The Arctic This Week: 24 August – 31 August 2013

Polar Bear No. 1” by Sue North.
Shared with the photographer’s kind permission
By Kevin CaseyMaura FarrellDoris Friedrich and Seth Myers 
The Arctic This Week 2013:31

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If you’re short for time this week, here are several pieces to focus on:

An article from the Atlantic Council of Canada by Georgi Ivanov provides a refreshing take on Asian Arctic interests. By urging that Japan “use its strategic alliance with the United States to look north,” Ivanov suggests that Japan’s position in the American Pacific ally system offers “security guarantees” for Japan in Asia, solidifies Japan’s position and sets up a “pathway” for Japanese engagement and shipping in the Arctic.

Bringing clarity to the sea of Harper-related commentary is an excellent article by Heather Exner-Pirot. Offering a definitive dismantling of the war-could-come-to-the-Arctic argument, Exner-Pirot’s short piece on the politics of Canadian sovereignty is a must-read.

In energy reads, while it’s a longer piece, we highly recommend a working paper by Annika E. Nilsson and Nadezhda Filimonova of the Stockholm Environment Institute entitled Russian Interests in Oil and Gas Resources in the Barents Sea.  While the title is a bit plain, the paper brings a unique perspective to the issue as the authors explore the network of actors inside and outside Russia that play a role in the Barents region’s development agenda and how that agenda fits into Russia’s larger interests in the Arctic.  Your time reading this report will be well spent!

If you’re interested in science, research under the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research Project (LTER) found carbon stored in Arctic tundra permafrost is not as rapidly released by thawing previously as predicted. Instead it has remained in the soil, where some of it is sequestered by new vegetation growth. If you are interested in permafrost and carbon storage, read the entire article, in which Seeta Sistla, lead author of the study, gives a good overview of the project and the results (SciencePoles).

An article in the Journal “Strategy + Business” looks at the com- plexities involved in the growing business opportunities in the Arc- tic. Despite continuous development and improvements, five key challenges remain: protection of the environment and its people, infrastructure development, navigation of the dangerous Arctic wa- ters, governance disagreements, and a lack of research (SB). 

In military news, Military Times published a photo gallery and article about an air exercise (dubbed “Vigilant Eagle”) over the Arctic that took place this week involving U.S., Russian, and Ca- nadian forces. The exercise (“the first since U.S.-Russian relations became strained because of National Security Agency leaker Ed- ward Snowden, Syria, human rights and other issues,”) simulated a hijacking on a commercial aircraft.


The Arctic and Beyond

As we return to full-length briefings here at TATW, you’ll find both familiar themes and new debates (or a least, newer variations of familiar debates) surfacing on the Arctic “political scene.” Fitting into the narrative on Asia’s Arctic ambitions this week was a piece from The World Outline on Japan and the Arctic and one from The Diplomat titled “Asia Eyes the Arctic.” An article from the Atlantic Council of Canada by Georgi Ivanov also looks at Japan, urging that the small (both geographically and in terms of political capability, the author argues) nation “use its strategic alliance with the United States to look north.” Ivanov suggests that Japan’s position in the American Pacific ally system offers “security guarantees” for Japan in Asia, solidifying Japan’s position and setting up a “pathway” for Japanese engagement and shipping in the Arctic. An article by Michael Byers in Al Jazeera on “How the Arctic Ocean could transform world trade” also highlights the benefits of Arctic shipping for Asia, emphasizing the Bering Strait, the Northern Sea Route, and the Northwest Passage as potential solutions to China’s “Malacca dilemma.”


Fitting more into the “newer variations of familiar debates” category is Stephen Harper’s recent visit to the Canadian North, which produced no shortage of debate. Bringing clarity to the sea of Harper-related commentary is an excellent article by Heather Exner-Pirot. Ms. Exner-Pirot pointed to two components of a recent “shift in circumpolar politics” highlighted by The Barents Observer and The Globe & Mail that slipped under the radar during the Harper “hoopla”: Russia was invited to participate in Operation Nanook this year (BO), and Tom Flanagan revealed that the Harper government’s emphasis on Canadian sovereignty in 2007 was the result of “a political calculation” (G&M). Offering a definitive dismantling of the war-could-come-to-the-Arctic-at-any-moment argument, Exner-Pirot’s short piece is a must-read.

