The Arctic This Week: 23 March 2013 – 29 March 2013

The Arctic This Week 2013:13

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TATW is also available as a clickable PDF, illustrated this week by feature photographer Tormod Amundsen, from Biotope in Norway. To try out the PDF version and see Tormod’s outstanding photographs of bird life on the Norwegian coast, click here. You can learn more about Biotope at

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Reads of the Week

If you’re pressed for time this week, start with the articles below.

We’ll start by pointing you to the work of two reliably-excellent Arctic commentators. The first, Michael Byers, is interviewed comprehensively by Jane Kokan about a host of industrial, political and military issues in the Canadian Arctic – Nunavut, in particular. The second, Anthony Speca, submits another well-crafted analytical essay via Northern Public Affairs, in which he covers the potential ramifications of the recent defeats of (1) a bill that would have banned commercial sealing in Canada and (2) the proposal to up-list polar bears at the CITES conference in Bangkok.

The likelihood that last year’s extensive melt in the Arctic is partially responsible for extreme weather of many sorts ‘round the globe received a lot of media coverage this week, much of it too broad-brush for our taste. We would strongly recommend that, after scanning the various headlines, readers turn their attention to a hard-nosed, analytical and well-researched blog post by Stefan Rahmstorf (here, translated into English).

Now to energy, where we were glad to read more great reporting in the Alaskan press on the effort to reform the state’s oil tax laws. Pat Forgey explores the darker side of Juneau politics, examining the key role that industry lobbyists and legislators with close connections to the oil and gas industry have been playing in moving the bill along (AD). Alex DeMarban asks where all the new oil will come from that the bill’s supporters say will offset the tax cut’s costs to the state. Turns out about 82,000 barrels a day will be needed to plug the gap, and all the major oil companies have clearly avoided going on the record saying that the new tax regime will lead them to develop new prospects (AD).

Two insightful commentaries on the Russian-Chinese energy bills signed last week point out why these deals are better news for China than for Russia. Georgy Bovt points out that, 10 years ago, industrial goods and equipment made up 30% of Russia’s trade with China, while today they represent less than 1.5% (MT). The deals are seen to cement Russia’s position as no more than a supplier of raw materials to fuel China’s fast growing economy and world influence, in spite of Moscow’s “great power nostalgia” (NYT).

To finish, we would direct you to a captivating review of a new book for young readers on an unsung Arctic adventure – the rescue of whaling crews trapped in the ice in 1897, before helicopters and satellite phones – and then send you humbly to an article of our own on “the [Arctic] crisis that never was” and the development of a stable Arctic under an increasingly influential Arctic Council.

The Political Scene


The Arctic News Map
This week saw a break from prophesies of impending Arctic conflict. Instead, discussion focused on stability in the Arctic, especially as led by the Arctic Council (TAI). In a piece we liked from our own website, RUSI’s Matthew Willis outlines the developing “quiet authority” of the Arctic Council and the “collegial atmosphere” of Arctic coordination, even concerning matters of security, which fall outside of the purview of the Arctic Council. Given that “hard” security concerns are, in theory, off the table at the Arctic Council, perhaps admitting China, South Korea and the EU as observers is a clearer choice than previously thought – this, at least, is Samuel Bullen’s argument in Atlantic Community. To read more on China’s case for inclusion in the Council, check out this short opinion piece from China Daily.

While the Arctic Council’s “quiet authority” has been growing, Alaskans in particular have been adamant that the US increase its Arctic role. On Tuesday March 26th, Alaska House representative Bob Herron put forth House Resolution 7, requesting that Secretary of State John Kerry attend the Arctic Council’s Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden on May 15 (Alaska House of Representatives). The resolution passed by a vote of 38-0. Since Canada will take over chairmanship at the May meeting, with the US assuming chairmanship in May 2015, Herron said he envisioned close coordination between the US and Canada during both chairmanships. Contributing to the ongoing discussion of Canada’s upcoming chairmanship, Georgi Ivanov argued that Canada should focus on protecting the environment and inhabitants of the region, ensuring that stringent standards are put into place as resource exploitation expands (Atlantic Community). Another sign of increased Alaskan initiative in Arctic affairs is the work of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission. Their meeting this week has been made available on vimeo, and you can find member Nils Andreassen’s commentary on the meeting via the Institute of the North’s Top of the World Telegraph.

Other balanced commentaries cropped up this week, including an informative interview with Canadian Arctic expert Michael Byers (Jane Kokan) and an article on coastal and littoral state interests in Current Intelligence by Ian Townsend-Gault. Russia’s Council on Foreign Affairs also released a road map for improving the legal framework for cooperation between the Russian Federation and other Arctic states (you can find it, in Russian, on the council's website).

