The Arctic This Week: 30 March 2013 – 5 Apr 2013

By Tom FriesKevin Casey & Maura Farrell
The Arctic This Week 2013:14

Not a subscriber yet? Sign up here.

Thanks for joining us this week! We hope you find TATW useful and fun to read. If you haven’t yet tried them out, you might want to take a look at our illustrated, clickable PDF version or at our weekly News Map.

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, Kevin or Maura directly. If you find TATW valuable, please spread the word! We’ve also learned that LinkedIn is quite popular among our readers; if you’re one of these folks, we invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn.

Reads of the Week

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

Start with your science reads. Special credit goes to NASA, whose IceBridge team is doing a bang-up job of putting information about their activities and research out there. It’s a lot of additional work for people who are already working hard. The best of their many posts this week comes from Christy Hansen, the Project Manager for Operation IceBridge. But don’t stop there – click around and explore.

Move on to an interview in National Geographic with Steven Armstrup, who makes a clear and compelling argument that the attention focused on efforts to up-list polar bears at the recent CITES meeting in Bangkok might have been a dangerous distraction from the real threat to the species – habitat loss.

Next, tackle a fantastic article by Melissa Akin for Reuters that explores the challenges and potential of the Bazhenov shale in western Siberia, what could turn out to be one of the world’s largest source rocks. Stay in the energy realm with the latest from Jennifer Dlouhy on FuelFix; she looks at how the lessons of Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season are being absorbed by US government regulators and by companies like ConocoPhillips, which is planning its own Arctic exploration in 2014. One more in energy: Check out an editorial by Ola Borten Moe, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy, in which he provides a muscular response to recent EU calls for an Arctic energy exploration moratorium (Aftenposten – Norwegian). He calls for Norway to lead the way and apply its considerable knowledge, experience and credibility and present a model for other countries to follow.

Finish with a political read. Tom Ginsburg’s blog post on the fizzle of Iceland’s wide-open, public-driven development of a new constitution is, while it doesn’t tell us much about the Arctic in particular, an interesting case study in which a northern country has served as a laboratory for democracy.

The Political Scene

Arctic Diplomacy

Perhaps looking ahead to the Arctic Council meeting in May, Japan has appointed Masuo Nishibayashi as its new Arctic Ambassador “to be appropriately involved in international discussions regarding the Arctic” (AD). Japan, like India (Indian Express), China (Beijing Observer) and the EU Commission (Heritage Foundation) continues to lobby for observer status in the Arctic Council. Earlier this year, Senator Lisa Murkowski advocated that the US establish its own “Ambassador to the Arctic to signify its status as an Arctic nation, especially leading up to its chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which begins in 2015. The Canadian Defense & Foreign Affairs Institute’s Quarterly Review (PDF) tackles Canada’s challenges in chairing the Arctic Council in May in an article by Natalia Loukacheva (page 8, to save you some time).

The Arctic News Map
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, along with his wife and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, visited Denmark on Thursday, with Arctic issues said to feature prominently in discussions during the two-day visit (EOTA).

An article by Paul Heinbecker in The Globe & Mail lamented Canada’s withdrawal from the UN Convention on Desertification as “the latest but regrettably likely not the last move to distance Canada from the world body.” Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the UN, said that Canada was moving to the organization’s sidelines while other countries such as India, Brazil, Japan and Germany have taken on larger roles.

The Russian Security Council has invited representatives of other Arctic states to tour the Russian north, visiting Nagurskoye, the world’s northernmost border guard station, and Barneo, a floating station near the North Pole (BO). Russia’s district governor of Yamal, Dmitry Kobylkin, was invited to attend the Arctic Council’s audit meetings, extending from September of last year to December 2013 (Arctic Info).

Arctic Elections

An article in the Economist last week explained the global implications of Greenland’s March elections. Mining in Greenland, which “decided the recent election”, specifically mining of rare earths, could undercut China’s domination of the market for rare earths, decreasing demand and causing global prices to fall (The Economist).

In Nunavut, the next election may be far away (October 28th), but some candidates have already begun promoting themselves via social media sites in order to build recognition (CBC). Twenty-seven former Nunavut candidates have been banned from running in the October election because they failed to file financial returns on time, leaving more opportunities for newcomers (CBC). Northwest Territories’ Salt River First Nation elected Frieda Martselos to resume her previous role as chief following the resignation of former chief David Poitras (CBC).

A new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains that regional governments may cancel direct elections, leaving each political party in the region to introduce candidates for the President’s short list (BO). RAIPON’s seventh congress concluded with “an election thriller making the organization’s long-lasting dispute with government officials highly visible”, reports Barents Observer. Pavel Sulyandziga, who received the greatest number of votes, was allegedly pressured to withdraw his candidacy, and subsequently the post went to Gregory Ledkov instead (BO).

Arctic Policy

Lots of interesting policy papers to point out this week, including Mistra Arctic Futures’ white paper on Arctic stakeholders and a book chapter from the Ecologic Institute’s Sandra Cavalieri and R. Andreas Kraemer on “Transatlantic Policy Options to Address the Rapidly Changing Arctic”. The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission held its first meeting on March 23rd, and if you didn’t get a chance to check it out last week, Nils Andreassen came up with five takeaways from the meeting (PDF), which provided a nice summary. Like the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, the Canadian Polar Commission also hopes to “play a more public role” in Arctic affairs (International Polar Foundation).

The Finnish-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation decided last week to establish a working group to “expedite development of border infrastructure and eliminate bottlenecks”, as travel between the two countries continues to increase (BO). Fostering ties between Russia and other northern European states is also the objective of the Northern Dimension Forum, which met this week in St. Petersburg (VOR).