Opinions were divided on Harper’s sincerity in the North, with Adam Chapnick of the Toronto Star maintaining, “Harper must be commended for his annual trip to the Arctic” (although he did qualify that “awareness is not commitment”), while Liberal MP Marc Garneau slammed Harper’s “string of broken Arctic promises” ( Robert Murray also outlined “Harper’s Arctic failure” in Troy Media. Bert Archer, who recently visited the Arctic, offered interesting insights on the Harper visit by comparing life in Nunavut to what he saw across the Davis Strait in Greenland, suggesting that what matters is “not how much is spent” in the Canadian North, “but, rather, how it’s spent, and Canada doesn’t seem to know how” (Hazlitt Magazine). Northern leaders had their own priorities for government spending, with Nunavut’s Eva Aariak emphasizing social issues and transportation infrastructure, the Northwest Territories’ Bob McLeod stressing housing, and Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski focusing on economic diversification (

The Edmonton Journal reported that China’s defense minister General Chang Wanquan made an “unheralded stop” in Canada last week. According to the article, a deal was signed between the countries “to promote high-level military exchanges” between the two countries’ defense ministries. A spokesperson for Canadian defense minister Rob Nicholson confirmed that a non-binding arrangement was reached, formalizing processes already in place. According to the article, defense expert Rob Huebert was puzzled that the meeting was kept under the radar by the Canadian government.

During Harper’s visit to the Raglan nickel mine in Nunavik on August 23, Chinese journalist Li Xue Jiang (who wanted to ask a question about Canada’s foreign investment relations) was apparently held back by RCMP security staff (NN), marking what Michael Den Tandt considered the only real incident in an Arctic tour which otherwise “went off without a hitch.” Den Tandt’s article in The National Post provides a candid account (he admits the members of Harper’s staff are “shockingly, human beings” but “could be doing so much better”) of the workings behind Harper’s Arctic tour.

United States

Shifting south from Ottawa to Washington, speculation increases about President Obama’s priorities for his trip to Sweden next week en route to the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg. The trip, which will be the first bilateral visit to Sweden by a sitting U.S. president, marks “an opportunity to demonstrate America’s commitment to transatlantic relations,” according to an article from the Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey. Reuters’ Alistair Scrutton cited free trade, the Arctic, and Russia as likely topics at the top of “Obama’s Nordic agenda” (Reuters).  At the domestic level, the U.S. Arctic Research Commission met with local residents in Unalaska this week where discussion focused on community concerns over continued funding for fisheries research in the Bering Sea (KUCB). You can find the draft agenda for the meeting online via the USARC website.


On August 23, the Finnish government issued a revised Arctic strategy. PDF versions of the strategy are already available in Finnish and Swedish, and the Finnish foreign ministry has said it will publish English and North Sámi versions this fall. For now, English-speakers might want to read the press release on the strategy, titled “Finland to lead the way in sustainable development in the Arctic region.” Arctic-info (in Russian) also reported this week that Finnish president Sauli Niinistö will lead the Finnish delegation at the third International Arctic Forum in Yamal September 24-25 of this year .


Deputy Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister Denis Khramov told Russia’s Rossiya 24 that he expects that the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will review Russia’s application to extend its continental shelf boundary in the Sea of Okhotsk early next year, and that later next year Russia will submit its extended continental shelf application to the Commission ( Japan, as a concerned country, has already approved Russia’s proposed boundary in the Sea of Okhotsk (AIR, in Russian).

In Murmansk, a foundation stone ceremony took place for new Murmansk headquarters of the Federal Security Service, Russia’s principal security and intelligence agency (BO). The building, at a towering eight floors, will outstrip all other government facilities in Murmansk by at least three stories.


Before getting into country-specific news this week, check out this article from Nunatsiaq News about an air exercise over the Arctic involving U.S., Russian, and Canadian forces. The exercise simulated a hijacking on a commercial aircraft, with different iterations of the exercise having the plane take off in Alaska and Russia, respectively. For more on the exercise, see this photo gallery via Military Times.


Russia continues to invest in reinforcing and upgrading its Arctic capabilities and platforms across various sectors. MarineLink reports that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree ordering the allocation of money to build two new serial universal icebreakers between 2014 and 2020. Russia is also expected to commission three generic nuclear icebreakers by 2021. Similarly, AIR (in Russian) reports that the new rescue ship Kavdeykin has begun duty with the Baltic Basin Emergency Administration, based in Murmansk. Russia has also opened the first of ten expected SAR centers along the Northern Sea Route (BO). Money was allocated for the centers in 2010, and all ten are expected to be operational by 2015.

The Northern Fleet has also been busy: over 1000 soldiers have been taking part in major exercises in Pechenga on the Norwegian and Finnish border (BO). The exercises include combat battalions and over 150 pieces of military hardware, according to the Northern Fleet press department, and simulate combat against an enemy possessing weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, naval aviation units of the Northern Fleet have been carrying out tactical exercises on the Kola Peninsula covering everything from reconnaissance missions to simulated dogfights ( Two Tu-142s from the Northern Fleet have also carried out patrols in the Arctic, flying a route lasting over 12 hours. Russian naval aviators have been carrying out similar flights since January 2013 (

Russia has also been engaging in a round of direct mil-mil talks and visits with its Arctic neighbors, with a delegation from the Norwegian Armed Forces visiting Murmansk (AIR, in Russian), and a Russian delegation participating in the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable (AIR, in Russian), an annual General-officer level event that took place 27-29 August in Naantali, Finland.

