The Arctic This Week: News for 11 August - 17 August 2012

By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 11 August to 17 August 2012

Thanks for joining us this week, and thanks especially to those of you who took the time to give us your opinion on the weekly newsletter. We’re happy and humbled to report that almost all responses suggested that we ought to stay the course in style and content, so we aren’t planning any major changes at this point. Your feedback and comments are always welcome; feel free to contact the author directly. All opinions and any mistakes are the author’s own.

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If you’ve only got a few minutes this week, the following six articles will give you the best return for the time that you’ll invest. 

For my money, the best article to come out this week is a piece by Heather Exner-Pirot in Eye on the Arctic which raises numerous extremely sensitive questions about whether government transfers, subsidies and support for Northern communities are positive or negative for those communities’ long-term success. Ms Exner-Pirot tackles the difficult subject bravely and gracefully. 

It’s easy to lose track of the long, knotty story of the Shtokman project, but Vladimir Socor does a great job of packing it together in a short essay that explains context and structure while dissecting the interests and logic behind the project. It’s great to have an opportunity to include something from the Jamestown Foundation in our reads of the week. 

Valuable mostly because it brings to light an aspect of the changing Arctic landscape that I didn’t think about, Wired Science covers the impact of gradual warming and reduction in ice cover on “regime changes” in the flora and fauna of sea-floor habitats. Also fascinating is the Alaskan expedition to catalog the wildlife of the Chukchi Sea, which expects to bring back new species as well as sorting its way through tons – literally, tons – of marine life hauled in through trawl surveys. From Alaska Public media.

I’d hazard a guess that many of us went through a phase when we were young in which we wanted to be marine biologists and/or paleontologists. Relive the dream with a captivating series – five at the moment – of posts from National Geographic on digging for dinosaurs on Spitsbergen.

In what seems to me like a needless exercise of ambition and privilege, a floating luxury condominium called The World is preparing to transit the Northwest Passage. The always-readable Michael Byers provides a frightening review in the Globe & Mail of the hazards that attend this voyage and others, and of what would have to happen if the ship were to founder somehow. Also, it should not go unsaid that the reality of extremely rich people’s leisure activities always exceeds by several orders of magnitude even my wildest imaginings.


[Circumpolar issues and joint exercises]

The Canadian and US Coast Guards as well as the National Energy Board of Canada, the Inuvialuit Game Council and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers worked together on an environmental response exercise off of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT (Fisheries & Oceans Canada). The armed forces of the two North American giants will work with their even larger Eurasian counterpart on operation Vigilant Eagle, a scenario exercise using a mock hijacked aircraft and focusing on “cooperative hand-off of the aircraft between fighter aircraft of the participating nations” (ITAR-TASS, OC).

In other internationally relevant military news, the US Federal Aviation Administration is working to create a whole new legal category of international airspace over the Arctic in which UAVs will be permitted to fly (Aviation Week).

[United States]

The Coast Guard is checking out some odd-looking amphibious vehicles as possible mainstays of its future Arctic fleet (AD). To be clear, there’s no purchase plan at this point, this is just a show-and-tell ( The mayor of Nome, Alaska, Denise Michels, wrote an open letter on the need for a USCG seasonal Forward Operating Base in Nome (Institute of the North), which seems like a good idea if the money can be found. The USCG cutter Healy is meanwhile on its way north for three scientific missions this summer, the first of which will focus on Hanna Shoal near Shell’s drilling site (Maritime Executive), and we heard from Homeland Security Today that “given the Coast Guard's relatively light presence in Alaska […] the agency depends on the private sector to uphold agreements to prevent and respond to pollution.” I can’t help but feel that could be a problem when push comes to shove. 


The Canadian Coast Guard’s rescue of Students on Ice last weekend was great to see, and – poor people – the very next day they were required to medevac someone off of the Nunavut Sealift and Supply ship Zélada Desgagnés in the Davis Strait. A Coast Guard helicopter came from Gander, Newfoundland, while a Hercules support plane came from Nova Scotia, and the gentleman was flown to Iqaluit for treatment (NN). 

