The Arctic This Week: 22 June 2013 – 28 June 2013

The Arctic This Week 2013:24

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As always, all editorial choices, opinions and any mistakes are the authors’ own. To comment, to point out an error or to request a back issue, feel free to contact Tom, Kevin or Maura directly.

Reads of the Week

Short on time this week? Stick to these outstanding pieces we’ve hand-picked for you.

Perhaps the most important read this week is…not from this week. Settle down, and read this 2009 profile of Leona Aglukkaq by Tim Querengesser to get one perspective on – and many stories about – the newly-minted chairwoman of the Arctic Council (Up Here).

One of the most fascinating ongoing stories in the North is the tug-of-war between industries and environmentalists, sometimes in strange conformations, over the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. Three forceful contributions are made to the ongoing debate this week: an opinion piece in Alaska Dispatch from Joel Reynolds, Western Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council; a second piece in the Bellingham (WA) Herald from geologist Charles Forster, who has years of experience in the mining industry; and a final piece in the New York Times from Callan J. Chythlook-Sifsof, who advocates the preservation of the area for its critical economic, ecological and cultural importance.

Go next to a couple of contentious highlights from the political side of things. A highly critical article in Foreign Policy this week by Andrew Nikiforuk addresses Canada’s shift from “America’s better half” to a “rogue petrostate” in the last decade, due in large part to “the cursed elixir of political dysfunction – oil.” Follow with a piece from Polar Journal: “Arctic Geopolitics Revisited: Spatializing Governance in the Circumpolar North” examines the distinct “spatial logic” underpinning state behavior in the Arctic. According to the authors, Canadian insistence on its northern sovereignty, rather than Russia’s quasi-hegemonic Arctic status, is the greatest constraint on Arctic cooperation.

Finish with a couple of highlights from the energy sector. While we tend to see Gazprom as an exemplar of state-controlled mismanagement, this great article by Anders Åslund in the Moscow Times makes a compelling argument that the rot may be spreading to Rosneft, endangering the future of Russia's largest oil exporter. Follow with this article by Alex DeMarban in Alaska Dispatch on the latest joint BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and TransCanada project to bring North Slope LNG to market. The companies failed to meet a state-set deadline to provide engineering and design plans and hinted that the project may need tax breaks to make it financially feasible.

The Political Scene


The Northwest Territories devolution deal was signed, sealed and delivered this week (CBC). The deal, which had been decades in the making, grants the territory control over its land and resources and splits royalties from oil, mineral and diamond resources between the territory and Ottawa (CBC). Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt said the historic deal gives residents “control over their own destiny” (Calgary Herald). Speaking in Labrador, Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak touched upon the “historic changes that are sweeping Canada’s North,” encouraging Nunavummiut and Labradorians to work together in ensuring that “development for the people of the Arctic” – the theme of Canada’s Arctic Council chairmanship – becomes a reality (Office of the Premier). In July, when the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations and the National Treaty Gathering will compete for a place in indigenous leaders’ schedules from the 14th to the 18th, tension over how best to implement treaty agreements and stand up for aboriginal rights may foster the formation of a competing organization – the National Treaty Alliance (CBC). In Whitehorse this week, Ruth Massie was re-elected as grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations (CBC).
A highly critical article in Foreign Policy this week by Andrew Nikiforuk addresses Canada’s shift from “America’s better half” to a “rogue petrostate” in the last decade. Chief to blame for this transformation, he argues, are Prime Minister Harper and “the cursed elixir of political dysfunction – oil.”

United States

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Congress’s outdated formula for determining which states should be subject to federal elections oversight under the 1965 Voting Rights Act could no longer be upheld (AD). For Alaska, one of the states formerly subject to the provisions of the law, this means that election-related laws may be passed without “the threat of an objection from Washington,” at least until Congress acts to create a new formula (FDNM). Defenders of the law say that without its provisions, few safeguards are in place to protect Alaska Native voters.

Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski continued in her efforts to convince Washington to get on board with Arctic issues this week, this time in an article in the Christian Science Monitor. The article advocates ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as an important first step in securing America’s Arctic future.  In response to “the recent flood of federal Arctic policies and strategies” in the U.S., the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission put out a Letter of Intent (PDF) outlining its intent, assumptions and scope of work.  The letter, prefacing the Commission’s preliminary report expected in January, serves to remind Washington of the role that the State of Alaska expects and hopes to play in the development of Arctic policy. An op-ed in the Bristol Bay Times this week also addressed Alaskans’ desire to take on an active role as architects of U.S. Arctic policy.


Newly installed foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson informed the European Commission this week that Iceland was withdrawing its bid for EU membership (IceNews). The move had been expected since the election of a new coalition government in Iceland earlier this year. Sveinsson took part in the President of Iceland’s state visit to Germany this week, meeting his counterpart Guido Westerwelle as well as the German President, Chancellor, and President of Parliament (News of Iceland). In other Icelandic diplomatic news, on July 1 the Consulate General of Iceland in Greenland will open in Nuuk (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland).

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said that his government has held informal talks with a representative of Edward Snowden concerning the U.S. national’s potential request for asylum in Iceland (IceNews). Not long after leaking information on U.S. surveillance programs, Snowden indicated that Iceland was a country where he might seek refuge.


At the meeting of the collegium of the Ministry of Regional Development on June 28, Regional Development Minister Igor Slyunyayev announced that the government intends to establish the borders of Russia’s Arctic zone by the end of 2013 (AIR, in Russian). Minister Slyunyayev said that legislation is currently being drawn up to demarcate the borders (RBTH).

