The Arctic This Week: 23 February 2013 – 1 March 2013

Tom Fries & Kevin Casey

The Arctic This Week 2013:09

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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. If you find TATW valuable, please spread the word!

A Couple of Quick Notes

Thanks to all of you who responded to our reader survey last week. If you haven’t yet shared your opinion (What are we doing well? What could we fix?), we’d love to hear from you. Click here to take the four-question survey

We’re also considering starting a “Friends of The Arctic Institute” program for people who are interested in getting a little more involved; if you’re interested in taking part, you can submit your email at the bottom of the reader survey or just click here to let us know.

Reads of the Week 

Due to some international travel, we’re providing a much shorter version of TATW this week with only those articles that really struck us as excellent. We’ve selected these pieces from each section based on our own evaluation of their quality, the importance of their content, or both. Read on!

The Political Scene 

Once again, polar bears find themselves as internally displaced creatures in the “Politics” rather than the “Wildlife” section. As of this writing, the CITES conference in Bangkok, Thailand is set to begin in less than 24 hours. Among many issues on the menu is the US proposal to up-list polar bears from Appendix II to Appendix I, a move which would be accompanied by the most stringent possible restrictions on commerce in polar bear products. The Polar Bear Specialists’ Group under the IUCN/SSC (International Union for Conservation of Nature / Species Survival Commission) submitted its own statement on the matter, saying that polar bears do not meet the criteria for an upgrade. But to really go deep into this perennial issue, you are best advised to read two longer pieces. The first is from the reliably excellent Anthony Speca (via Northern Public Affairs), who asks what precisely an up-listing to Appendix I might bring, other than damage to Inuit communities’ economic health. The second is an interview with Markus Dyck, a polar bear biologist with the Government of Nunavut, who views the US proposal as an effort to address a potential symptom of climate change, in lieu of more appropriately tackling climate change itself (International Polar Foundation). While this battle rages on in Bangkok, US & Russian authorities are working together to establish, for the first time, a legal quota system for aboriginal hunting of the Alaska-Chukotka population of polar bears (AD).

In Canada, the appointment of Bernard Valcourt as the new Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (a brief backgrounder on Minister Valcourt here, from the Globe & Mail) coincided with the “Keeping the Promise” conference in Quebec on the implementation and negotiation of land claims between Aboriginal communities and the Canadian government. The meeting’s purpose was to “celebrate the successes of our agreements and treaties; discuss them within the context of Canadian and global political, legal, economic and social landscapes; and set the path towards self-reliance and self-sufficiency.” Adding further color to this ongoing discussion was an interesting piece in Canadian Business examining the particularly entrepreneurial Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia; author Alex Rose wonders whether some broader shift towards entrepreneurship might not be the best next step for many such communities in Canada. 

Next door in Alaska, Senator Mark Begich introduced a bill that would streamline the process by which future ports are identified and developed in the state (ANN), while in Russia Ivan Moseev, a champion of a kind for the Pomor ethnic group in northern Russia, was assessed a fine of EUR 2,500 for, in essence, statements of prejudice against Russians (BO).


The saga that was Shell’s 2012 Arctic drilling season entered its final act this week. Three tugboats began hauling the company’s damaged drill rig Kulluk away from Kiliuda Bay en route to an undisclosed Asian port for extensive repairs (KTUU). Another member of Shell’s Arctic fleet, the Noble Discover, also awaits a tow to Asia for repairs. With its two drill rigs facing lengthy repairs across the Pacific, Shell announced that it would be taking a “pause” in its Arctic drilling program and would suspend exploration for 2013. Ben Anderson writes for the Alaska Dispatch on Shell’s decision to call off drilling for 2013, the impacts this will have on Arctic energy exploration in general, and the variety of reactions to Shell’s decision from across Alaska. 

Greenpeace politely offered to take some of the credit for Shell’s decision, citing the occupation of the Noble Discoverer by Lucy Lawless and seven other activists in February, 2012 as the beginning of the end for Shell’s 2012 drilling season (Taranaki Daily News). While one would be hard pressed to give Greenpeace sole credit, the NGO’s efforts certainly highlighted Shell’s apparent struggle to “manage the message” about its operations throughout the year. That lack of message management may have done just as much damage, in the final analysis, as the harsh Arctic climate to the company’s hopes for next year. Charles Emmerson writes in an analysis of Shell’s decision for Chatham House that bowing out gracefully now was better than being pushed out at a later date by government regulators and that, in the long run, Shell’s decision will do little to derail Arctic exploration in Norway or Russia. 

Finally, do not miss Jerry Beilinson’s fascinating article this week in Popular Mechanics. Beilinson spent time on the Kulluk last October and provides an inside look at many of the unanticipated challenges of running a offshore oilrig in the Arctic, not least of which are: what exactly do you do with sewage from 50 workers when you’re not allowed to dump it overboard, and what happens when you run out of cigarettes? Beilinson uses his experiences on the Kulluk as a springboard to discuss the issues of Arctic oil exploration and energy independence more generally, making for a well-rounded and compelling read.

Science, Environment & Wildlife 

In what seems like a sharp contrast with Canada, the United States issued new policies this week intended to make federally-funded research more open and available to the public (WP). Whether it will make a meaningful difference or not, it is certainly a step in the right direction. And while budgets for science are shrinking along with everything else, those aren’t the only problems Arctic researchers face; a well-written post on research at the Eureka station in Canada features wolves, blackouts and equipment failures – all part of the game. 