The local level

In Russia, Current Governor of Murmansk Oblast Marina Kovtun has secured the participation of ex-governor Yury Yevdokimov as an expert in public administration in a newly established “expert council” for the region, reports Barents Observer. The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East (RAIPON, following its recent reprieve & reinstatement), held its seventh congress March 27-30 ( More information on the objectives of the conference can be found on the RAIPON website. President Vladimir Putin expressed his confidence that workings of the conference would lead to solutions to social and economic problems as well as higher standards of living for indigenous Russian peoples (VOR).

Recent polling in Iceland indicates a “marked drop” in support from 37 to 24 percent of the electorate for Iceland’s right-wing Independence Party in the last three months, with the Progressive Party benefitting most from the drop to become the largest political party in Iceland, receiving nearly 30 percent support (IceNews).

In Canada, The Journey of Nishiyuu, which began on January 16th in Whapmagoostui, on the shores of Hudson Bay, came to a celebratory close March 25th with a rally in keeping with the walkers’ mission statement: “the time for unity is now” (NN). After a busy few days in Ottawa, the original six young walkers and their guide returned to a feast in their honor and the promise of a rest (NN).

The Government of the Northwest Territories released a guide for federal employees on the Devolution Human Resources Package in an attempt to seamlessly implement devolution. In an online vote in Labrador, the New Democrats picked northern analyst Harry Borlase to run in the by-election for Peter Penashue’s recently vacated seat (Maclean’s). The Yukon government has said that it will invest $289,000 in pilot projects to improve French-language health and social services (EOTA).


The third annual symposium on Northern Political economy, to be held in Rovaniemi, Finland on August 14-15, has called for papers (proposals due by May 31st) by doctoral students and senior scholars. / The University of Lapland is offering an Arctic Studies Program. More information on the program can be found here. / Dr. Lassi Heininen, newly appointed Professor of Arctic Politics at the University, gave the keynote speech at the launch of the Arctic Yearbook 2012 at the Université du Québec à Montréal on March 28th. / The final report of the Arctic Futures Symposium is now available via the International Polar Association website (click here to see the PDF version directly).


The 4th Annual North American Arctic Oil and Gas Conference will be held in St. John’s, Newfoundland, 10-11 April 2013. Full details are available on the conference’s website.


Debate continues this week in Juneau about the prospects for a natural gas pipeline to bring North Slope gas to downstate consumers. The current small-diameter pipeline under consideration is facing opposition from the port city of Valdez, which would prefer a larger project that could also provide gas for export (FNM). This week also marked the 24th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Pew Charitable Trusts takes the opportunity to look back at the enduring impacts of the spill on local communities and the environment in south central Alaska.

Some great reporting and writing from the Alaska press this week on Senate Bill 21, a proposal to cut and reconfigure the state’s oil taxes which would leave the state with deficits for the foreseeable future while oil companies would take home an additional $5 to $6 billion over the next six years. Pat Forgey explores the seamy underbelly of Juneau politics by revealing the key role that industry lobbyists and legislators with close connections to the oil and gas industry played in moving the bill along (AD). Turns out in a small state with part-time legislators and a large oil and gas sector, it’s pretty hard to find key players who don’t have some connection to the industry. University of Alaska Professor Emeritus Tim Tilsworth calls out the clear conflict of interest of several key legislators and the double-talk some of the bill’s supporters have used in their public statements (FNM). As the bill moves now to the more industry-friendly House, the question becomes not whether the tax cuts were too big but if they were big enough (AD). Alex DeMarban asks where all the new oil will come from that the bill’s supporters say will offset the tax cut’s costs to the state. Turns out about 82,000 barrels a day will be needed to plug the gap, and all the major oil companies have clearly avoided going on-record saying that the new tax regime will lead them to develop new prospects (AD). News of tax cuts to oil companies probably won’t play well with the Alaskan public after news broke this week that Alaska Permanent Fund dividends this year will only reach a paltry $800, though this apparently has more to do with reverberations from stock performance several years ago than any short-term decisions about taxes (AD).

The jack-up rig Endeavour-Spirit of Independence left Homer this week after its stay, originally planned for only a few days, had stretched on for 218 days. The rigs owners found they had to make repairs and upgrades after towing the rig from Asia, and the extended stay in Homer ended up costing $500,000 in harbor taxes (AD). Appraising and assessing such a vessel is a rather complicated process: see this article by Naomi Klouda in Alaska Dispatch for a description of how these taxes are calculated and how the revenues are then distributed.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has received comments from across the political spectrum on proposed changes to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though it appears that a final determination on new wilderness designations in the reserve, opposed by industry, will be postponed due to the departure of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this month (PN).