President Putin met with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on a working visit to Finland this week (AIR, in Russian). During the visit, Putin invited Niinistö to visit Russia for the opening of a new hydroelectric plant being built by Fortum, a Finnish company (AIR, in Russian).

An appellate court in Norway upheld Tromsø’s District Court ruling against the extradition of former RAIPON Vice President Dmitry Berezhkov to Russia (BO). Berezhkov, a student at the University of Tromsø, was arrested upon his return from the preparatory meeting for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Norway earlier this month.


Following Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Yu Zhengsheng’s visit to Finland, Sweden, and Denmark earlier this month, Mia Bennett wrote an article on East Asian Diplomacy in the Arctic that provides a short summary of recent bilateral meetings between East Asian and Arctic nations (EOTA). She raises an important point: although many high-level visits are taking place on Arctic-related issues, permanent diplomatic representation is much weaker in Arctic states without significant East Asian populations, which tend to foster diplomatic ties. In the hopes of increasing these ties with Nordic nations, China is setting up a joint research center, the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center, in Shanghai which will partner with Danish, Icelandic and Norwegian institutions (South China Morning Post).


According to an article in the Moscow Times, the initial burst of enthusiasm for Arctic energy development peaked just about the time that Shell’s Kulluk drill rig ran aground in Alaska. Since then, environmental concerns have shifted industry’s focus to less risky and expensive prospects like shale oil in a trend that may, in the end, delay energy development in many Arctic regions.

Republicans in the US House of Representatives are pushing forward a bill that would compel the federal government to offer offshore oil and gas leases off the coasts of California, Virginia, South Carolina and any other state that requests them (FuelFix). In spite of calls for more offshore leases and a new campaign by the state of Alaska to promote drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the Department of the Interior says there are plenty of oil and gas opportunities on public lands and that oil production on federal lands has risen 35% in recent years (Sacramento Bee).


The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, known colloquially as "the Russian Davos," provided the backdrop for several important announcements regarding Russia's Arctic oil and gas. First, the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) concluded a significant deal with Rosneft securing access to over 37 million tons of oil a year for 25 years, a deal that President Putin touted as being worth over USD 270 billion (RT). Rosneft also signed a memorandum of understanding with WWF-Russia regarding the company's responsibility to protect the Arctic environment while developing the region’s oil and gas resources (press release). Rosneft will also be getting some help from ExxonMobil; the Texas-based giant announced this week it will kick in USD 3.2 billion to fund joint exploration activities with Rosneft on a number of leases that stretch clear across the Russian Arctic shelf (FuelFix).

While not sporting the big price tag of the Rosneft-CNPC deal, the more important development announced this week may have been CNPC's agreement with Novatek to purchase LNG from the Yamal Peninsula (Business Standard). This deal may be the last nail in the coffin of Gazprom's cherished gas export monopoly. Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed his government to begin easing the monopoly on LNG exports (though not on pipeline gas, which Gazprom will maintain a lock on) to facilitate the new Novatek-CNPC deal (Bloomberg). The increased international interest in the Yamal project led French supermajor Total to increase its stake in Novatek from 14.9% to 16% this week (Upstream). The first shipment of LNG from the project is planned for the first quarter of 2017 (AIR – Russian). Having buyers lined up for Yamal's gas frees up Novatek to finishing securing external financing for the project (Bloomberg). Indian oil company ONGC Videsh Limited had bid for a 20% stake, as well, but was edged out by CNPC, leaving some to wonder if India isn’t losing out to China in the race to secure access to LNG from Russia's Arctic (The Hindu). Peter Kiernan provides some clear analysis for the Moscow Times on the eastward shift of Russia's gas exports as it seeks to beat out other competitors to become the primary supplier of gas to Asia.

Moscow has decided to scale back an ambitious privatization plan, now preferring a scaled-back option that would keep Rosneft under majority state ownership (AFP). Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed a preference for a more aggressive privatization and blamed Moscow's revision of the plan on the personal lobbying of Rosneft's well-connected CEO, Igor Sechin (RIAN). While we tend to see Gazprom as an exemplar of state-controlled mismanagement, Anders Åslund makes a compelling argument that the rot may be spreading to Rosneft, endangering the future of Russia's largest oil exporter (MT).

The Shtokman project's death throes continued this week with another Gazprom executive stepping forward to say that, in spite of last week's announcement that the project would go on, Shtokman would be shelved until new technologies can be developed to make the project more profitable. What's interesting here is not the future of the Shtokman project, but what this says about Gazprom: Is the company so dysfunctional that it can't make up its mind and control the message on the future of this major project? (F24). Further east, Gazprom announced progress on its Vladivostok LNG plant as well as new exploration wells in the nearby Yuzhno-Kirinskoye field (Penn Energy). Pipeline manufacturer Severstal announced that it will be supplying pipe for Gazprom's Yakutia-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok pipeline, recently renamed the "Power of Siberia" Pipeline (Steel Guru). Gazprom also held its yearly shareholder's meeting last week in Moscow, where discussion focused on the company's annual report (press release).

In spite of new projects in Russia’s East, Gazprom continues to invest heavily (some might say too heavily, considering stagnant European demand) in its core business of piping gas to Europe. Even though Gazprom hasn’t finished work on the second line of its Bovanenko-Ukhta pipeline connecting the Yamal Peninsula to Europe, CEO Alexey Miller is already talking about a third and fourth pipeline to increase supplies to European markets (AIR – Russian). The company has applied for ten new leases in the Yamal region which could contain an additional 70 billion cubic meters of gas (AIR – Russian). Infrastructure developments on the Yamal Peninsula continue apace with preliminary testing underway on a new oil pipeline which will connect the Yamal Peninsula to the Eastern Siberia pipeline system, and thence onto the Pacific Ocean (AIR - Russian).