That wasn’t the week’s only accident; Canadian Forces medics in the area for Operation Nanook treated a man in a single-vehicle accident on the Dempster highway near Tsiigehtchic, NWT (Canadian Forces). Also as part of Operation Nanook, the Dempster Highway will be used as a landing strip for a Twin Otter plane over the course of this week (CBC). 

Defence Minister Peter MacKay made some fairly cautious remarks regarding Canada’s commitment to militarily defend its northern sovereignty (London Free Press). An earlier article in the Ottawa Citizen pointed to internal documents from the Department of National Defence showing that the minister’s remarks may have been needless; there’s little fear of a threat from Russia’s military activities. The author sensibly revived the article this week.

Quiet night at home? Download Northern Frontline, the Joint Task Force North’s magazine debriefing Operation Nunalivut and other activities. 


An Italian firm is six years late on a delivery of helicopters to the Norwegian armed forces; Norway might consider breaking their contract and going with American Sikorskys instead (BO). 


Russia just cannot help itself; it keeps sending navy vessels to the Kurils – this time, the landing ship Admiral Nevelskoi and the tugboat Kalar (MT). While those head out to sea, other vessels are returning home, including the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Novomoskovsk (Naval Today) and the Northern Fleet’s destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov (BO). 

A major new toy, the nuclear-powered sub Severodvinsk, will have its commissioning delayed until 2013 thanks to problems in its power plant (Naval Today; ITAR-TASS denies the report) and with the suite of weaponry tailored to fit it (Moscow News). Those missiles, called Caliber, are expected to be supersonic cruise missiles with a range of 2500 km and accuracy at the target site of two to three meters (Naval Today). I hear there will also be ninjas. Russia’s two new Borey-class submarines the Yury Dolgoruky and Aleksandr Nevsky are apparently intended ultimately for the Pacific, not for Arctic service (BO).

Unlikely to balance out the disappointment of bad news on the Severodvinsk is the successful launch of a new icebreaking tugboat (Marine Link). 



Exploration proceeds apace in Norway, as the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate finished snooping around in a 9,470 square km area near Jan Mayen (AB) and prepared to undertake further surveying in the formerly-disputed territory near its maritime boundary with Russia (Rigzone). Elsewhere in the Barents, other companies finished more detailed 3D surveys of 1,997 square km in advance of a licensing round (Rigzone). Drilling commenced on the Salina prospect near the Skrugard and Havis fields in the Barents (, while Eni announced delays and worrisome increased costs associated with its Goliat field project (BO). The city of Kirkenes is benefiting from increased activity as the port of choice for many vessels working in Russia and elsewhere (BO). 

Good news for Norway: the country’s hydrocarbon output is expected to rise in 2014 for the first time in a long while as new prospects come online (Businessweek), which is a good thing as the UK is showing semi-desperate interest in Norwegian gas (an interesting article from Aftenbladet). It’s not just gas, either: a massive project to build a cable connecting Norwegian electricity to the Scottish grid looks like an interesting prospect (P&J Energy). Despite such positive indicators, Det Norske showed a loss of US$36mn in Q2 of 2012 (AB), which might matter less than it seems as Norwegian companies apparently get to write off much of their budget overruns in their annual taxes (AB). Can this be true? Aker Solutions was a stark contrast to Det Norske, as the oil services company pulled down a Q2 EBITDA of US $201mn (AB), and contractor DeepOcean was doubtless thrilled to receive a US $20mn contract from Statoil for six months of subsea construction (AB).

In other miscellaneous news, Norway’s oil wages may be making life difficult for the country’s other industries (AB). Wind company Vestavind Offshore is considering offering to supply energy to the oil industry, of all things, in order to set in place the reliable revenue streams that would make an offshore wind project economically feasible (AB). Safety issues were identified at Statoil’s Melkøya plant (, which also declined to purchase energy from Russia’s Kola nuclear facility until some older reactors are upgraded (Bellona).