A US District Court Judge ruled in favor of the tribal government of Akiachak’s suit against the Secretary of the Interior, allowing the federal government to hold in trust land from Alaska Natives (Daily News-Miner). / The European Parliament will hold a public conference (“The Arctic melt: A wake up call, NOT a business opportunity!”) on April 11th. Click here for conference details and online registration. / A petition in the Northwest Territories is calling for the removal of the chief and council in Wrigley due to concerns about the community’s finances (CBC). / Three regions in the Barents area - Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Karelia – ranked at the bottom of the Peterburg Politics Fund ratings on stability, reports Barents Observer. / 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.



While Russian officials once scoffed at the idea of shale oil and gas, the radical changes new technologies have brought to oil and gas exploration are no longer being ignored by Moscow. Following news two weeks ago that Rosneft and Lukoil were exploring fracking technologies as a way to revitalize legacy fields in Siberia, Gazprom Neft announced it will be partnering with Shell to drill for shale oil in western Siberia. The deal also brings Shell in on Gazprom exploration licenses on the Arctic shelf (Reuters). Gazprom needs Shell’s technical expertise to exploit tight oil plays, while Shell is keen to get access to Russia’s Arctic shelf (Telegraph). Some in Russia saw the irony in Shell’s move onto the Russian Arctic shelf after last year’s failures in Alaska. Is Shell seeking an Arctic play with less oversight and fewer environmental regulations ( – Russian)?

Gazprom received marching orders from President Vladimir Putin to revisit plans for the Yamal-Europe-2 gas pipeline to deliver gas to Europe through Belarus and Poland, thus bypassing Ukraine (RBTH), while the third Nord Stream pipeline is expected to come on-line in 2018-19 (OGJ). Regarding Yamal-Europe-2, apparently a MOU was signed between Gazprom and EuRoPol GAZ executives (ITAR-TASS) agreeing to a feasibility study; note that EuRoPol GAZ is 48% owned by Gazprom (Fox). Nobody seems to have bothered letting Poland’s PM Donald Tusk know about the agreement. The Premier’s response to the announcement was strongly negative; he appears to feel that only an entity – to wit, PGNiG – owned by the Polish state is positioned to undertake the construction of such a pipeline with Gazprom (WSJ). PGNiG owns another 48% of EuRoPol GAZ, and the PGNiG CEO was at pains to downplay the announcement as being extremely preliminary and noncommittal (Bloomberg).

Is it politically motivated projects like the above that have done so much to hurt Gazprom’s financial performance? The company’s value sank below USD 100 billion for the first time this week since 2009 (Bloomberg). Additionally, a determination is expected within the month by the Ministry of Energy on a plan for liberalizing Gazprom's gas export monopoly. The expected outcome: the Ministry will free up LNG exports to Asia while maintaining Gazprom’s monopoly on European exports (RBTH).

For more on the prospects for a tight oil revolution in Russia, read this fantastic article by Melissa Akin for Reuters that explores the challenges and potential of the Bazhenov shale in western Siberia, what could turn out to be one of the world’s largest source rocks.

Total and Gazprom continue to talk of ways to make development of the Shtokman gas fields economically feasible, though there are no indications of a breakthrough (WSJ). Looking briefly to Moscow, former Shtokman executive Kirill Molodtsov has been appointed as a deputy energy minister (BN). Progress continues meanwhile on the Yamal LNG project. A consortium of the French company Technip and the Japanese JGC was awarded the contract for construction of the Yamal Peninsula LNG plant and port to service gas fields under development by Rosneft and Total (BO). The project represents JCG’s first foray into Russia’s LNG industry, and it may reflect Japan’s desire to increase its access to cheap natural gas, particularly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster (WP).

Lukoil doesn’t think much of Arctic oil exploration. Vice-president Leonid Fedun said his company “wouldn’t give a kopek” to invest in Arctic oil, saying that cheaper, less risky and just as profitable investment opportunities can be had by exploiting Russia’s onshore shale oil reserves (BO). Putting its money where its mouth is, Lukoil increased its onshore holdings this week by acquiring Russian onshore oil producer Samara-Nafta for USD $2 billion (RT).

An article at Arctic Portal highlights the Chinese National Petroleum Company’s agreement with Rosneft to partner on the exploration of three licenses on the Russian Arctic shelf. Rosneft is also busy developing its own talent for work in the Arctic. The company announced that 12 of its employees had finished a year-long curriculum and been certified as “offshore drilling supervisors” in anticipation of future development on the Arctic shelf (Arctic-info – Russian)

Murmansk governor Marina Kovtun is pressing Rosneft President Igor Sechin for progress on planned development projects and a reliable, cheap supply of fuel oil for local consumers (BO).

Greenpeace got into the action this week in Moscow, sending an activist dressed as a polar bear floating down the Moskva River on a mock iceberg to protest Russian oil exploration in the Arctic. See this article in the NY Daily News for some great photos of the bear floating past the Kremlin. The group also delivered a petition with 13,350 signatures calling on Statoil to abandon plans for drilling in the Russian Arctic, accusing the Norwegian company of seeking opportunities for profit there in spite of weak environmental and safety regulations (BO).


The town of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories is exploring trucking in LNG to supply power and heat as the area’s lone natural gas well is running dry (CBC).

An announcement by the Yukon government that it is forming a committee to explore the risks and potential benefits of hydraulic fracturing is causing controversy. Opposition politicians claim the committee will whitewash the review in order to encourage shale gas development (Yukon News). Thematically, this ties in to an editorial in the New York Times arguing – in the context of the Keystone XL debate – that development of Canada’s tar sands should be wound down. According to the author, the dominance of the industry is causing Canada to begin showing the characteristics of a petro-state.

