The Arctic This Week: 26 September - 2 October 2013

The Arctic This Week 2013:35
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The Arctic This Week team is taking a breather this week, but we’ve selected some of this week’s best and most interesting Arctic articles for your edification.  Enjoy, and we’ll be back next week with a full edition.

Beginning with the political scene, an article published by Andrew Roth in The New York Times adds an interesting perspective to the Arctic Sunrise story this week. Angered at the detention of two photojournalists “jailed for merely doing their job,” over a dozen Russian news outlets responded to the detention by blacking out all the images on their sites.

Andrew Holland, author of the American Security Project’s recent report on critical security challenges in the Arctic, wrote an op-ed for Alaska Dispatch on the United States’ failure to thrive in the Arctic. Chief among Holland’s concerns is acknowledging the nature and scope of climate change in the Arctic, without which the government is prevented from taking swift action, leaving “other countries to make crucial decisions for Americans.” Jumping briefly from political reads to a societal one, another good read this week on the wider impacts of climate change is the Guardian’s feature on “America’s first climate refugees.” The story, which includes videos, maps and a slideshow of images, details Newtok, Alaska’s “slow-moving disaster” brought on by coastal erosion. Although Newtok is south of Arctic territory, the story illustrates the changes taking place in the region.

Turning now to academic sources, Barry Scott Zellen has edited a new book, “The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warmer World,” which boasts “timely and urgent” analysis of the Arctic’s challenges, combines contributions from both scholars and military professionals. To download free PDF chapters of the book, visit The University of Calgary Press website. Also of notable interest this week is a briefing paper provided by the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs – “Arctic Conflict Potential: towards an extra-Arctic perspective.”

In energy reads this week, spend some time with a new report calling for Arctic standards for oil spill prevention, response and safety released last week by the Pew Charitable Trusts.  The report is exhaustive and lengthy, but don’t be intimidated.  The core of the report occupies pages 1-42.  First, read the overview on pages 1-5 to understand the principles the guided the report’s authors, then see the oil spill recommendations summary, which occupies page 12.  From there, you can navigate to specific topics of interest.  More technical information regarding specific recommendations can found in the appendices. Next, see two articles, one from the CBC and the other in the Globe and Mail, detailing a recent proposal by Imperial Oil, Exxon Mobil and BP to drill at extreme depths in the Beaufort Sea off Canada’s Northwest Territories.  Territorial politicians express support for the idea, but the technical challenges to drilling in waters over 1500 meters deep in Arctic conditions are substantial, and regulatory approval could take years.

To catch up on scientific developments in the Arctic, begin with a CBC article detailing a new observatory anchored just off the coast of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, that broadcasts pictures and data on the conditions of the Arctic Ocean on the internet, allowing scientists worldwide to monitor the situation in the field from their home labs and use the information for teaching (CBC).  Next, see this article on the Global Seed Vault near Longyearbyen in Svalbard, a giant freezer established in 2008 with the capacity to conserve 4.5 million seed samples as a genetic safety deposit box. It stores a collection of seeds duplicated from gene banks worldwide in order to protect the genetic diversity of the world’s crops, which is at risk due to the diminishing genetic variety of commercially cultivated crops (Slate).

To see the Seed Vault with your own eyes could be one of the many reasons to apply for the spring semester at The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). The application deadline is on October 15 (UNIS).

In security news, Russia’s re-establishment of a permanent military presence in the Arctic has prompted numerous analyses; two stand out this week. First, the Valdai Discussion Club has a useful summary of what Russia’s capabilities – at least the publicly known ones – are in the region, and where and how Russia is trying to upgrade them. Similarly, Dr. Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council examines the rationale behind and implications of Russia’s latest move (

Conversely, the Russian International Affairs Council has put out an interesting analysis of NATO’s current and future role in the Arctic, and finds cause for cautious optimism regarding the potential for future cooperation in the Arctic in the realm of collective security.

Last but not least, for those who have been following the story, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has stated that she believes the U.S. Air Force may be reconsidering plans to relocate the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson AFB to JBER in the face of continued opposition to the move (FNM).

In business and economic news, The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, a new initiative by seven countries including Norway and Sweden, will analyze the economic costs and benefits of acting against climate change. The aim is to highlight how fighting climate change can lead to economic growth and reduce poverty. The results will be released in September 2014 (EOTA). Moving on to fisheries, the Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystems Research Project focuses on the survival rates of different species of fish and assesses factors that might influence fish survival, in order to improve the management of Alaska’s fish stocks (FNM).

In mining news, it’s a pleasure to recommend this poignant piece on the sad fate of many of Canada’s small mining towns in Up Here Magazine.  Now known mostly as public health hazards, the story follows several former residents as they revisit these deserted towns and remember happier times.  On the political front, see this article in the Arctic Journal on investors threatening to abandon mining developments in Greenland unless the government lifts the current ban on uranium mining, and another article from the Barents Observer on the escalating conflict between Sami reindeer herders and mining interests over a proposed mine in northern Sweden. 

In infrastructure news, an article in the National Post examines Canada’s rather dismal internet service, which was ranked 25th out of 30 countries examined in price and 20th in speed by a recent survey. A major problem highlighted is the lack of competition within the market for control of the actual lines connecting networks and individual customers.

Finally, take some time to celebrate the achievement of a brother-sister team – and their respective partners – that completed a 65-day journey from Qikiqtarjuaq to Cape Dorset in Nunavut. The team skied, paddled home-made sea kayaks, and portaged over 1,000 km across Baffin Island along traditional Inuit routes (EOTA).