The Shtokman project won’t be in the news much for a bit now while things sort themselves out, or don’t, but I am so glad to be able to point to a wonderful short-essay history and contextualization of the project from the Jamestown Foundation, whose work is in general greatly to be recommended.

Among other concerns, the news that the Prirazlomnoya platform’s spill-response plan has expired inspired Greenpeace, the WWF and others to bring attention to the poor environmental record and high risk that attends Russia’s Arctic drilling, both on-shore and offshore (LA Times, WP, Greenpeace). A blog post from Jon Burgwald highlights most memorably his own physical revulsion at contamination from land-based oil facilities in Russia’s Usinsk region.

The rumors of Novatek’s first step into European markets were confirmed by the company this week, with its supply agreement to German energy company EnBW (Platts). Novatek said that Gazprom did not serve as its agent in the deal (Reuters), and announced this week as well that its Q2 profits were down 33% from last year (Reuters).

In other Russian news, Rosneft has begun exploration in the Kara Sea a year ahead of schedule (RT). An agreement has been inked between a Russian and a UK company to work on Arctic-specific subsoil-analysis solutions ( An icebreaker to service Sakhalin-area platforms, the Vitus Bering, has been completed well ahead of schedule in Finland (Marine Log, Helsingin Sanomat). Lastly, the Komi Republic is the target of substantial federal investment to see whether investments in hydrocarbon production there might be worthwhile (BO).

[Shell in Alaska]

The Coast Guard’s spill-cleanup exercise off of Barrow this week highlighted the particular challenges it will face if called in to deal with a significant spill (Arctic Sounder), while the Department of the Interior and environmental groups debated whether the coral discovered at Shell’s drilling site in the Chukchi warrants further study or not ( Further South, the Arctic Challenger, the spill-containment barge still at dock in Bellingham, Washington, leaked approximately 1 quart of oil from its hydraulic systems into the Whatcom Waterway three times over the course of a couple of weeks (ADN). Small quantities, yes. Violations nonetheless. The LA Times heard it was four spills, and pointed out that the target date to complete the vessel’s reconstruction has been pushed back now to 30 August. This and other such issues are shrinking the window for Shell’s fall drilling, with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stating that the company’s failure to meet regulatory requirements is the key reason for the delay (Financial Post). Final decisions on whether drilling may proceed at all should be made soon, as the company is required to be out of the Chukchi Sea by 24 September and out of the Beaufort Sea by 31 October (National Journal). Alaska State Senator Cathy Giessel expressed her frustration with what she sees as “federal dithering” and suggested that the company’s spill-prevention and containment equipment is so plentiful as to be redundant (Juneau Empire). If you’d like to see a map of the equipment Senator Giessel is referring to, check out slide #11 in a presentation from Shell representative Robert Blaauw, courtesy of Arctic Summer College.

[Announcement on drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve]

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced this week the selection of a draft plan (the most environmentally conservative of four originally under consideration - see map) for Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. I promise you’ll find it interesting to look at the different plans that were considered (BLM). 3 million acres of the Reserve are already under lease, though no activity has begun, and the proposal opens another 11.8 million acres to leasing, while leaving the remainder of the 23.5-million acre reserve under protection. The plan also makes a pipeline across NPR possible, which could transport production from the Chukchi Sea offshore leases. Estimates of the Reserve’s resources show 549mn barrels of oil and 8.7tn cubic feet of gas. The review period for the proposal is 30 days (LA Times, WP, AD, Yale 360). 

In general, environmental groups seem to be happy with the outcome (Pew, Audubon, Wilderness Society), as does a group of several dozen US Representatives (PDF file), while industry groups and Alaska’s Senators see it as too restrictive (see previous links). This issue as a political football is covered briefly but competently in a New York Times blog.