The US Coast Guard has asked the Justice Department to look into potential safety and environmental violations by two of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs (McClatchy). The current investigation (for possible violations of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) is in addition to previous investigations of the Kulluk’s grounding and environmental violations by the Noble Discoverer (Reuters). Rachel Maddow provides a tongue-in-cheek account of the investigations and the departure of Shell’s head of exploration David Lawrence for MSNBC. Forbes asks if the firings will stop with Lawrence or if more heads will roll. Environmental groups continue to ratchet up the pressure on Washington and incoming Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, calling for a wider probe into Arctic oil exploration (FuelFix). In spite of the pressure, the Obama administration again affirmed its commitment to Arctic drilling in a statement this week (Common Dreams).

Despite Shell’s woes, ConocoPhillips continues to plan to drill next year at its Devil’s Paw Prospect in the Chukchi Sea. The company has run several simulated exercises, procured new equipment that it has designed specifically for Arctic conditions, and conducted outreach with local Native villages to assuage fears concerning impacts on wildlife and the environment (EENews).

Fancy new clothes may be on the way for Arctic oil and gas workers. Norwegian research organization SINTEF has developed new fabric and sensors to help monitor a worker’s vital signs and provide better protection from the elements. See this article and video in Eye on the Arctic for details.


Reflections on last week’s energy deals between China and Russia were numerous and diverse, though they seem to share a common assessment: Russia is certainly the “junior partner” in the evolving relationship. For a good overview of last week’s deals, see this article in Bloomberg News. Georgy Bovt points out that 10 years ago, industrial goods and equipment made up 30% of Russia’s trade with China, while today it represents less than 1.5% (MT). The deals are seen to cement Russia’s position as no more than a supplier of raw materials to fuel China’s fast growing economy and world influence, in spite of Moscow’s “great power nostalgia” (NYT). Writing for the American Security Project, Theodore MacDonald sees a more equitable arrangement falling out from these new deals.

The gas deal, in particular, overcame years of impasse between the two countries over gas supplies and pricing. Russia has wanted to charge rates similar to those it gets in Europe, which has been a non-starter for China. Interestingly, the price issue is still unresolved, though the two sides have agreed to work towards an accommodation this year (Reuters). Now that Russia has promised all that new oil and gas to China, they have to figure out how to get it there. Plans for a gas pipeline from Northern Siberia to China have run into opposition from environmental groups and local residents along the pipeline’s proposed route in the “Golden Mountains of Altai,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its archeological heritage (NTDTV).

The Finance Ministry expressed opposition to talk of shifting Russia’s oil tax system towards one based on profit and away from the current system of taxing output and exports. While proponents say the move would spur investment and exploration to boost Russia’s sagging production numbers, others are of the opinion that a profit tax will only drive companies to avoid taxes by artificially reducing profits (Reuters).

Apparently stealing crude oil in Russian Siberia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A Siberian “businessman” dug a tunnel to access a buried oil pipeline, then cut in a connection and began siphoning off oil. He made off with 30 tonnes of oil before being caught and admitting that the profits weren’t worth the mess of sloshing around in spilt crude oil (IndiaTV). In another, perhaps more sophisticated case of perfidy in the Russian oil industry, Murmansk oil businessman Oleg Mnatsakanyan was sentenced to three years in prison for a shady and profitable maritime lease deal he arranged with Norwegian partners (BO).

Total and Gazprom, stakeholders in the stalled Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, have discussed cost-cutting measures and the production of a road map to hasten the project’s development (BN). With Shtokman still on hold, communities in the Murmansk region that pinned their hopes on the project and the access to cheap natural gas that it could supply have begun to look elsewhere to try to reduce energy prices. The region is in discussions to import gas from Norway to begin replacing more expensive fuel oil currently used in heating (BN).


Elections, as they say, have consequences. Greenland’s new minister for natural resources Jens-Erik Kirkegaard announced that the government will not be issuing any new licenses for offshore drilling (OHS Online). In addition to cancelling new licenses, the government has indicated that work at existing licenses will take place under more rigorous government oversight in the future (Guardian).


In spite of recent critiques after the scandal surrounding the Yme platform, Conservative MP Siri Meling says that tax rules that allow companies to write off losses on unsuccessful investments as key to spurring investment and innovation in the industry (AB). Statoil employees seem to be doing just fine: The average salary at Statoil is a healthy NOK 1.2 million, though I am surprised to hear that the CEO only makes NOK 13.8 million (AB).

After the EU criticized oil drilling in the Arctic, Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Torgeir Larsen politely reminded the Union that the Arctic is not some far away, uninhabited place, but is in fact home to 10% of his country’s population and, at least in Norway, is characterized by ice-free waters (AB). Relatedly, Norway is concerned that falling gas prices in Europe may cause significant revenue loss (AB).

Meanwhile, some changes in management at BP Norway, as (now former) Managing Director Rebecca Wiles will be replaced by Jan Norheim. Wiles steered BP Norway through a difficult period characterized by the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon spill (AB).