Lukoil, heavily invested in the legacy oil fields of Western Siberia, is concerned about dropping production over the coming years (MT, AIR - Russian). To offset falling production, Lukoil will be joining the fray in eastern Siberia, announcing a new oil exploration campaign that will focus on the Yakutia, Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk regions (BusinessWeek). Lukoil, along with Rosneft, has also requested to do exploratory work near the Laptev Sea on the Taimyr Peninsula (AIR – Russian).

While Arctic geopolitics have been characterized by more cooperation than competition lately, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin seems worried that “rival countries” might seek to sabotage Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure in the region as others join the race to develop Arctic resources (RIAN).

Russian Parliament is looking to encourage tight oil development by easing tax restrictions on unconventional reserves, though experts say new requirements to measure output at unconventional fields could be costly and lead to delays (Reuters).

In other Russian energy news, the government of Yakutia is seeking to increase alternative energy development in the region and announced plans to install two new wind turbines this year (AIR – Russian).

Russian authorities laid charges against two managers who had responsibility for the Kolskaya oil rig when it capsized and sank near Sakhalin Island in December, 2011, killing 53 people (RIAN).


Even though there will be no drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters this year, there will be plenty of exploration activity. Shell will be conducting scientific baseline surveys in the Chukchi Sea, while SAExploration and TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company will be conducting seismic surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, respectively (Reuters).

BP and ConocoPhillips both rushed to announce billions of dollars of new investment on the North Slope after Alaska passed a significant package of oil tax cuts last month. Alex DeMarban takes a close look at the details and shows that BP’s investment plans are not as significant as they first appear, and many of the projects the company is now touting have been in the works for years (EOTA). The state's tax cuts don't seem to have added any sense of urgency to the joint BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and TransCanada LNG export project. The project, the most recent of several state and industry initiatives to bring North Slope gas to market, is progressing at a leisurely pace; the four partners failed to meet a deadline to provide preliminary engineering and design plans to the state (AD).

An article by Vanessa Orr in Alaska Business Monthly explores the state of oil and gas employment in Alaska. A recent report stated that a third of Alaska jobs are tied to oil and gas, though industry is concerned that a labor crunch may be coming as aging workers retire and younger workers are lured away by employment in other booming fields in the lower 48.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell's proposal for seismic and exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is before the Secretary of the Interior. As outlined in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the Secretary now has 120 days to respond to the proposal for ANWR. All of ANWR is currently off-limits for oil and gas activity (PN).


There were several exploration developments this week from work in the Barents Sea. Statoil announced it has found gas in the Nunatak prospect while drilling one of four areas in the Johan Castberg field which are meant to give a better characterization of the field’s hydrocarbon potential (Rigzone). Austrian OMV has received final clearance from the authorities to begin drilling at the Wisting Prospect in the Barents Sea (Upstream). Total hit oil while drilling an appraisal well in its Norvarg prospect in the Barents Sea. The joint project between Total, Statoil and Ithaca Petroleum is estimated to contain 200 million barrels of oil equivalent (XE). Next comes a drill stem test that will help assess the quality and production volume of the reservoir (AB). Lundin Petroleum also announced that it will spud a new well in its Gotha prospect in the Norwegian Barents Sea in August (Upstream Online).

On the Snøhvit field, Technip will be installing new subsea carbon-injection equipment and pipelines for Statoil over the next two years (Offshore Magazine).

Statoil signed an agreement with Rosneft in St. Petersburg this week on joint exploration ventures in the Okhotsk and Barents Seas. The agreement also includes developing shale oil reserves in the Samara Region (VNFN). Statoil CEO Helge Lund is featured in this video from Bloomberg where he discusses the company’s exploration prospects in the Russian Arctic.

Statoil and Aker Solutions confirmed this week that the contract for development and construction of the new Class B drilling rig was dead in the water after major engineering and technological challenges defied resolution during the design phase (AB).

Norway's Petroleum Directorate is selling recent 3D seismic data from the Barents Sea south-eastern sector and around Jan Mayen (AB). Exploration by remotely operated submersible vehicles took place along the Jan Mayen Ridge in 2011 and 2012. A short article and video from the National Petroleum Directorate highlights some of the hardware and techniques used, including an underwater concrete saw (press release).

Norway has decided to postpone proposed cuts to natural gas pipeline tariffs until 2016 (press release - Norwegian). Pipeline owners profit from the tariffs and say they will be out over USD 6.6 billion in profits over the next two decades and are considering legal action to stop the cuts (Reuters).

Danish drilling technology expert Sigurd Solem has come out strongly against exploring for hydrocarbons in the waters around Greenland, saying that no company has the technology to make such activity safe (Politiken – Danish).

Delft University in the Netherlands has completed a joint project with Damen Shipyards to design an Arctic-specific towing vessel for operating in the region's harsh conditions. The hull is double-ended with one bow for open water and the other for progressing through ice, and will run on LNG (MarineLink).


