The Arctic This Week: 9 December - 16 December

Courtesy of Greenland_com on Flickr
The Arctic This Week 2013: 45

Happy holidays to all of our readers!  This will be the last TATW for 2013.  TATW staff will be taking a hard-earned break over the holidays so that we can fit in some more time with family and friends, a few extra glasses of eggnog and a couple longer days at the ski hill. Travel safely, enjoy the holiday season, and we will see you in the New Year!

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For a good summary and insight into recent developments in the region – in particular Canada’s announcement that it will claim the North Pole and Russia’s subsequent response – check out this interview with Michael Byers, the author of Who Owns the Arctic and Canada research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia (DW).

In energy reads, see Opportunities and Challenges for Arctic Oil and Gas Development, a policy report from the Eurasia Institute of the Wilson Center.  The report takes a regional  perspective, exploring the challenges to Arctic energy development and the importance of international bodies such as the Arctic Council in developing best practices and exploring regulatory normalization across the Arctic.

The update of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card for 2013, tracking recent environmental changes, was published this week. Highlights from the report are: particularly low summer surface air temperatures across the central Arctic Ocean, a minimum sea ice extent in September 2013 that exceeded the record low of 2012, a new record low snow extent in May 2013, and the continuing greening of the Arctic (NOAA).

With the weather playing its part providing snow and a festive atmosphere, the tourist season in northern Finland is in full swing. In Lapland, which prides itself on being the homeland of Santa, tourists can book sledge rides with “Rudolph”. With Santa and his reindeers being so busy entertaining tourists to boost the Finnish economy, not even Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen can get an appointment before next summer (BO).

CNN looks at a joint U.S.-Icelandic venture to develop air freight services across the Arctic using airships. U.S.based Aeros is developing a cargo airship capable of vertical takeoff and landing without a runway or ground crew, and aims to team with Icelandair Cargo to use the airships to deliver freight to Arctic regions with poor infrastructure.

In mining news, see this article in the Canadian Mining Journal that describes operations at two of Canada’s most successful and remote mines, Quebec’s Raglan Mine and the Éléonore mine in Nunavik.

Finally, check out these amazing photographs of two ice climbers tackling technicolored icefalls on Eidfjord in northern Norway (Time).


The Arctic Institute’s staff were kept busy this week fielding media requests on the question of territorial claims in the Arctic. TAI Executive Director Malte Humpert was interviewed on CNN and TAI Fellow Mihaela David spoke on Al Jazeera, both regarding Canada’s UNCLOS submission and claims to the North Pole. David was also quoted in a Wall Street Journal article on Canada’s territorial claims. The CBC quoted TAI European Director Kathrin Keil’s essay “The Questionable Arctic Bonanza” in an insightful article on why the race for the Arctic’s resources may be a fool’s mission.  Malte Humpert’s recent research report, “The Future of Arctic Shipping: A New Silk Road for China,” was referenced in an article on conflict in the Arctic on N-TV (in German). Finally, Irene Quaile covered Humans in the Arctic seminar that TAI co-hosted with North Norway European Office on 26 November in a post on Ice-Blog for Deutsche Welle (also carried by the Alaska Dispatch).


Canadian claim sparks frenzied talk of a “very cold war”

Last Monday, the Canadian government announced (Gov’t of Canada) it had filed a submission (United Nations) with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental shelf to define the outer limit of Canada’s maritime jurisdiction. In what has been seen as an “audacious” move by some (WSJ, The Daily Mail), foreign affairs minister John Baird said that the government has asked scientists to work on a future submission that includes the North Pole (The Guardian, The Toronto Star, CTV, Winnipeg Free Press, NN). Naturally, a flurry of hyperbolic headlines followed. We hate to name and shame, but suggesting an escalating “cold war,” a “looming battle over Arctic resources,” and even that the Arctic could become the new Middle East really take the cake. Other stories set up a link between Canada’s claim to the North Pole and the “rush” for Arctic oil and gas reserves (Think Progress, Reuters, The Times, Circa), which is also problematic because the area surrounding the North Pole is believed to contain little oil, gas or minerals. Bruce Cheadle’s headline – “Canada makes territorial claim for the North Pole, even without a map” – sums it up best (The Calgary Herald). For some more tempered analysis, see “Is Santa Canadian?” (The Economist), “Canada and the Arctic: An Ambiguous Relationship” (TAI), “Stephen Harper and the North Pole – Still embarrassing Canadians in Arctic policy” (EOTA), “Who Owns The North Pole?” (International Institute for Strategic Studies), and “Why Canada’s race to claim the North Pole could backfire” (The Toronto Star).

