The Arctic This Week: 17 August – 23 August 2013

By Clare Kines, used with photographer's permission
The Arctic This Week 2013:30
Welcome back and thanks for joining us this week! If you find TATW useful and fun to read, please share it with others. If you’re not a subscriber yet, you can sign up here.

Beginning the week of September 16, we will be moving distribution of TATW to Wednesday mornings Washington DC time. The format and coverage of TATW will remain the same.

Due to some travel, we’re offering a shorter version of TATW this week, featuring only our selection of the week’s best and/or most important reads. 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 Kevin or Maura directly. We would also like to introduce two new authors joining the TATW team this week, Doris Friedrich and Seth Myers. Send a welcome message to Doris and Seth, if you like. Doris will be covering the Science/Environment/Wildlife and the Fisheries/Shipping/Business sections, while Seth will be writing the Military/SAR, Infrastructure and Sports sections.

A Tribute to Tom Fries

As many of you may know, Tom Fries has taken a position at the Arctic Council’s Permanent Secretariat in Tromsø, Norway, and will no longer be crafting The Arctic This Week each and every Monday. While Tom had a chance to say his goodbyes in the last version of TATW, we wanted to take the occasion of the first TATW produced after his departure to celebrate Tom’s unique contributions to TATW and The Arctic Institute.

TATW was, first and foremost, Tom’s creation. According to Tom, TATW was born, as many children are, when serendipity and inspiration collided. After a chance encounter with TAI Director Malte Humpert led to a desire to contribute to the Institute, Tom felt his “fox-mindedness” could be best put to use by gathering the breadth of material created each week on the Arctic and providing an accessible and comprehensive guide for readers. The explosive growth of TATW’s subscribership – to over 1,400 in a year and a half – is proof that many found it useful and edifying. Tom has worked diligently to grow TATW by constantly expanding the scope of material covered and exploring new ways of presenting it in a clear, accessible format. Those of you who research and write for work or pleasure are no doubt familiar with the time commitment required to produce something like TATW on a weekly basis. For those of you who are not, let’s just say it’s substantial, and that Tom was able to manage it all alone for most of the first year of TATW is still a wonder to all of us here at TAI.

But to measure TATW by the numbers – number of subscribers, articles cited, hours sitting in front of a computer – is to miss what was one of Tom’s greatest contributions: Tom is a great writer. The style, wit, and cheek that he brought to TATW is what made it not only useful to read, but also enjoyable and often a delight. The best way we could think to do justice to Tom’s writing was to let it speak for itself. We’ve collected some of our favorites of Tom’s turns-of-phrase – what we like to call “Tom-isms” – for your enjoyment.

Tom had a knack for pulling nuggets out of would seem to be sterile articles, like this one on workplace hazards:
Unlikely to drive further burly tradesmen to the industry’s welcoming bosom is the news that offshore welding work can lead to “reduced sex drive in male workers, [increased] risk of brain damage, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and prostate cancer, amongst other things” (AB). Dear god; what “other things”? Plague?
Tom could also paint a vivid picture that somehow encapsulates how we imagine the news we read. Seems he liked the topic of Russian oligarchs:
And, to give you a good belly laugh, apparently the latest thing is to accuse President Obama of giving away “Alaskan” islands to the Russians (, whom the (albeit few) accusers clearly picture smoking Cuban cigars and rubbing their greedy little hands together in anticipation of the vast, ill-gotten treasure handed to them by their puppet in Washington. Seriously, folks?
A certain degree of skepticism (about reports of significant new Russian diamond discoveries) would seem only reasonable, and indeed Business Insider takes the time – thanks, guys – to do a little deeper detail-digging, and debunks to a certain extent the vision of oligarchs breast-stroking through swimming pools filled with shiny princess-cut diamonds that we’ve all got in our heads.
Tom always had an eye for good writing and analysis, and never missed an occasion to highlight it. He also had a great nose for BS, and could be absolutely excoriating when he found it. The source and author names are omitted here, though Tom pulled no punches in the original:
A shoddy retread article from the … runs on at enormous length in the look-out-for-Arctic-war-next-week vein, and then – shamelessly, with neither the least attempt to disguise it nor any indication of a citation – simply PLAGIARIZES its obvious, twice-reheated conclusion from a 2010 article in the American Interest. It also includes text essentially lifted from a July 2012 article from the Russian Council, among probably several others, although I stopped spot-checking in disgust. Lame, Mr. Author.
Most of all, though, Tom was empathetic, particularly to his readers. He was grateful that we took time from our busy lives to read TATW, and did his best to make it fun, accessible, and informative. In December, 2012, he introduced his “Reads of the Week” thus:
Lots of us are getting in to the true holiday spirit right about now by working long, haggard hours trying to close out everything at the office so that we can then relax in a long, grumpy line at the airport. If you’re one of these, stick with the following five easy pieces this week.
Tom, you will be missed! We wish you all the best in your new position, and in your transition from writer of TATW to, we earnestly hope, reader!

