The Arctic This Week 2013: 2 February 2013 - 8 February 2013

The Arctic This Week 2013:06

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Thanks for joining us this week! As always, all editorial choices, opinions and any mistakes are the authors’ own. To comment or to request a back issue, feel free to contact Tom or Kevin directly.

Reads of the Week

The Economist garners two places among this week’s best articles. The first is for their clear-eyed explanation of how, exactly, the Nordic countries ended up in their enviable positions, and what politicians of any stripe might learn from their example. The second is for their succinct “take down” of the idea that a warmer, ice-free Arctic necessarily means more fruitful fishing.

Two spots (or three – certainly a record – if you count the photo essay below) also go to Alaska Dispatch for excellent, detailed and readable reporting on the slow, sputtering development of high-speed internet plans for the North Slope (from Alex DeMarban) and on the necessity of US-Canada collaboration in the Arctic (from Ben Anderson).

The last article we’ll point you to comes from Daniel Schwartz with CBC News. Mr. Schwartz uses the (temporary?) calm in the Idle No More protest to interview two experts about where, exactly, First Nations’ revenues come from.

Now, to get your style fix, we’d suggest three absolutely wonderful photo essays that caught our eye this week. The first, from Tomeu Coll, covers the Moscow-Vorkuta train ride before looking more closely at Vorkuta itself (via NPR). A second, from Alaska Dispatch, catalogues many breathtaking images of Alaska from the air. A last, from Christian Houge, looks at the weird visible presence of technology in the High North.

The Political Scene


Circumpolar politics seem to be an ever-hotter item on the international news menu, with an article presenting the lay of the land to be found this week in the Financial Times and a video on the interest of Asian actors in Arctic Council observer status in the Economist. I hesitate to criticize anything written by an author as eminent as the man behind this article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, but I must concede that it feels a bit fantastical to me ("Inuits"? US-Russia nuclear war over Arctic seabed claims?). Other articles looking at Chinese interest in the region come from Barents Observer and from Shanghaiist, though the latter seems to have (inadvertently, doubtless) stolen its title and image from a better article by Christoph Seidler in Spiegel Online last week. The article from Barents Observer is interesting, noting an appearance by China's Ambassador to Norway Zhao Jun at the Kirkenes Conference, where he addressed (obliquely, if the quote taken is any indication) China's interest in cooperating with Barents-region states particularly. If you have a particular interest in this theme and are in the Nordics later this month, you'll certainly want to take note of the Stockholm Arctic Seminar "Asian Arctic Expansion?" to be held on the 19th.

The EU is, of course, also interested in becoming an observer state, but it looks as though its blanket ban on products from commercial seal hunts may have something to do with the readiness of Canada to accept its application (Toronto Sun). A recent meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee in Rovaniemi, Finland appears to have ended with the conclusion that the EU ought to "formalise its Arctic policy as soon as possible...consistent with the strategy of each Arctic state" (press release). I see no challenge there!

At a much broader level, Annika Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute asks what role - or what measure of influence, really - environmental policy ought to have in a warming Arctic, where the dialogue is governed largely by talk of development of one kind and another (AD). Ms. Nilsson's article is likely occasioned by the meeting of the Arctic Environment Ministers in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden this past week - the draft agenda of that meeting is available here from the Government of Sweden.

Perhaps the finest writing on international issues this week, though, comes from Ben Anderson via Alaska Dispatch, who takes a close look at the potential value of better US-Canada collaboration in the Arctic, which is apparently a more distant goal than it would appear.

United States

Capturing most of the Arctic-related headlines in the US this week was word that President Obama had selected Sally Jewell, president and CEO of outdoor-outfitter REI, as his choice to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior (WP). The President shared his belief that Ms. Jewell would be able to “reconcile economic growth and environmental protection”. I guess she’s got as much hope of doing so as anyone else would, but rumbles of uncertainty from Alaska’s representatives in Washington and from others (AD) make this reader, at least, fairly certain that her confirmation hearing will not be a walk in the park.