Putin adds Canada to the North American threat, vows to increase Arctic presence

Ottawa must have known that its claim-in-waiting would not fall upon deaf ears in Moscow. Earlier this month, President Putin cited U.S. naval capabilities in the Arctic and called for increased Russian presence in the region (Atlantic Council). The day after John Baird announced that Canada wants to claim the North Pole, Putin publicly announced an expansion of Russia’s Arctic military capabilities (The Calgary Herald, BBC). While this sequence of events may seem like adding fuel to the fire for the “cold war” camp, Arctic expert Joël Plouffe told The Toronto Sun to chalk it up to coincidence, and researcher John Drennan maintained that “the aspiration to revive a Russian military presence in the Arctic region is not new” (International Institute for Strategic Studies). Coincidence or not, Russian polar explorer Artur Chilingarov was firm on the North Pole issue, stating “we will not give the North Pole to anyone” and called Canada’s proposed claim “nothing but an ambition” (Interfax).

A wide variety of editorials were featured this week in response to the perceived tensions between Russia and Canada. Irene Quaile (Alaska Dispatch via Ice-Blog), Fred Weir (CSM), John Blau (Deutsche Welle), David Ljunggren (NBC World News via Reuters), and Al Jazeera’s “Stream Team” were among those who weighed in.

Asian countries put their money where their mouth is

India, South Korea, and China are boosting their presence and investment in the Arctic. Commentators and observers analyzed Asia’s Arctic ambitions long before the three countries were approved as Arctic Council observers back in May, but the three countries have recently turned words into action. On December 10, South Korea’s government approved a plan intended to boost the South Korean presence in the Arctic, including eight projects that focus on environmental preservation (Yonhap News, AIR). The same day, the China Nordic Arctic Research Center opened in Shanghai (The BRICS Post). The new center partners Nordic Member institutions (the Fritjof Nansen Institute, the Norwegian Polar Institute, Rovaniemi’s Arctic Center, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, the Icelandic Center for Research and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Denmark) with Chinese ones (BO, AJ). India, too, is moving forward with its Arctic engagement, even if it has been moving “cautiously and quietly” with its long-term investment plans (Global Risk Insights).

In related news, a new paper from The Center for International Governance Innovation examines Canadian perceptions of East Asia’s Arctic interests.

United States
On Thursday, Alaska’s governor Sean Parnell unveiled a USD 12.4 billion state budget for 2015 (FNM). Mr. Parnell said, “we are at a time when we need to tighten our belts,” proposing a USD 1.1 billion dip into the state’s savings to balance the budget (AD) and promising Interior Republicans his plan would reduce the state’s annual payments into the retirement system (FNM).

Barents Observer reported that President Putin has drafted a bill that could free the “Arctic 30.” The bill, which proposes to grant amnesty to the Greenpeace activists and some other jailed protestors, is timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Russian constitution. Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo this week urged Russia to release the activists and photojournalists, who have been instructed not to leave Russia (Equal Times, The Guardian, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation).

Earlier this month, Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko traveled to Oslo, Norway to meet with Stortinget president Olemic Thommessen (BO). One of the topics discussed was expanding the visa-free border-crossing zone, which may soon cover all of Murmansk and Finnmark, according to a Russian Federation Council member, Igor Chernyshenko (BO).

Igor Ossipov wrote a blog post for the Russian International Affairs Council on the conference “The Arctic: Region of Development and Cooperation” titled “The Arctic Frontier – Armed with Cooperation.”

Nunavut held municipal elections last Monday. The elections ushered in what CBC News called “a new generation of young blood.” Seven communities in the Baffin region chose new mayors (CBC, NN), and David Kuksuk became the new community director of the Kivalliq Inuit Association after a tie-breaker (CBC). The youngest of the newly elected group include an eighteen-year-old hamlet coordinator, a twenty-nine-year-old mayor, and a thirty-year-old MLA, the youngest one in Nunavut’s history (CBC).


Nick Butler makes the case for industry leading the way in protecting the Arctic by establishing a set of industry standards for oil and gas in the Arctic (FT). A piece by Avinash Venkata Adavikolanu on ScienceNordic asks whether India should invest in Arctic oil, but concludes that India should instead focus investment and research on renewables.

Study labels Arctic oil “un-burnable”

A paper by Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins in Energy Policy examines the amount of oil the world can use while still transitioning to a low-carbon energy system and concludes that Arctic oil, most tight oil and half of all deepwater reserves must remain untapped to limit the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. For Canada, this would mean that no new oilsands projects could be approved if this target is to be reached (Greenpeace).