Calgary-based company MGM Energy announced that it had confirmed the presence of shale oil in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories. While companies estimate billions of dollars of oil may lie within the region’s shale formations, regulatory uncertainty regarding hydraulic fracturing is keeping many from pursuing development (EOTA).


A split decision by the Alaska Supreme Court freed the Department of Natural Resources from having to conduct a “best interests” assessment of oil and gas projects after they have been leased, though the court affirmed that the Department must consider the cumulative and long-term impacts of oil and gas projects at each phase through development and leasing (FNM). The judgment may jeopardize Governor Sean Parnell’s plan to streamline the oil and gas permitting process by sanctioning blanket, regional approvals for development, instead of having to approve projects lease by lease (AD).

Jennifer Dlouhy writes for FuelFix on the how the lessons of Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season are being absorbed by US government regulators and by companies like ConocoPhillips, which is planning its own Arctic exploration in 2014. One of the most important lessons learned: Collaborate. Alaska’s Arctic may be too big and too remote for one company operating alone, so the best solution may be closer cooperation between Shell and other companies such as ConocoPhillips and Statoil that seek to drill in the region.

As proposed reductions to the state’s oil and gas taxes work their way through the legislature, the latest version proposed by the house would cost the state USD 4.8 billion through 2019 (FNM). Governor Sean Parnell has held back from endorsing the latest version over concerns that the state would take too much of a hit at low oil prices under the current bill (FNM). Opponents of the bill rallied at the state capital Thursday, saying the bill amounted to a giveaway to oil companies that would gamble away the state’s fiscal future (FNM). As the controversy continues, Laurel Andrews looks at accusations of conflict-of-interest that have swirled around two state senators, both employees of ConocoPhillips, who voted for the tax cuts. While both asked to be recused, Senate rules actually require unanimous consent from all Senators for recusal and the bill’s other supporters objected, forcing the two to vote. In the end, the two senators’ votes provided the margin of victory that passed the bill through the chamber (AD).

Conflicts of interest are, apparently, not a matter of concern on the legislature’s floor. Neither are flatulence jokes, swearing, and racial slurs. Sticking one’s tongue out, however, is beyond the pale. Rep. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks is under fire from Republicans for violating the “sacred” floor of the Alaska house for sticking out his tongue while mugging for the live cameras during debate on a gas pipeline (AD). In a clear and well-reasoned editorial, Alaskan author Jack Roderick gives two reasons why the proposed law should be tabled: first, there are no guarantees that it will achieve its main purpose, increasing oil production; second, it perpetuates the assumption that Alaska’s politics are corrupt (AD).

The Alaska house approved funding to support development of a small-diameter gas pipeline to carry North Slope gas to south-central Alaska communities that are facing looming energy shortages. This initiative is in addition to the large-diameter pipeline in development by TransCanada in cooperation with BP, Exxon and ConocoPhillips, that is planned to deliver gas for Alaska consumers and export overseas, and which the state has already funded to the tune of USD 222 million (AD). The large-diameter pipeline has lagged as the companies have reacted to recent radical shifts in gas markets, leading to interest in a smaller project to address the immediate needs of local consumers. Concerns are mounting that the state could end up pouring over USD 1 billion into both projects, neither of which is certain to come to fruition (AD). Meanwhile, Jeanette Lee of the Office of the Federal Coordinator provides analysis of the financing options that might facilitate the massive LNG export project currently being contemplated by TransCanada (

The US Department of the Interior’s Alaska Interagency Working Group released its final report to the Office of the President calling for an integrated, national management strategy for the Arctic encompassing a broad spectrum of federal agencies along with state, municipal, tribal and other parties with a stake in the Arctic’s future (Reuters). A full copy of the report – Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic – can be found here.

In renewables news, the Ocean Renewable Power Company released this short paper on the potential for harnessing river and tidal energy to meet the energy needs of remote Alaskan communities. And for something completely different, Nitro-Turbodyne, Inc., announced it received a patent for an engine that, using the power-storage capabilities of liquid nitrogen, can produce clean reliable energy with zero greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t understand the mechanics of this at all, but apparently the engine is designed for electricity generation at remote Arctic oil fields (PR Newswire).


Well worth the read is this editorial by Ola Borten Moe, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy, in which he provides a muscular response to recent EU calls for an Arctic energy exploration moratorium (Aftenposten – Norwegian). Scoffing at EU ignorance concerning Norway’s Arctic regions (there’s no ice there!) he calls for Norway to lead the way and apply its considerable knowledge, experience and credibility, thus presenting a model for other countries to follow.

Statoil is bullish on prospects for oil production in the Barents Sea after large finds in both 2011 and 2012. It is hoped that new production from the Barents will offset declines in Norway’s legacy North Sea fields (Bloomberg). More than dreams of greater profits is driving Norway’s push in the Barents. While the Minister for Petroleum and Oil announced last month that exploration around the Jan Mayen Islands near Iceland would be postponed pending more study, exploration is plowing ahead in the southeast Barents Sea, and the reason seems to be political. The southeast Barents lies in a region once disputed between Russia and Norway which was settled in 2011, but concerns in Norway over their big neighbor to the east have led to an accelerated schedule for exploration and production to reinforce Norwegian claims to the region (BO).

Statoil management is also banking on big discoveries in the Barents; CFO Torgrim Reitan said this week that Norway needs one large oil and gas discovery every other year just to offset falling production from legacy fields (WSJ). Statoil is also looking to boost production by streamlining the development process for smaller, less economical fields (Platts).

