The Arctic This Week: 31 October - 7 November

Photo by Doris Friedrich
The Arctic This Week 2013:40

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Turning a page in the calendar startles us with yet another reminder of how fast time is flying past. This week, the TATW team is taking a breather. We’ve selected the week’s most interesting and essential Arctic articles for a “Reads of the Week” edition, and we will be back in two weeks with a full edition!

The Political Scene

The blog iPolitics hosted an online tête-à-tête between Watershed Moments author Sarah Boon and Canada’s Minister of the Environment Leona Aglukkaq. In response to Boon’s piece “An ‘abundance’ of bears: Aglukkaq cold-shoulders the science,” the minister posted an open letter on iPolitics filed under the headline “Media attempts to ‘discredit Inuit voices’: Aglukkaq.” Ms. Boon then responded to the letter on her blog. The three-part exchange is an interesting read that illustrates how the minister may have to keep backpedaling if she is to overcome the recent controversy (NN) surrounding her allegedly skeptical attitude towards climate change.

At the recent meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the chairmanship of the group shifted from Norway to Finland and the Barents ministers adopted a joint communiqué. For a summary of Finland’s plans for the chairmanship (which Thomas Nilsen says include granting NGOs a larger role in Barents cooperation) and a slideshow of photos from the meeting, see Barents Observer.


Shell dispelled doubts about its intentions in Alaska by announcing that the company  will be returning to the Chukchi Sea to continue with its exploration in 2014. The Kulluk, the damaged conical drill rig that infamously ran aground in late 2012, will be likely written off (Telegraph) and replaced by Transocean’s Polar Pioneer. Jennifer Dlouhy provides good coverage of Shell’s emerging but vague plans for 2014 in this article for FuelFix. Another good read on the topic comes from Yereth Rosen. Writing for the Alaska Dispatch, Rosen looks at the numerous logistical, regulatory and legal issues that still stand between Shell and a 2014 drilling season in the Chukchi Sea.

Science, Environment and Wildlife

In the science news this week, a research team from the University College of London and the University of Tromsø demonstrated how well certain animals are adapted to life in the North. The eye color of caribou changes to better adapt to the darkness of northern winters, and when they are exposed to days in complete darkness, their eyes become 1,000 times more sensitive to light. Due to the pressure on the pupils, caribou's eye color changes from gold to blue (CBC). For more details, see Olivia Solon’s article on Wired.

A polar bear attack in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, resulted in two injured personnel. The male polar bear could only be chased away after several cracker shells. The bear was later tracked by natural resource officers and then shot. Unfortunately, a female polar bear was also killed in the hunt. Her cub was discovered later (NN).

During a trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2006, George Schaller, a leading biologist, emphasized the importance and greatness of the park and the "timelessness of the landscape," as he could recognize some of the features that he had discovered on a trip 50 years earlier (NM).

Military / Search & Rescue

The Artic Journal has a concise summary of some of the recent developments – and fears – in the military sphere in the Arctic, with a particular focus on Russia and Canada. In SAR news, the United States and Canada have conducted a joint SAR exercise (OC and The United States has also wrapped up Arctic Shield 2013 (USCG).


Two worthwhile pieces look at the implications of the vote by Greenland’s parliament to lift the territory’s decades-old ban on uranium mining. First, see this article by Anna-Katarina Gravgaard for Foreign Affairs. Gravgaard paints a clear picture of the conflicting opinions in Greenland regarding the vote and the dangers – environmental, economic, and geopolitical – of engaging in the trade of uranium and rare earth minerals.  Second, read this article by Mia Bennett for Foreign Policy that dissects the common media depiction of Greenland as an unspoiled wilderness as “ecological imperialism.” Though Bennett’s rhetoric on this topic may be a bit inflated, her point is well-taken: decisions taken by Greenlanders will not necessarily match the impressions of environmental purity held by those living half a world away.

Fisheries, Shipping and Other Business News

Yngve Bergheim from Ramsalt Lab and Morten Brugård with the Norwegian Barents Secretariat have the ambitious goal of establishing cross-border IT clusters in the Barents region, connecting Norway and Russia (BO).

In light of Iceland’s cancellation of the EU accession talks, the foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said that the country would focus its foreign policy on the Arctic and aim to become a business hub in the region. Besides deeper cooperation within the Arctic Council, Iceland is considering opening a shipping port at Finnafjörður on its northeastern coast (BB).


Check out this video chronicling the ongoing journey of the Olympic torch as it arrives in Murmansk (RIAN).

Grab Bag

See this article from that provides some details on a call for volunteers by the Mars Society for six hearty souls to spend twelve months at the society’s Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic to simulate conditions on a Mars mission. Think you have the right stuff? Submit your application here by 30 November!