The Yukon Conservation Society is calling on the territorial government to postpone scheduled oil and gas leasing processes until after it has conducted public consultations. The big issue is fracking, which the government seems inclined to allow on new leases, even though public comment has not been solicited on the topic (WS).

Science, Environment & Wildlife

Environmental science

This week the National Snow & Ice Data Center confirmed that the year’s ice extent maximum – 15.13 million square kilometers – had been reached, and that melting is now underway. Breakup of the ice cover in the Beaufort Sea heralded the start of melting season; for visualization and explanation of the breakup, turn to NOAA/NASA, and for a presentation on the state of Arctic ice generally, look to Brendan P. Kelly of the US’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. One observer is on the record predicting an ice-free Arctic this summer (Elephant Journal); it will be interesting to see where things end up in autumn.

A brief article from Deutsche Welle addresses the likelihood of a relationship between the past year’s dramatic melt season and never-ending winter currently draining northern Europeans’ will to live. For my money, the best article on this issue by far is a blog post from Stefan Rahmstorf (here laboriously translated into English) covering the research that’s fed into this idea. A longer article in the Guardian on the same theme has been very popular on Twitter; it suggests that “melting sea ice…explains extreme weather both hot and cold.” (Editorial note: The article, in my opinion, entices readers toward dangerous oversimplification; it’s not a simple event-X-yields-result-Y chain of events.) A slightly more measured piece comes from NBC News, and if you’re a weather geek you can check out an analysis of the polar low covering northern Norway from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (BarentsWatch).

While the hue and cry continues, NASA is thankfully at work acquiring better data on what’s going on with Arctic ice in general. This year’s IceBridge campaign has been running for the past couple of weeks (IceNews), with flight plans and images available via Twitter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) as well as a blog post (one of several) taking you along for the ride. NASA’s Aqua/MODIS satellite also provided a picture of polynyas opening in the Hudson Bay.

Ongoing, new and future research

Several cool projects are underway or in the offing. Russia is on the lookout for an appropriate ice floe for its North Pole-41 floating science station (BO), and has just sent its first shipment of 50 tons of equipment and 20 people – parachuted in from planes – to establish the “Barneo” station for this year, 110 kilometers from the North Pole (BO). Meanwhile, NASA has researchers in Kulusuk, Greenland preparing to study aquifers under the Greenland ice sheet. Follow along with their preparations and their arrival in Kulusuk.

The Globe & Mail profiled an ambitious project (mentioned in last week’s TATW) to catalog Inuit place-names in Nunavut. An equally ambitious project to transcribe ships’ logbooks from more than a century ago, thus offering further historical weather and climate observations, is covered by the U of Washington.

The 2012 annual report for the Center for Permafrost was just released, cataloging the program’s recent work, published papers and presentations. More extensive insight into ongoing research can be found via the National Snow & Ice Data Center’s list of projects, the Nordicana database from U Laval or – as always – the ASTIS database.

Upcoming conferences and resources

Arctic science events have been booming recently as well. Coming up – get your abstracts in! – are (1) the Arctic Ocean Acidification conference in Bergen, Norway, and (2) Arctic Science Summit Week in Kraków, Poland. There are doubtless many more on the horizon. The US Arctic Research Council does an excellent job of tracking these and many others (as well as Arctic science in general), and if keeping updated on goings-on in Arctic science is important to you, I’d suggest you subscribe to their daily update.

You may wish as well to keep track of reports from conferences of the recent past, including the Arctic Futures Symposium 2012, the Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, the Economist’s Arctic Summit (APECS summary) and the Alaska Archaeological Association conference (Frontier Scientists). A nice debrief of a presentation given in Potsdam, Germany by David Hik, president of the International Arctic Science Committee, comes from the excellent Ecologic Institute.


Shamelessly beginning with several personal favorites, I would point readers to Anthony Speca’s most recent piece – a well-crafted analytical essay – for Northern Public Affairs. In it, Speca covers the recent defeats of (1) a bill that would have banned commercial sealing in Canada and (2) the proposal to up-list polar bears at the CITES conference in Bangkok. Follow with a breathtakingly beautiful post and photo series from the recent Gullfest 2013, hosted by Biotope in Norway. Several of photographer Tormod Amundsen’s pictures grace the PDF version of this week’s TATW, and you can find one attendee’s enthusiastic review of the experience on Far away, the return of Canada geese to Clearwater Lake near Fairbanks heralds the return of spring, no matter what the weather may be like (FNM). And the last of the shameless-favorites series is the latest from the Arthropod Ecology, which looks at seasonal changes in Arctic beetle populations in Nunavut. There is MUCH more on Arctic bugs in the most recent issue of The Canadian Entomologist – a special edition “Arctic Entomology in the 21st Century” – and in a brief post from the U of Alaska Fairbanks.

