The Arctic This Week: 17 February - 24 February, 2014

Courtesy of ilovegreenland on flickr
The Arctic This Week 2014:8

Welcome and thanks for joining us this week! After break last week we are back to full production this week. 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. You can find the PDF version of the newsletter 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.


The Arctic Institute is partnering with The High North Center at Bodø Graduate School of Business, University of Nordland, to help facilitate the upcoming conference, Arctic Dialogue 2014.  The conference, which will take place 18-20 March in Bodø, Norway, will focus on challenges and opportunities of exploration and utilization of the resources in the Arctic. Confirmed speakers include Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, NUNAOIL Director Hans Kristian Olsen, Captain Jonathan Spaner of the U.S. Coast Guard and Dr. Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia.  For a detailed agenda and information on registration, see the event’s website at For more information you can also follow Arctic Dialogue on Twitter at @ArcticDialogue.


To begin this week, see this interesting post by Mia Bennett in her new blog Cryopolitics (formerly Foreign Policy Blogs). Bennett uses Google Ngram – a tool she describes as “a way of quantifying culture” – to track the use of the word “Arctic” in English, Russian and Chinese over the past two centuries, pitting recent Arctic interest against the “heyday” of Arctic exploration in the late 19th century.

In energy reads, see this excellent article from Alex DeMarban at the Alaska Dispatch on how Shell’s decision to cancel work in Alaska’s Arctic this year is dividing communities on the North Slope in unexpected ways.  DeMarban’s piece drives home the complexity of interests for Iñupiat in Arctic Alaska who see value in the economic development that Shell’s activities could bring, but worry about the danger that oil and gas development poses to their subsistence food sources and lifestyle.

There was a lot of press this week on Canadian Exercise Arctic Ram taking place in Nunavut. For an interesting perspective on the event, see this article in the Edmonton Sun that highlights the role of the Canadian Rangers, and the unique and important contributions women, in particular, make to the Rangers.

In wildlife news, the Canadian Northwest Territories Species at Risk Committee (SARC) has categorized two more species “at risk”: the Dolphin-Union Caribou herd as a “special concern”, and the northern leopard frog as “threatened”. For all the species assessed, climate change was identified as a threat factor. Communities across the territory were encouraged to apply for the Species at Risk Stewardship Program, which offers funding for local projects designed to protect species at risk (NJ).

As the public discussion over the development of Arctic resources continues, Alistair MacDonald asks an often overlooked question in an article for the Wall Street Journal: can miners make money digging for gold in the Arctic? This great article chronicles how one Arctic gold rush, Agnico’s Meadowbank mine in Nunavut, has faced tremendous operational challenges in the Arctic and may yet fail to turn a profit.

In infrastructure news, plans for a new 40,000 square meter container terminal at Nuuk’s planned new port facility are progressing, according to the government-owned firm in charge of construction. If all goes according to plan, the construction will begin this year with the port operational by 2016 (AJ).

For something different in Arctic business news, read about Meriem Chabani’s project Arctic Harvester that proposes a soil-less agricultural infrastructure, which would benefit from the nutrient-rich fresh water released by melting icebergs while drifting between Canada and Greenland. The project, which won the first prize in the category “Innovation and Architecture for the Sea” of the Jacques Rougerie Foundation International Architecture Competition, is designed to minimize Greenland’s dependence on fresh fruit and vegetable imports (Arch Daily).

Finally, as the world gears up for that sine qua non of dog-sled races – the legendary Iditarod – check out Alaska Dispatch’s unparalleled coverage of the competition, including its Musher Profiles.


Denmark and Greenland welcome Chinese Arctic involvement

Last week Greenland’s deputy foreign minister and Denmark’s Arctic ambassador visited Shanghai to discuss China’s involvement in the Arctic (Xinhua News). In an interview with China Daily, both politicians expressed interest in continuing to work with China on sea route development, fishing, and mining (AJ). Kai Holm Andersen, Greenland’s deputy foreign minister, said his government is currently in touch with two Chinese mining companies, and that a successful first collaboration “could be an example for other Chinese companies that want to cooperate with Greenland” (The BRICS Post).

Kerry focuses on climate and Arctic issues

In case you missed our Reads of the Week edition last week, the big story on the political scene was Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement that the U.S. will finally appoint an Arctic representative (BO). Naturally the news created a considerable amount of buzz. Peter Gardett of the Center for a New American Security said that the decision “boosts the profile of U.S. engagement with the region at a vital time.” Irene Quaile said in her Ice-Blog that Kerry’s decision, coupled with his recent announcement that the U.S. and China will cooperate and exchange data leading up to the 2015 climate talks in Paris, shows that the Obama administration is coming around to environmental and Arctic issues, even if it’s late to the party. In a speech in Jakarta earlier this month, Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” (Grist).