Finally, from the less-glamorous depths of Russian naval history, Barents Observer reports that there remain no plans to raise K-159 – described as a “rust bucket of a nuclear submarine” – that sank near the Kola Peninsula in 2003 while under tow.


The Canadian Armed Forces have wrapped up the seventh iteration of their annual Operation Nanook, held this year from 2-23 August. This year, Operation Nanook involved over 1000 personnel and aimed to showcase the partnerships between CAF and federal, territorial, and municipal agencies (Digital Journal).

On the heels of the exercise, the Defense Science Advisory Board – an advisory group comprising academics, analysts, and industry representatives – has urged the Canadian Defense Department to adopt a number of “green” initiatives in their Arctic installations and operations. In particular, the advisory board argued that the CAF should look at fuel costs in the North, and aim to introduce more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles, as well as introduce more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly water purification and sewage treatment technologies in areas near military installations (Vancouver Sun). In other budget-related news, the Canadian Armed Forces report they have awarded Vector Aerospace Engine Services – Atlantic a contract to repair and overhaul engines on the CAF fleet of CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft.

Radio Canada reports that the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, Nunavut Emergency Measures Organization, and the Canadian Coast Guard were all involved in a recent operation to rescue a group of hunters who became stranded on in the region of the Fury and Hecla Strait in Nunavut after their boat encountered mechanical problems.

Finally, Maclean’s reports on some of the expenses associated with cleaning up old DEW Line radar sites in the Canadian Arctic from the Cold War. And, from the World Socialist Web Site comes a rather pessimistic op-ed examining what it deems to be Canada’s “exploitation and militarization” of the Arctic.

United States

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp recently visited Barrow along with Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich. Among the issues discussed were USCG Arctic Infrastructure, the increasing role of the USCG in the region, and expanding partnerships with local government and tribal officials (DoDLive). A recently published op-ed on DefenseOne calls for an expanded NATO presence in the Arctic. Finally, while much of what we read about UAVs (drones) in the news focuses on their potential lethality, LiveScience has a great article about some of their less-threatening and more practical uses, with an eye towards the role they could play in the Arctic.


Radio Canada reports that while Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has praised the practical ramifications of Finland’s cooperation with NATO, he has also warned that Finland cannot expect a “free ride” when it came to its national security, and must instead continue to invest in its own capabilities.

Norway is planning to add a new Coast Guard icebreaker to its fleet, which will be the most expensive vessel ever ordered by Norway. The new ship will replace the 30-year-old KV Andenes (BO).



There was drama on the high seas this week as Greenpeace’s vessel Arctic Sunrise attempted to enter the Kara Sea to protest oil and gas exploration there by Rosneft and ExxonMobil.  Russian authorities denied the ship access to the region, citing incomplete information on the vessel’s icebreaking capabilities (Rigzone), though the Arctic Sunrise entered the Kara Sea anyway on 24 August (Global Post).  After briefly launching inflatable boats with banners protesting Arctic drilling near the Rosneft-contracted vessel Geolog Dmitry Nalivkin, the Russian Coast Guard boarded the Arctic Sunrise to conduct an inspection (Maritime Executive).  According to Greenpeace, the Coast Guard then threatened to forcefully expel the Arctic Sunrise from the area, at which point Greenpeace decided to depart to avoid a confrontation (Offshore Energy).  Dutch officials (the Arctic Sunrise is registered in the Netherlands) summoned the Russian counsellor and demanded that Russia explain why the ship was boarded and threatened (CityNews).  Nunatsiaq News and the Environmental News Service provided excellent coverage of the whole affair including details on Rosneft leases that, according to Greenpeace, fall within protected national parks and nature reserves.  Satellite data services company Exact Earth produced an excellent map tracking the movements of the Arctic Sunrise and the Geolog Dmitry Nalivkin over the last thirty days.

Greenpeace was  quite active elsewhere this week, as well.  Activists planted remote controlled banners in front of the winner’s podium at the Shell-sponsored Belgian Grand Prix to protest the company’s continued activities in the Arctic.  See this hilarious video at the Guardian showing Greenpeace’s banners slowly emerging as Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel mounts the podium.  Greenpeace activists also scaled an oil silo at a Shell refinery in Denmark to post “Save the Arctic” banners (EOTA). 

My gratitude this week goes out to Annika E. Nilsson and Nadezhda Filimonova of the Stockholm Environment Institute for their fantastic working paper, Russian Interests in Oil and Gas Resources in the Barents Sea.  While the title is a bit plain, the paper brings a unique perspective to the issue as the authors explore the network of actors inside and outside Russia that play a role in the Barents region’s development agenda and how that agenda fits into Russia’s larger interests in the Arctic.  Your time reading this report will be well spent!