ExxonMobil pulls out of Greenland exploration in favor of shale oil

News surfaced this week that ExxonMobil will not participate in the latest licensing round for exploration off Greenland’s eastern coast (Upstream).  While other companies showed interest in the leases, ExxonMobil declined to bid as it looks to refocus more investment on North American shale oil (AJ). ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy 2014 was bullish on the future of shale oil, projecting that North America would outpace most OPEC oil producers within two years thanks to the shale boom (Bloomberg). Despite pulling out of Greenland, ExxonMobil is still moving forward with Rosneft on plans to drill in Russia’s Arctic in 2014. 

Thoughtful analysis looks past “race for resources” in the Arctic

The flurry of media coverage regarding Canada’s preliminary extended continental shelf claim contained numerous articles that focused on the Arctic’s vast oil and gas resources as the reason the region’s states were racing to make territorial claims.  Several, thankfully, cast a skeptical eye on the “race for resources” theme. An article in the Arctic Journal points out that, regardless of the headlines, there is likely little oil and gas to be found in the disputed areas of the central Arctic. Evan Kuross, in an article on Fair Observer, also concludes that conflict driven by natural resources in the Arctic is not likely. Wilfrid Greaves takes a different tack in this article for the Canadian International Council, exploring the intersection of climate change, hydrocarbons and security in the Arctic and the difficult problems these overlapping concerns present to policy makers. An article by Andre Mayer for CBC points out that the astronomical costs of operating in the Arctic will, in the near term at least, limit the exploitation of oil and gas resources.

Shell hopes to move ahead with Arctic exploration while Feds ask for more details

Shell CEO Peter Voser says his company will move ahead with oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic in 2014 or 2015 and, if discoveries are made, he envisions production beginning by 2025 (Xinhua). The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has requested more details from Shell about the company’s 2014 exploration plan in the Alaskan Arctic, including more detailed information on the vessels that will be involved in the operation (APM, FNM). That the BOEM is even humoring Shell’s proposed drilling plan is unbelievable to Ted Williams, who chronicles his trip to Alsaka’s North Slope to understand the opinions of the region’s residents on Shell’s drilling in this balanced and well-written article for the Audubon Magazine. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also voiced her opposition to Shell’s drilling plans, citing the company’s failures during the 2012 drilling season (Yahoo).

The Laird First Nation is teaming up with the town of Watson Lake in Yukon to explore the development of a hydroelectric plant that would free the area’s communities from dependence on expensive diesel generators (YN). In the Peace River region of Alberta, local residents are preparing to file an injunction against a nearby oilsands processing plant that they say has caused significant health problems for those living nearby (NJ).

Reality sets in for Alaskans as the oil industry tax cuts passed this year by the legislature and the dropping oil prices are causing serious issues for the state’s budget (AD).

Russian gas company Alltech was not included in a new law liberalizing LNG exports, leading the company to seek a partnership with Gazprom to salvage a planned LNG export facility on the Pechora Sea (BO). Rosneft, meanwhile, has signed an agreement with Statoil to begin development of shale oil resources in western Siberia (Oilprice). Rosneft is interested in investing in significant upgrades to port and oil terminal facilities in Murmansk, but wants to accurately assess the oil potential in the neighboring Kara Sea before it commits to the project (BO).

A modest oil discovery by Statoil in the Barents Sea could help push forward development of the delayed Johan Castberg project (BO). Further east, 17 major oil and gas companies will be working together to finance seismic mapping of the Barents Sea bed in the border region once disputed between Russia and Norway (ME)



Climate change and Arctic melting are a persistent trend

The update of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card for 2013, tracking recent environmental changes, was published. Highlights from the report are particularly low summer surface air temperatures across the central Arctic Ocean, a minimum sea ice extent in September 2013 that exceeded the record low of 2012, a new record low snow extent in May 2013, and the continuing greening of the Arctic (NOAA). In some rare good news, there is a decrease in atmospheric soot over the High Arctic (NOAA). A short video gives an excellent overview of the report’s findings (NOAA PMEL). Further, a number of articles commented on the report, such as this article from the Alaska Dispatch, and several of them warn that this year’s improvement in temperature and rebound in sea ice extent and volume (BBC) compared to 2012 does not imply a reversal of the general trend of long-term warming and environmental change (HP, NOAA, The Big Story, Slate, Climate Central). A video by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media on ice sheet collapse and sea level rise in past climates should also make us dramatically aware of the instability of the ice sheets (Takvera). And an ongoing research project led by Wieslaw Maslowski from the U.S. Navy and backed by the Department of Energy predicts an ice free summer in the Arctic already by 2016, decades ahead of other models (Guardian). Can this be true? Roz Pidcock provides a good fact-check of this claim in a blog post for the Carbon Brief and, after a bit of digging, finds that this prediction from the U.S. Navy is not, in fact, from their most sophisticated models and is largely out of sync with most current model projections.

