The Arctic This Week - News for March 12 - March 18, 2012

by Tom Fries - News for March 12 - March 18, 2012


This year’s Exercise Cold Response is not without tragedy: reports are that 5 Norwegian officers crashed into Sweden’s tallest mountain 8 miles west of Kiruna. As of this writing, that was not absolutely confirmed but seemed likely (Aftenposten). Norway has had some 4,000 troops involved in this, its largest-ever live-fire exercise (Barents Observer). In a bit of happy news for those who love the idea of an Arctic war waiting just around the bend, Russia announced that Exercise Cold Response could be considered provocative (Barents Observer), suggesting that the NATO exercise might be an effort to cow Russia into submission (RIA Novosti). This seems unlikely, as this is just one in a series of exercises that occur regularly.

Briefly, in other military activity, we see Canadian-Danish military collaboration, as Canadian Rangers offer the Danish military training in Greenland (Nunatsiaq Online). This fits the bill, as the two nations also agreed - or seem to be preparing to agree - to one of the world’s shortest land borders, a mere 1.2km on tiny Hans Island in the Nares Strait ( Meanwhile, the Canadian press wondered aloud whether the F-35 is a boondoggle, or just not going according to plan (Globe and Mail).

In North American politics, the week started with Liberal Canadian Senator Colin Kenny, who - and god bless him for his ready candor, unusual among politicians - took a leap and said, in front of the press, that Canada’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships project is, as currently formulated, “a dumb idea” (Winnipeg Free Press). Next door in Alaska, the state’s Arctic Policy Commission was formed, filling, we guess, a perceived hole in federal policymaking (press release). If you’d like to get a better overview of America’s Arctic strategy, and if you’ve got a subscription to Foreign Policy, dive in to this recent article. In the Washington bubble, DARPA is getting in to the game with its Assured Arctic Awareness program, looking for geniuses to develop remote sensing technologies to keep track of activity and conditions in the Arctic. If you read this and you’re the wo/man for the job, apply!

Across the ocean, Catherine Ashton shocked the world during her northern visit by announcing that the Arctic holds both “challenges and opportunities” ( Perhaps the vagueness of her remarks could be explained by the fact that a joint EU Arctic policy is perhaps more a dream than a fact ( Meanwhile, a proposed EU Arctic Information Center seems to have raised little buzz (, but Svalbard is becoming a popular photo-op destination for international politicians (BBC). Better or worse than an invasion of cruise ships and tourists? Who can say?

The United Kingdom announced a review of its own Arctic policies (Guardian), while the Norwegian Ambassador in an interview took an unsurprisingly measured and reasonable perspective when asked about possible Arctic border disputes (CSIS). Not so Russia’s new/old president (HuffPost).


suggested this week that Statoil is using its commanding regional market position to squeeze industry suppliers on prices. Isn’t this why one develops a commanding regional market position? Next door in Russia, there were whispers of internal pressure to resolve, clarify and lock down tax breaks from the government for Gazprom before the company will begin producing from its Prirazlomnoye project (Reuters), which is almost ready to start production (Barents Observer). Next door in Finland, another set of Greenpeace activists made up for the fact that no international stars are involved in their protest by occupying not one but two drillships preparing to head to the Arctic (Flickr).

In the UK, Shell and Cairn underwent a drilling of their own from here. Liberal MP Zac Goldsmith captured the negative feeling of many parliamentarians in a piece reacting to the parliamentary inquiry ( Perhaps it has something to do with Shell’s easy-to-lampoon suggestion that sniffer dogs - which, don’t get me wrong, are incredible at their jobs - should be part of the spill-cleanup strategy (Guardian). In general, it has to be said, the engineering heroics that are necessary to make Arctic drilling feasible and profitable almost defy belief ( 

From Russia, we heard an announcement that the full oil output of the Novoportskoye field in the Ob river delta is to be shipped via the Northern Sea Route (Barents Observer), perhaps with help from a Norwegian company (, and that the Bovanenko field on the Yamal peninsula is set to deliver its first gas in June (Barents Observer).