There was some interesting, if opaque, jostling going on this week between Gazprom and Rosneft over control of oil and gas licenses in the Barents Sea.  Rosneft apparently withdrew applications for eight licenses which will now be managed by Gazprom (BO).  The explanation from Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy: “They were having a dispute with Gazprom.  Gazprom is dealing with this now.”  Clear as mud!  The fact that Rosneft has fallen into disfavor with the Ministry after it choose to partner with (GASP!) American super major ExxonMobil may also have something to do with the dispute (Forbes, in Russian).  Gazprom, meanwhile, is implementing a cooperative agreement with the Krylovskogo State Research Center to develop technologies for working on the Arctic shelf (AIR, in Russian).

Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Igor Fyodorov addressed a conference on Arctic emergency preparedness and had some strong words on oil spill response capabilities (BO).  While bullish on large-scale development in Nenets, Fyodorov cautioned against the risks of inadequate search and rescue and oil spill response capabilities.  An overview of the governor’s remarks can be found here.
Initial oil production has begun at the Trebs and Titov fields in Nenets Timan-Pechora oil province (Press Release).  The onshore project is a joint venture between Lukoil and Bashneft.

Yegor Borisov, President of the Republic of Yakutia, personally checked in on the progress of upgrades to a new heating system for the town of Tiksi after 34 houses were left without heat last February after an accident at an old boiler (AIR, in Russian).  Not a happy prospect in Siberia in February!

Two so-called radioactive thermal generators (RTGs) used in lighthouses have gone missing on the Taimyr Peninsula. While one of them could be located, the other RTG is presumed to have been washed out to the sea. In this case, a recent program to collect and secure the potential lethal radioactive sources at lighthouses across the region came too late (BO).


The Alaska Daily News reported on the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to allow a “major energy company” to employ Unmanned Aircraft Systems (read: drones) in commercial operations off the Alaska coast in international waters.  ConocoPhillips, the energy company in question, is a bit coy regarding its intended usage of the drones and hasn’t discussed how they’ll be employed.  Jeremy Hsu provides some good background (as well as a somewhat alarmist title) on drone use in Alaska in an article for Live Science.

New state tax incentives have spurred some new drilling in Cook Inlet that has revived production at legacy wells and led to a surprising jump in oil production there (EOTA).

The Energy Department announced a new deputy assistant secretary for oil and natural gas, Paula Gant.  Gant comes most recently from the American Gas Association where she worked on regulatory issues (FuelFix).  Meanwhile Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Alaska this week, including stops in King Cove and Cold Bay (KDLG), a tour of the North Slope with Alaska Senator Mark Begich and an overnight in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (AD).  Begich supports oil and gas development in ANWR, while Jewell has maintained the Obama administration’s rejection of any new exploration there. Francis Beinecke lays out her case against oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea on her blog at the National Resources Defense Council, citing the impact that development and potential spills could have on traditional subsistence patterns in the region.

While we’ve all read plenty on Shell’s exploration campaign in Arctic Alaska, Michael Burger provides a fresh perspective on the topic in a chapter for the forthcoming book, Environmental Law and Contrasting Ideas of Nature: A Constructivist Appproach (Keith Hirokawa ed., Cambridge University Press).  The chapter, made available by the author on the Social Science Research Network, explores how the legal struggle over Shell’s Arctic program is underlain and shaped by the ingrained and contrasting tropes about the Arctic that are held by actors on various sides of the debate.  Well worth the read!


Alberta’s oil sands industry is heating up again, recovering to levels not seen since a sharp downturn in 2008.  Though many are concerned about inflation and another bubble, it seems many operators have learned from the lessons of 2008 and are expanding cautiously and keeping costs reigned in (FP).  Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver encouraged Canada’s oil and gas industry to look beyond traditional, go-to customer the U.S. and work on expanding export markets in Asia (Mining Weekly). 

Jeff Lewis throws some cold water on idea that Canada’s Arctic oil will be exploited anytime soon (Vancouver Sun).  The logistical challenges the region presents and the fact that other promising prospects such as shale oil are competing for the attention and investment of major oil companies means that fields in the Beaufort Sea may not be tapped for decades.


Norway has opened up the eastern Barents Sea, once off limits due to a boundary dispute with Russia, to oil exploration.  The petroleum directorate invited companies to nominate exploration blocks in the region, though the NPD admitted that some deposits in the region may run under the border, setting up a complicated dilemma with neighboring Russia (Reuters).


Climate and wildfire

The debate on the ice melt continues. Steven Goddard argues against the narrative of the rapid melting of Arctic ice. According to him, “Arctic ice area loss has been the second slowest on record” since July 23 (Real Science) and the Arctic ice has seen a “73% Increase” since last year (Real Science). On the other hand, Sam Carana points to the recent dramatic decline of Arctic sea ice (Arctic News). To get an idea of current sea ice cover, visit NSIDC’s daily updated sea ice data and its analysis for the beginning of August, when sea ice extent was well below average levels (NSIDC). Despite a continued decline in Arctic ice cover and the fact that the 10 lowest extents were recorded in the last 10 years, this year’s minimum, which will be reached in mid-September, will unlikely break a record. If you like visuals, you can also watch the sea ice melting in NASA’s animation of Arctic sea ice between May and August (NASA).