Shall we move on to ungulates? Thirty wood bison took a big trip from Canada’s Elk Island National Park across the Pacific to Russia, where they will join a growing stock in Lensky Stolby Nature Park (MarketWatch, plus photos from Back on the North American side of the Pacific, conservation scientists have developed new techniques of measuring how caribou use calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANN), while scientists are still on the lookout for a “silver bullet” to halt the decline of Kenai Peninsula moose populations (AD). Reindeer populations in Murmansk are also suffering, apparently at the greedy hands of poachers (BO).

Polar bears continue to own a great deal of Arctic “mindshare”, and Moki Kokoris – a contributor to The Arctic Institute – writes thoughtfully for Polar Bears International on the confused philosophies that underlie many conversations about polar bear hunting by Northern indigenous peoples. Indeed, National Inuit leader Terry Audla, soon-to-be chair of the Arctic Council Leona Aglukkaq and Canada’s Minister for the Environment Peter Kent had polar bear for lunch at a recent meeting (ITK). The study on polar bears that famously mentions feeding them as one of many possible conservation options was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology; the full text is available online. The BBC spoke with one of the authors of that study, Andrew Derocher, and with photographer Jenny Ross about the bears’ future. And in Nunavut, a citizen-science initiative is taking up the task of studying polar bear denning habits on certain important portions of Baffin Island (EOTA).


A fascinating article from Scientific American pointed out that Greenland has recently found itself able to grow small crops of vegetables that have never been available before. / The first National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy was released in Washington this week (NOAA). / New fish fossils recovered from the Canadian Arctic indicate a “fish-eat-fish” world in the Devonian era (Drexel University). / Little Auks on Svalbard may be in danger as their optimal food species move further out to sea (Norwegian Polar Institute). / Congratulations to the Sweden chapter of APECS for coming up with a creative new funding mechanism for an executive secretary position! / The temperature in Fairbanks rose by 55 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday 28 March – almost an all-time record (FNM). / Alaska’s Congressman Don Young will be one of two chairs of the Congressional Oceans Caucus, which is “dedicated to supporting ocean research and conservation”. / The Canadian Museum of Nature has a slew of activities on tap for April, celebrating the centenary of the 1913-1916 Canadian Arctic Expedition.

Military / Search-&-Rescue

Following James Holmes’ recent article in Foreign Policy on the need to beef up the US Coast Guard, Holmes appeared on NPR and outlined the Coast Guard’s historic role in American maritime strategy (à la Sir Julian Corbett) in yet another article in The Diplomat. Holmes pointed to the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower – which advocates coordination among Navy, Marines and Coasties in a “triservice maritime strategy”– to justify enhancing the capacities of the Coast Guard.

Fort Wainwright’s Arctic Wolves Stryker Brigade Combat Team took part in the Operation Arctic Forge skills competition, testing capabilities such as skiing and snowshoeing. The 25th Infantry Division has had little use for such skills in the recent past, thanks to long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan (FNM).

Canada’s Yellowknife reservists also took advantage of the winter climate, conducting a live shooting exercise at the south end of Yellowknife Bay (CBC), while Quebec’s Canadian Rangers released a captivating video summarizing their training efforts earlier in the winter. P. Whitney Lackenbauer of St. Jerome’s University released a working paper on expanding and enhancing the capabilities of the Canadian Rangers, entitled “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Break It” (PDF, available from the Gordon Foundation).

Canadian Air Force Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin told the Toronto Star that the Air Force’s drone program would move ahead despite delays, and that a drone squadron would provide a “versatile platform” enabling Canada to enforce its sovereignty in the North (Toronto Star).

It seems Russia may have sold jets and submarines to China. The rumored deal “would be a major boon for China,” acting as a deterrent in ongoing disputes in the East and South China Seas and “giving the PLA access to advanced fighter jet engines as well as possible advanced Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology for potential future use in domestic submarine designs” (The Diplomat). India purchased a refitted aircraft carrier – the INS Vikramaditya, formerly Admiral Gorshkov – from Russia in 2004, and although Russia failed to meet the December 4th, 2012 deadline for exchange due to faulty boilers, it appears that India is unlikely to fine Russia for the delay (RIAN).

The Swedish Armed Forces apologized and will award compensation for causing the death of around 500 mink pups in Svenljunga (Ice News). Low-flying planes incited panic at the mink farm last summer, causing adult mink to fatally bite their young.

If you’re looking for an easy read, “The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure” by Martin W. Sadler got a nice review by David A. James in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, who said “Although intended primarily for younger readers (age 10 and up, according to press materials), this book shouldn’t be missed by adults who enjoy Arctic sagas and/or good survival tales.” The book tells the story of a search and rescue off Point Barrow in 1897.