Incredibly clever new research in Siberia is looking at the stalactites and stalagmites in caves under permafrost layers as records of warmer and colder periods in history (Scientific American), while undergrads from the US Naval Academy (and others) take on further awesome research helping us to improve our ability to understand ice in the Arctic (

Military / Search-&-Rescue 

Russia intends to make a massive upgrade to its armaments by 2020 via a new procurement program (RIAN). To this reader, the announcement had a bewildering tone; did Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin really say that Russia would “get off the oil & gas needle”? This seems to be part of an overall hardening of Russian rhetoric about Arctic militarization, ostensibly inspired by a sense that NATO is being pushier in the region than it ought to be. Unlikely to ease Russian concerns on this front is the announcement that the US will be upgrading its Globus II radar installation at Vardø, Norway in 2015 (BO). The radar has some unique capabilities: “It is the only radar with a resolution and a range that can provide information about the difference between a warhead and a dummy in an attempt to track an intercontinental nuclear missile from Iran to central parts of the east coast of the United States” according to MIT professor Theodor Postol. Meanwhile, as the US and Russia slowly increase funding for Arctic military purposes, Canada is moving in the opposite direction. This week came the announcement that the shipbuilding program announced last year is already being undercut by apparently overoptimistic cost estimates ( 

Now from the present-day to the thankfully distant past: Britain’s Ministry of Defence announced this week that it would be awarding medals to veterans of World War II’s Murmansk run, the infamously awful and dangerous supply convoy that ran from Britain to Murmansk & Arkhangelsk, “keeping the Soviet Union supplied”. It is difficult, even from this distance, not to be moved by stories of this mission, in which 3,000 sailors and 55,000 airmen died (BBC).


Peter Levring and Mikael Holter write on the intersection of global politics and energy and mining as they explore Greenlanders’ push for greater autonomy over their own development choices (Bloomberg).

Fishing, Shipping and Other Business News

NOAA announced that it had updated its plans for nautical charts in Alaskan waters; it will create 14 new charts to help increasing ship traffic navigate safely. Russia must also provide expanded icebreaking and ice-pilotage services on the Northern Sea Route to accommodate growing traffic; the Eurasian Economic Commission decided this week that such services along the Northern Sea Route are a natural monopoly (RBTH).

Education, Health, Culture & Society 

For those in Ottawa in late April or early May, let us know how the Northern Scene festival is; we’re sorry we can’t be there in person. Nunatsiaq News readers a good overview of the lineup, and why it’s worth your while.

Though I know it may seem like an odd choice, I think my very favorite article this week is a personal story from Charlene Paterson of her own shift away from store-bought Arctic wear to home-made during her time in Arviat (Independent). Though I probably should have guessed, I didn’t know how much clothing meant beyond its value as protection from the elements. 

A slight budget surplus in Nunavut coincides with the announcement of a new Department of Family Services which will be launched to tackle food security, homelessness and poverty in the territory (Edmonton Journal). Across the world, Finland announced that it would be rolling out its own Sámi-language news program, due in part to dissatisfaction with the midnight time slot of existing Sámi-language programming from Sweden and Norway (EOTA).


Canada’s consumer price index rose more in 2012 in the northern territories than in other locations in Canada (CBC), which is likely not a surprise. Things cost more in the North for many reasons, among which is the cost of shipping. That is usually less expensive via ice road than by plane, but warm weather in Alberta has made the ice road to Fort Chipewyan dangerous even at this early moment in the year (EOTA). This might well mean that more products will need to be flown in later in the year, making prices even higher. The cost of northern internet access is another significant drain, and Nunavik is trying to plan ahead for better internet-access options for its own future (NN). 

A wonderful article from Alaska Dispatch looks at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, which is working to develop more climate-appropriate housing for Alaska’s remote communities, rather than simply importing housing designed for completely different conditions. 


The Iditarod Sled-dog race started Saturday. For some early handicapping and updates as the race progresses, make a habit of checking Alaska Dispatch’s Iditarod page. If you think the sled-dog version of the Iditarod is a challenge, then you obviously have not heard about the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a bike, hike or ski ultra-race that was run this last week. The invitational includes both a short 350 mile category along with the full 1,000 mile category. The big news from this year’s race was the 2 days, 19 hours, 16 minutes finishing time of Idahoan Jay Petervary in the 350 mile section which broke the previous record by over nine hours. Petervary already holds the record for the 1,000 mile section (ADN). For full results from the race, see the official website. There’s also some good coverage (and great aerial photos!) on the Half Past Done ultra-racing blog.


On the photo front this week, we’ll start with three galleries and one video you should take a look at. One, which does not have a slick interface but is interesting nonetheless, is from a team at Canada’s PEARL research station. A second is the collection on Facebook from Rovaniemi Design Week, and a third is pictures from Stefan Hefele of Iceland

The video is of one night spent aurora-hunting in Finnish Lapland. Watch it if you like northern lights or if you like the sound of Finnish (as I do).

Finish off with four great individual Instagram pics you’ll enjoy, of: Harstad in northern Norway (@littlet88); a snowed-in abandoned cabin in Vardø (@biotope); and a beautiful portrait of a Steller’s eider (also from @biotope).

The Grab Bag 

The lonely Lyubov Orlova, a derelict cruise ship abandoned several weeks ago to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, might be setting its sights for the lovely Norwegian coast (IceNews). If you are not yet a Twitter user, perhaps you should become one so that you can follow @LyubovOrlovaNL. Whoever’s behind the account has a delightful sense of humor. 

And although I did not want to like it, I read every single word of a lengthy report of two guys’ road trip from the Czech Republic to Murmansk and back again ( It’s captivating, particularly for those who, like me, have a penchant for such adventures.

This week’s credits:

Tom Fries: Politics, Science, Military, Fishing/Shipping, Education/Health, Infrastructure, 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 Beyond the Headlines (RBTH)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)