The challenge of getting oil and gas to market from Canada’s North has led to numerous proposals including new pipelines and rail lines heading in all directions of the compass. This article in Up Here Business casts a skeptical eye on these “pipe dreams” and the tendency of regional politicians to pour money into them with little result. Details of the equity stake that Enbridge has offered to aboriginal communities along the corridor of its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline between Edmonton and Kitimat, BC, have been made public and some communities are saying the offers are insufficient and declining to sign on (Huffington Post). Kitimat is also in Exxon's sights as it applied this week for a LNG export permit from the National Energy Board. The company hopes to secure potential buyers for the project which will draw on gas from Exxon and Imperial Oil fields for export from Kitimat or Prince Rupert on the British Columbia coast (

Both sides of the Keystone XL pipeline debate seem to have found something they liked in President Obama's address this week on climate change. Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, a Keystone XL supporter, highlighted President Obama's insistence that the pipeline will not exacerbate carbon emissions, saying the Alberta oil sands would be mined and refined regardless of the pipeline. Opponents were heartened that the President singled out the Keystone XL project for special attention in the climate speech, and that he used the term "tar" for Alberta's oil sands, a term preferred by the environmental set (G&M).

The Yukon Utilities Board has approved an across-the-board rate increase that could see some households’ electrical bills jump 24% next year (YN).

Science, Environment & Wildlife


For readers in the US (and for many elsewhere), perhaps the biggest news on the climate front this week was President Obama’s exposition of his Climate Action Plan (NYT). The University Centre of Svalbard and several partners are working on their own climate action plan for subterranean CO2 sequestration. The project would in theory capture and contain all carbon emissions from Longyearbyen’s coal-fired power plant (BO).

While those climate-action plans are germinating, there’s concern about the ongoing development of an apparent weak patch in the Arctic ice cap right around the North Pole (Arctic News, with a frightening animated GIF from the Naval Research Laboratory), expansive melting on the Greenland ice cap (Discover), the carbon impact of massive permafrost thaw (Earth Institute), and the acidification of Arctic waters off of the Norwegian coast (KLIF, in Norwegian). There’s also growing concern that a sudden release of water from glacial lakes on the Mendenhall Glacier could threaten Juneau, Alaska (EOTA).

In a change that will affect how we assess the state of affairs, the National Snow & Ice Data Center has announced that it will update its baseline measurement of the ice cap to a 30-year average for the years 1981-2010. Until now, the 1979-2000 average has been broadly used instead (International Polar Foundation). As ice extent and volume decline both at sea and on land, the impact of Arctic and Antarctic icebergs is analyzed well, interestingly and at great length in a commendable article from Liz O’Connell of Frontier Scientists (SciLogs).

Briefly in other climate news, some new detail has been added to our limited knowledge of the historical Arctic climate with new research from Northeast Arctic Russia (Science), while similar work is underway on Canada’s Banks Island (NN).

Hot weather and fire

A heat wave that’s brought temperatures above 30 C / 85 F to Yellowknife and Whitehorse has been a source of debate: Is it a matter for rejoicing or complaining (CBC)? For firefighters on the ground in Yukon, it’s certainly keeping things busy – a round of lightning ignited more than 20 new fires in the territory this week (CBC). Next door in Alaska, crews are also working to manage and contain an ongoing rash of wildfires (FDNM). A wildfire near the state’s Parks Highway caused a 27-mile closure (FDNM), and continued heat and dryness have inspired a ban on fireworks and the closure of wood-cutting areas near Fairbanks (FDNM).

This round of natural disasters follows close on the heels of the spring breakup, and residents of Galena, Alaska are still cleaning up after brutal spring flooding (EOTA); that task won’t be over anytime soon.

Across the Circle, residents of Finland’s North Karelia have been experiencing conditions that match those in Alaska (YLE), while observers in Alaska are pointing out – rightly – that the brutal, long winter and abnormally hot summer are, on their own, good evidence neither of global warming nor of its absence. The picture is of course more complicated than that (good reminders from Ben Anderson in AD). Whether it’s climate change or simply a freakishly hot summer is a matter of complete indifference to hundreds of rainbow trout and Arctic grayling that were killed by temperature shock when they were transferred too suddenly from a hatchery to unusually-warm Ballaine Lake near Fairbanks (FDNM).

Marine mammals

Iqaluit’s Celebration of the Seal was an opportunity for the community to celebrate the importance of seals to the region’s culture, community and economy (NN). Relatedly, the city’s Seal Café had several distinctive preparations of seal on its menu during the week (CBC). Sweden is meanwhile also considering the authorization of a seal hunt along its coast as a population-management measure (EOTA), while one of the Kennedy clan is apparently participating in seal-culling near Rankin Inlet, NU ( And in Chukotka, a pair of young walruses who lost their parents are off to a new home at a zoo in Vladivostok (AIR, in Russian).

A Greenpeace Nordic campaigner has called Iceland’s independent resumption of commercial whaling for fin whales “immoral” (IceNews), and masses of beluga whales are cavorting, feeding and molting in waters near Canada’s Somerset Island (Daily Mail).

Other marine life

A clever innovation in research equipment – floating tubes that capture entire marine ecosystems – has enabled a team of researchers to study small-scale ecosystems in the Arctic Ocean under conditions of gradual acidification. Though their initial results are only indicators of what might be, the techniques and equipment they’ve used could open the door to much more detailed research (Nature). Other scientists have released new research from the Beaufort Sea indicating surprising diversity in the community of microbes within various pockets of water (Biogeosciences). If you’d like to get to know one particular Arctic ecosystem better, check out a series of videos and images of the creatures that inhabit the Porsangerfjord in Norway’s Finnmark (, in Norwegian).