 [United States - General]

A really nice post in The Hill points out that US energy security isn’t an isolated issue, and that drilling in the Arctic comes – surprise! – with both high positive and negative potential. The post suggests as well – I think correctly – that hydrocarbon dependence writ large is a national security issue, regardless of where those hydrocarbons come from. An article in Alaska Dispatch meanwhile takes a fairly clear-eyed look at the prospects for North Slope shale gas under consideration for development by ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Trans Canada. Another newly-revived proposal would consider converting natural gas from the North Slope to electricity on-site and then delivering it as power to Alaskan residents, some of whom spend up to half their annual income on energy costs (FNM). The State is also looking at the potential of lowering Alaskans’ energy costs on the hydrocarbon side (FNM), though the details of the plan are unclear to me.


Shell and MGM Corp are both owners of exploration leases for the Canol Shale in the area of Fort Good Hope, NWT; other leaseholders in the region are Husky, Imperial and ConocoPhillips. With the mouth-watering potential for 2-3bn barrels of oil driving strong interest, environmental concerns and the logistical challenges of getting the products to market are topics of heated discussion (CBC). Hydrocarbon projects such as this one may turn out to be a source of plentiful revenue for Canada’s First Nations, if they are wisely developed (G&M).Chevron Canada is meanwhile conducting some offshore seismic exploration – informative details on preparations for that come from the company itself – while in Yukon a debate over how to expand generating capacity in the years ahead gives some good insight into the ethical and practical challenges of picking a fuel source for electricity (Whitehorse Star). Is diesel or natural gas to be preferred? Wind or geothermal? 


[Major Canadian projects]

Everyone wants the chance to cast stones at Areva’s impact assessment for its proposed Kiggavik uranium mine, but the Nunavut Impact Review Board has said that it doesn’t have the authority to force Areva to do a cumulative impact assessment in order to please a network of other stakeholders (NN). At the Diavik diamond mine in the NWT a 5,000-ton rockslide injured nobody, as warning systems had gotten all workers out ten hours prior (CBC). Nice job! Ottawa announced that it would deny a request from Nunavik’s Makivik Corporation to independently review Baffinland’s Mary River project for potential marine-environment impact (CBC), while Advanced Explorations is looking at developing a second big iron mine at Roche Bay in Nunavut (CBC). The massive Howard’s Pass zinc/lead mine at the Yukon/NWT border meanwhile looks to be even larger than expected, which is changing plans for operator Selwyn Chihong (CBC).

In the sort of impact assessment one doesn’t usually think of, a social-impact assessment at Baker Lake will look at the effects of mining projects on Inuit women (NN).

[Other Canada news]

An interesting interview with Adrian Fleming (who represents the small mining company Prosperity Goldfields, owner of the Kiyuk Lake property in Nunavut) shows the unique position of mining “juniors” in the industry (, while another mining “junior” Tyhee Gold announced that its Yellowknife gold project looks economically feasible – details via Canadian Mining Journal. Another small Canadian concern, Silver Bear, is moving forward with permitting for a prospect in Yakutia (MarketWatch). 

At the political level, the Nunavut Impact Review Board and Canada’s National Energy Board have set up a memorandum of understanding on knowledge-sharing for future projects (National Energy Board).

[Other news]

In Russia, the Murmansk-region subsidiaries of Norilsk Nickel are in for a visit from the Chairman of Russia’s Federal Service for the Supervision of Natural Resource Usage (Bellona), though one is challenged to identify a particular purpose for the four days that he will spend there. In Alaska, the Pebble Limited Partnership is preparing a mine plan for release in the near future; it will go to stakeholders first before the permitting process begins (FNM). This is going to be riveting, in all seriousness. Watch this space.


[Call for papers]

The Arctic Frontiers conference 2013 call for papers is available here. Deadline for abstract submission is 24 October, and the conference itself will take place in Tromsø from 20-25 January.

[Weather and environmental news]

The unusually strong cyclone that’s been churning up Arctic sea ice might be having an impact on the pace of ice melt (EOTA), while unusual heat around most of the pole has been in contrast to the North Sea and Scandinavia, as well as the coast of Alaska, which have had lower-than-normal temperatures this summer (AB). 