A semi-submersible rig bound for exploratory drilling in the Barents has been sidelined due to a series of safety violations (

Weapons-grade uranium is still being shipped along Norway’s coast to the Russian port of Murmansk as part of a US and Russian counter-proliferation initiative, raising concerns of risks to Norway’s coastal communities (BO). Bellona’s take on the matter is, as usual, balanced and well-argued, pointing out that secrecy is necessary to avoid acts of terrorism and that, compared to the other nuclear risks that face Murmansk, at least, this ship’s spent nuclear fuel is but a trifle.


More this week on changes to Greenland’s energy and mining policy in the wake of last month’s elections. The new government has announced it will not release any new leases for offshore oil exploration, but will lift limits on uranium mining and export (NO). According to Prime Minister Hammond, existing licenses can go forward, but under much closer scrutiny than in the past (

Science, Environment & Wildlife

Depending on how much time you have available, you may wish to start and end your science reading this week with the massive, newly released Bulletin 2013 from the International Arctic Science Committee – it’s such a comprehensive undertaking that it is hard to imagine anyone in the Arctic sciences is not connected to it in some way. A good complement to that is the catalog of new items available this week via the ASTIS database.


A lovely, meditative video on the changing Arctic environment was showcased in The Atlantic this week. It features Kenneth Dunton, from the Marine Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, whose interview relies less on forebodings of doom for its impact and more on small stories of life in the changing Arctic during the time he’s been travelling there. The changing Arctic, and its near-term future, were also the centerpiece of the Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Conference in Anchorage, held two weeks ago and chronicled in the Arctic Sounder.

How will the United States and its Arctic residents cope in this “new normal”? One important component of the federal government’s action plan for just that was released this week from the Department of the Interior (authored by the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska). Integrated Management and Planning for a Rapidly Changing Arctic covers the state of play and the US’s “visions and goals” for the US Arctic, then presents a road map “toward an integrated, science-based approach to Arctic management.” You may prefer a video briefing from Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes on the report’s contents to digging into the document itself, or a brief overview from APRN, via KTOO, of Fran Ulmer’s commentary on the report’s purpose and direction. While the report’s recommendations (page 46, to save you some time) may not be revolutionary, the necessity of coordinating and streamlining federal action in particular is a clear and, to this reader’s eye, important step in the right direction. For a bit of perspective on exactly how complex the network of organizations engaged in Arctic research and management is, turn to this bewildering Prezi. The Pew Environment Group also released a one-pager with a broad overview of a potential integrated management plan for the US Arctic Ocean, but its relationship to the DOI’s report is not entirely clear to me.

Accompanying the release of the above report is continued news of the changing Arctic environment. The National Snow and Ice Data Center offered a thorough overview of the Arctic’s current state, covering many different parameters in the process. Massive fracturing of the Arctic ice cover in the western Arctic over North America (OC, picture from seems to be due in part to a stubborn high-pressure system centered over Greenland and a negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (NSIDC again, plus image from NOAA); this in turn is partially responsible for the Arctic air lodged over northern Europe, Asia and western North America (Yale E360). That freezing air over northern Europe has caused record-smashing ice cover in the Baltic Sea and on the Gulf of Bothnia (EOTA, plus a satellite picture from NASA). For more explanations and comparative charts, turn to NASA’s Earth Observatory (a very clear explanation; thanks, guys).

All this was accompanied by a new paper in Nature Climate Change warning of a “greening” Arctic, and the impacts such a development may have (Deutsche Welle,,, while Alaska Dispatch explored both that issue and the seeming contradiction between the weakening ice cover of the Arctic and the growing ice cover in Antarctica. Meanwhile Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, on a short visit to India, tied the melting of northern glaciers to the disappearance of glaciers in the Himalayas, and encouraged collaboration on efforts to fight climate change between Arctic nations and nations of the “third pole” ( Greenland’s peripheral glaciers – those not apparently connected to the ice cap itself – are also making a bigger contribution to global sea rise than one might expect (Internat’l Polar Foundation).

Greenpeace is responding to this threat with an initiative sending a team of sixteen, including four young people from the Seychelles, Sweden, Canada and the US on an expedition to the North Pole “to declare it protected on behalf of all life on earth”, in the words of expedition member James Turner. You can find an explanation of the who-what-why-and-how of the expedition here (written) or here (video), read Rolling Stone’s take here, and track the team’s progress here. When last we heard from them, the team was preparing to depart from Russia’s floating research station Barneo, which has just opened for the year, a mere 110 kilometers away from the North Pole (RT, RIAN). The International Center for Climate Governance has chosen a less stressful venue for its workshop “The Climate Challenge in the Arctic”; that event will be taking place next month in Venice.

There was further exploration as well of the causes behind last summer’s significant melting event on the Greenland ice cap. It seems that thin, low clouds that permitted solar radiation to pass through on the way down while preventing heat from escaping may well be the primary culprits (NOAA). The ACCACIA team continues to share its work on clouds and climate in the Arctic; their blog is a lot of fun to read.

NASA’s IceBridge program gets its own paragraph this week; it’s been so good to see what an effort the team is making to make its work public, accessible and engaging. It’s tough to keep up! The best thing to read if you’ve only got a few minutes is the post from project manager Christy Hansen, which looks at the how-and-why of the IceBridge mission. Right as this edition of TATW is released, the team is getting ready to open a live, in-flight Twitter-chat, using the hashtag #askNASA – if you’re on Twitter on Monday, join in! They posted two recent flight paths over Greenland on Twitter (path 1 & path 2) as well. You’ll definitely enjoy meeting the three high school teachers who are taking part in the journey: Mette Noort Hansen, a science teacher from Sisimiut, Greenland; Jette Rygaard Poulsen, a math and physics teacher from Aalborg, Denmark; and Mark Buesing, a physics teacher from Libertyville, IL in the US. You can also watch the team’s P-3 touch down at Thule airbase in Greenland.