On land and in the air

The exploding population of Ross’s geese in Arctic Canada is destroying its own habitat; scientists believe increasing hunting pressure on the population could help prevent it from doing serious damage to itself (CTV). A post from Coats Island in Hudson Bay highlights the birds that live their summer lives there (, and the team behind that blog has their work publicized in the Green Blog on as well.

On land, a bison hunt gone wrong has resulted in steep fines and hunting bans for two gentlemen (CBC), while a court has decided that North Slave Métis should have been consulted on a 2010 decision that placed restrictions on the hunting of the Bathurst caribou herd (CBC). Stepping far, far back in time, scientists also announced this week that DNA of a Pleistocene-era horse had successfully been reconstructed from fragments taken from a bone discovered frozen in permafrost in a Yukon mine (CBC). By a wide margin, it’s the oldest genome ever thus reconstructed.

The role of lemmings as a keystone species in Arctic ecosystems is covered on, and a fascinating article from Juneau Empire takes a close look at the biting flies that populate either side of the Bering Strait. I didn’t know there were virgin births going on, or that some flies could “acquire all their nutrition as larvae in the water”, thus obviating the need for nourishment as adults. Will wonders never cease?

And for those interested in diving really deep into human-animal relationships in the Arctic, there’s a PhD spot open for just that field at the University of Aberdeen (U Arctic).

Science blogging

I’m so pleased that researchers all around the Arctic are making ever greater efforts to keep the public apprised of their work through team blogs and other initiatives. It brings science so much closer. Three such efforts merit special mention this week. My current favorite is the IMARES Wageningen UR team blog covering their research into sustainable Arctic development. They’re updating the blog pretty much daily with stories of “normal” life on Svalbard, and Bas Bolman – who I gather is part of the team – is regularly sharing some beautiful photos of the area on Twitter (check out the landscape, offshore research, the world’s northernmost post office, and the team on a shooting-training course). A close second is the Arctic Research blog, capturing posts from INTERACT research sites around the Arctic. There are several interesting recent posts covering the team’s outreach initiatives with schools. And a strong honorable mention goes to the PAGE21 blog, which has shared an introduction to this year’s research team and an update on the efforts that go into preparing for a summer research campaign. In a similar vein, Nicholas Pilfold shares his reactions to the diversity and amazing doughtiness of Arctic wildlife (Polar Bears International), and former north2north exchange student Laura Aineslahti shares a personal reflection on how her experience in Yukon changed her (U Arctic).


Check out the brand-new research in this week’s collection from the outstanding ASTIS database. / Mt. Pavlof in Alaska has been rumbling, blowing an ash plume up to 28,000 feet in the air (FDNM). / Satellite imagery of Alaska from three decades ago has been reclaimed and released (AD). / Noctilucent clouds in Arctic skies have gotten an earlier start this year than last (NASA). / A new book examines the influence of Denmark, Norway and Sweden not just in the Nordic region but around the world due to the countries’ scientific contributions (Ashgate). / An archaeological site at Ust-Polui near Salekhard is due for sprucing-up, on its way to becoming an attraction for visitors (AIR, in Russian). / The scientists of the ill-fated North Pole-40 expedition have now reached Bolshevik Island aboard the Yamal icebreaker (AIR, in Russian).

Military / Search-&-Rescue

Defense News published a nice summary of the recent two-day meeting of the defense chiefs of the eight Arctic states. Danish defense chief, General Peter Bartram, hosted the meeting, which took place in Ilulissat, Greenland earlier this month. At the meeting, Arctic states agreed to strengthen cooperative marine surveillance and joint military exercises. One such exercise, “Vigilant Eagle – 2013,” fosters cooperation between the Russian Air Force and NORAD in late August (AIR, in Russian). Russia will also open an Arctic Rescue Center in August (AIR, in Russian). NATO’s decision not to establish a direct Arctic presence, it seems, has been effective in sending a positive signal to Russia and contributing to the growing feeling that the Arctic may not be a potential conflict zone after all ( An interesting piece by Georgi Ivanov discusses the proposition of a UK-led, “distinctly northern European security arrangement,” whereby Britain would align its security and defense policies with Arctic states Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, as well as Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia (Atlantic Council of Canada).

After a four-year renovation, the USCGC Polar Star – the only heavy icebreaker belonging to the U.S. – will begin sea trials in the Arctic before it travels to Antarctica to help supply the McMurdo Research Station ( Alaskan Congressman Don Young continues to push Congress for another polar-class icebreaker, despite the Coast Guard’s budgetary constraints, suggesting the Coast Guard consider leasing an American-made vessel (website of Congressman Young). Earlier in the month, the Coast Guard deployed probes above the Arctic Circle in an Arctic Domain Awareness flight ( The probes recorded data intended to help researchers understand summer conditions in the Arctic. Although the U.S. Army will decrease in size over the next six years, as part of which Anchorage’s Fort Richardson will be cut by sixteen percent, Fairbanks’ Fort Wainwright will gain 552 soldiers. They’ll be added to the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team (FDNM).

The Canadian Ministry of Defense, also responding to the need for more vessels, announced that it will build eighteen to twenty-one new, smaller ships as part of its CAD 33-billion national shipbuilding procurement strategy (CBC).

The search continues in the Norwegian mountains for a 78-year-old Dane and a 46-year-old Swede who both went missing from their cars earlier this week (EOTA), while around twenty tourists were stranded after a thirty-mile slab of ice broke away from Canada’s Baffin Island on Monday night (Guardian). Canadian forces dropped off emergency supplies to the tourists, who were on a hunting trip with Arctic Kingdom, while they awaited rescue helicopters (CBC).