Environmental change threatens animal populations in the Arctic

In response to NOAA’s annual “Arctic Report Card”, warnings about the dramatic effects of climate change on animal populations were voiced in the news this week. While Emily Gertz writes about a “new normal” in Popular Science, which involves more vegetation, less snow, more wildfires and fewer reindeer (Popular Science), scientists at Edmonton’s MacEwan University, Canada, found that fish become generally more anxious as a consequence of ocean acidification (G&M). Blaen et al. examined the effects of climate change on the Svalbard archipelago and concluded that climate-induced environmental changes “may alter environmental habitat conditions in Svalbard rivers,” possibly favoring freshwater macroinvertebrate communities (Freshwater Biology). While North America’s largest caribou herd – Alaska’s Western Arctic Caribou Herd - continues to decline (EOTA), in the mountains of Sweden, Norway, and Finland, bird populations suffer due to changing weather patterns (AD). In response to declining populations, N.W.T., Canada, added three species to their Species at Risk list, namely the Boreal caribou, the Peary caribou, and the plant “hairy braya” (CBC). In Russia, several regions in the Ob-Irtysh basin signed a cooperation agreement on the conservation of bioresources (AIR, in Russian). To get a better feeling for the impact of humans on the Arctic (marine) environment, we recommend Oceans North’s article, which enables you to listen in on the sounds of the Arctic (Pew Environment).

Arctic Futures 2013: Q&A with Peter Wadhams (sea ice models, IPCC assessment reports) (International Polar Foundation).

Other science news


Putin: Russia to increase military presence in Arctic

President Vladimir Putin has stated that “expanding Russia’s military presence in the Arctic region is among the top priorities for the nation’s armed forces.” (AP and The Guardian). In his comments to top military leaders, which came on the heels of Canada’s announcement that it will claim the continental shelf under the North Pole, Putin emphasized building infrastructural and military capacity in the region, and announced plans to follow up the recent reactivation of a Soviet-era airfield on the Novosibirsk Islands with the construction of additional airbases in Tiksi and Severomorsk (BBC and Reuters). Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defense, also announced that Russia will deploy a combined-arms force to the region in 2014 (Moscow News, Spiegel). Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird responded cautiously to Putin’s comments, noting that Canada will defend its territorial sovereignty, but also expressing hopes of future cooperation between the two countries (The Province and For a comparison of Canadian and Russian naval assets, check out this chart from OpenCanada.

The rationale behind the rhetoric is unclear: according to some experts, Russia is concerned with protecting its economic interests in the region – both with heading off future threats and with guaranteeing a secure operating environment to companies operating in the Russian Arctic (Russialist).  Others, however, think the “sabre-rattling” is aimed mostly at domestic audiences (EOTA). It is also important to note that the ongoing Russian build-up in the region is not happening in a vacuum, but is rather concurrent with a general modernization of the Russian military, as well as the re-establishment of a permanent Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea (WaPo).

Russia is building a depot for some 100+ Bulava nuclear missiles approximately 120km from the Norwegian border. The missiles will be used on Russia’s new Borey-class submarines, at least one of which has been assigned to the Northern Fleet (BO).

By 2016, Russian submarines will feature new technology that will allow them to more quickly surface in ice-covered waters in the Arctic (RBTH).

United States

The second part of a CDA Institute analysis provides an excellent breakdown of Canada’s troubled Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship procurement process. Check out the first part here.


Plans to ship Uranium by air from a mine site in Nunavut are causing concerns for people living in the projected flight path (CBC). Also in Nunavut, the federal government has started a long-awaited cleanup of the Ennadai Lake weather station, a former Department of National Defense facility that is one of 300 contaminated sites identified for remediation in Nunavut (CBC). Farther west in Yukon, a Whitehorse-based company is developing precise instruments and software to survey boreholes for mining and oil and gas exploration (YN).


Greenland Minerals and Energy has completed several aspects of the engineering design for its Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth element mine, allowing the project to move towards its final feasibility study (AJ).