The news that the rate of decline in ice volume (as opposed to extent) over recent years may be 50% higher than predicted by most models generated headlines everywhere (Guardian, BBC, BO, among many others). To briefly review details, the data comes from the European Space Agency’s Cryosat 2 satellite, and is still considered preliminary. The “soundbite” most often shared was that, at this rate, the Arctic might experience zero ice at least briefly in about a decade, much earlier than imagined. A more in-depth piece in Rolling Stone from author Bill McKibben took a narrative tack on the widely-reported sudden melt event on the Greenland ice cap a couple of weeks ago, while scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, the U of Oldenburg and Woods Hole have been traveling along the coast of Greenland looking at changes in ocean temperatures. Bloomberg also provided a recap of many of the big melting events this summer, and we at TAI offer a series of painstakingly-created interactive graphs that help you get a feel for longer-term trends in ice extent and volume.

For any of you who may feel that all of the above is venal catastrophe journalism, you’ll find a sympathetic companion at The Register or in an article from Forbes, the latter of which suggests that global warming may be good for polar bears because of its benefits for seal populations. 

For a little more on the changing Arctic ice, you could check out a satellite-photo comparison of the Parry Channel in the Northwest Passage from 17 July to 3 August ( The U of Washington offered some excellent, geeky insight into how predictions of annual ice minima are made, while the “last ice area” between Greenland and Canada’s Arctic, where summer ice is predicted to hold out the longest, has been the subject of a WWF expedition (NN). 

The impact of gradual warming and reduction in ice cover might be leading to massive “regime changes” in the flora and fauna of sea-floor ecosystems in the Arctic (Wired Science), while what looks like an unusual floating chunk of a glacier has drifted its way around to Barrow, Alaska (Arctic Sounder).


Those of you who early in life dreamed of being paleontologists will love a series from National Geographic on digging for fossils on Spitsbergen.

Somewhere in the world polar bears are doubtless enjoying blissful, untroubled lives, but one wouldn’t imagine so thanks to reports that they are threatened by poachers in Russia (VOR), viruses that jump from zebras in zoos in Germany ( and forest fires in Canada (Winnipeg Sun). With so much trouble around, one can’t judge bears for hitting the bottle a little too hard now and again (Global Post). We’ve all been there.

While Norwegian bears are busy trashing cabins for booze, Alaskan musk oxen are exacting revenge upon Nome residents for injuries real or perceived (Sacramento Bee). The hairy animals are going through town, grazing in people’s lawns and, on occasion, attacking dogs (ADN). A feature-length article in Eye on the Arctic covers the danger that the stubborn beasts may in theory pose to airplanes. But the beasts should be warned: a Nunavut government program is encouraging residents to eat more muskox (MacLean’s) as well as other traditional foods. In Northwest Territories, bison season means an increase in risk of car crashes, says the territorial government, while the George River caribou herd in Quebec and Labrador is suffering from a shockingly precipitous crash in population (CBC).

In Nunavut, sightings of killer whales have been on the rise, which means concern for the other marine species upon which they may prey (EOTA). News also emerged that beluga whale mothers can pass “more than a tenth of their chemical burden” of persistent chemical pollutants to their unborn calves, which could impact development (

Finally, a hummingbird was photographed for the first time in Fairbanks, Alaska. They’ve been reported before, but never confirmed (FNM).


I really enjoyed a post with plenty of pictures from a Canadian Museum of Nature expedition to Baffin Island. I could sympathize with the authors’ relief to discover two Tim Horton’s in Iqaluit; one does so need a 20-pack of Timbits now and again. I’m also so glad that the Students on Ice expedition has been posting plenty of videos, thanks to which we can watch them exploring Lady Franklin Island, taking a swim and visiting the town of Qikiqtarjuak on Baffin Island. You can also check out their overall recap. What a great program. In Russia, a collective of travelers is repeating Vitus Bering’s journey from St Petersburg to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky 285 years ago (VOR), while in Alaska an expedition to catalog the wildlife of the Chukchi Sea expects to bring back new species as well as sorting their way by hand through literal tons of marine life hauled up in trawl nets (