Spurred by threats of a lawsuit over excessive pollution, Murmansk Region prosecutors announced they would be conducting routine inspections at Norilsk Nickel’s smelting operations near the Norwegian border. Cecilie Hansen, mayor of the Sør-Varanger, threatened to sue the company on behalf of her small town, which is located just across the border from the smelter. The plant has been blamed for high levels of sulfur dioxide and heavy metals pollution in the local environment (Bellona). Norilsk Nickel’s deputy CEO Pavel Fedorov is bullish on the company’s Arctic holdings in spite of the pollution problems (Bloomberg).


Falling commodity prices have caused Yukon Zinc to lay off workers and reduce operations at its Wolverine zinc and silver mine in Yukon (CBC). Another zinc mine, the Prairie Creek mine run by Canadian Zinc in the Northwest Territories, has received approval to begin operations from the Mackenzie Land and Water Board (CBC).

Pursuant to devolution, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Mining Regulations will be divided into two separate regulatory process for each region in order to streamline administrative infrastructurefor permitting and regulation (press release).


The threat posed by the proposed Pebble Mine to the salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay is no laughing matter for Joel Reynolds, Western Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. In an opinion piece in Alaska Dispatch, Reynolds lays out his case against the mine and how he thinks it can be stopped.

Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News


For my money, the most interesting story going in Arctic news these days is the industry-vs-industry battle being fought in two key theaters: Alaska’s Bristol Bay and Norway’s Lofoten. This week saw plenty of news about the Norwegian case, as the country’s Institute for Marine Research published a report that recommended against opening of the Lofoten area to oil and gas drilling, as the region is a critical breeding area for northeast Arctic cod, “the most valuable fishery in the Barents Sea” (BO). The conflict between the country’s fisheries and hydrocarbon industries came up also when a new guide for seismic exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf was jointly released by Lisbeth Berg-Hansen (Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs) and Ola Borten Moe (Petroleum and Energy Minister). There is mention in the article (here, from AB) that a professional association of Norwegian fishermen was consulted during the development of the guide, but no mention of oil-industry consultation is made.

All of this takes place as Norway considers how to balance state support for the fishing industry in North Norway against development of the oil industry in the same region. Some in the region argue that it’s naïve to imagine that fisheries alone can help the region to grow economically in the decades ahead, while others say that government investment could prime the fisheries industry to truly blossom in the region without needing to endanger the local environment as oil exploration might (that debate via NRK, in Norwegian). Indeed, it appears a warming ocean is bringing (for now) better fishing for mackerel and cod to North Norway (NRK, in Norwegian). A report from SINTEF focuses in particular on the potential for fisheries and the investments that will be needed (, in Norwegian), while the sale of new licenses for commercial salmon farming in Troms and Finnmark counties was announced by the Department of Fisheries and Coastal Management (in Norwegian).

There are three contributions to this debate on the American side of things this week. The first is an opinion piece from Joel Reynolds, Western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, arguing that mining of the region would be ludicrous (AD).  The second is a forceful opinion piece in the Bellingham (WA) Herald, in which Charles Forster, a geologist with years of experience in the mining industry, writes from Washington state about the economic boost that the Pebble Mine project could bring to Alaska and, eventually, to Washington state as well. Last comes an equally forceful piece in the New York Times, in which Callan J. Chythlook-Sifsof advocates the preservation of the area for its critical economic, ecological and cultural importance to many communities, including his own. Wherever this project may ultimately go, it has certainly inspired a great deal of high-quality and interesting writing.

A couple of other important developments in the political world of fishing are worth mentioning. Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson is using the country’s ongoing “mackerel wars” with the EU as evidence of the importance of continued independence (IceNews). Nearby in Finnmark, new rules about the distribution of catch quota may eventually help native Sami fishermen to claim a greater share than has been possible in the past (BO). Also in Norway, concern about the health risks of farmed salmon – to wit, high concentrations of persistent organic pollutants – are making the rounds, while Norway’s Health Directorate says that the salmon is perfectly safe to eat (BO).

Now to some miscellaneous bits of fisheries news. There is grave concern that a coming onslaught of snow crabs making their way across the Barents Sea to Svalbard will destroy the unique benthic community around the archipelago (BO). / MSC certification has been extended to the FIUN cod and haddock fisheries in the Barents and Norwegian Seas (World Fishing). / Fishing tourism in Finnmark is becoming difficult for those who play by the rules, according to one longtime tour operator. He says illegal fishing tours run by non-Norwegians to serve Germans, Poles and other European tourists are ruining his legal business (, in Norwegian). / The New York Times profiled Russia’s Ponoi River as a haven for those (necessarily wealthy) fishermen wishing to pursue elusive Atlantic salmon. / The poor early runs of king salmon on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula have led to bans on bait and multiple hooks for fishermen there (ADN). / One Yukon First Nation is preparing to remove several abandoned beaver dams on Fox Creek, hoping that “liberating” the river in this fashion will yield better salmon returns (CBC).


The prospect of a new shipping boom through Arctic waters is covered by Deutsche Welle with reasonable attention to the many hurdles standing in the way of any such boom. Similar ground is covered in an article from DMorgen (in Dutch), with an extra focus on the Finnmark town of Kirkenes.

For those of you who are ship-obsessed, you will DEFINITELY want to dig through the list of what’s in the works at all of Finland’s shipyards that has anything to do with Arctic operations (MarineLink). Follow that with a brief but interesting piece from Penn Energy highlighting a new LNG-powered offshore Arctic supply vessel that slices, dices and has two bows. Then, incisive Russia correspondent John Helmer demonstrates, once again, that things are even less simple than they seem in Russia: The two LNG tankers that are under consideration by Novatek & Sovcomflot to transport LNG from the Yamal project are hardly a done deal yet (Business Insider).