As if the above weren’t enough from NASA for this week, we also heard news of the retirement of James Hansen, a long-time and very public warrior against climate change (NYT), and we read two more cool posts (post 1, post 2) from the team that is studying an aquifer beneath the Greenland ice sheet.


Not to dive back into polar bears yet again, but this week’s interview in National Geographic with Steven Armstrup really is an excellent read. It’s the clearest expression I’ve yet read of the simple argument that (re: the CITES convention and the proposal to up-list polar bears) trade in polar bears is no threat at all when compared to the existential threat to the species posed by rising temperatures in the Arctic. In a touching story, one Inupiat subsistence hunter in Alaska killed a polar bear, not knowing it was a sow with a new cub. When he realized what he’d done, the hunter sought out the cub and brought it back to his town; named Kali, the cub will soon go to the Buffalo Zoo to be raised with another cub of similar age (skynews). Alaska Dispatch provides a quick exploration of hybrid grizzly-polar bears, while the city of Whitehorse is trying to train residents how to avoid attracting bears to residential areas (CBC). Another top predator making itself unwelcome in residential areas is Susi, a wolf that keeps returning to her home town in northern Sweden, where reindeer herds are kept, despite many (expensive) efforts to encourage her to set up housekeeping elsewhere (EOTA).

The Wildlife Conservation Society released a new report looking at Arctic bird species under conditions of a warming climate (5 will benefit, 7 will suffer, 2 more will suffer greatly). The full report, “Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability of Breeding Birds in Arctic Alaska”, is well-hidden on its website. Researchers from the University of California at Davis are meanwhile exploring a perhaps-unexpected threat vector: Alaska’s mosquitoes are apparently beginning to spread malaria to year-round avian residents as far north as Fairbanks (FNM). To feel the love for Arctic birds, turn to two more great posts from, inspired by Biotope’s Gullfest 2013. And – this is not an advertisement, let’s be clear – here’s the first Arctic example I’ve ever seen of a scientist, Maarten Loonen of the University of Groningen, trying to fund his research on the Arctic tern with crowd-funding. An interesting initiative!

Moving offshore, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened the Hudson Strait for beluga-hunting by Nunavik hunters; this year’s quota in the areais 190 (NN). As a side note, although it is not specifically Arctic, you should definitely check out this post on whale-tagging with a marine biologist who does it regularly ( On Svalbard, another large marine mammal made a surprise cameo in the research village of Kongsfjord – a walrus hauled out with its calf right in “downtown”, such as it is ( Back to Canada, a scientist is ringing alarm bells about deformities found in fish in the Athabasca River, downstream of Canada’s oil sands (CBC).

Lastly, the U of Alaska Fairbanks needs your help to name baby reindeer #1302, described in Alaska Dispatch with the most felicitous turn-of-phrase this week, “wobbly baby ungulate”.

Conferences, etc.

We welcome to the scene the new (?) Polar Center at Penn State University, and are pleased as well to read about the also-new (?) Arctic Studies program at the University of Lapland.

Upcoming events include the American Geophysical Union’s Science Policy conference (24-26 June), the UK Arctic Science conference 2013 (18-20 September) and the conference “Heritage and Change in the Arctic” (11-14 October). For the latter two, the call for papers is open. There’s also new funding available to study land-use questions in Lapland (Arctic Centre). For a more comprehensive and regularly updated list of conferences, your best resource is the US Arctic Research Commission’s daily update.

The “Extraordinary Arctic” exhibit is now underway at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa (NN); it features some cool and unusual botanical artifacts from the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913 (OC).


To prevent horrible flooding behind ice-dams during the spring breakup of Russia’s Arctic rivers, officials detonate massive sections of river ice, thus breaking it up so it can flow away downstream. Watch it go boom here. / The Globe & Mail published a piece on Canada’s recent “muzzling” of scientists saying, in essence, that it’s becoming an international embarrassment in the scientific community. / A joint US-Russia scientific mission to study Arctic ocean currents will take place this summer (BO). / The extremely slow process of boring a new permafrost tunnel near Fairbanks to accompany the “legacy” tunnel drilled in the ‘60s is, though slow, an opportunity for some good science ( / A researcher from Fairbanks is thankfully unharmed after plummeting 75 feet into a crevasse on a glacier last week (FNM). /

Military / Search-&-Rescue

United States

The role of the US Coast Guard in the Arctic has become a regular topic of discussion in recent weeks. Captain Jonathan S. Spaner, director of the Coast Guard’s Office of Emerging Policy, wrote a piece entitled The Arctic: An Emerging Military Frontier (gCaptain), the Heritage Foundation advocated that the US Strengthen the Coast Guard’s Presence in the Arctic, and James Holmes churned out yet another good piece for The Diplomat, this time on the Five Obstacles to US Arctic Strategy. Their arguments were echoed by a resolution passed by the Alaska House of Representatives on Monday, April 1st, which urged Congress to increase the Coast Guard’s presence in northern waters by deploying a new Legend-Class cutter to be based in Kodiak (Alaska Native News).

The US Northern Command’s Joint Task Force-Alaska signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Alaska this week to promote information sharing between the two staffs (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson). Since this year's Northern Edge exercise has been cancelled  due to “federal budget difficulties”(Daily News-Miner), augmenting preparedness with operations support from UA might partially compensate.