Greenland’s new government is wasting no time in changing course on energy and mineral development. In addition to halting new oil exploration licenses, the coalition government has announced it will review last year’s law that sanctioned importing cheap labor for large mining projects, and that it is in favor lifting the previous government’s ban on uranium mining (USA Today). Meanwhile, Greenland Minerals and Energy announced that it has developed a new phased plan for the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth minerals complex that cuts initial capital requirements from USD $1.53 billion to $810 million (Mining Weekly).


Quebec has come to a different decision regarding its mining sector and has opted to call for a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining until an independent study can be conducted on environmental and social impacts (Montreal Gazette). While the James Bay Cree Nation applauded the province’s decision, they expressed concern that the mechanism of the review had not received their prior consent and as such may violate previous treaties between the nation and the province (Canadian Mining Journal). There is also concern on the part of industry that political developments are decreasing Quebec’s attractiveness for mining investment, including a new proposed tax hike on mining production and profits (Canadian Mining Journal).

Proposed changes to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Mining Regulations will be published to solicit comments this summer before they are made effective in 2014 (Association of Corporate Council). The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines highlighted elements of Canada’s proposed federal budget that will be positive developments for the region’s mining sector, including tax incentives and funding for skills training (press release). And in the first geologic survey of the Hall Peninsula in Nunavut since 1576, new deposits of carving stone were discovered that are of good quality and scientific interest (CBC).

With ten years of devolution behind them, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski writes for the Globe and Mail that the process has been a great boon for the territory’s mining sector. Mining in Canada’s North brings its costs as well: Northwest Territories MP Dennis Bevington went public with government assessments placing the cost of cleaning up the Giant Mine just outside of Yellowknife at almost CAD 1 billion (HQ Yellowknife).

The first ten students have graduated from Yukon College’s Introduction to Mining Operations program. The program, a partnership between industry, government and the college, aims to train more local workers for jobs in Yukon’s active mining sector (North of 60).

An agreement has been reached between the Newfoundland and Labrador government and mining company Vale to permit underground mining operations at the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine. The deal will extend the life of the mine for at least another twenty years (EOTA).


The state scored well this year in the Fraser Institute’s annual Survey of Mining Companies. Industry is generally happy with the state’s regulatory environment and potential for mining development, though concerns remain about lack of infrastructure and the outsized role the US Federal Government often plays in mining decisions in the state (North of 60).

Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News


The Arkhangelsk trawler fleet and the licenses and port infrastructure that go with it are set for privatization in the course of 2013. The latest bidder is United Capital Partners, which joins four other heavy-hitters interested in acquiring the fleet (BO). The companies that import Norwegian salmon to Russia are meanwhile under investigation by the country’s Federal Antimonopoly Service over concerns that they’ve created a cartel of sorts (BN). Two Russian companies are applying for MSC certification for their Barents Sea cod and haddock fisheries (The Fish Site), American scientists are expanding their existing programs monitoring halibut in the Pacific (BBT), and Izetta Chambers shares a fascinating reflection on the step-by-step improvements to salmon quality in Alaska’s fisheries that have taken place over her lifetime (AD).


A general but intelligent overview of the current political state of Arctic shipping comes from, and the WWF offers an assessment (the only one?) of the International Maritime Organization’s proposed Polar Code; the WWF sees the environmental protection provisions contained therein as being too weak. In Russia, federal and regional officials have criticized the notion of making the Northern Sea Route an international shipping route (JRL / Interfax), while Norway may be looking at its competitive advantage in shipbuilding and shipping infrastructure as valuable assets during the (slow) expansion of Arctic shipping (The Diplomat).

In Alaska, shipping headlines were captured by a hearing held in Anchorage by Senator Mark Begich to examine Arctic shipping safety and review the “lessons learned” from Shell’s 2012 drilling adventure ( Perhaps the most telling takeaway came from Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, who pointed out that the capacity to enforce or monitor standards of care aboard ships traveling through Alaska’s Arctic is not yet available (NBC). The testimony of Eleanor Huffines, the manager of the US Arctic Program for the Pew Charitable Trusts, covered the field of needed policy changes in a well-organized and carefully-written speech (full text available here). Senator Begich himself seemed significantly more concerned about the risks posed by increased shipping traffic than those posed by drilling activity (JE).

Other business news

Alexander Stubb, the colorful Finnish Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, wrote a column on the economic value of Finland-Russia cross-border business, and recommended that Finns be courageous about entering business ventures in Russia (BN). / Some large quantity of grain has been stolen from a strategic reserve in Arkhangelsk Oblast ( / Finland is clearly considering the possibility of a high-speed data link under the Baltic to Germany, hoping that such – plus advantageous corporate tax rates – would bring business investment to the country (YLE). / In Murmansk, a company servicing the needs of filmmakers has been set up (BN).