Any meaningful expansion of Arctic shipping will require enormous investment from many different sectors. Iceland is looking at investing in a new port for the purpose at Finna Fjord (Seatrade Global), the Tschudi Shipping Company is planning a huge logistics hub near Kirkenes (Times of India), and Norway is considering an enormously expensive mapping survey of the Norwegian coast – such a resource will be necessary if shipping traffic along the coast picks up substantially at all (NRK, in Norwegian).

Three other tidbits: Deliveries of wood and coal to river towns in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug have begun (AIR, in Russian), Iqaluit is expecting its first sealift tanker of the season on Monday 1 July (CBC), and Norway is considering how to mitigate the risk of its heavy reliance on GPS and Glonass as shipping aids (Norwegian Gov’t, in Norwegian).

General economic news

“Go West, young man” is still, apparently, a mantra for many Canadian workers, who are gradually shifting west- and northward (Windsor Star). Indeed, if you’ve got a university education, it looks like there is work for you in Nunavut, the NWT or Yukon (CBC). And it’s been suggested by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business that a dearth of qualified workers for natural-resource jobs could be remedied by willing and able aboriginal Canadians (HuffPo).

Greenland is wooing Japanese investment in its minerals and hydrocarbons sectors, albeit in an extremely general way (House of Japan).

Russia’s Ministry of Regional Development is trying to advance the Arctic ball with a meeting last week on the country’s development strategy and its implementation (AIR, in Russian).

Other industries

The Russian kiosk owners forbidden to sell beer in northern Russian cities have elected to market Norwegian diapers instead (image from BN). I never thought of the two as substitutes, but all right. / The heat wave in northern Finland means that strawberries are ripening quickly, and there is concern that the (mostly Eastern European) workers who arrive every July to pick them won’t be there in time to do the job (EOTA). / Look out, North Iceland: The region has been named one of the top 10 travel destinations of 2013 by Lonely Planet (IceNews). Locals: Your restaurants had better get some English- and German-language menus printed up right quick. / Arctic agriculture is relatively uncharted territory, but one gardener from Yellowknife is on a mission to change that as she attends meetings in Nunavut and Greenland (NN). / Cruise ships have largely disappeared from Nunavut’s waters, but for the first time in a decade a cruise ship will be calling at Arviat this summer (CBC). / The Fort Resolution Métis Council and the Deninu Kue First Nation have agreed to team up on development of forest resources in their territory (CBC). / Thornton Media, developer of apps to learn Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun, has been selected as one of four from among 6 million developers to be featured in Apple’s Official 2013 Developer’s Video (ICTMN). / A cleanup rafting “cruise” is planned for Russia’s Sob River this summer (AIR, in Russian).

Health, Education, Culture & Society

Canadians Celebrated National Aboriginal Day on June 21. Videos of some of the events in Yellowknife and Whitehorse are available from CBC. Exhibiting aboriginal culture “aloud and proud” was great to see, especially in the face of sobering reports of tuberculosis outbreaks in Nunavik (CBC), inadequate health care and cancer treatment in Nunavut (NN), a flailing Nutrition North program and the unbelievably high cost of living in the North ( Addressing the problem of inadequate housing, the provincial and territorial ministers for housing met this week to discuss proposals for a long-term housing solution to be coordinated with the federal government (Gov’t of NWT). The provincial and territorial ministers of education, the Council of Ministers of Education, will meet in Nunavut next week (NN).

A panel discussion at the Forum of Rectors of the University of the Arctic highlighted the common priorities of Arctic States and the role of universities in Arctic development. “General consensus” among the panel was that universities should play a key role in creating an Arctic agenda, initiating research and infrastructure projects in the Arctic in collaboration with both business and government (, in Russian).


News on infrastructure was a little bit thin on the ground this week, so we’ll simply go through these one by one.

Fairbanks residents are doubtless looking forward to improved television, cable and wireless service, thanks to upcoming USD 6 million investments by General Communication, Inc (AD). / Work on a Murmansk transport hub appears to be moving forward with the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Murmansk government and the development company this week (AIR, in Russian). / There are five companies competing for the government-funded RUB 52million contract to renovate the airport at Pevek, Chukotka (AIR, in Russian). / The city of Ålidhem, Sweden is one of six sustainable energy projects marked out by the European Commission for its Sustainable Energy Europe & ManagEnergy Awards (EC). / Electricity prices in Yukon are going up by 11.01% on 1 July (CBC). / Residents of Pond Inlet will switch from daily water delivery to every-other-day delivery, for better or worse (CBC). / Norwegian Airlines appears to have denied passengers things like water and blankets on their flights from Oslo to…Bangkok. Now that is harsh (IceNews). / Several significant road repairs are slated for this year on the Yamal Peninsula (AIR, in Russian).


Four modern-day adventurers retraced the steps of late 19th-century Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup, who spent four winters exploring and mapping the fjords on the western side of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic (Ottawa Life).

Anchorage, Alaska, has announced its intention to compete to host the Winter Olympics in 2026. The city has competed twice before, and both times failed to secure the games (AIR – Russian).

The Great Northern Ski Society has agreed to sell its facilities at Mt. Sima Ski Hill to the city of Whitehorse, Yukon, and close operations there after the city rejected the Society’s latest business plan (CBC).