The rumbles of Idle No More continue in  Canada despite the end of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike. Protesters from the Attawapiskat community have been blockading the road to the De Beers Victor Mine, citing a range of grievances (CBC), and three aboriginal Senators walked out of meetings with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan over displeasure with a bill intended to enforce greater financial transparency on First Nations (CBC). Explanations of how First Nations are financed – both via the federal government and otherwise – seem like overdue contributions to the dialogue; they can be found here via the CBC. In a move unlikely to make Canada’s aboriginal residents feel better-loved, the federal government also announced it would appeal an earlier ruling that brought made many Métis and non-status Indians a matter of federal concern (CBC).

The other news from Canada garnering international attention is of the Northwest Territories’ devolution talks, which seem to be proceeding. An interview with Premier Bob McLeod begins to break the prospects for royalties in the territory down to dollars and cents. Relatedly, better adherence to the land-claims agreements between Inuit and the federal government is the goal of the acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., James Eetoolook, who will be pressing the issue at an upcoming conference (NN).

Interesting insight into the NWT’s budget, of which currently 70% comes from the federal government, is to be had from Eye on the Arctic – it’s worth a read to get into actual details. Similar information on the CAD 40 million budget for the City of Iqaluit for 2013 is available from Nunatsiaq News. Lastly, the political power of Yellowknife as compared to that of the many smaller communities in the territory may grow under redistricting plans (CBC).

Russia & Finland

The Arctic policy of Russia, which plans to submit its claims to portions of the Arctic seabed in the year ahead (JRL), is discussed by Alexander Pilyasov for the Valdai Club. He mentions the paradox of Russia’s Arctic communities which, although much of the energy-resource base supplying Russia comes from their region, are energy-insecure themselves. The brief interview is intelligent, succinct and well worth reading. The uniqueness of Russia even within the diverse group of Arctic states is covered thoughtfully by Mia Bennett (Foreign Policy Blogs). At the more local level, ministers within the Murmansk government are apparently dropping like flies (BN).

Russian President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev will be meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö this week to discuss political and business matters of common interest to the two countries (YLE). An article in Lapin Kansa (Google-translated from the Finnish) apparently written by President Niinistö himself focuses on the potential for Finland’s future economic role, thanks to its advantageous location and its reputation as a leader in minerals and technology, among other things.


Perhaps the biggest energy story of the week, at least in terms of social-media pickup, was Greenpeace’s leaking of the Arctic Council’s proposed treaty dealing with blowouts and oil spills. Ben Ayliffe, writing for Greenpeace, takes a look at the expected agreement on oil pollution preparedness & response; Mr. Ayliffe finds it fatally lacking in any concrete regulations or recommendations. A copy of the leaked report can be found here; readers will see that it calls on all countries to develop their own national systems for responding to oil spills and sets some basic standards for readiness.  For good reporting on the draft and on Greenpeace’s response, see this article in the Globe and Mail.  Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn provides a detailed interview with Greenpeace’s Christy Ferguson about why Greenpeace chose to leak the draft agreement (audio here).  A story from Alaska Public Radio on the agreement can be found here.


While state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft are solidifying their hold on Russia’s Arctic shelf, privately-owned companies are looking for a way in: Bloomberg reports that Lukoil Chief Executive Officer Vagit Alekperov is suggesting the establishment of a board that would handle bids for offshore contracts from both private and state owned companies.  Upstream reports on Moscow’s approval of Rosneft and Gazprom’s licenses for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic and Barents and Kara Seas.  With these approved, the two companies will together own 80% of Russia’s offshore Arctic acreage.  Arctic exploration, however, is eating into Rosneft’s profits, which were much lower than analyst’s projections in 2012 (FT - $$).


Last week we included an article on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s proposal to bypass pipeline roadblocks elsewhere and ship Alberta’s oil north to the Arctic.  This week, Fuel Fix reported on Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod’s positive response to the proposal.