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Articles in The Maritime Executive and Rigzone both profiled a recent report from the Oil Spill Technology-Joint Industry Program that studies the feasibility of in situ burning of oil in ice-affected waters. Dan Ritzman of the Sierra Club would rather we not need to develop such technologies in the first place as he calls for the Obama administration to cancel upcoming lease sales in the Arctic and turn away from Arctic oil and gas development in a commentary for the Seattle Times. 

Norway plans more Arctic exploration, while current exploration shows meagre returns

The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy announced it will release 61 exploration blocks for bidding in the 23rd License Round later this year.  Of these, 54 are in the Norwegian Barents Sea, with a significant number along the recently delimited maritime border with Russia (AJ). Additionally, new blocks in the northern Barents Sea represent the farthest northern progression of oil and gas exploration to date, a fact which has raised concern and outrage amongst environmental groups (BO; AB, in Norwegian). Norway’s expansion to the north and east comes on the heels of disappointing results from exploration elsewhere in the Barents Sea and increasing uncertainty within the oil industry on the commercial feasibility of Arctic oil and gas development.  Statoil announced that it found gas but no oil in a fourth exploration well at the Johan Castberg project, a fact that will further damage the long-term prospects of this currently postponed development (BO, Reuters, Bloomberg). Oil industry representatives continue to complain that changes to Norway’s oil and gas taxes last year have compromised the profitability of potential Arctic developments like Castberg (AJ). Others attribute the declining prospects of Arctic oil to an unfavorable commercial environment.  With oil prices projected to fall by up to ten percent, many companies are balking at the massive investments that would be required to bring Arctic oil and gas to market.  Lundin Petroleum Chairman Ian Lundin said this week that he doesn’t see Arctic oil making its way to market anytime this decade, or the next (Bloomberg). In spite of the challenges, the Norwegian Barents Sea continues to be the most promising area for Arctic oil and gas development due to more favorable environmental conditions and access to infrastructure.  Industry participation in the upcoming licensing round with be an important gauge of interest in continued Arctic exploration.

Canada: The next Arctic oil and gas frontier?

Several articles this week suggest that oil and gas work in Canada’s Arctic is set to expand rapidly.  I am a skeptic, but let’s see what others have to say.  Writing for Oil and Gas Eurasia, Ashok Dutta reports that ConocoPhillips will complete a preliminary study this year on the fields in the Beaufort Sea that the company purchased in 2011.  Chevron has also been doing some seismic exploration in the Beaufort along with Statoil.  Arctic oil boom in the making?  Not so fast: Chevron doesn’t see any production in the Beaufort for 20 or 30 years.  Mia Bennet, who can now be found at her new blog at, writes that Russia and Canada are the new investment hotspots for Arctic oil and gas. While Bennet and Dutta both concede that projected declines in oil prices will take the wind out of the sails of international oil companies when it comes to the Arctic, both fail to mention the challenge that unconventional resources are playing in presenting very attractive investment alternatives.  A panel at the Arctic Business Forum in Rovaniemi next month will look at this very topic (FT).  Nor was there any discussion of the stiff political headwinds that energy development in the Beaufort Sea will face. Just this week the Conservatives took flak for offering up portions of a reindeer herding reserve in the Mackenzie Delta for oil and gas exploration (G&M, Star). Another factor to consider: there’s a qualitative difference between a state-owned company like Gazprom that can absorb cost overruns and plow ahead on massive projects in the Arctic, and international oil and gas companies that are beholden to shareholders and must show profitability (Arctic Gas).  The Pechora seems a safer bet than the Beaufort from this vantage point.

Total confirms LNG purchases from Yamal

French company Total confirmed that it will purchase almost 25% of the production capacity of the Yamal LNG plant currently under construction in the Russian Arctic (AIR, in Russian). The China National Petroleum Company has also promised to purchase a large portion of the plant’s output, meaning that 75% of the future plant’s capacity is already spoken for (BO). By mid-March Yamal LNG plans to announce which shipping company will transport the LNG from Arctic Russia to Europe. Two potential offloading terminals are under consideration at Dunkirk, France, and Zeebrugge, Belgium (NGE). It looks like Moscow is interested in taking a more active role in Yamal LNG, currently controlled by Russian independent Novatek, with the Russian Direct Investment Fund contemplating the purchase of a 10% stake in the project (AIR, in Russian).