Greenland’s ice in particular has been in the focus in the news this week. Despite a more “average” melting this year compared with last year, 2013 might set an all-time record for high temperatures in Greenland (NSIDC). Research from Aarhus University predicts the “greening” of Greenland, with forests possibly thriving in some parts of the vast territory by 2100. This would considerably change the ecosystem and endanger Arctic animals and plants. The reverse side of the coin might be advantages to Greenlanders in terms of forestry, agriculture and tourism (DM). An article in the Guardian takes a look at new instrumentation which is being used to more accurately measure ice melt on Greenland’s ice sheet.  Named IcePod, the new instrumentation is a suite of airborne radar and imaging systems combining 5 instrument sets that will help researchers “find out how melting happens and detect early signs of instability in the ice”. Compared with other “traditional” surveys, IcePod provides greater detail and covers more ground. Radar data gathered from 2009 to 2012 by NASA during the airborne science mission Operation IceBridge (SD) led to the discovery of one of the world’s biggest canyons, 800km (500 miles) long and up to 800m (2,600 ft) deep, lying roughly 3km (2 miles) underneath Greenland’s ice sheet (BBC). Research on the canyon will hopefully shed light on the processes through which meltwater affects ice shelves and glaciers (

Ned Rozell, science writer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute, explores the effects of ice melt on Arctic fauna and flora (AD). Ocean-floor diversity is at stake as increased amounts of sunlight reach the ocean floor and favor the growth of algal beds, which might replace invertebrate-dominated communities adapted to dark conditions ( The warming conditions also favor the growth of ice algae and phytoplankton, which generate dimethylsulphide - a “climate-relevant trace gas” – which, if it escapes the melting ice, could actually lead to a cooling of the Arctic climate. (Nature).

Carbon stored in Arctic tundra permafrost is not as rapidly released by thawing previously as predicted, research under the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research Project (LTER) found. Instead it has remained in the soil, where some of it is sequestered by new vegetation growth. If you are interested in permafrost and carbon storage, read the entire article, in which Seeta Sistla, lead author of the study, gives a good overview of the project and the results (SciencePoles). An article by Feng et al. on the differential mobilization of terrestrial carbon pools concludes that “although partly masked by surface carbon export, climate change-induced mobilization of old permafrost carbon is well underway in the Arctic” (read the abstract on PNAS).


In Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT), the bison population is estimated to be less than half of the population of a year ago, leaving only 714 bison in the survey area in Fort Providence. The cause might be last summer’s anthrax outbreak. However, the smaller number of bison means they have higher chances of survival (EOTA). Also the muskox in NWT appear to be suffering from bacterial infections that have killed several of them (AD).Also attributed to the outbreak of a yet unidentified disease, scores of ringed seals have died off Alaska’s Arctic Coast (AD, WARNING: includes heart-wrenching pictures of sick seals).

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) started its High Arctic Cetacean Survey on August 1. Using three Twin Otters outfitted with cameras to survey cetaceans in Nunavut’s Arctic archipelago, the flyovers will last until August 26. After assessing the huge number of photographs taken, first results of the survey will be released in March 2014 (NN).

Tim Sandle uncovers the secret behind the survival of the small fish “bald notothen” (Pagothenia borchgrevinki) in temperatures of around -3°C (26.6°F) in the icy waters off Antarctica. 58 elements of the fish’s genes, amongst others genes that encode antifreeze glycoproteins, are crucial to its survival in the cold water. These findings might serve as a reference when studying other creatures well-adapted to icy waters (DJ).

Matthew Dyer survived  a polar bear attack in late July when he traveled unarmed through Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador. Like the Svalbard incident in 2011, where a boy on a school excursion was killed when the warning tripwire system failed (Guardian), the electric fence Dyer used didn’t succeed in keeping away the bear this time. In an email, Dyer wrote that he had been aware of the risks of traveling without an armed Inuit guide – the only ones allowed to carry guns in the park - and that his “desire to travel to wild areas like the Torngats will always be outweighed by the rights of the animals in that park to exist.” Impressive insight after nearly losing his life in the “gamble” (ADN).

Further east, a WWF-led team on the “Laptev Linkages expedition” is trying to solve the puzzle of the Laptev walruses, colloquially known as those “big smelly creatures”. Do they constitute a separate subspecies? After getting face to face with the animals (WWF), the DNA samples collected on the trip are now being analyzed in Moscow and results are expected next year (WWF). Another blog post from the same expedition explores oil companies’ activities in the area (WWF).The BBC also reported on the undertaking and provides more detail on the Taimyr Peninsula and its walrus and polar bear populations (BBC).