The Norwegian Armed Forces released its Defense Annual Report 2012 (Forsvaret). The full-length report and a shorter report summary are available to download via the Forsvaret website.

Russian Federation

Russia’s third nuclear-powered Borey-class submarine will begin trials in the White Sea in June, according to RIA Novosti. Said to “become the mainstay of the navy’s strategic nuclear deterrent” (RIAN), Russia is expected to build eight such submarines by 2012, each at a cost of about two billion dollars (Strategy Page).

US inspectors along with Russian officials this week conducted an observation flight over Russian airspace under the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies (ITAR-TASS).


Canadian armed forces officials and rangers began Operation Nunalivut 2013 this week, enforcing Canada’s sovereignty by conducting patrols of the high Arctic islands (NN). The operation is timed around the spring adventure season to ensure some military personnel are pre-positioned in the high north to support search and rescue operations (CBC). You can read a news release on the operation on Canada’s National Defense website.

As part of NATO’s Operation Ignition (flickr), the Royal Canadian Air Force has been patrolling Iceland’s airspace this spring (IceNews).



Natural Resources Canada statisticians reported figures from 2012 showing that mining production fell in the Northwest Territories while rising in the Yukon and Nunavut (Mining North). Internationally, Canadian mining interests have been the subject of numerous protests for environmental violations, particularly across Central and South America. What’s going on here? This article at the CBC provides some interesting perspectives on the issue, pointing to the fact that Canada is home to many of the world’s junior mining consortiums, meaning it is often Canadian companies that lead exploration in more risky and controversial areas. Foreign companies, particularly Chinese, also have their eyes on opportunities in Canada’s mining sector. Check out this article in China Daily on Chinese interests in the NWT and Yukon, and some of the challenges they face in learning to do business there.

A proposal by Canadian mining company Aurchem Exploration to use swimming pools to store toxic mine tailings at its small gold operation near Carmacks, Yukon, is raising some eyebrows and concerns in government and amongst environmental groups (CBC).

In Nunavut, Baffinland Iron Mines will have to resubmit its plans for the Mary River iron ore project after it made significant changes following initial project approval (CBC).

The decision last week by the government of Quebec to impose a temporary moratorium on uranium mining was warmly received by the Grand Council of Crees of Quebec. The Grand Council is firmly against any uranium mining on its lands, even with the much-needed jobs such development would bring (EOTA). Industry feels left out to dry. Strateco Resources, which has spent CAD 120 million on a previously-approved uranium project in Quebec, called the decision irresponsible and unprecedented (Canadian Mining Journal).

Government regulators have confirmed the sale of the Ekati diamond mine in the Northwest Territories to Dominion Diamond Corp. of Toronto (Canadian Mining Journal). The Diavik mine, currently owned by Rio Tinto, is also likely to go up for sale soon, as part of Rio Tinto’s efforts to divest non-core business lines ( Early rumors suggest that Dominion may be the likely purchaser of Diavik as well. Also in the NWT, further exploratory drilling is about to get started on the Gahcho Kué mine, operated by De Beers (


Newly-elected Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond hopes to prove the analysts wrong by showing that tightening certain regulations, particularly the use of foreign labor, will not toss cold water on the recent heightened international interest in developing the island’s mineral sector (Politiken – In Danish).


Russian steelmaker Evraz, owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, announced it had acquired a controlling stake in the Timir project, a large iron ore field in eastern Yakutia (, and Russian diamond giant ALROSA is preparing to offer 14% of its stock for sale, 7% taken from each of its major shareholders, the governments of Russia and Yakutia. Goldman Sachs will organize the sale (Russia & India Report).

Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News


We’ll start this week with a short piece in which the Stimson Center makes the case for a moratorium on fisheries in the Arctic “donut hole,” and follow with two pieces on ongoing fisheries research. First, the Dutch Harbor Fisherman offers a brief run-down of the substance discussed at last week’s Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium in Anchorage. Second, new DNA research from Greenland indicates that there may be some misunderstandings of the four different cod stocks typically found in Greenlandic waters (ScienceNordic).

In Alaska, poaching is beginning to hit the Alaskan crab industry (WSJ - $), and the state legislature has been unable to arrive at an acceptable solution to damagingly high bycatch of king salmon (Cordova Times). Next door in Yukon, there’s more detailed news this week on the Whitehorse fish farmer who’s working towards ladies-only char tanks (Toronto Star).

Across the Atlantic, Tromsø’s Fram Center is the glad recipient of a substantial chunk of government money to support environmental research related to Norway’s various Arctic industries ( Meanwhile, researchers at SINTEF are working diligently to figure out efficiencies that Norway’s fish processors can implement to become cost-competitive with lower-wage countries. Next door in Russia, Gennady Stepakhno has been appointed as the new deputy governor for agriculture for the Murmansk region (BO), and Murmansk’s Union of Northern Fish Producers is beginning to get desperate for better research vessels; the Union wrote to President Putin to ask for more support (BN). And in Iceland, researchers are setting up a conference to discuss how the fishing environment in Iceland’s North interacts with the growing marine/coastal tourism industry in the same area (Arctic Portal).


At the recent International Maritime Organization convening in London, the development of a Polar Code was one of the main topics of discussion. Canada’s stance, calling for “a complete ban on the discharging of oil, oily waste, or garbage into Arctic waters” (Foreign Policy blogs), was widely praised by the international environmental community (CBC in English and EOTA in French). Transport Canada is the agency responsible for negotiations. NGO Pacific Environment had, in contrast, nothing good to say about the US’s efforts to oppose such restrictions on dumping in Arctic waters.