The Alaska Minerals commission is encouraging Alaskans to look to coal for their energy needs in the future.  The local abundance of coal could help bring down the cost of energy for municipalities and mines that rely on diesel fuel for power (North of 60).




Ice melt makes Arctic darker, speeds up global warming

A video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which shows the amount of old ice in the Arctic from 1987 to 2013, clearly demonstrates that the Arctic sea ice is getting younger. The problem is that younger ice is thinner and melts more quickly, creating large areas of relatively dark ocean surface (Guardian). A research team at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California established that data from instruments aboard several NASA satellites confirms the darkening of the Arctic surface (NASA). This in turn reduces the Arctic albedo (reflectivity). Instead of reflecting solar energy, the ocean therefore absorbs it and warms up (Think Progress). This reinforces the Arctic ice “death spiral” and contributes to global warming, thus further accelerating the melting of Arctic sea ice (Slate).

The increase in temperature is particularly visible this month on the Svalbard archipelago. Over the last month, the average temperature in Svalbard has been around 1.6°C (34.9°F), which is 15 degrees Celsius higher than the normal temperature for this time of the year. Several other extreme weather cases have been observed in the last years on the archipelago (BO).

The changing Arctic’s impacts on global weather

While severe storms and flashfloods in the South and Midwest of the U.S. left 24,000 people without power (DM), the polar vortex is expected to bring another Arctic blast to the East Coast next week (DM). Bruce Bisset links these weather extremes to the warming of the Arctic (NZ Herald) and also The Economist asks in this article if the polar warming is to blame for America and Britain‘s bad winter weather. A recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the increase in the frequency of extreme cyclones in the Arctic is associated with the effects of climate change, such as the decline in atmospheric pressure (e! Science News). In addition, the impact could also alter the jet stream (NPR).

Despite the visible impacts of climate change on some regional weather patterns, there does not seem to be a corresponding sense of urgency to act amongst those most affected. According to Per Espen Stoknes, a psychologist at the Center for Climate Strategy of the Norwegian Business Institute, communication about climate change needs to consider psychological defense mechanisms. The threats of climate change are often depicted as remote in time and space, causing people to underestimate them (AD).

Real-time ice mapping project

Combining radar technology and real time tracking from Inuit ice experts and sensors, the Sea-ice Monitoring and Real Time Information for Coastal Environment project (short SmartICE) could prove lifesaving for many people living and traveling in the Arctic environment (Canadian Geographic).

Melting Point (York U).
The New Normal (Unearthed).

Flora and fauna
Reindeer get fluorescent antlers to reduce roadkill (CBC).

Enhanced Arctic sea-ice information (web portal for graphically representing useful information about Arctic sea-ice data) (Anistiamo).


Arctic Exercises Underway in Canada

A plethora of Arctic training exercises are currently underway in Canada: Northern Sojourn, in Happy-Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland, and Labrador, features some 1200 soldiers from three countries and will continue until 9 March; Arctic Ram began on 13 February and will continue until the 26th as some 500 soldiers led by the 3rd Canadian Division carry out exercises in Kugaaruk, Nunavut; and, Trillium Response – which involved about 350 soldiers from the 4th Canadian division – just wrapped up on 23 February. In March, Canada will begin Guerrier Nordique and Sabre Glacé in Iqualuit, Nunavut and Resolute Bay, Nunavut, respectively (Canadian Dept. of National Defense). Soldiers participating in Exercise Trillium Response were practicing winter warfare sills, cold-weather survival skills, and acquainting themselves with Arctic equipment (Yahoo News Canada and EOTA); for our more visually-inclined readers, check out the exercise’s Flickr page. Exercise Arctic Ram is similarly focusing on survival skills – as soldiers learn from Canadian Rangers and practice living off the land – and practicing military operations in Arctic conditions, including airborne operations in Arctic conditions (Edmonton Sun). Soldiers participating in Arctic Ram are also discovering the difficulty of logistics and transportation in the High North, while enduring frigid winter temperatures (Calgary Herald).

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Often lost in the rhetoric of increasing or decreasing military budgets is the role the military plays in the local economies of towns close to bases. In the Fairbanks News Miner, Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation’s executive director Jim Dodson examines the importance of the military presence at Fort Wainwright to the town’s economy.


In a sign that Russia is looking very far down the road indeed, intelligence units of the Northern Fleet have carried out exercises aimed at disrupting and destroying terrorist groups operating in the Arctic (AIR, in Russian). Preparations are underway for the joint Russian-Norwegian Arctic Exercises Northern Eagle 2014 (AIR, in Russian.)