Expeditions, initiatives and blogs

The increasingly popular narwhals (listen to the song on YouTube if you haven’t done so yet) also hit the news this week. Some photographers even went so far as swimming with them the get the scoop for Disney (CBC). A Vancouver Aquarium expedition to conduct research on narwhals in Canada’s Arctic spotted their first narwhals this year, after reaching their base camp two days earlier (VS). We also learned that local narwhals behave differently than those new to the area, which prefer to stay away from the not-so-well-known shores (Aquablog). Another fascinating blog entry from Isabelle Groc – although from June – describes the scientific hands-on work that starts as soon as a narwhal is finally caught in the net. Then the process of measuring and tagging begins - a race against time (Straight).

In his humorous research blog, Euan Nisbet of the Royal Holloway University of London reflects on the psychological effects of gathering air samples every two hours – day and night. In northern Finland, the Ghost Reindeer “Sammi” that he and his team befriend is quickly compared to methane: “It pops up unexpectedly in all sorts of places.” However, the biggest sources of methane are not cows or ghost reindeers, but rather wetlands and swamps. Enjoy the pictures of the ghost-white reindeer and some methane bubbles (ARP). Part of the same NERC-funded Methane in the Arctic Measurements and Modelling (MAMM) project, Dave Lowry and Nathalie Grassineau did their sampling in northern Norway and Sweden (ARP). From there they also witnessed the first Arctic Methane science flight of the MAMM project (Yahoo).

In Svalbard, Kt Miller emphasizes the “power of one” when pointing to the spontaneous effort of the small team to pick up some of the vast amount of garbage washed ashore (PBI). In the same vein, Ned Rozell highlights meaningful expeditions carried out by very small teams. One project to monitor permafrost was realized in late April by Kenji Yoshikawa and Ulli Neumann, who dug a dozen boreholes along their 3,500 miles (5,600km) snowmachine trip from Prudhoe Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. In 13 villages along the way they visited students who will help them to monitor the temperatures throughout the year. Rozell compares their trip with a four-man attempt to row the entire length of the Northwest Passage from west to east. Besides making the adventurers happy, their expedition also highlights the warming in the North (



This week, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and potential implications on global shipping dominated the business news. Russia is at the forefront of efforts to make the NSR more accessible. The increased number of ships using the route this year bears witness to the success of the Russian strategy. This certainly benefits Russia, whose Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA) grants shipping permits and controls infrastructure development ( Besides, the newly established Marine Board of the Russian government is dedicated to improving the legislative framework for international cooperation and to protecting Russian interests in international negotiations on maritime activities, including in the Arctic and Antarctic (AIR, in Russian). Nevertheless, search and rescue capacities, shipping repair facilities, precise meteorological information, and preparedness for cleanup in the case of an oil spill are still questionable (

Michael Byers, professor at the University of British Columbia, compares the Arctic countries’ efforts when it comes to navigation through the opening Arctic Ocean. Russia has seized the opportunity and already cashes in from heavy investment in infrastructure and the provision of services to shipping companies, such as assistance from Russian icebreakers to cargo vessels. By contrast, Canada and the U.S. might “miss the boat”. Canada so far lacks adequate infrastructure investments in the North. In addition, the uncertainty stemming from the unresolved question between the U.S and Canada over the jurisdiction of the Northwest Passage also inhibits the development of the American northern shipping routes (Aljazeera).

The Polar Code currently developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is expected to be ready next year. It should cover general provisions for navigation, as well as environmental protection. The mandatory Code could be adopted by 2015 and would counteract some of the uncertainties in the Arctic region (AIR). In preparation, Secretary-General of the IMO, Koji Sekimitsu, made a study tour on the Russian icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, accompanied by Russian Deputy Transport Minister Viktor Olersky and head of Atomflot Vyacheslav Ruksha (AIR, in Russian). Defense contractor Raytheon contributes its share to making the NSR more accessible. It has developed a system that merges data from various different sources, allowing conventional non-reinforced vessels to navigate more safely in Arctic waters by improving information and situational awareness, especially regarding icebergs and other ice hazards. The Raytheon Arctic Monitoring and Prediction (RAMP) system has already been successfully tested by the U.S Navy (CNN).

Some countries have already started using the NSR and 421 ships have been granted permits this year. The first Chinese cargo vessel to use the NSR, Yong Sheng of the Chinese state-owned company Cosco Group, began its journey on August 8 and will make its way to Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Mia Bennett analyzes the hype around the story, recalling that cargo vessels from Korea or and Japan have already used the NSR without arousing nearly as much excitement from the media (AD). For more articles on the Yong Sheng and the potential advantages in using the NSR, see for example these articles in UPI and Pathfinderbuzz. A total of 71 applications to traverse the NSR have been refused on technical grounds. Among them were the three applications submitted by the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise (IDSA). The NGO subsequently decided to ignore the ban and entered the Kara Sea. Interesting detail: Rosneft offered Greenpeace a television set so that the NGO could get access to “objective information”. Needless to say, the well-intentioned gift was refused (RIAN).