J. Michael Miltenberger, the Northwest Territories deputy premier and environment and natural resources minister, spoke at the University of Toronto on the topic of the devolution of authority over the NWT’s land and resources from Ottawa to the NWT itself.  A video of the address can be found here.

Canada and Washington will be working more closely to promote safety in Arctic offshore drilling.  The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Canada’s National Energy Board have established an MOU to support information sharing and best practices in terms of Arctic energy exploration (Press Release).

Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Scott Vaughan released a report raising concerns about the rise in fracking in Canada. He also called on the government to develop a better understanding of the chemicals used in the process (EOTA).


Swedegas, Sweden’s natural gas grid operator, announced poll results from the shipping industry that showed significant interest in natural gas as a potential fuel to replace oil in that sector (NGE).


In an abrupt about-face last week, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced he would support the initiation of a study to assess the impacts of oil exploration around the Lofoten Islands (BO).  Mia Bennett provides good commentary on the decision for Eye on the Arctic.

The Economist this week wrote a love note of sorts to the Nordic countries (cited as a Read of the Week as well), as part of which it provided a nuanced and insightful read of the complex relationship between Norwegians and their oil.  Well worth the read. On a related note, Statoil reported that its profits rose 7% over last year (AB).

The Center for High North Logistics announced earlier this month the launch of ARCTIS, an online, searchable database focused on Arctic transportation and mineral and energy resources (BO).  The archive can be found here, and they already contains some good resources on energy and mining in the Arctic.  
In the aftermath of the In Amenas attack, head of the Norwegian Armed Forces Harald Sunde has recommended bolstering the country’s special operations forces to help thwart terrorist attacks against oil installations (AB).


Jim Greely, Alaska’s oil and gas tax man, announced that the state would not levy a 2% property tax on Shell’s drilling barge, the Kulluk (ADN).  Speculation swirled after the Kulluk’s grounding that Shell had decided to move the vessel through heavy seas during the last week of 2012 in order to avoid the state tax.  Shell denies the claim, and the state, for its part, said it would not levy the tax due to the fact that the Kulluk was devoted strictly to exploration in federal waters more than three miles from Alaska’s shores and thus beyond the state’s jurisdiction.  The Coast Guard has, since 29 January, established a “temporary safety zone” within 500 yards of the Kulluk where it rests off of Sitkalidak Island.

In other Shell news, actress Lucy lawless (best known for playing Xena, the warrior princess) was fined USD 550 and ordered to do 120 hours of community service as penalty for her multi-day protest aboard Shell’s Noble Explorer last year. She and other Greenpeace activists took the step while the Explorer as a protest of Arctic oil exploration while the vessel was still sitting in New Zealand (MSN).  Opposing Arctic drilling has clearly become popular, and has brought out all the fashionable types: Richard Branson announced his opposition to Arctic drilling this week (Look to the Stars).

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell again expressed his concern about the Obama administration’s review of Arctic drilling, saying an adverse judgment could “condemn” the region for decades (FNM).   Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt provided a different read on the Obama administration’s record with oil and gas exploration, saying that the administration was sacrificing conservation for development (Fuel Fix).

Jennifer Dlouhy provides a good summary of the energy-policy blueprint presented in Washington last week by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (Fuel Fix).  The plan calls for expanding offshore drilling and steering revenues towards research in alternative energies. 

Lastly, take note that the Institute of the North released a call for abstracts for its upcoming Arctic Energy Summit to be held in Akureyri, Iceland, 8-10 October 2013.  More information can be found here.