Former Alaska governor Tony Knowles writes a convincing and heartfelt opinion piece in support of Alaska’s proposed Coastal Management Program (AD). He should know, having managed the state under a CMP for eight years himself. Relatedly, a whole slew of scientists released this week a new index-model for assessing the health of “human-ocean systems” in countries around the world using ten different metrics (NatGeo). Fascinating project; thanks to Thibaud Henin for pointing it out. Next door in Canada, we wish the new WWF-Canada office in Iqaluit best of luck. We also point to news from the CBC that the Cape Dyer DEW-line station cleanup is on its way to completion at long last, and to a great article from Nunatsiaq News that highlights the benefits of employment that have accrued to local populations, in stark contrast to the infamous pollution at the site, which is of no benefit to anyone. 

In Russia, the rapid establishment of a national park along the White Sea coast is being encouraged (BO), but the country’s natural resource oversight body announced this week that it would begin keeping some information on environmental emergencies – not just oil spills – “classified” and out of the public eye (Bellona).



Prime Minister Steven Harper is preparing for his annual visit to his country’s three northern territories and Manitoba this week (NN). A Whitehorse resident, in an almost heartbreakingly hopeful gesture, has invited the PM to join her and other Yukon residents for a brown bag lunch at her home on Monday (WS) to discuss the issues that are important to them. I’d be pleased and shocked to hear that PM Harper had attended. In northern Québec, party politics may be gradually shifting (NN), while in Pangnirtung in Nunavut the city’s mayor had the chance to meet with Greenland premier Kuupik Kleist and discuss ways for communities in the two enormous, sparsely-populated lands to support and learn from one another (EOTA).


While Greenlandic and Canadian officials met to chat, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be making his own pilgrimage to Finland to discuss a variety of different matters with his Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomioja (YLE). Inside Russia, the reduction of Platon Lebedev’s sentence is being challenged by the Arkhangelsk Region Prosector’s Office (RAPSIN), while shrinking revenues in Murmansk mean budget cuts for the city, says regional governor Marina Kovtun (BO).

[United States]

A lengthy opinion piece in Alaska Dispatch from Alaska State Representative Bob Herron suggests some things that could be done to make the importance of America’s Arctic clear in the Lower 48, while Luke Coffey at the Heritage Foundation proposes a set of five guidelines to keep in mind for the development of a US Arctic strategy. Senator Mark Begich offered a list of everything he’s done to help bring Alaska and the American Arctic to the fore (ION), while both he and Senator Murkowski (and a whole slew of other people) expressed their hope that the US would sign on to UNCLOS (FNM).


A survey of the logic of Chinese interest in the Arctic written by TAI team members Malte Humpert and Andreas Raspotnik came out this week in European Strategy – worth a read as a clear, concise overview. The scope of the Xue Long’s research mandate off of Iceland was briefly covered on Arctic Portal as well. 


Global Economic Intersection has kindly assembled a few different maps helping to clarify the possible ultimate territorial division of Arctic waters. Nothing remarkably new, but a nice aggregation.


For my money, the best article to come out this week is a piece by Heather Exner-Pirot in Eye on the Arctic which raises numerous extremely sensitive questions about whether government transfers, subsidies and support for Northern communities are positive or negative for those communities’ long-term success. Ms Exner-Pirot tackles the difficult subject bravely and gracefully. 


In Canada, health and wealth are tightly tied, especially in overall health but specifically in chronic illnesses and eating habits (CBC). The challenges of eating well in northern communities are beautifully chronicled in a blog by two staffers from the Vancouver Aquarium who are spending their time this summer in Pangnirtung (, and highlighted by another post that describes in informative detail the process of setting up a sealift shipment ( The country food that forms a major portion of many northerners’ diets got a shot in the arm this week in the form of successful bowhead-whale hunts in Arctic Bay and Repulse Bay (NN, EOTA). In Igloolik, however, at least one case of trichinosis from eating walrus meat has been confirmed (CBC).