General business and economic news

An article in the Journal “Strategy + Business” looks at the complexities involved in the growing business opportunities in the Arctic. Despite continuous development and improvements, five key challenges remain: protection of the environment and its people, infrastructure development, navigation of the dangerous Arctic waters, governance disagreements, and a lack of research (SB). This is in line with energy companies’ pace and hesitation when it comes to exploration in Arctic territories. Because of “logistical challenges and environmental risks” and changing regulation, uncertainties about the profitability of oil exploration in the region remain. In the long term, however, the Arctic will retain its appeal for oil companies (SP).



Josh Snodgrass, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon, recently conducted a review of 126 published research papers on health conditions among northern populations (University of Oregon). The review, which is available online via the Annual Review of Anthropology ahead of its November publication, suggests that indigenous populations in the North face growing health risks. It also indicated that Scandinavia’s Sámi population is the healthiest in the far North, especially vis-à-vis Russia’s indigenous northern peoples.

Eye on the Arctic reported that air pollution due largely to the use of studded car tires (which keep traction during inclement weather in the winter months) may mean that Sweden will have to pay fines to the EU for exceeding its air particles ceiling. Hoping to foster a different kind of disincentive, Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has moved from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Commerce, a move proposed as a more “collaborative” approach to combatting alcohol abuse (Alaska Dispatch).


Alaska’s Bethel Regional High School – once dubbed a “dropout factory” – received a visit from NBA star James Harden as part of the Future Forward Challenge (ADN). Beating close to 400 other schools in the country by encouraging the most students to compete “college preparatory tasks,” Bethel was rewarded with a visit by Harden, who acted as the school’s “celebrity principal” for the day. Elsewhere in Alaska young students also provided some surprises as  Tyrel and Eric Gusty (12 and 13 years old, respectively) were each awarded scholarships for helping to keep their tiny village school open (EOTA). In the Russian tundra, a campaign in Yamal is collecting students from nomadic and semi-nomadic populations so that they may attend boarding schools (AIR, in Russian).

The Youth Arctic Coalition, formerly the Youth Arctic Council, has published its second newsletter online, and Nunavut Arctic College is now offering an online training program for community radio operators across Nunavut.


Quite a mixed bag under the “society” heading this week: four men rowing the Northwest Passage cut their journey short (CBC); North Slope, Alaska is making child care a “top priority” (AD); and summer crime rates appear to be declining in Iqaluit (NN). In Nunavut, workers finished cleanup at the Cape Dyer DEW-Line site (EOTA) and an Igloolik resident found his boat washed ashore no worse for wear thirteen years after he lost it (CBC), while in Helsinki, public transit has become the most preferred mode of travel for the first time ever (AD).

There was also a larger-than-normal selection of hunting-related news this week. Parts of fifty caribou were found near Gameti in the Northwest Territories, resulting in a CAN 575 dollar fine for Tlicho elder Johnny Washie, reports CBC news. In the Nenets Autonomous Region, the Office of the Governor issued a statement on the implementation of a joint Russian-Chinese enterprise for the processing of reindeer products, for which there is a substantial market in China. The second Stockholm Archipelago Lecture, held this September, also concerns hunting. The talk will discuss hunting in Northwest Greenland and “the entanglement of nature and society” (Arctic Futures).


Three pieces to highlight in “Culture” this week: one, an entry in the blog “Arctic Anthropology” about fishing as a cultural practice in Yakutia; another, a paper from Pew Environment titled “Traditional Knowledge and the Arctic Environment”; and lastly, a blog entry with beautiful pictures from the director of the film project “The Polar Sea,” which chronicles an expedition through the Northwest Passage.

In culture-related news, Nunavut Languages Commissioner Sandra Inutiq used Stephen Harper’s visit North to push for proper funding for language protection and revitalization (NN), and next year Russia’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area will host a summer camp promoting exchange among youths from Arctic states (AIR, in Russian). Thirteen artists, sculptors and carvers also visited the scenic Taimyr tundra as part of a project organized by the Committee on the art of Central Finland (AIR, in Russian).



Artic Fibre has finished its tour of proposed landing spots for a fiber-optic cable that will connect some 52% of Nunavut’s population to high-speed broadband internet. The cable has to be approved by local regulators and the federal government, but Arctic Fibre hopes to have the cable operational in 2016 (CBC, CNS Magazine, and Nunatsiaq Online). For more on the proposed cable, check out this op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, which highlights some of the benefits a better-connected Nunavut would bring about for Canada.