Science, Environment & Wildlife

Circumpolar Issues

Mentioned in the "Politics" section above is a recent meeting of Arctic Environment Ministers in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. The substance of those talks is covered in the Chair's Conclusions (official PDF), and includes notes on ocean acidification, short-lived climate pollutants, general contamination, biodiversity, and ecosystem-based management. A preliminary note to the meeting from the Stockholm Environment Institute takes a measured but forceful tone, and the WWF's pre-conference memorandum focuses strongly on the value of ecosystem-based management in particular. Other preliminary conference notes from France, Italy, the International Arctic Social Sciences Association and Greenpeace are linked to by the U of the Arctic. An article on soot as a particularly pressing issue came from Charles Digges of Bellona; Mr. Digges is perhaps understandably frustrated that few concrete plans for attacking this issue came out of the meeting, despite much positive talk.

We'll move next to two national research pieces with global implications. Start with a rare document focusing on the impacts of climate change and modernization on communities in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut (PDF, via ArcticNet), and follow with a comprehensive and informative interview (via Research Europe) with Fran Ulmer of the US Arctic Research Commission. (Side note: Those of you interested in US Arctic policy in a global context can do no better than to subscribe to the USARC daily update; they choose and summarize their articles well, and will not steer you wrong.)

Lastly to some resources of probable interest. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme has a wonderful online library, via Vimeo, of climate- and environment-related videos from the past 10 years. I have no idea why this has only now come to my attention. The next few weeks will see a series of lectures from scientists at the U of Alaska Fairbanks covering the formation of the Arctic Ocean itself, lo these many eons ago (Juneau Empire). The deadline for abstracts for an upcoming conference on Northern climate change is coming up (Arctic Portal).


Canada’s Polar Bear Technical Committee met this week for the first time in 10 years; it apparently is “working to develop the annual report on the status of the polar bear” (CBC). If they have not met in ten years, they must be using a permissive interpretation of “annual”. Audio coverage of the meeting is available from the CBC’s “Qulliq” show, as is an interview with Mitch Taylor, a long-time polar bear researcher who says that there’s no evidence polar bear populations are in decline. Making an seemingly-opposed-but-actually-just-different argument is Ed Struzik of Yale’s E360 blog, who points to research suggesting that the massive retreat of sea ice may mean that polar bears eventually become essentially unable to survive without direct human intervention (Guardian). In more audio coverage, Sea Change radio talks with writer Zac Unger about his somewhat controversial book on polar bears (audio on the book via NPR).

Other animals also made news this week. Caribou have not yet learned to heed territorial boundaries in Canada, and representatives of concerned organizations have enjoined the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut to work more closely together to manage the sensitive Bathurst caribou herd (Northern Journal). Next door in Alaska, dangerous deformities – in this case, overgrown beaks – are being spotted more frequently on black-capped chickadees and, increasingly, on crows, woodpeckers and other species as well, but nobody can figure out why (EOTA).

In the ocean, the many impacts of marine sound on whales were covered in a TedX talk by Kristin Westdal, and six skate nurseries in the Eastern Bering Sea have been set aside for very limited protection as “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern” (KUCB).

Hunting and poaching are persistent matters of discussion in the North, and wolves have been very much in the news in the Nordics. Sweden is trying to sort out the best possible wolf-conservation policy by looking at India’s work with tigers (EOTA), while conservationists in Finland are crying out for better defense of the limited remaining population of wolves in the country (YLE). Finns involved in illegal hunts of bears and wolves are in for criminal charges (EOTA), and the animals are registering their own kind of mute protest, importuning travelers by throwing themselves in front of Finnish trains in ever-greater numbers (EOTA).

Melt & Thaw

As ever, the National Snow & Ice Data Center does yeoman work cataloging the “intense” 2012 melt season on the Greenland ice sheet with multiple clearly-explained graphics. They also provide a fun-to-play-with interactive map of the northern cryosphere. For more on ice, turn to the Arctic News blog (post 1 and post 2) and to, which provides some tough-to-interpret infrared video illustrating the recent movement of Arctic sea ice. Finish up for the week with a 25-minute chat from NASA with scientists engaged in precisely such observations (video, via YouTube).

New gadgetry to help us understand the actions of ice better and more quickly are in the mix, with the new IcePod from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (USA Today) and another contribution from Stanford which will help scientists identify underground pools of meltwater where permafrost has thawed (San Francisco Chronicle).


