The Arctic This Week: 14 January - 20 January

Tromsø, January 2014
The Arctic This Week 2014:3

Welcome and thanks for joining us this week! TATW staff is taking a breather this week.  Instead of a full version, we’re providing only the most interesting and important stories and pieces from this week’s events in the Arctic.  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.

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 us directly. Anything that we missed? Please feel free to share material with us if you think it deserves inclusion in TATW.


The Arctic Institute maintains and provides access to a list of Arctic-themed conferences, workshops, and events. You can access the list by clicking on the following link:

Please help us keep this list up to date! If you would like to add an event to the list, please submit the required information including the event’s name, dates, location, description, website address and contact information using this submission form. The list will be updated weekly and a link to the list will be provided each week in TATW.

TAI will be holding a workshop on Arctic Infrastructure Challenges at the Arctic Frontiers conference tomorrow, January 23rd from 9am-12pm. If you are in Tromsø please join us. For more information please click here.


TAI released two new short reports this week. TAI European Director Kathrin Keil released an evaluation of the 2013 shipping season along the Northern Sea Route, concluding that increased traffic in 2013 is due largely to increased Russian, not international, use of the route. TAI Fellow Kevin Casey explored the Government of Greenland’s recent awarding of hydrocarbon exploration and production licenses in the Greenland Sea and the environmental, political and economic challenges that stand in the way of energy development in this remote region.


As this week’s TATW falls in the midst of Arctic Frontiers, it makes sense to start off the week’s political reads by highlighting the conference. According to “Arctic Frontiers goes global,” published by Barents Observer’s Thomas Nilsen, the conference has grown to become the “hottest” and “most important” annual event for Arctic stakeholders.

Perhaps capitalizing on the buzz generated by Arctic Frontiers, The Globe & Mail has put out a special series of articles this week under the headline “The North: Myth, Reality, Future.” The series is intended as an exploration of “the unprecedented change to the climate, culture and politics of Canada’s last frontier.” The series includes articles on Putin’s quest for Soviet-era Arctic dominance, Harper’s Arctic strategy, and the “Arctic embarrassment” that is Canada’s search for an Arctic Icebreaker, to mention a few.

Russia is nearly finished preparing its revised submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (VOR). According to a press release posted by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday, the application is “at the final stage.” Russia submitted additional information supporting its claims in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk in 2013 and will file a submission regarding the Arctic Ocean later this year.


The big story in energy this week was the development of Shell’s drilling plans for Arctic Alaska.  Shell submitted a proposal to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for a scaled back 2014 drilling season that will focus solely on the Chukchi Sea, leaving out for now the company’s Beaufort Sea leases.  Shell responded to an initial request for more information from the BOEM on spill prevention and emergency preparedness, and this week the BOEM responded with an additional information request (FuelFix).  Specifically the Bureau wants details on air emissions for Shell’s fleet and changes to management and oversight instituted after Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season (KUCB, AD). Shell is looking to push ahead with its Chukchi exploration campaign even as it admits that cost overruns and write-offs from the campaign were the main reason that the company’s 4th quarter earnings came in 70% below the same period last year (Guardian).


The global consequences of the Arctic sea ice loss are well illustrated in this article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune by John Lindsey, who explains how the melting ice might lead to droughts in California. According to the NSIDC, the ice reached its lowest level on record in summer 2012. Climatologists suspect a link to the persistent ridge of high pressure over California and the resulting dry conditions and high temperatures. In Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of Nature found a creative way to make their substantial collection of specimens, possibly the greatest in the world, available to the public. Most of the collections are in storage and rarely on display, though the museum has begun using x-rays to create large prints and reconstruct lifelike scenes for diplay. The resulting images, also presented in the article on Alaska Dispatch, seem to come to life (AD). To the untrained eye, this short NASA video might just appear as some clouds rapidly flying over icy terrain. A NASA field campaign, however, revealed that large cracks in the Arctic sea ice expose seawater to the cold air, leading to a forceful mixing in the lower atmosphere which pumps atmospheric mercury down to the surface. There, the toxic pollutant can enter the food chain, with important negative consequences not only for fish and their predators, but also for humans.


As the U.S. awaits the release of a new Navy strategy for the Arctic (IBITimes), there is a growing recognition of the gap between required capabilities and the ability to procure them given ongoing budgetary constraints. National Defense Magazine reports that the procurement cost for a new polar icebreaker would be in the region of $1 billion, which, according to U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. John P. Currier, is more than the Coast Guard “can absorb.” The Navy, meanwhile, is examining the option of “hardening” some of its vessels for polar missions, at an estimated cost of some $300 million per ship (DailyFinance).

Writing on the Atlantic Council’s blog, Dr. Page Wilson of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK, examines NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s statement that NATO has no plans to increase its presence or activities in the Arctic.  Wilson argues that it makes little sense for NATO to expand its presence in the region as things now stand, given that NATO already plays a sizeable role in the Arctic despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of the region and the role of international organizations within it.

Writing in the November-December issue of Air & Space Power Journal, Col John L. Conway III, U.S. Air Force (Ret) examines the potential role of the United States Air Force in Search and Rescue missions in the Arctic.


In mining news, Greenland’s new mineral and petroleum strategy is open for public review (Government of Greenland, in Danish). For those who are interested and are conversant in Danish or Greenlandic, the full text of the proposed strategy is available here (Danish) and here (Greenlandic). In the Yukon, 2014 looks to be a promising year for the mining industry as several mines are in development near Yellowknife (NJ). As new mines spring up, Yellowknife is still struggling with the legacy of an old mine: Federal regulators approved a remediation plan for the abandoned Giant Mine and the 237,000 tons of deadly arsenic left at the site (NJ).


For an excellent review on this year’s shipping season in the Arctic, read this article by Kathrin Keil of The Arctic Institute (TAI). The ports in Nordland in northern Norway have overtaken the ports in Russian Murmansk in terms of the freight handled. While in 2012 a total of 31.7 millions tons passed through Nordland’s port, a 24% increase from 2009, Murmansk Oblast only handled 28.2 million tons, representing a 31% decline from its 2009 results (BO). Probably not improving the relations between Norway and Russia, the Russian trawler Novoazovsk was detained by the Norwegian Coast Guard last Monday, January 13, and accused of illegally dumping fish into the Norwegian Sea (BO). The fishing vessel’s captain and the ship owner, Trawl Fleet, were fined (BO). The trawler was subsequently freed on Thursday, January 16 (Moscow Times).


Another worthwhile read posted as part of “The North: Myth, Reality, Future” is a compilation of answers to the question “How we misunderstand the Canadian North” by the Globe & Mail’s panel of Arctic experts, dubbed the “Arctic Circle.”

Nunavut’s chief coroner Padma Suramala has called for a “discretionary inquest” surrounding the territory’s high suicide rate. Forty-five suicides were reported in Nunavut last year, the highest number in the territory’s history. For more on the inquiry and Nunavut’s suicide crisis, see these articles in Eye on the Arctic and the Canadian Medical Association Journal.


This year’s Venice Biennale – an acclaimed architecture festival – will feature five designs from Canadian architecture schools that address Inuit life in Nunavut. Included in the exhibition are designs for an arts center at Frobisher Bay and a network of trails on the coast of Hudson Bay, among others. The show will open on 7 June, with some 300,000 visitors expected to attend (MetroNews).


In keeping with our tradition of watching sports rather than reading about them, check out this great slideshow from the New York Times’ photography archive looking back at dogsledding across the decades.

Ever wanted to surf Iceland? Now you can: check out Iceland’s first surf camp – based out of Reykjavik – at Arctic Surfers.

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)
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)