An English-language article in Focus Taiwan suggests that Russia is feeling threatened by the possibility of Chinese advancement in icebreaker capacity, which might allow it to ship through the Northern Sea Route in years ahead without the aid of Russian icebreakers. Whatever traffic there may be, it will be tracked by ShipMaps Arctic Monitoring Map. Meanwhile, back in the US, three Arctic-class tugs are under construction for Foss Maritime ( For those interested in shipping, there’s a summer school course available on Svalbard this summer (U Arctic).

Other business news

Apparently there’s recently-released information about labor markets in Canada’s northern territories from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, but no matter how I try to get there I get a notice saying the page is unavailable. Try Googling it later this week if it’s of interest. The Northwest Territories’ Premier McLeod spoke to the NWT Chamber of Commerce; the gist of his message is that, now that devolution is largely completed, it’s time to work on developing both extractive industries and other businesses in the territory.

A really interesting, if brief, article on innovation in Sweden definitely merits your attention (Quartz). In neighbor Russia, Rosneft announced that it’s likely to take up residence in Murmansk’s new port economic zone (BN). For small- and medium-sized enterprises in Murmansk, however, there is as yet no business ombudsman to look after their interests (BN).

And one more miscellaneous item from Alaska: the sale of timber from land near Tok has been approved for the long term, in part with an eye towards reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires (

Education, Health, Culture & Society


Nutrition North Canada released information on its subsidies for April, May and June 2012. Nunavut MLA Ron Elliott, seeking to provide outside insight into the effectiveness of the program, put out his own 31-question survey on program satisfaction (NN). The implementation and effectiveness of the food subsidy program has been under public scrutiny since it replaced the Food Mail program in 2011.

A business report put out by The Globe & Mail this week found “shockingly high” differences in life expectancy among Canadians based on income group, suggesting that combatting income inequalities, and not just the health risks associated with poverty, is necessary to improve life expectancies in the country.

Nunavik doctors had the “rare opportunity” to meet together in Kuujjuaq last month to understand more about mental illness in the region and to develop solutions to improve mental health outcomes (NN). Nunavik patients are frustrated with their patient boarding home in Montreal, which the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services maintains is ill-located and poorly-equipped (NN). Elsewhere in Canada, a report by the Department of Health and Social services found that a large number of hospitalizations in the Northwest Territories between 2008 and 2011 were preventable, explaining that “underlying factors like mental health issues, addictions, poor diet and lack of physical activity” led to the surge in hospitalizations (Gov’t of the NWT).

Alaska may have relatively low levels of HIV incidence, but forty-six percent of HIV patients are not receiving adequate treatment. Alaska’s new HIV/AIDS program “Linkage to Care” attempts to increase ongoing care over a three-year period, prioritizing funds for high-risk areas such as Anchorage and Mat-Su (EOTA).


Russia and Norway have been strengthening their educational ties in the spirit of their April 2010 bilateral intention agreement on higher education, with representatives from both education ministries meeting at the University of Nordland last month (UArctic). According to the University of Nordland, 306 Norwegian students studied at Russian higher education institutions in 2012, while 1195 Russian students studied in Norway.

In response to low graduation rates and research showing students in Inuit Nunangat miss 41 school days a year, the national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is campaigning for solutions and increased parental involvement to address the problem (CBC).

In Alaska, the Senate Finance Committee failed to include funding allowing for the completion of engineering buildings on University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage and Fairbanks in its capital budget for the 2014 fiscal year, angering university supporters (FNM). The University of Alaska Fairbanks will host the 16th meeting of the Council of the University of the Arctic June 3-5th (Arctic Portal).

Culture & Society

In Siberia this week, a reindeer herder’s festival, complete with herder’s race, reindeer rides, poetry readings and a craft market, delighted the local community in Salekhard (BO), highlighting “the rich ethnic tapestry of Siberia” (Siberian Times). At the bottom of the Barents Observer article is a slideshow with some beautiful photos from the celebration. Barents Nova did a feature on Silja Skoglund, co-owner of the world’s northernmost glass blowing factory in Tromsø, Norway, and CBC News put together a nice compilation of interviews surrounding the recently completed Journey of Nishiyuu, if you’re interested.

In languages news, as of April 1st Inuktitut is now an official language of Nunavut, along with English and French (Indian Country Media Today). Use of Dene Zhatie is also being promoted through a new iPhone app (CBC), and the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre is presenting King Lear in Gwich'in with the support of a National Endowment for the Arts grant (Alaska Dispatch).

The Ennadai Lake Relocation Society is seeking compensation from Ottawa for relocating Nunavut’s Ahiarmiut “five times in a decade” sixty years ago (CBC). With the help of lawyer Steven Cooper, the group hopes to receive monetary compensation as well as an official apology from the federal government (CBC). Another blemish on Canada’s record is the high incarceration rate for aboriginal Canadians, which Ian Mulgrew, writing for the Vancouver Sun, says is illustrative of a larger dysfunctional relationship between Canada and its aboriginal people.


On the road, you definitely want to start with a wonderful photo-blog about the construction of the Ob-Bovanenko railroad meant to service the Bovanenko gas field on the Yamal peninsula (Gazprom, in Russian). Move next to Canada, where a longer article on the future construction of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway makes interesting reading (NNSO), and then to Alaska, where warnings about travel on the Taylor Highway to the town of Eagle are a reminder that no amount of infrastructure investment makes Arctic travel “easy” (FNM).