The Norwegian and Icelandic governments are collaborating to encourage greater partnership in Arctic studies between the two countries (Arctic Portal). / The EU’s INTERACT program has limited space to offer access to its boreal stations in the seasons ahead (Arctic Portal). One of those, Kevo in Finland, is introduced to readers by the station manager, Otso Suominen. / A rocket was launched into the Northern Lights from Alaska to study “some very advanced space physics” (EOTA). / Introduce yourself to the SILA network of climate observatories in northern Quebec and Nunavut (Université Laval).

Military / Search-&-Rescue

Though the vast majority of this week's military news was focused on Russia, we'll start with a couple of quick notes from the US & Canada. A proposal to move numerous planes and jobs from Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage might lack support not just from the Fairbanks community (for obvious reasons) but from Anchorage as well, due primarily to a housing crunch such a move could create (FNM). While that ongoing debate roils, the Alaska National Guard is preparing a large search-&-rescue exercise near Bethel, simulating a response to the crash of a 737 (ANN). Meanwhile Canada’s Defense Minister, the Honourable Peter MacKay, wrapped up a brief visit with Norwegian counterpart Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen. The press release delivers no more information than that.

Minister Strøm-Erichsen's plans to meet Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu later this month also made news this week (BO), but that was hardly the only news of Russian military activity fit to print. Early in the week, Russia's Pacific fleet began large-scale exercises in/near/on the Kuril Islands, ownership of which is still a "matter of discussion" with neighbor Japan (RIAN, Naval Today). Not two days later, on Japan's Northern Territories Day (a national occasion for rallies calling for the return of the Kurils), the island nation's foreign ministry said that two Russian fighter jets had briefly made an unauthorized entry into Japanese airspace, though Russia denied it (Reuters). Whatever those two jets may have done, two Tupolev-95M strategic bombers apparently managed to "effectively patrol" the Arctic Ocean on behalf of Mother Russia (VOR); perhaps that is tied to news that talk of a planned base of MiG-31s on Novaya Zemlya was, apparently, just talk (BO).

From air to sea: The Northern Fleet was doubtless pleased to welcome back the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Verkhoturye to active service following a series of upgrades at the Zvezdochka shipyard (RIAN, Naval Today).

Fishing, Shipping & Other Economic News


An easy choice for a read of the week is a wonderful article in the Economist on the likely disappointment in store for anyone rubbing his or her greedy little hands together in anticipation of an Arctic fishing boom as the ice cap shrinks ever further. Drawing primarily on research from the Arctic Frontiers conference, the authors look at several different misconceptions about what may happen to Arctic Ocean ecosystems under warmer, more acidic and – most importantly – more stratified conditions.

Herring are already having a rough time of it; something in the neighborhood of 30,000 tons of dead (likely suffocated) herring washed ashore on western Iceland coasts this week, the second such die-off in the past three months (IceNews). The European Parliament meanwhile has voted for major reforms to the EU Common Fisheries Policy that lean strongly towards smaller-scale operations and a re-jiggering of quotas based on Maximum Sustainable Yield (North Norway European Office, in Norwegian). While the EU may be scaling back its operations, fishing in Murmansk took a jump in 2012; the industry grew by 14.1% (BN). At a much more local level, a fish hatchery in Fairbanks, Alaska is working on securing government funding to litigate against its original designers (for faulty plans) and to pay the contractors (for expensive, unexpected repair work) (FNM).


Doubtless exciting to residents of Alaska’s Arctic shores is the news that the US Army Corps of Engineers is doing its bit to move forward with plans to create a deep-water Arctic port; future research will focus on Nome / Port Clarence as the most likely host of such a thing (press release via ADN, full draft report here). Increased shipping through the Bering Strait was part of the agenda at the Bering Straits Maritime Symposium, covered briefly (audio) by KNOM.