In other issues, readers in the comment section got incredibly engaged with an article suggesting that jacking up the price of cigarettes is the most effective way to reduce rates of smoking in Nunavut (NN), and Statistics Canada data appear to show that children are injured accidentally more frequently in Inuit regions than elsewhere in Canada (NN). Nunavut is taking steps to improve healthcare by digitizing patients’ medical records (NN), while next door in Hay River, NWT citizens are concerned about the lack of long-term care accommodation in a proposed new hospital (CBC). 

The Canadian Medical Association is holding its annual meeting in Yellowknife for the first time, during which it will focus at least partly on health determinants such as housing, income and diet (CBC). The doctors’ association is meanwhile asking for prompt, full access to any available information on the human health impacts of resource-development projects, most notably the tar sands (Calgary Herald). On the occasion of this week’s meeting, federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq made clear the federal government’s stance: jurisdiction over health programs belongs to territories and provinces, and the federal government wishes not to interfere. Opinions on this stance are mixed, to say the least (CMAJ).

Across the sea in northern Finland, HIV infections are becoming enough of a concern to warrant the attention of Barents Observer. Many infections are blamed on sex- or drug-tourism to Russia, where HIV is spreading more quickly than in sub-Saharan Africa.

[Infrastructure and transport]

The announcement by US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood that his department had discovered heaps of unspent money sitting around for transportation projects brought joy to Alaska, which will receive $20mn of it ( One particular transport project in Alaska, a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, highlights the difficulty of a truly democratic process. Officials are tasked with with integrating 1,800 unique and detailed comments that they’ve sifted from an original heap of 72,000 ( Just counting and sorting the 72,000 took three months. The Mayor of Unalaska meanwhile asked a row of questions about Unalaska’s role in the US’s future Arctic strategy that will help her plan her city’s infrastructure investments.

Next door in Canada, the Transportation Safety Board is adding the issues of landing accidents and collisions with land or water to its “watch list” for air traffic (EOTA). 

[Culture, education and community life]

The community of Cold Bay, Alaska is still looking for ways to keep its school open to serve its dwindling population of school-age students (Dutch Harbor Fisherman), while Carleton University in Canada is proud to offer Inuktitut in its course catalog.

Moravian missionaries brought their own choral music to the community of Nain in northern Labrador; the melding of musical traditions is covered in a documentary from the CBC. A short but fascinating post on Inuit storytelling during the Students on Ice expedition comes from Canadian Geographic.

Several gun-related incidents in the Canadian North in the past few weeks have led Nunavut’s justice minister Daniel Shewchuk to publicly advocate better gun safety and better relations between citizens and RCMP (NN, CBC). Gun violence is also a problem in Alaska where, in a weird incident, a man opened fire at the apparently empty Ambler airstrip in advance of a visit by Governor Sean Parnell, whose stopover there was promptly cancelled (EOTA). In Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, alcohol-related incidents requiring police attention are on the rise (NN).


The Bering Strait Native Corporation just hired a new CFO and COO (FNM). 
You can download the latest issue of Canada’s Inuit Youth magazine Nipiit here



You’ll enjoy this: with a live ship tracker, you can scroll around the Arctic Circle and see what’s where. You’ll recognize some of the ship names. This link takes you to the Xue Long, making its way around Iceland as I write this. As the Xue Long revels in the successful completion of its journey through the Northern Sea Route, other adventurers in the Belzebub II are preparing to head through the Northwest Passage (CBC – several blog posts from the expedition are on Canadian Geographic). If they succeed, they’ll be the first non-icebreaker to make it through. In a similar but much sillier exercise of wanton ambition, a floating luxury condo complex called The World is also preparing to transit the Northwest Passage. The always readable Michael Byers provides a frightening review of the hazards that attend the voyage, and of what would have to happen if the ship were, god forbid, to founder somehow (G&M). Could the residents tread water in their cocktail dresses and blue blazers? Oh, my god – it looks like you can get an MA on board, and apparently there are six more vessels like it under construction. I am struck dumb.