In what must feel like a triumphant week for drilling opponents in the US, the Senate voted down the idea of drilling in ANWR as part of a larger bill, at least for now (Alaska Dispatch), and the government’s new Oil Spill Commission Action, monitoring safety standards in the industry, was inaugurated ( In this context, Shell CEO Peter Voser expressed confusion and frustration at the United States’ energy policy, writ large (

Alaskans this week also discussed building an intra-state pipeline to help the region itself benefit from the the state’s petro resources (Alaska Dispatch), while ConocoPhillips announced its preparations for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi (Petroleum News). Also in Alaska’s state capital, there seems to be a persistent fear that China will somehow secure for itself an enormous portion of Arctic resource rights (KTUU), and some sort of low-grade hysteria that China’s lone icebreaker (fair; another is on the way), the Xue Long, is positioning the world’s most populous country as a real Arctic player. Let’s remember that 95% of the speculative hydrocarbon resources are within the littoral states’ exclusive economic zones. (Anton Vassiliev, among others)

Next door in Canada, the Arctic Oil and Gas Symposium in Calgary produced significant speeches from Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak (Nunatsiaq Online) on Nunavut as Canada’s energy future and from Northwest Territories Minister David Ramsay on both the Mackenzie gas project (NWT Gov’t) and the need for investment in “strategic infrastructure” (NWT Gov’t). The Mackenzie gas project is indeed drawing increased interest (Petroleum Economist). Simultaneously, ministers from Nunavut and Yukon told a Canadian senate committee that their provinces face stark energy challenges and that federal help is needed to rapidly develop the needed resources (CBC). The government of Canada is hard at work, though, to make extractive companies’ lives easier with an attempt to move fisheries regulations from the federal to the provincial level, where decisions could be made more quickly and, possibly, with more input from companies (Globe and Mail). Not everyone is thrilled with this development (Globe and Mail, again).

On the mining side of things, we saw NWT Minister David Ramsay, who appears to be earning his salary this week, promoting the mineral potential of the NWT in Toronto (NWT Gov’t) while Anconia Resource Corp. cleared a hurdle on the road to exploration for copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold in Nunavut (Nunatsiaq Online). Looking at this, it’s hard to know where to come down on the issue of mining as a tool for economic growth in Canada; the same debate that’s been going on in development policy all over the world is being had there, now, too ( Russia forges ever forward, though: Severstal announced this week it would invest EUR 75mn in upgrading its facilities and resource base for iron production on the Kola peninsula (Barents Observer).

But not all is fairy tales for mining concerns in the far North. Agnico-Eagle, a significant investor in Canada’s North with its Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut, is facing a class-action lawsuit (Globe and Mail), and the Mary River iron project, which is mostly owned by UK concern ArcelorMittal, is saying that it needs to provide floating housing for workers constructing its purpose-built Steensby Inlet port, as the construction of land housing will be too expensive (Nunatsiaq Online). For a broader overview of Nunavut’s mining, check out this information-rich, if slightly starry-eyed, article from Resource Clips.

In shipping, it’s clear that Russia is preparing to be by far the best-arrayed in terms of Arctic search & rescue infrastructure with 18 dedicated aircraft and 10 stations (Barents Observer), which is good as traffic increases through the Northern Sea Route. Apropos, China is sending the Xue Long on a research expedition through said route this summer (RIA Novosti). With the increased traffic comes increased debate, and Alaska’s native organizations are planning to be a vigorous part of any rulemaking for America’s territory (Alaska Dispatch). In addition, concern about the impact of increased shipping through the Bering Strait (which of course is the entry/exit for traffic in either direction through the Arctic) on resident wildlife generated this fairly predictable but well-written piece from Science Daily.


In the Russian North, it’s interesting to see which Aboriginal populations are growing and which are fading (Barents Observer). In Canada, there was recent outrage at the portrayal of Inuit life in a recent series of articles in Quebec newspaper La Presse (Nunatsiaq Online), and the Office of the Auditor General of Canada published an opinion that “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and Environment Canada [has] not adequately implemented key measures designed to prepare for sustainable and balanced development in the Northwest Territories.” (press release

I should be more cosmopolitan than to be surprised to hear that there are substantive communities of people from much warmer climes living in the Canadian Arctic, but this CBC series held surprises for me. In related news, a film is being made about the journey of a mosque - the world’s most northerly - shipped to Inuvik (CBC).

The annual meeting of the Barents Cross-Border University network, a joint venture between Finnish and Russian universities, took place in Rovaniemi this week (U of the Arctic), and distance learning is pushing the envelope in the Arctic (Arctic College).