Other Economic and Business News

Dear me; another Read of the Week from the Economist, tidily summing up the advantages of the economic models of the Nordic countries, and what they may – or should – offer to observers both from the conservative and liberal side of the political spectrum. Finland at least is certainly looking ever more outward, with the recent launch of Team Finland, which looks like an investment promotion agency of sorts – it’s a fun and interesting line of work, and I wish them luck. Also working on developing such an agency to bring more outside investment to the region is the city of Murmansk, in cooperation with Norwegian-owned SIVA (BN). Murmansk was home to better incomes and more wealthy people in 2012 than in 2011 (BN), and web developers from Tromsø are beginning to more aggressively seek out Drupal developers in Murmansk (BN).

Tourism was also in the news this week, as the Nunavut community of Arviat announced its desire to capture more of the Eco-tourist market (CBC) and Marina Kovtun, Governor of Murmansk, expressed a desire to bring Norway’s famed coastal ferry the Hurtigruten to Murmansk (BN). A new and expensive book from Springer on the issues that attend polar tourism is intriguing, though as the e-book costs EUR 83 I am unlikely to ever experience it for myself.

And last, a cheery oddity: A Yellowknife-based Thai food truck – One of a Thai (here on Facebook and Twitter) – has been named one of the 10 best in Canada (CBC).



In more bad news for Nunavut’s troubled Jericho Diamond mine, the current owners, Shear Diamonds, abruptly abandoned the site and turned off their phones.  See this article in the CBC for details on the potential environmental damage the company may have left behind.  This event highlights gaps in oversight of mine owners’ financial ability to clean up their mine sites, an issue that was raised by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Scott Vaughan this week (CBC).  Mia Bennett addresses the adverse impacts mining has had on water supplies in Canada’s north in an article for Water Canada.

An old-fashioned story of striking it rich in the Yukon’s gold fields shows that little guys can still make it big in Canada’s mining sector (Up Here Business).
Samantha Dawson, writing for Nunatsiaq Online, looks at the efforts to educate local communities about the changes that the planned Mary River iron mine will bring to the region and its residents.

The Nordics

More news of troubled mines in Finland.  Owners of the proposed Pajala iron ore mine, Canadian company Northern Resources, announced that it could not raise enough capital to open the mine (EOTA).  The Barents Observer reports that the company has filed for reconstruction due to a lack of liquidity.

Norway’s Transport Minister Marit Arnstad confirmed this week that she is ready to explore a proposed railway from Finland to Norway’s Arctic shore.  The line would provide a much-needed export outlet for northern Finland’s mining sector (BO). Next door in Sweden, Canadian company Continental Precious Minerals has submitted an application to open a uranium mine in Northern Sweden (EOTA).


Gwynn Guilford provides a concise little article for Quartz on China’s bold entry into Greenland’s mining sector, complete with links to many other rich sources on the topic.  It’s interesting to look at the explosion of interest in Greenland’s mining sector and the attempts of the government there to remain impartial in the face of the rapid increase in investment (Rare Earth Investing News).  Rapid development of the island’s mining sector may be upending Greenland’s politics, as well.  Recent changes to labor laws meant to attract foreign investment in mining will likely be a major issue in upcoming parliamentary elections in March (Mining Weekly).


The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would release its much anticipated assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed and the Pebble Mine in the spring on this year (Bristol Bay Times).

Education, Health, Culture & Society

Health & Diet

A viral respiratory infection is on the rise in Nunavut’s Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions, with children the most at-risk (NN). The Kitikmeot region is also serving as the pilot region for a study which hopes to improve early identification of those individuals most likely to contract diabetes (CBC). Diabetes and food security are of course intertwined, and Eilís Quinn spoke with Ed McKenna, director of the Nunavut Anti-Poverty Secretariat, about the intractable problem and possible points of leverage (audio from Radio Canada International). Small-scale efforts to farm in the Northwest Territories continue to draw attention (National Post), while an expanded narwhal hunt in the community of Grise Fiord means better dining for that community’s residents (audio from CBC’s As It Happens).