Oregon mining company offers to build port in Arctic Alaska

Oregon mining company Sea Pirate Mining (no joke!) has submitted a proposal to the office of Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to construct an Arctic port on the Bering Sea for the price of USD 3.6 billion. The project would involve dredging 7.1 billion cubic meters of sea floor to make an 18 mile channel to the new port.  Why would a small Oregon mining company be interested in such a project? Probably because the company suspects there are substantial gold deposits in the sea floor sediments (see Bering Sea Gold on the Discovery Channel if you haven’t already) and has requested mineral rights to the sea floor to help offset the costs of the project (AD).

An interesting article in North of 60 Mining News profiles the unlikely career of Texas oil man turned Alaska gold miner Brad Juneau and his Tetlin gold-copper-silver project in eastern Alaska. For another colorful article on Alaska mining, see J.P. Tangen’s commentary on the flap over the Pebble Mine and its potential impact on Bristol Bay fisheries.  Tangen’s prose is … well, unique, and his distaste for the EPA apparent.  His argument: so a few fish die and a few fishermen get put out of work, they can always get a better paying job up the hill at the mine (North of 60).




Fishing moratorium in Arctic international waters discussed

A three-day meeting will take place in Nuuk, Greenland, this week to discuss commercial fishing in the international waters of the High Arctic beyond the 200-mile exclusive economic zones, which have become increasingly accessible due to climate change. Canada is siding with the U.S. and Denmark in arguing for a moratorium on fishing until the fish stocks and their sustainability have been fully assessed (G&M). David Benton, a member of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, pointed out that after reaching an agreement between the five Arctic states, other nations with major commercial fishing fleets will be invited to negotiate full protection of the Arctic Ocean (L.A. Times).


Taking the Arctic shortcut (HHL Lagos) (Maritime Journal).

Other business and economic news
The Arctic is serious business (Alaskan conference Arctic Ambitions III) (AJ).


House Bill 216 unanimously advances

Last week, Alaskan lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that seeks to make 20 Alaska Native languages official languages of the state of Alaska (EOTA). The bill, which was advanced by the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, will now go before the House State Affairs Committee. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who sponsored the initiative, said the bill “belongs to people across Alaska who believe in the cultural importance of Native languages”(FNM).


Youth and Arctic Governance (NATO Council of Canada).




There were a number of news items this week on infrastructure developments in Arctic Russia. Local governments are working together to consolidate transportation infrastructure – in particular railroads – in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug-Yugra, and the Tyumen region (AIR, in Russian). A working group in Yamal is focusing on the implementation of the “Northern Latitudinal” project (AIR, in Russian).  Delivery of fuel to the north of Yakutia is underway via a winter road (AIR, in Russian). Authorities in the Chukotka Autonomous District are examining plans to install a runway in the small village of Egvekinot in the hopes of transforming it into a local air hub (AIR, in Russian). In April, Murmansk will host the 4th “Logistics in the Arctic” Conference, which will focus on economic development in the region (AIR, in Russian).

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Goodbye Sochi, Hello Fairbanks
Now that the Olympics have ended, the Arctic sporting community is gearing up for the 2014 Arctic Winter Games, scheduled to begin 16 March in Fairbanks. The games will marshal the talents of some 2,000 athletes from nine contingents competing in 20 different sports (FNM). In exciting news for spectators, all outdoor sports will be free of charge to watch, while indoor competitions will require purchasing tickets (FNM).

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Check out the Nanook Polar Expedition’s blog.



This week saw a very nice collection of flickr shots, including Dettah Aurora by Jason Simpson, Olympic Closing Gold Medal Sunrise by Bruce McKay, Sunrise over Dettah, NWT by George Lessard, and These Moonlight Desires Haunt Me, The fire bellow, and Frozen Breath by Clare Kines. The Arctic Council also shared a photo from the Traditional and Local Knowledge workshop in Reykjavik last week. On Instagram, Ecojackiejo posted an Inuvik sunset and a sunny dog walk, while susannainlondon posted a photo from her last crossing of the Auyuittuq National Park and arni_coraldo posted a chilly-looking shot of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The Happy Wanderer tweeted a frosty-faced shot of a Kugaaruk, Nunavut resident, Deborah Nixon tweeted the view across Frobisher Bay, Alex Hibbert tweeted a shot with a sled dog, Pamela Roth tweeted a bundled-up Canadian ranger in Nunavut, and Private Sky Aviation tweeted a Hercules operating off an ice strip in the Canadian Arctic. This week’s video is an HD promo for the Aklavik Delta Drummers and Dancers shot in Aklavik, Canada (YouTube).

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)
Arctic Journal (AJ)
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)