Lapland is becoming a winter tourism hot spot (Barents Observer), and Finland is considering banning non-EU citizens - specifically, Russians - from purchasing Finnish land, a spreading practice which has been driving up prices for Finns (Barents Nova). Meanwhile Russian emphasis in its far North is expanding: the state-owned Arkhangelsk trawler fleet is set to be privatized this year (Barents Nova) while the Arkhangelsk airport is set to get a major facelift (Barents Nova), courtesy of Kolarctic funds. Wondering what those are? I was, too: see here.

In contextless news: a total of zero Russian billionaires live in Murmansk (Barents Nova), where HIV infections are on the decline, thank god (Barents Observer). Also, Nunavut has the lowest tax rates in Canada (CBC).


Further talk to make you sweat from UK-based Arctic Methane Emergency Group about catastrophic methane release from the Arctic seabed and how such might accelerate Arctic warming.  Not enough? Here’s a video of the vanishing Arctic ice from the German Space Agency and the news that the current ice extent (ocean area covered by more than 15% ice) in the Barents is less than half of the 1979-2000 average (NSIDC). In response, a professor from Edinburgh University has proposed enormous machines off the Faroe Islands to generate a fine mist in the northern hemisphere, increasing cloud cover and reducing warming in the Arctic (BBC). Seems far-fetched, but so do many things these days. Lastly, predictions suggest the spring breakup might wreak higher-than-usual floods in Alaska this year (Alaska Dispatch).

It’s been a wonderful week for the science geek. A real wealth of new studies were just released in the journal Estuaries and Coasts as was a fantastic review of NASA’s recent IceBridge mission, which is really worth the read just for clarification’s sake ( There’s also a great blog piece from the group involved. You can learn more here about NASA’s Arctic initiatives generally. In further space news, satellite technology is really improving the ability to communicate with home from the Arctic Circle (, while on the ground NOAA is expanding its award-winning Environmental Response Management Application to include the Arctic.

In other areas, we got some unsurprising but, I guess, now-conclusive news about Arctic bacteria from Penn State University, while scientists in Sakha-Yakutia worked on learning from the frozen, mummified bodies of baby mammoths and other creatures ( For those who prefer their furry creatures alive and kicking, baseline information is being collected for the first time ever on the population of caribou on Baffin Island (CBC). On scientific facilities specifically, we heard that two Yukon-based research centers have done OK in recent budget rounds tight budgets (Whitehorse Star) and that Russia’s North Pole Station 39 finally saw the sun for the first time in 2012 (Voice of Russia).

In other science news...
The Maud, built for Roald Amundsen, had an interesting history that took it eventually to rest in shallow water off of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut in 1930. Norway asked for it back (Nunatsiaq Online) and received it (CBC) this week. 

If you’re interested in the weird phenomenon of peat polygons in the Arctic, we got some interesting news on why they survive so long unchanged. 

How about underwater echolocation? New tools demonstrate that it’s possible to get complex location information from sound coming in to only one receiver. 


The end game of the Iditarod was great to read about (Anchorage Daily News), with the thrill of victory for Dallas Seavey, the youngest musher ever to win (Anchorage Daily News), and some stories of unanticipated scratches late in the game (Alaska Dispatch).

In miscellaneous other news, the New York Times provided a thoughtful review of “Frozen Planet” on the Discovery Channel, while the Huffington Post could only rave about it. We also learned that the first nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Lenin, now moored in Murmansk, is going to become an Arctic science expo center, which seems fitting (Barents Observer). 

OMG, Ke$ha is joining protests against the annual seal culling in Canada (CBC).


It was only a matter of time: here’s a gender-balanced feature on the hotties of the Iditarod.

Now is your chance to get to know Yellowknife a little bit better.

Spectacular photo carousel from Florian Schulz on the glitzy One World One Ocean site.

If you saw this photo already, never mind. If not, it may blow your mind.

Fine, this is Antarctica, but it’s an insane video of a huge iceberg collapsing completely. Check it out.

I debated whether to include this homemade commercial, but the Long John Jamboree is news to me, so...

I also asked myself whether this was appropriate, as it is essentially a feature-length commercial for Rolex. But it’s pretty great. Also, if I might make so bold, pretty unsafe. Or?