Looking next to the skies, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board has completed the draft final report on the crash of a Boeing 737 in Resolute, Nunavut in 2011, in which 12 were killed (CBC). Also in Nunavut, the Iqaluit airport was forced to close its only runway briefly, after a Piper Twin Comanche’s landing gear collapsed shortly after touch down, leaving the plane to slip-‘n’-slide along the runway (CBC). Airline Canadian North is doing well; it’s upgrading its fleet to include four new Boeing 737s (NN). In Russia, the 6,000-person town of Tiksi is doubtless rejoicing at the announcement that its airport – closed without warning in October – will be reopened by order of the Prime Minister (RIAN).

In communications, both Canada and Russia are looking at improvements, as Cape Dorset, Nunavut got its first cell phone service (EOTA) and Russia announced plans for a fibre-optic backbone ring in the Sakha Republic (

Lastly, in physical infrastructure, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation spoke in front of the territorial House about its initiatives to improve delivery and generation (press release) and the Yukon Electrical Corporation arrived at an agreement to compensate two Yukon First Nations for impacts that its hydro plant may have had on fish breeding in the affected lake (CBC). Nunavut’s persistent housing problem may or may not be helped by a policy that insists contractors will not be paid for materials they purchase until those materials are on-site (NN), and Alaska’s Point Thomson oil and gas field is doubtless happy about a new sewage treatment plant for the facility (FNM).


The International Winter Swimming Championships, which took place in Murmansk, look like they were a total hoot. And also a lot of work. And also very cold. Melissa O’Reilly of Lambertville, New Jersey represented the United States well, bringing home several gold medals (

Another sensitive and fascinating article from Eva Holland in Up Here covers mushing in the Yukon, and explores whether the sport is in decline. Further eastward in Nunavut, the Ivakkak race is chronicled creatively and engagingly with an online timeline.

Lastly, Nunavut’s first-ever territorial women’s hockey championship was held this week; Team Kivalliq took home the gold (NN).

The Whitehorse city council is planning a community summit later this month to discuss the fate of the local ski hill Mt. Sima. The Great Northern Ski Society, which manages Mt. Sima, has requested up to CAN $800,000 from the city to keep the lifts turning next year, which would equate to a 3% tax increase for city residents, a prospect which isn’t sitting well with the city’s non-skiing set (Yukon News).

Images & Video

Start your visual travels this week with a wonderful photo series from Sari Pöyhönen on Murmansk in winter, via Barents Observer. Follow up with some Instagram favorites from Yellowknife (, and move on to a video of some of the team from Copenhagen’s world-famous Noma restaurant on a dive trip in the Arctic in pursuit of sea urchins.

Follow that up with individual images of: the breathtaking Steller’s Eider (Frode Falkenberg); a pine grosbeak (@Biotope); a reindeer nose (up close and personal - @raawspikez); an endless snowmobile track and a flying snowmobile in Norway (@sorenso); a photographer getting set up for sunset pics in the Northwest Territories (@elizmcmillan); last week’s spectacular aurora over the NWT (one each from Jason Simpson and Vincent Demers); the landscape of Greenland pre-departure for the Greenpeace team on its way to the North Pole (@jamesturn); Belle Isle, Newfoundland from space (@Cmdr_Hadfield); Alaska’s endless snow-covered mountain ranges, from the air (NASA); the Arviat airport (Paul Aningat). Also, here’s a picture of several lambs in colorful sweaters in Britain, keeping warm in the Arctic chill that’s beset Europe in the past weeks.

The Grab Bag

Russia’s wooden churches are the subject of a wonderful photo essay from Russia Beyond the Headlines. / Kenn Harper, the author of the wonderful Taissumani column in Nunatsiaq News, continues his detective work into a carved stone near Durban Harbour, Nunavut. / If all has gone according to plan, as you read this two Russians have just begun what will be the longest dog sled expedition ever recorded, from the North Pole to Greenland’s south coast (VOR). / Darren Cosby, the passenger whose drunken belligerence forced a flight to make an unscheduled stop in Iqaluit last week, will be fined CAD 16,000 (CBC). / Ungava gin, made with herbs harvested from Quebec’s Ungava peninsula, was recently named the world’s best gin (Maclean’s). / Check out the most recent haul of audio interviews from the CBC’s Qulliq – lots of good stuff! / Phil Steinberg’s got an interesting post on Google’s recent initiative to map Iqaluit, looking at the different ways you could see Google’s choice of time and place. / Up Here interviews the photographer of its latest cover about the shot itself – a curious effort. / Milan Design Week, which is probably getting started as you’re reading this, will feature a special exhibition on design from Lapland (U Lapland). / Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Norway’s former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre both received honorary doctorates from the U of Tromsø this week (BO). / Nordic Days are coming to Murmansk next week (BN). / Artist François Ouellette opened an exhibition of his watercolors, reminiscent of sumi-e ink paintings, of Iqaluit this week (NN). / Interested in learning about the landscape of media in the Barents Region? Play about with this interactive map. / Two young adults and a child have been murdered in Kimmirut, Nunavut; the tragedy has devastated the community and wounded Nunavut Arctic College as well (NN). / People are really desperate for Siberia’s Lake Labynkyr to be home to a second Loch Ness Monster. The press about it is always fun to read, at least (RBTH). / Atle Staalesen’s profile of the northern Norwegian town of Vardø for Barents Observer certainly does make one want to pack up and go there right away. / The Huffington Post gives you twelve reasons to visit Iceland, if you for any reason still needed convincing. / Dear lord – a rail journey through Arctic Europe sounds pretty awesome ( Can I go? / A duty-free shop at the Murmansk Airport apparently is a significant economic development (BN).

This week’s credits

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

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)
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)