Art & Culture

These stories don’t sort neatly, so here they are in a simple list. A new track from a deep house electronic music group draws heavily on joik, a traditional Sami form of singing. / A film about reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland looks like a must-see, though how or where precisely one might do that I cannot discern ( / This year’s Berlinale is underway here in Germany, featuring a segment “A Journey into Indigenous Cinema” which will include films from Canada’s aboriginal communities (CBC). / Traditional dolls from across the Canadian North are on display in Iqaluit (CBC). / A moving interview with Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (audio) from the CBC’s “Definitely not the Opera” program looks at the tradition of Inuit facial tattooing.


The latest updates from the North of 60 project, sampling media from residents around the Circle, are a delight to track. / TAI contributor Moki Kokoris writes a beautiful piece on the long polar night in Greenland, with a beautiful time-lapse film to boot (Polar Bears International). / Sami of the Barents Region celebrated their national day on 6 February (HuffPo). / Northern Finland’s Skolt Sámi and their methods of adapting to a changing climate are the subject of an outstanding photo essay from Gleb Raygorodetsky and United Nations University. / A construction boom in Arkhangelsk is unable to keep pace with rising real estate prices (BO). / One of Norway’s party leaders is pushing hard for greater presence of Sami language and culture in Norwegian schools (NRK). / Tuition increases planned for Yukon College (CBC) look laughably insignificant to this American, used to paying many thousands of dollars for every credit-hour, but I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.


News that Arctic Fibre and its project partners expect to bring high-speed internet access to smaller communities on Alaska's West Coast and North Slope has been a thrill to many. It inspired as well a richly detailed article from Alex DeMarban in Alaska Dispatch; it provides a real wealth of information on the prospects for communications infrastructure in rural Alaska. Some measure of information on Northwestel's plan for CAD 233 million of improvements to internet infrastructure in northern Canada is available in a press release (via NN) from company CEO and President Paul Flaherty. A different firm has begun offering free wi-fi at the Northmart store in Iqaluit, and president Heather Coman's plans to rely on a different satellite network sound, at the very least, intriguing (NN). Qiniq meanwhile is also offering new upgraded plans to users in Nunavut (NN). It will be interesting to watch.

When it comes to physical connectivity, the most captivating idea mentioned this week was clearly that of an Arctic railway between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes (BO). Such a route could give Finnish ore access to a much less crowded sea-export route than the current Bothnia Bay-Baltic Sea route, and might one day bring LNG in the other direction as well. It would obviously have significant impact for Kirkenes as well. In other rail news, Yakutia Railways may soon enjoy a small-scale partnership with GE Transportation to bring modernization work for diesel-electric locomotives to the remote (and I mean remote) Russian city of Aldan (press release). A road bringing residents of King Cove, Alaska all-weather access to emergency medical care in the town of Cold Bay has been turned down by the US Fish & Wildlife Service because of environmental concerns (; some of the overblown rhetoric during this argument has been incredibly irritating to listen to.  

In the air, the continued use of an Antonov-24 by airline Nordavia between Arkhangelsk and other cities is seen by Barents Observer as a clear and present danger to passengers. I am in no position to make my own judgment. Contrast that with Finnair, recently ranked the safest airline in the world by Europe’s Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (BO).  


The 30th Yukon Quest dominated Arctic sports news this week. The 1,000-mile race began last Saturday 2 February in Whitehorse, under unusually warm conditions (FNM). Already on Sunday, foul weather of one kind and another forced course changes shortening the overall length by about 50 miles (FNM). Early on, musher Hugh Neff was leading, with Jake Berkowitz and Allen Moore neck-and-neck behind him, while stalwart Lance Mackey’s team of dogs seemed to have unusual troubles (WS). A quick conversation with a couple of mushers at the 250-mile mark is a fun read (WS), but you can sense the deep regret and worry that came with Lance Mackey’s departure from the race a couple days later (CBC, FNM). While the trail out of Dawson City is the worst the race has seen in years, the overall statistics on the health of the dogs at this point in the race is among the best (WS). Unusually warm weather conditions are also putting the hurt on Alaska’s Iditarod as officials prepare the trail there (NYT).

