The Arctic This Week: 6 October - 12 October 2012

By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 6 October – 12 October 2012

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Thanks for joining us this week! The current issue is a good deal shorter than usual, as the author is on travel. The articles in each section are not a comprehensive collection but, instead, a selection of the week's best-written and/or most interesting material. All editorial choices and any mistakes are, as always, the author's own. To comment or to request a back issue, feel free to contact the author directly. If you like what you read, please share it with others.


If you're pressed for time, put these four articles ahead of everything else. Each is a treasure chest of good writing and interesting information. 

Start with a nostalgic and knowledgeable article from Russia Today on the retirement of an old nuclear icebreaker, the Arktika. The ship is a champion; she was the first to make it to the North Pole, and she was the hero of a dramatic Arctic rescue in 1983 in which she saved even other powerful icebreakers that had become entrapped. Follow that with one of our own, which I am proud to add to this list of "bests". Malte Humpert and Andreas Raspotnik provide a thorough, clear-eyed and well-written overview of prospects for Arctic shipping. The article is concise but thorough, and it should dampen the overheated rhetoric about an "explosion" of Arctic shipping a little bit.

Next, my warmest congratulations and thanks for their excellent work go to the authors of "The 9 Habits of Highly Effective Resource Economies: Lessons for Canada" (Open Canada) and of a critically important and balanced article from Global Native Networks on internet connectivity in the North and its pertinence for aboriginal communities. These are two of the most valuable articles I've read this year. The first assembles excellent analysis, practical-seeming recommendations, and a series of great infographics that illustrate its points. The second is more casually-written, but helps to fill a crucial knowledge gap. Enjoy!


On the military front, the raising and/or dismantling of the two Russian subs sunken in the Kara Sea in 1982 and 2003 is now apparently a "go", though Russia herself does not have the capacity to do the work. Although it's part of the country's overall strategic development plan for the Arctic, the tender will be farmed out to a foreign firm (RIAN and BO). For more on submarines, and for a little bit of history that will speak to the espionage-novel fan in you, dig in to a book review on the fetchingly-titled “Operation Barmaid”. This was an escapade in which, if we are to believe what we read, the British submarine Conqueror snuck up and snatched the sonar array from behind a moving Soviet sub (Telegraph). Should you need more to satisfy spy-news craving, check a brief article from the New York Times on a Canadian officer who pled guilty this week to spying for the Russians.

On now to new toys being developed for the Arctic powers.  Russia's new Admiral Gorshkov, the first large ship in its fleet to be built partially with carbon fiber (which apparently comes with some sort of stealth advantages), will soon be starting sea trials in the Barents. Some observers are skeptical of the composite material's benefits (Russia beyond the Headlines). Meanwhile, the largest diesel icebreaker to join the Russian fleet in 36 years - a 25mw diesel-electric for Rosmorport - had its keel laid this week, a ceremony at which PM Medvedev spoke (Naval Today). In another fascinating article from Naval Today, Russia's consideration of a new, multi-hulled icebreaker design to help open the Northern Sea Route to ever-larger ships makes one marvel at the engineering creativity that is required for Arctic industries. The finest read in this section this week, however, is an article on the retirement of an old nuclear icebreaker, the Arktika. The ship is a champion; she was the first to make it to the North Pole, and she was the hero of a dramatic Arctic rescue in 1983, saving even other powerful icebreakers that had become entrapped (RT).


Perhaps the most exciting news for policy wonks this week was that the eight member states of the Arctic Council agreed to sign a binding treaty laying out roles and responsibilities for response in case of an Arctic oil spill (Arctic Portal), but that wasn't the only news. The Russian scientist in charge of Russia's submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf suggested that geologic data will ultimately yield a big haul of territory outside the 200-mile EEZ range for Canada & Russia, whenever the CLCS final analysis may come (Edmonton Journal). 

Elsewhere, Oslo and Helsinki are looking for opportunities to work together on Arctic issues that are of relevance to both countries (BO). A lengthy and interesting analysis of Finland's Arctic interests and strategy from the Russian Council points to the many common-sense, economic reasons for collaboration between those two countries as well, which positions Finland as a potentially interesting intermediary between West and East. This is illustrated as well by the opening of the new Finnish visa center in Murmansk, heralded by warm speeches on both sides of the border (BN). In Murmansk, Marina Kovtun, the semi-new governor of the region, is making a game effort to use her personal energy and magnetism to generate optimism about the city's future (BN).