In Russia, the government is considering how, precisely, to make increased use of the Northern Sea Route reliable and profitable (EOTA). This will include the construction of rescue centers along the coast, including at Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Naryan-Mar, Vorkuta, Nadym, Dudinka and Tiksi. For a profile of progress at the Naryan-Mar facility, see Barents Observer. Back in Canada, ice has pushed back into Frobisher Bay near Iqaluit this week, but is expected to be gone by the end of the coming week (NN).


An Alaskan fishing concern, Icicle Seafoods, has been fined $430,000 for using illegal refrigerants on shore and at sea (KUCB). In Whitehorse, the world’s longest fish ladder has installed underwater cameras to monitor salmon as they come through (CBC). In the NWT, a forestry agreement has been signed by the Gwich’in and the territorial government (Gov’t of NWT, map of patchwork-quilt of land-use rights here, and backgrounder here). Finally, Arctic Startup, which is fantastic for a sense of what’s up-and-coming in business around the Baltic, reviewed and commented on Wired’s selection of the 10 hottest startups in Helsinki, Stockholm and Moscow.


In watersports, it looked for a while there as though Philippe Croizon, the quadruple-amputee swimmer from France, would be forbidden from swimming between the two Diomede Islands, crossing the US-Russia barrier in the Bering Strait (AD), but Mr Croizon ultimately made his swim, completing the 2.7 mile journey in 80 minutes (BBC). Elsewhere, Allen Macartney of Ottawa has completed a 1300-km solo paddle north along the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Fort Yukon (WS), while the four young men on their way to row across the Arctic were holed up for a bit thanks to the cyclone churning up the waters (Bloomberg).

On land, bikejor and canicross were contested at Takhini Hot Springs in Yukon (WS), while at Ear Lake an orienteering championship tested the mettle of area competitors (WS). The Gov’t of Canada meanwhile published a post this week on the benefits that have accrued to Iqaluit as a result of reconstructions and improvements to the Arctic Winter Games stadium.


First, news of the nautical. The Arktika is the oldest nuclear icebreaker in Russia’s fleet, and it was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole (1977). Atomflot is considering whether to devote money to scrapping it or, instead, to turning it into a museum in St Petersburg (BO, with good photos). Meanwhile the world’s oldest icebreaker, the s/s Bore, has docked in Malmö, Sweden (EOTA) and the SS Terra Nova, which carried famed explorer Robert Scott and his team to their deaths in the Antarctic and which later sank off the coast of Greenland, has been discovered on the sea floor (BBC).

A further blog from Arctic Connections highlights the natural beauty of Pangnirtung, Nunavut (Vancouver Sun). A Norwegian driver swerved to miss a moose and instead hit a bear (AD). An onslaught of bear-human encounters in a state park near Fairbanks has caused closing of particular hiking trails (FNM). Also in Fairbanks, the US Army’s permafrost tunnel, a research facility, enjoyed its first public open-house this weekend (FNM). An awesome post from the blog Global Native Networks covers author Rachael’s first camera/rifle seal hunt in Igloolik. In Iceland, Reykjavik mayor Jon Gnarr “showed his support for [Pussy Riot] on Saturday by riding on top of a van in a pink dress and balaclava at the city’s annual gay-pride parade” (IceNews). That should show Putin.


Enjoy these individual images of (1) how thawing permafrost slips into lakes, (2) rows upon rows of bags of hazardous waste at Cape Dyer, (3) an Inuit drum dancer at the Kitikmeot Summer Games in Kugluktuk, (4) graphs of ridiculous, dangerous rainfall in Alaska’s North, (5) the crew involved with an Arctic junior surf camp (!!!) and (6) a rough-legged hawk.


Deutsche Welle offered a quick profile of Thorsten Mauritsen, a climate-change researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, while a time-lapse of landscapes in the area of Norway’s Lofoten Islands from TSO Photography resurfaced from a year ago – it’s worth another view.


Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
BusinessWeek (BW)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Huffington Post (HP)
Moscow Times (MT)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Ottawa Citizen (OC)
RIA Novosti (RIAN)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)