate change.

In other science news, the seed vault in Svalbard welcomed a few refugee guests from Syria this week (Fox News), and NASA launched a rocket into the aurora to study the solar wind; providing (hopefully) new data and (definitively) excellent photos (Wired). In Alaska, a project to relocate moose (which have been a hazard on southern roads) run by a private company is raising eyebrows (Alaska Dispatch).


A monument is being erected in Naryan-Mar in Russia to the world’s only reindeer transport battalion, in action during World War 2 on the Karelian front. (Barents Observer)

In the Lofoten, “If you’re a kid looking to make some pocket money, you basically have the choice between a paper route and cutting tongues.” (

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, check out the Audubon Society’s Great American Arctic Birding Challenge, helping to identify some of the many species of migratory birds that breed in the Arctic summer as they migrate northward.

Among the many intense things that I will probably not do in this lifetime is the Iditarod Ultramarathon, on foot or on fat-tire bikes (Alaska Dispatch). Also on the list: circumnavigating Ellesmere Island by kayak, as this man did. I salute you, sir (NYT).


A library ofvideo recordings of archaeologist uncovering the buried history of Arctic peoples was released this week.

Follow a cameracrew filming in Greenland

Paul Nicklen gives a TED talk on polar biodiversity.

Fantastic gallery ofimages from the American Arctic from Arthur C. Smith III. 

Awesome series of time-lapse videos from Yassine Ouhilal. Warning: more than 10 minutes long.

No dream; fact.