The TAI Staff

The Political Scene

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s anticipated annual visit north captured numerous headlines this week. The title of our top Harper-related read from the Vancouver Sun - “Harper Conservatives serious about plans to jump-start the North, but face a daunting task” – alludes to the greatest challenge for Conservatives in the North: “catalyzing a 21st century gold rush in a society afflicted by grinding poverty and social dysfunction.” The article, written by Michael Den Tandt of Postmedia News, does a nice job of exploring the parallel interests of Ottawa, Inuit and territorial leaders, and industry in the promise of development in the Far North. If you’re still itching for more on the Harper visit (there’s a lot out there if you are), Rob Huebert (G&M), Michael Byers (National Post), and Thomas Mulcair and Dennis Bevington (G&M) also weighed in .

Shifting now from the national to the global “promise” of the Arctic are three academic articles from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. The Norwegian contribution, published in Polar Geography, focuses specifically on Asia’s Arctic interests, while the Finnish briefing paper – titled “The Global Arctic” – explores the interaction of power-players China, Russia, the U.S. and the EU in a globalizing Arctic. “Russia’s muddled ambitions” is the title of the Chatham House article, which outlines what the author (Dr Pavel K. Baev of the Peace Research Institute Oslo) considers Putin’s unclear Arctic vision. “Russia’s Arctic policy is neither a mystery of confidential strategic plans nor an enigma of secret business enterprises,” Baev says, but “rather a muddle of inflated goals and eroding capabilities.”


Continuing political delays to the Keystone XL pipeline have allowed numerous other plans for getting Alberta’s oil to market to bloom. One such project that appears close to being realized, detailed in an article and infographic in the Globe and Mail, is to move the oil by rail to Churchill, Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay, and thence by tanker to the east coast of North America and to Europe. The plan has been complicated by the July explosion of a train loaded with crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, QC, that left almost 50 dead and destroyed much of the town. Regulators are concerned about the rail line’s ability to manage the extra traffic, and residents along the route are rightfully nervous about the safety of their communities.

In Alaska, oil companies are grousing about what they say are the onerous regulatory burdens in the state’s new oil tax law. Alex DeMarban, as always, provides great coverage on the story for the Alaska Dispatch. Also in Alaska news, don’t miss this wide-ranging interview with Alaska Senator Mark Begich in Petroleum News where he discusses Shell’s Arctic work, gaps in U.S. Arctic policy, state-federal relations and LNG development.


A report from Canada’s Department of National Defense obtained by The Canadian Press last week - conveniently while Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on a week-long tour of the Far North - warns that the current government’s strategy and efforts to develop Canada’s Arctic capabilities and infrastructure have “often lacked political will and direction” (CTVNews). Originally written in April 2012 by Canada’s Defense Science Advisory Board, the report highlights “glaring weaknesses” in Canada’s search-and-rescue capabilities, concluding that Canada is unable to effectively respond to maritime disasters due to a lack of ships, and indicates compromised effectiveness in joint operations between the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces (Toronto Citynews).

A microcosm of some of the problems facing the Canadian Department of National Defense in trying to bolster its operational capabilities in the Arctic can be found in the proposed deep-water port and naval resupply facility at Nanisivik, Nunavut. The facility was announced in 2007 to much fanfare, with construction expected to get underway in 2010 to have the port fully operational by 2015, but the project has run into an array of problems that have pushed its tentative completion date back to 2017 (National Post).

Science, Environment & Wildlife

Begin with one of several articles this week on the greening of the Arctic, this one from Science Daily. According to scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the loss of Arctic sea ice and warming soils have contributed to increased productivity in coastal areas, resulting in a “greening” trend which is even visible from space (SD). The original study can be found in Science.

A new study by researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax concludes that the Arctic Ocean is more sensitive to acidification than the Antarctic Ocean, which particularly affects “shell-forming species”. This is in line with a recent report pointing to significant changes in Arctic marine ecosystems also related to ocean acidification. The difference between the polar regions might be due to excess surface nutrients in Antarctica, which contribute to reducing ocean acidification (NN). Find the original study in Nature.

Next, read this article from the Telegraph which depicts how NASA scientists have recreated Northern Lights and similar displays inside a glass dome known as a Planeterrella.