Looking back westward, Iceland may be looking to join the European Union and the Eurozone eventually for the simple advantage of better integration with the world economy, if for nothing else (IceNews), and NWT Premier McLeod's opening address at a recent conference takes a comprehensive tour of the various challenges and opportunities facing his territory, as well as pitching for further progress along the road towards devolution (GNWT).


There's plenty worth reading here this week. Start light with an ongoing series from Mother Jones from an author shadowing a crew of 38 scientists aboard the USCG Healy in the Bering Sea (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Follow that with the news that the National Science Foundation's own research vessel, the Sikuliaq, was recently launched. This might mean researchers no longer have to rely on the Healy to take them where they need to go (Science). Further West, the commissioning of Russia's new research vessel the Akademik Treshnikov was cause for celebration this week as well. Designed nominally for work on the upcoming Antarctic Expedition, it will doubtless do time in the Arctic as well (Naval Today).

Many, many people felt compelled to weigh in after a Russian academic announced that he believes polar bears will vanish from the Russian Arctic "in the next few decades". The ice situation in the Russian Arctic is of course quite different from that in Greenland and Canada, so whether his fears are generally applicable is a matter of some debate (The Province). A thoughtful, critical and thorough article from Jill Burke in Eye On The Arctic meanwhile takes a good, hard look at the tension between "modern" and "traditional" science when it comes to monitoring and managing polar bear populations. In the Yamal, bearded and ringed seals are appearing far upriver from the ocean much earlier, and staying for much longer, than has been anecdotally described before (Arctic Research), while the two abandoned walrus calves that made headlines last month went on big adventures - Mitik was shipped to New York, and Patak to Indianapolis (AD). Kudos to the Alaska SeaLife Center for getting them into shape. On to gainlier creatures: the southward migration of trumpeter and tundra swans - the last birds to head South - heralds the coming of winter in Alaska (FNM).

In other science news, a tough article from the New American takes a couple of prominent reporters to task for their handling of the Arctic/Antarctic ice stories, while the University of Stavanger seems to be increasingly dependent on oil money to support its research budget (AB). This of course comes with some important conflict-of-interest considerations, and it begs the question: What is the "right" balance? Interesting new research suggests that the difference in freshwater inputs (from rivers in the Arctic, and from ice-melt instead in the Antarctic) is at least partially responsible for the perhaps-surprising divergence between microbial populations at the two poles (NSF), while an interesting article from SpaceRef examines the European Space Agency's complementary SMOS and CryoSat systems that offer insight into sea ice volume in the Arctic. 


The European Union's decision to abstain from new "regulation" of offshore Arctic activity in favor of a "directive", which appears to leave plenty of room for each member state to set its own policies, was big news this week, clarified best by Platts and Nunatsiaq News. Overregulation probably isn't the oil industry's biggest problem in the Arctic, though; Trude Pettersen in Barents Observer assembles some great information on what seem to be chronic cost overruns at several important projects in the Barents and Norwegian seas. Follow Ms Pettersen's article with the FT's take on the oil industry, particularly in Norway's High North. 

On the US side, Jennifer Dlouhy's continued excellent reporting on Shell's Alaskan projects took her aboard the Noble Discoverer this week; her update conveys the colorful enthusiasm of the men (and women?) aboard the drillship (FuelFix). A "lessons-learned" meeting in Alaska with Senator Begich covered technical and regulatory successes and challenges of Shell's exploits this season (EOTA) - if you're interested, it's probably best to read Pete Slaiby's submitted testimony itself. Shell received the word this week as well that its barge the Arctic Challenger had received final approval from the US Coast Guard (AD). This means they now have the required equipment in place to drill into hydrocarbon-bearing layers.

In other news, a new pipeline in Russia connects two important oil and gas fields, Yuzhno Khilchuyu and Kharyaga (BO), and the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association is studying the waters of False Pass for their tidal-power potential (Bristol Bay Times). Candidates for mayor in the town of Norman Wells, NWT are challenging one another over plans to power the town in the years ahead; the incumbent proposes biomass as the best option, and his challenger thinks that's too expensive (CBC).