Breaking the ice – several icebreakers completed and set in action

The Helsinki-based shipyard Arctech has finished the construction of ARC 100 vessel Baltika, the first asymmetric-hulled icebreaker. The vessel will be used as icebreaking multipurpose emergency and rescue vessel by the Russian Federal Agency of Sea and River Transport (Seatrade Global). The vessel will be handed over to the Russian Navy in March 2014, while a second similar icebreaker is being built (AIR, in Russian). The predicted melting of the Arctic ice, implying greater opportunities for shipping and access to resources, continues to bolster demand for Finnish icebreakers (This is Finland). A disagreement between Rosatom and the United Shipbuilding Corporation on the price of the contract to build two new nuclear-powered icebreakers might provide another Finnish shipyard with a business opportunity (BO).

In China, a subsidiary of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation has launched the first of 18 rescue vessels with anti-ice capacity, the Bei Hai Jiu 177, built for the Ministry of Transport (Shipbuilding Tribune).

The NSR boosts Russia’s shipping

The transit through the Northern Sea Route amounted to 1.3 million tons of cargo this year compared to 1.034 million tons in 2012 (AIR, in Russian). In addition, Russia’s greatest growth in cargo handling was recorded for the country’s Arctic ports (AIR, in Russian). Traffic has also been boosted by the development of LNG and offshore projects in the Arctic. Georgiy Bedrik, head of the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping’s development division, points to the increasing activity and number of icebreakers currently under construction (6), which is the highest in years (Seatrade Global).

Fish feuds!

In the meantime, Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinarian and Vegetation Sanitary Supervision once again has threatened an embargo on Norwegian fish because Russian veterinarians were dissatisfied with Norway’s system for quality control and food safety on a recent visit (BO). After discovering high levels of arsenic and another toxin in recent shipments, China suspended shellfish imports from the West Coast of the U.S, including Alaska (NM). Despite an unsuccessful meeting in London last week, the Faroe Islands are committed to ending the dispute with the other four coastal parties to the Atlanto-Scandian herring agreement - Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the EU. To reach an agreement before the end of the year, intensive consultations are being conducted (AJ).

Christmas is coming – and with it the winter tourism season

With the weather playing its part providing snow and a festive atmosphere, the tourist season in northern Finland is in full swing. In Lapland, which prides itself on being the homeland of Santa, tourists can book sledge rides with “Rudolph”. With Santa and his reindeers being so busy entertaining tourists to boost the Finnish economy, not even Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen can get an appointment before next summer (BO). The municipality of Haparanda-Tornio on the border between Sweden and Finland is also booming. According to the Norwegian investor Petter Stordalen it “has become the major trading center in the Barents Region.” It is therefore a worthy place to build the tallest hotel in the Barents region (BO).


Other business and economic news


Arctic Inspiration Prize awarded

The Arctic Inspiration Prize was awarded for the second time on December 11. This year’s three laureates will split a CAN 1,000,000 award (CBC). The Ikaarvik project aims to build stronger ties among Inuit communities and scientific researchers (Aquablog), SakKijânginnatuk Nunalik wants to build and monitor Nunatsiavut’s first sustainable, multi-unit residential dwelling, and the Amaujaq National Centre hopes to get parents more involved in their children’s educations (NN).

Northerners prepare to combat the challenges of winter

Freeze-up threatens to cut off West Dawson, Yukon from emergency services (CBC), and community members in Bethel, Alaska plan to open the community's first emergency homeless shelter, The Bethel Winter House, this Christmas Eve (FNM). Kimmirut, Nunavut has applied for a ban on alcohol consumption from December 20 to January 4 to combat the “problems caused by excessive drinking” (EOTA), while Inuit recovering at Ottawa’s Mamisarvik Healing Center prepare for the difficulties of the holiday season when the center’s current session ends this week (NN).

Health & Education

Society & Culture
Researcher believes Yakuts descend from the Vikings (AIR, in Russian).








This week’s Flickr haul features beautiful shots from Kristen Olesen, Clare Kines, Steve Schwarz and Paul Aningat, and in the Twitter haul we have a Finnish sunrise from Life in Lapland, polar midnight in Alaska from northierthanthou, and a monochromatic shot of Tromsø from Jamer Nicholls. On Instagram, itsbonitoman posted a shot of the Northern Lights in Finland and yakutia posted a tasty Arctic snack. This week’s photo series include a blog entry on Norway from Benedicte Natalie, some really close up shots of swimming polar bears from My Modern Met, and “Fata Morgana: Arctic Mirage” by Dave Walsh via Millennium Images.

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)
Arctic Institute (TAI)
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)
Maritime Executive (ME)
Moscow Times (MT)
National Geographic (NG)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
Naval Today (NT)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern Journal (NJ)
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)