Finish with some great pictures of the underwater life off Franz Josef Land (NG).

Health, Education, Society & Culture

During a visit that focused largely on sovereignty and resource development, Stephen Harper “shifted his political message in the North” (the Star). Although the shift may have been less of a political decision than a response to probing questions from media and territorial governments, Harper did address some of the North’s most troubling social issues in Rankin Inlet on Thursday. By linking economic development (such as the government’s project to finish the geological mapping of Canada’s north by 2020, which was proposed as a means to boost mineral exploration and create jobs in the North) with social development, Harper managed to scratch at the surface of some of Canada’s social issues. Inuit leaders, after meeting with Harper later on that day, “felt Harper understood their concerns” (the Star).

Another society-related read is an opinion piece from the Arctic Sounder republished this week in Alaska Dispatch on the Alaskan workforce’s competitiveness in “the Arctic of tomorrow.” The article questions whether Alaskans will participate in Arctic expansion or end up “serving coffee to the people with the skills for the work.”

And highlighted a polar “race” of a different sort this week – not for territorial claims to Arctic resources or foreign influence in the region, but to chronicle the life of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his expedition to the South Pole in film. No less than four films about Amundsen are currently in the works (including one with the working title “The Race to the South Pole” backed by dream team Ben Affleck and Matt Damon).


There was a surprising and ironic twist in the continuing controversy over pollution from Norilsk Nikel’s smelting plants on the Kola Peninsula in Russia near the Norwegian Border. While the plants have long been accused of being the source of significant pollution in the region, a shadowy Russian environmental group with deep political connections known as Green Patrol now claims that most of the region’s pollution actually originates in Norway and Finland. Charles Digges takes a close look at the allegations and the background and political connections of the group for Bellona.

Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News

This week has seen an abundance of news related to the Northern Sea Route (NSR). An article from the Wall Street Journal sheds light on the self-fulfilling prophecy that the opening of the NSR triggers. Melting ice facilitates oil exploration in the Arctic, allowing the transport of more oil products along the NSR, leading to the release of more greenhouse gases, leading to higher global temperatures, further melting and on and on. (WSJ). The route, however, is apparently not open to everyone. Last week, Russia denied a request from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise to enter the Kara sea to  protest Arctic drilling, citing paperwork problems. The environmental group ignored the ban, which it considers an attempt to stop its campaign against offshore drilling in the Arctic. The Arctic Sunrise is now headed for Rosneft and ExxonMobil exploration vessels working in the East-Prinovozemelsky oil field (RIAN).

An interesting article – although not from this week – from The Guardian describes the effort that Google puts into mapping little-known territory in the Canadian Arctic. Its staff spent several days  hiking the streets and seasonal trails of Iqaluit, including the “Road to Nowhere”, with a telescopic camera in order to put the town on Google Street View. The increased accuracy of Google’s maps of the town will help the town with promotional activities and planning decisions. Follow Google’s lead, go online and enjoy a walk through town! (Guardian)

A different perspective on the use of technology in the North comes from Craig Medred, who examines how cellphone communication affects king salmon runs in Western Alaska. Along the Kuskokwim River, the spawning goal of the kings may not be met this year and upstream communities have complained of a lack of fish, all attributed to overfishing downstream. The increased use of cellphones means that information about where the salmon can be found travels fast and improves fishing efficiency, meaning fewer kings make it upstream (AD).


In both Canada and Norway, broadband is coming to the Arctic. According to Icenews, the Norwegian Space Centre is working with Telenor Satellite Broadcasting “to explore the feasibility of establishing broadband internet cover in the Arctic.” Similarly, according to the CBC, Arctic Fibre is currently in the process of surveying a route for a fiber optic cable that will bring better broadband coverage to Nunavut and, potentially, mine sites in Nunavik. Nunavut would be served by a branch of a proposed cable running from Tokyo to London; if everything goes smoothly, Arctic Fibre hopes to have the cable fully operational by 2016.


On August 4, Claudia Rose, 49, of San Diego, became just the seventh person to swim across Kachemak Bay, and the first to cross the bay via “naked” swimming – wearing just a standard Nike tank suit. The swim, aimed at raising awareness of the local environment – Rose sported a custom swimming hat with images of a dolphin and whale on it – was part of her training for a planned swim next summer across Cook Inlet at the Forelands between Nikiski and Kustatan (AD).

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)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
Johnson’s Russia List (JRL)
Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa (KNR)
Lapin Kansa (LK)
Moscow Times (MT)
National Geographic (NG)
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)