Only one on article on mining caught my eye this week, but it's an outstanding read. It has frank, concise analysis, practical-seeming recommendations, and a series of great infographics that illustrate its points. Congratulations to the author of "The 9 Habits of Highly Effective Resource Economies: Lessons for Canada" (Open Canada).


Let's talk fish first, as Alaska's most important crab fisheries are getting ready to open. A solid article from Anchorage Daily News covers not just updated catch quotas but challenges in fuel efficiency and, briefly, the sea cucumber, sea urchin and geoduck clam fisheries. A folksy but delightful and informative opinion piece from Clem Tillion in Alaska Dispatch covers the history and current state of Alaska's Community Development Quota battle from his own perspective. Next door in Nunavut, renovations and additions to the ship Saputi mean that the Nunavut fishing industry is better-positioned to take advantage of increased opportunities (CBC). I was surprised to read that the fish they catch are taken to Nuuk, Greenland and sold through to Asian markets - that really says something about how separated these remote communities' economies can be even from their own national economies. Lastly, in the Barents, cod stocks appear to be booming (BO). 

The EU's growing interest in "managing" populations of its own seals because of potential negative impacts on fish stocks is causing some Canadians to cry: Hypocrisy! in light of the EU's ban on imported seal products (G&M).

I'm proud to choose one of our own articles as a must-read this week; Malte Humpert and Andreas Raspotnik wrote a thorough, clear-eyed and well-written overview of prospects for Arctic shipping. Their article is concise but detailed, and should dampen the overheated rhetoric about an "explosion" of Arctic shipping a little bit. The hurdles that remain to be cleared before the northern shipping industry really blossoms are well-illustrated in an article from that de-briefs a "learning experience" trial run of a new towing system to be deployed in case of emergencies near Unalaska.

In tourism, Iceland's travel industry is working on development of a strategic "cluster" (IceNews), while the Arviat Community Ecotourism Initiative is one of three finalists for an award from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (NN).

Finally, in what strikes me as an initiative with only upside possibilities, StartUP Country is deploying "mobile technology incubators" in Alaska to train, support and inspire entrepreneurs in Alaska (Alaska Business Monthly).


We'll start this week with several excellent articles on the particular challenges of northern infrastructure. First in line is a long, well-written, critically important and balanced article from Global Native Networks looking at internet connectivity in the North and its pertinence for aboriginal communities. This is a big one: take the time to read it. 

In more physical concerns, the Alaskan town of Kivalina is looking ahead at a very difficult winter after storms first ruined their water supply system and then prevented them from fixing it in time for the onset of winter (AD). In Canada, Nunavut's Kitikmeot region is waiting (hoping?) for two deep-water ports and a new all-weather road that would accompany development of two mines in the region (NN), while a group of eight initial applicants to take on the Nunavut Government's largest-ever capital project - a major upgrade for the Iqaluit Airport - has now been whittled to three (CBC). 

Beyond infrastructure, Maclean's covered efforts to encourage a return to "a more traditional Arctic diet" incorporating a higher proportion of country food, and a moving (to me) article from the CBC looks at the slender but strong ongoing partnership between the musicians of the National Arts Centre and budding musicians in Nunavut.


This week's news finishes with four articles that fit nowhere else. First, there's a story from Eye on the Arctic looking at a perhaps-surprising practice of nibbling on the frozen animal mummies that are occasionally pulled from the earth in northern latitudes. Second, a blog entry from covers a performance in an abandoned gym at Pyramiden on Svalbard. The interviewee must be a very brave person; she apparently thought she was going to die for various reasons several times on her trip, but soldiered on nonetheless. Third, Nunatsiaq News profiles a program that takes students from Cambridge Bay and teaches them wilderness-survival skills. Finally, we turn back to Alaska Dispatch to look at "No Makeup Mondays," a movement that appears to have caught fire among young women in Alaska after a Kotzebue resident started it. Expressing pride in your unvarnished self is the admirable motivation behind the movement, and it's been a catalyst, seemingly, for numerous difficult and important conversations.


These sections have been excluded this week.


Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Bristol Bay Times (BBT)
BusinessWeek (BW)
Canadian Mining Journal (CMJ)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Huffington Post (HP)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
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)