Education, Health, Culture & Society

Food security often features in The Arctic This Week, but if you’re interested in a nice summary of the problem, check out this piece by Jessie Luna for Worldwatch Blogs. US Senator Lisa Murkowski announced this week that she would hold two public meetings in Alaska on “subsistence”, an important issue incorporating both cultural sustainability and food security (website of the Senator). The first meting will be held in Bethel on April 2nd. Murkowski has recently come under fire for failing to grant greater policing powers to Alaskan tribes under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as a partial solution to what Alaska Dispatch considers “rural Alaska’s sexual assault epidemic”.

An excellent piece from Nunatsiaq News praised Nunavik graphic artist Thomassie Mangiok for promoting the use of Inuttitut through a free android and tablet app that focuses on improving pronunciation and an online comic strip in Inuttitut developed with a grant from Nunavik’s crime-prevention program that addresses themes such as bullying, drug use and reckless behavior (NN). On a similar note, the Northwest Territories wrapped up its second Aboriginal Languages Symposium this week (gov’t of NWT).

Nunavut continues its efforts to combat health-related issues in the territory, including a shortage of midwives (CBC), drastically high rates of TB (NN), and high suicide rates (click here for an in-depth research article on suicide in Nunavut from the Journal of Circumpolar Health). At a meeting on March 26th, Iqaluit’s city council unanimously agreed to the construction of a new jail beginning this summer (NN), and also consulted with RCMP officials, suggesting “increased police visibility, improved communication in Inuktitut, and the possibility of a neighborhood-watch program” as ways to enhance the police force’s presence in Iqaluit (NN). Addressing another important concern in Nunavut, problems of racial discrimination, the Nunavut Human Rights tribunal tabled its annual report before the Legislative Assembly on March 19th (NN).

The six members of the Yukon Medical Council, responsible for licensing doctors in the territory, all resigned this week following the Yukon Government’s dismissal of the council’s request for a feasibility study on the establishment of a Yukon College of Physicians and Surgeons (CBC). The former board said it lacked the funds and staff to fulfill its duties. At the Northern Housing Conference in Whitehorse, Wally Czech advocated that the Yukon adopt the “housing first” approach to address homelessness and its associated drain on government resources (CBC).


The Northwest Territories Privacy Commissioner advised Yellowknife Health and Social Services to change its policy regarding staff access to medical records in order to better protect patients’ privacy (CBC). / CBC News released an excellent interactive map this week illustrating the Canadian Border Services Agency’s drug seizures along US-Canadian borders. / Nunavut is establishing a new Department of Family Services, to be headed up by Monica Ell, effective April 1st (NN). / Alaska Native Medical Center recently appointed Paul Franke as its new Chief Medical Officer (Alaska Business Monthly).


Writ large

Start off with an interview (in French) with Joël Plouffe on civilian and defense infrastructure in the Canadian North and its relationship to Canadian sovereignty ( Then, if you’re in or near Seattle, sign up for an upcoming workshop on private-sector transportation infrastructure in the Arctic (Institute of the North). Russia certainly sees civilian & defense infrastructure as supporting Russian sovereignty in the Arctic; support of such projects in Siberia from China’s sovereign wealth fund may be a win-win for both Russia and China (China Daily). Between Russia and the US, the community of Little Diomede is profiled with a short but sensitive article in Alaska Dispatch.

In Finland, the city of Oulu is working on plans for an “Arctic Smart City” which could model sustainable urban living in the North (Architecture Source).


Manitoba’s Public Safety Minister is pushing hard for the construction of a road connection – whether winter or year-round – from Churchill to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut (WFP). He – and others, in all likelihood – see that such a move would bring many benefits to northern communities. Next door in the Northwest Territories, the winter roads are starting to close. One is closing a little earlier than necessary, thanks to damage caused by truckers driving on it during the day, despite restrictions (CBC). And a thoughtful article from Tim Querengesser in Up Here Business looks at the as-yet-unclear impact on Yellowknife life due to the Deh Cho bridge.

Looking to the skies, Canada’s First Air welcomes Brock Friesen as its new president and CEO (NN) following the resignation of Scott Bateman several months ago, and Yakutia Airlines took one of its Sukhoi Superjets in for repairs after finding “technical faults” (MT).


Peter Ittukallak took home the prize this year at the Ivakkak dog team race in Nunavik, Canada, with a time of just under 56 hours on the 600 km course (CBC).

For a very Alaskan tribute to endurance athlete and winner of this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational David Johnston, see this article in Alaska Dispatch. Other than the fact that Johnston finished the grueling Iditarod in near-record time, he is also distinguished by a penchant for a peculiar training aid: Budweiser, the king of beers.

The people of Behchoko, NWT have voted to borrow CDN $9 million to upgrade their sports complex and fitness center (CBC). With an official population of 1894 souls, that’s $4751 dollars for every man woman and child, without interest.