The Yukon River Quest, a 715 km canoe race between Whitehorse and Dawson City, got started this week with 67 teams competing (CBC). Alaska hosted the Yukon 1000, an out-and-back boat race which departs heading up-river from Fairbanks. Unusually high water this year allowed the race to progress an additional 100 miles up-river than usual, making the race an even 1000 miles in total distance (FDNM). Fairbanks residents took advantage of the long, mid-summer days to run the annual Midnight Sun 10k race (FDNM).

A change in the way territorial funds are allocated led to a 50% reduction in the funding that the Government of the Northwest Territories usually provides to “Paddlefest,” an annual canoe, kayak and rafting festival held at the Slave River rapids. The event’s organizers have reached out to the nearby town of Fort Smith to help in finding a way to fund this year’s event (Northern Journal).

Images & Videos

Special credit goes to photographs provided by Bolot Bochkarev of the Lena River and the beautiful landscapes of his home, Yakutia. Check out two beautiful galleries of photographs. The first is of what looks to be a day trip to the Lena Pillars, and the second is of a hiking trip near Oymyakon in the Verkhoyansk Mountains. Quite beautiful! Then, to spice up your diet of expansive landscapes, enjoy two blurry Twitter pics of Rihanna in Yakutia.

There are of course other delights available this week from Twitter and Instagram. Enjoy: a great picture and video of summer in Pangnirtung (@dkulugutuk); the beach and some caribou in an ethereal fog near Prudhoe Bay (@maxxx629); two landscape pics of the Canadian North (@acbelange); a portrait of a walrus and a behind-the scenes pic of photo selection for an upcoming book (@polarworld); Cameron Falls near Yellowknife (@DartmouthDerek); an amazing sunset in Arctic Norway (@jennylovlie); a glacier face (@DTW_Holidays); a classic 1960’s portrait of a gentleman perched on the nose of a hollowed-out, snow-filled plane body (@christinapotter77); a beautiful Varanger landscape from the always-outstanding @biotope; reindeer herders (@TheWhiteCircle); and a fjord near Harstad (@sakisaki1).

On Flickr, we’ve got images of: the week’s “supermoon” hanging over McLeod Bay (Kristen Olesen); the skeleton of an old Hudson Bay supply boat, abandoned near Arviat in the 1920’s (Paul Aningat); a boat on the Yellowknife River (nwtarcticrose); flowering Labrador Tea (Paul Aningat); the summer solstice on a lake in Canada (Bruce McKay); and Atlin Lake in Yukon/BC (Krista Funk).

You’ll also went to check out photos of the APTN National Aboriginal Day Concert in Iqaluit, shared on Facebook by Nunatsiaq News and some Iceland photographs from Sophie Carr. And if you’re in Surgut, Russia, you can see an exhibition of Arctic photography from the Global Arctic Awards competition – it looks to be quite a collection, and it’s running through August (AIR, in Russian).

The Grab Bag

Now to those bits and pieces that fit nowhere else.

A yacht is cruising around the Russian Arctic putting up memorial crosses on various islands (AIR, in Russian). / People keep hiking to the “Into the Wild” bus, and then requiring emergency rescues (FDNM). It is getting stupid. Also ridiculous was word that John Krakauer, author of “Into the Wild”, was seen pooping where he shouldn’t have been on Mt. McKinley (AD). Ruckus ensued. / The latest Taissumani feature builds on last week’s tale of Robert James (NN). / Another excellent article from Up Here magazine looks at a late outbreak of Spanish flu in Cambridge Bay. / One 14 year-old in Rankin Inlet has managed to rack up quite a criminal record already (CBC). / Illustrious Arctic academic Dr. Lassi Heininen has been received the coolest-sounding award ever, Iceland’s Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon (U Arctic). / The opening of two Tim Horton’s outlets in Rankin Inlet (CBC) has its pluses and minuses for the community (NN). / This 2009 profile of Leona Aglukkaq by Tim Querengesser might be the best way to introduce yourself to the new chairwoman of the Arctic Council (Up Here). / The heat wave baking central Alaska for the past couple of weeks has meant that home-goods stores are sold out of fans and air conditioning units (FDNM). Stores are also almost out of bug spray, thanks to a mosquito boom (FDNM). / Iqaluit is getting ready to work on cleaning up garbage in public areas (NN). / The Franklin Expedition may get underway again this summer under the aegis of Parks Canada (CBC). / An environmental “celebration” of sorts is underway in Norilsk, as residents plant red fescue and meadow bluegrass (AIR, in Russian). / Emergency-management staff from Russia and the US are working together on environmental-disaster prevention and management in the Arctic (AIR, in Russian). / Get a better look at the “iceberg” covering Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada right now (ITK). / Check out an enthusiastic travelogue of a vacation in Inuvik, NWT (VS). / A touching profile of long-time CBC host Paul Andrew from Up Here is a good read. / The folk songs of the Yamal Peninsula are about to become the subject of an extensive survey and recording project (AIR, in Russian). / The Day of the Arctic will be celebrated in Iceland on the 14th of November this year (Arctic Portal). / Statoil’s offshore personnel will  be weighed in the future before hopping on helicopters to reach their offshore destinations (AB). / The fascinating history of centuries-ago whaling in Red Bay, Labrador has led to the decision to make the town a UNESCO World Heritage site (CBC).

Abbreviation Key

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Business Monthly (ABM)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Journal of Commerce (AJC)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Alaska Public Media (APM)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Arctic Info (Russian) (AIR)
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 Daily 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)
Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ)
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)
Yukon News (YN)