Northrop Grumman’s Astro Aerospace unit will provide JIB antennas to help support the maritime identification capabilities of Canada’s three RADARSAT Constellation Mission Earth observation satellites, which are planned to launch in 2018. The RCM constellation will help Canada maintain Arctic sovereignty, conduct coastal surveillance, and monitor maritime shipping to ensure security and proper tracking (SatNews).

Canada’s Northwest Territories is requesting up to $600 million in federal infrastructure spending to improve roads, airports, bridges, and various other infrastructure. NWT is hoping to attract investment in natural resources extraction, but feels hamstrung by its relative lack of infrastructure; according to Henry Sykes, president of MGM Energy Corp, a project in the NWT can cost as much as 10 times as much as a comparable project in Alberta because of the NWT’s lack of infrastructure (Radio Canada).



Hundreds of protestors gathered in Jokkmokk in northern Sweden to protest new iron mines that many say will harm local reindeer populations and Sami herders (YLE, in Finnish).


An article and video from the Wall Street Journal looks at the geopolitics of mining development in Greenland as the island seeks to cultivate relations with China without alienating Denmark and western allies.


Representatives from the energy and mining industries met with representatives from the government of the Northwest Territories in Yellowknife this week, emphasizing the high costs associated with development in NWT due to the lack of both infrastructure and regulatory clarity (EOTA).  Three aboriginal groups in NWT are asking the federal government to deny approval to the proposed Gahcho Kué diamond mine due to insufficient environmental protections (AD). Recent core results from the nearby Kennady North project revealed a promising 70 meters of diamond-bearing kimberlite deposits on the site (North of 60).


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy added Bristol Bay and the site of the proposed Pebble Mine to her travel itinerary last week as the EPA is working to finalize the much-anticipated Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.  The assessment will judge the impacts of the proposed mine on Bristol Bay’s prodigious salmon runs (North of 60).


The recent collapse of commodity prices have caused problems for the mining industry across the world, and Russia is no exception.  Russian firms Mechel, Evraz, and Rusal embarked on spending sprees over the last decade, and now that commodity prices have tanked they are finding it hard to pay off their debts.  Courtney Weaver provides an excellent article and infographic for Financial Times exploring the topic.


Since it’s expedition season in the Arctic, there were tons of great images and videos to share. We’ll try to keep it limited to the standouts, like these two jam-packed photo galleries, one curated by Yahoo! Editorial called “Amazing Arctic Region” and another from photographer Lauren Farmer. Also more than worth a scroll-through is David Newland’s photo essay “10 Arctic Surprises.”

In the YouTube category is a beautifully animated TedEd lesson video by Michelle Snow illustrating the difference between Antarctica and the Arctic (just in case you need a refresher!). And if you fancy an Arctic skyline, just click on the color of your choice (purple from Ronny Årbekk, midnight blue or periwinkle from Clare Kines, orange from George Kourounis or eerie green from North Iceland) and be amazed!

Rounding up the image haul are pictures of an ice island by George Kourounis, of a “close encounter with a female polar bear” by Mark Robinson, and a conference photo from Klaus Dodds, all via twitter. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography also published a nice panoramic shot, and Expedition Trips uploaded an amusing photo of a dogsled crossing sign on instagram.


Extreme feats abound. London Evening Standard highlights the exploits of a London man who used paddle boards to lead an expedition to Greenland. His group traveled some 100km across the Sermilik Fjord on a five-day trip, braving temperatures as low as -5C. Meanwhile, a 59-year-old woman has completed the first Bering Strait relay swim from Russia to America – a 53-mile swim in water temperatures as cold as five degrees (ThisIsKent).

Parks Canada is shortening its summer operating hours across the country, which has caused particular consternation amongst the Klondike Visitors Association, which hopes to petition the government to allow Klondike National Historic Sites to remain open (Yukon News).

Finally, end your sporting news perusal by checking out this great photo gallery from a group backpacking around Baffin Island (


Interested in some Arctic inspired poetry with a nod to fish biology?  Well, here’s just the thing for you (Nash Turley).  Test your knowledge of the Arctic with this online geo-quiz provided by Canadian Geographic.  Here’s a beautiful little article in Destination Feed on several plants that thrive in the Arctic and their medicinal uses. Residents of Eagle, Alaska, are still puzzling about the origin of an underground fire which continues to burn within a nearby mountainside (EOTA). Apparently this is the time of year in Sweden when the elk (moose, for all of our North American readers) get their drink on (EOTA). A dusting of snow overnight on 27 August was an unpleasant surprise for residents of Iqaluit (NN).  Alaska franken-pumpkin grower J.D. Megchelsen will have to withdraw from this year’s competition to grow the state’s largest pumpkin after he discovered that the behemoth he was growing had a hole in it that would disqualify it from competition (ADN). Finally, enjoy this article on the intersection between 18th century scientific empiricism, Arctic exploration ,and Inuit shamanism (The Appendix).

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)