The Spectrum Security Bears captured the Kopper King Cup by securing first place in the Yukon Broomball Association’s playoffs this week in Whitehorse (Yukon News).

There was some good material on Arctic surfing this week. First is an article in the Telegraph on the surfing photos of Yassine Ouhilal. Ouhilal, originally from Casablanca, Morocco, has travelled to northern Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands to photograph some of the world’s coldest surfing. The article also includes a gallery of Ouhilal photos, and there’s plenty to enjoy in the album on his website. Second, check out this short article and video about James Aiken and his quest to film surfing in some of the remotest regions of Iceland.

Images & Video

Attention to the many, many amateur and pro photographers whose work we get to enjoy every week: The Arctic Council has a photo contest going on right now. Nunatsiaq News will tell you all about it. There’s so much talent out there, it’ll be a tough contest if everyone gets their submissions in.

We have one video to recommend this week, of a Yellowknife Saturday night. It certainly does its job of making one want to visit.

Special credit this week goes to Instagram user @jonny09jonny, whose many photos of his trip to Norway for Biotope’s Gullfest are a delight. You’ll enjoy: four landscapes (1, 2, 3 & 4); pictures of a cormorant, Steller’s eiders, an Arctic hare and a flock of birds aloft; a well-composed scene of a house and car buried in the snow; and – of course – a detail of a polar bear on the ring pull of a beer can. Complement that round of images with a pair from @Biotope – one landscape and one image of the swarm of birds around the nearby sea cliffs. @haraldurhelgi captures the light in the sky over Akureyri well, and @djisupertramp shares some nice pics of travel along the Norwegian coast (1 & 2), while @yakutia brings in a portrait of a child, two women welcoming travelers to the airport in Yakutsk, a rabbit carved in ice and a well-insulated Yakutian laika dog.

Other Instagram winners include: a landscape near Tromsø (@beritb); sea ice off the coast of Finland (@apple_fia2036); the harbor in Tromsø (@elisaborealis); Astafjorden, Norway (@pan_gaea); a collage of dog-sledding pictures (@meganwaitman); and a dramatic sky over Svalbard (@darkseason).

Finish off with some other lovely individual photographs, including: an oddly affecting and charming image of a child on an Arctic beach (from Nils Johnsen); the town of Arctic Bay under a brilliant full moon (from Clare Kines); Icelandic ponies and the Hekla volcano (from Eye on the Arctic); and three polar bears approaching a sub that’s broken through the ice (from Inquire Magazine).

The Grab Bag

Architecture specifically designed for Nunavut’s diverse landscapes and societies will represent Canada at the 2014 Venice Biennale (Canadian Architect, NN – or see the project website here). / Murmansk native Andrey Kazakov enthuses at length about the delights of Tromsø, his Arctic neighbor in Norway (BN). He also shared three photos of his travels (1, 2 & 3). His travelogue is joined by other love letters of sorts to Barentsburg (Independent – this one is especially captivating) and to Yellowknife ( An inmate of the Whitehorse jail is on a hunger strike; a territorial Supreme Court judge has ordered him to receive medical treatment (CBC). / Just in time for Easter, the bible is now available for download in Inuktitut (NN). / A Catholic missionary who spent many years leading a Spartan existence and working with communities in Nunavut has died (NN). / A passenger from a Vancouver-London flight appears to have gotten drunk and belligerent, forcing his plane to make an emergency landing in Iqaluit to rid itself of him. He’s now on perhaps the most extended layover ever experienced, and may face some serious penalties under the Aeronautics Act (NN). / A boulder with English-language carvings near Durban Harbour in Nunavut is a source of mystery and wonder to Kenn Harper, author of Nunatsiaq News’s excellent Taissumani column. / Greenpeace is sending an expedition to the North Pole; meet the group here. / There’s speculation that Alaska’s Senator Mark Begich may come out (so to speak) in support of gay marriage (AD). / The Royal Geographical Society (UK) is offering a Monday-night lecture on 8 April on the women standing behind some of history’s most famous polar explorers. / Kickstarter has generated enough Arctic-themed projects that it’s instituted an #Arctic hashtag – check out some of the opportunities to fund “Arctic startups”. / A story of love blossoming between two ice-carvers is really a delight to read – strongly recommended (FNM).

This week’s credits

The Political Scene (Maura)
Energy (Kevin)
Science, Environment & Wildlife (Tom)
Military / Search-&-Rescue (Maura)
Mining (Kevin)
Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News (Tom)
Education, Health, Culture & Society (Maura)
Infrastructure (Tom)
Sports (Kevin)
Images & Video (Tom)
The Grab Bag (Tom)

Abbreviation Key

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Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
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Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
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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)
Government of Canada (GOC)
Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)
Huffington Post (HP)
Johnson’s Russia List (JRL)
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)
Petroleum News (PN)
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)