Yukon skiers also did well at the Eastern Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships, with Emily Nishikawa coming in as the fastest female and brother Graham Nishikawa coming third place in the men’s category (WS). Skiing is growing in popularity in Finland as well (EOTA). / We failed to mention the Arctic Lapland Rally last week.  If you missed it, too, here’s a great article from the Mail Online that will tell you what it feels like to ride shotgun in one of the rally cars. / This is pretty cool:  a video of snowkiting on the Barents Sea.  / The sport of adaptive snocross at the Winter X Games welcomed its first Canadian, Yukoner Darryl Tait (article and video). Another Yukoner, 16 year old Michael Sumner, came home with a silver medal in figure skating from the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea (WS). / The under-17 bandy world championship was won by Finland (YLE). / The horrific-sounding winter swimming championships took place in Sweden this weekend just past (EOTA). / A proud locally-incubated civil engineering company has submitted designs for a new sports arena for Murmansk (BN).


Three absolutely wonderful photo essays caught my eye this week. The first, from Tomeu Coll, covers the Moscow-Vorkuta train ride before looking more closely at Vorkuta itself (via NPR). A second, from Alaska Dispatch, catalogues many breathtaking images of Alaska from the air. A last, from Christian Houge, looks at the weird visible presence of technology in the High North.

The Grab Bag

If you can get past the halting introduction, you’ll doubtless enjoy a talk by filmmaker Jeff Orlowski about the behind-the-scenes work that went into “Chasing Ice”. / Debris from the horrible tsunami that rocked Japan two years ago has been washing ashore all along Alaska’s coastlines (NPR – audio). / Bjarni Armannsson, former head of Glitnir Bank, has been indicted for tax evasion in Iceland (IceNews). / A sort of all-purpose Arctic collaboration network across sectors in Iceland has been established (Arctic Portal). / Coming up late at night on Tuesday the 12th is a documentary on BBC 4 of a crew on a tall ship exploring northeast Greenland. / The latest Taissumani from Nunatsiaq News covers some of the many specific rules regarding use of animal hides and meat in Inuit communities of old. / The opening of the Barents Spektakel festival 2013 is available as an online video (Barents Observer). / Data from observations of melting glaciers have been “sonified” by Jonathan Perl – listen here, from ClimateDesk. / An old cruise ship, the Orlova, has drifted out into the Atlantic from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Nobody seems especially concerned by this (APTN). / Interested in burrowing into snow-terminology of the Nenets? Do so via the Arctic Anthropology blog. / While Russia is busy thinking up creative ways to oppress the gays, Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria shows that her country is among the gay-friendliest (The Local). / Pilot Bob Heath will clearly be sorely missed by friends and relatives in Inuvik, NWT (CBC). / Need more rumors of Lake Labynkyr’s own Nessie-like monster? Go to the Siberian Times. / The northernmost known bar- and bat mitzvah ceremonies took place in Murmansk this past week (Jewish Press). / An explosion in Fairbanks’s Chena Ridge neighborhood (FNM) seems like one of those stories that you just don’t hear in, say, Washington, DC. /  A rich website full of sound, images, text and information, the This Land project undertaken by Dianne Whelan is worth exploring for a deep draught of the Canadian North. / A wonderful, zoomable Arctic map allows you to share specific spots with people electronically; no matter where you are and at what zoom level, you have a unique URL.

This week’s credits:

Tom Fries: Politics, Science, Military, Fishing/Shipping, Education/Health, Infrastructure, Sports, Images, Grab Bag
Kevin Casey: Energy, Mining, Sports

Abbreviation Key

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)
Christian Science Monitor (CSM)
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)
Naval Today (NT)
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)