The Arctic This Week: 3 February - 10 February, 2014

With kind permission of Clare Kines
The Arctic This Week 2014:6

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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:

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It has been another busy week for TAI in the media.  TAI Fellow Mihaela David is featured in an extensive interview on Arctic security by the Voice of Russia.  You can stream the interview here and find a short excerpt of Mihaela’s comments on the topic. Research Associate Marc Jacobsen, Executive Director Malte Humpert and Europe Director Kathrin Keil were all featured in an article on Deutsche Welle (German, English) that discussed disaster preparedness in the Arctic and TAI’s Arctic Infrastructure Survey.  On the same topic, the Arctic Journal published an article featuring Jacobsen’s presentation at Arctic Frontiers last month.


This week, we suggest that you get your Arctic political fix by catching up on some of the year’s first Arctic-related speeches. Last month, Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja spoke at the S&D Group Conference on Sustainable Development in the Arctic and also delivered remarks at Arctic Frontiers. Both speeches are available via Finland’s foreign ministry website, and Foreign Policy Blogs posted an analytical summary of Tuomioja’s remarks at Arctic Frontiers by Mia Bennett. Brent Hartley, the U.S.’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, also spoke at the conference. His remarks are accessible via the website of the U.S. embassy in Oslo, as is a short summary of his speech outlining the U.S. approach to the Arctic. Secretary of State John Kerry and defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s remarks at the Munich Security Conference – which briefly touch on the Arctic and climate change – are also worth taking a look at.

For a different perspective on Shell’s decision to not drill in the Alaskan Arctic this year, see this article from Jim Paulin that looks at the impact that Shell’s absence will have on the small town of Unalaska (Bristol Bay Times). Paulin’s reporting is an important reminder of the very local impacts of Shell’s decision.

An interesting article in the Alaska Dispatch profiles Alaska State Troopers’ efforts to develop a “risk assessment matrix” to govern decisions regarding SAR missions in the wake of a fatal helicopter crash last March. The article recounts the circumstances surrounding the crash, and the advantages risk matrices offer SAR operators when deciding whether or not to move forward with a mission.

To jump from current events to Late Quaternary environmental history, see this study, recently published in Nature by the research team around Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, which sheds light on the Arctic fauna and flora of the past 50,000 years. The results of the first large-scale ancient DNA metabarcoding study of circumpolar plant diversity challenges the theory of a Late Quaternary graminoid-dominated Arctic mammoth steppe (Nature). Indeed, the landscape appears to have been more diverse than today and the diet of woolly rhino and mammoth was not predominantly based on grasses, but on protein-rich forbs (SD).

The release of the much-anticipated Alaska U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Arctic Deep Draft Port feasibility study has been put on indefinite hold due to an expanding plethora of options that need study. While the report was to originally examine eight port options, there are now some twenty-three possible configurations that require study (APM).

For those of us who find that we are long-winded in business pitches or job interviews, here’s a uniquely Arctic solution. In Oulu, northern Finland, employees of the Laturi Corporation hold meetings while swimming in icy waters every day at lunch time to practice their sales pitch in English. The idea is simple: you can present your ideas as long as you can stay in the water, which has a temperature around 1°C (34°F). This guarantees that you will keep your contributions short and to the point (YLE).

Finally, in sports news, congratulations to Alaskan musher Allen Moore, who won his second consecutive Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race this week (CBC).


Alaska outlines Arctic priorities

After years of prodding, the U.S. appears to be stepping up in the Arctic. At the end of last month, the White House released an Implementation Plan for its Arctic strategy, and the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission submitted its Preliminary Report to the Alaska State Legislature. It’s lengthy, but don’t worry – they also published a short Executive Summary for the time-challenged among us. Commission co-chairs Bob Herron and Lesil McGuire say their “timely report” coincides with the “warranted but past due attention” shown by the federal government to the Arctic of late. The report outlines the state’s “Arctic thought process” and seeks to “make sure Alaska is in the captain’s seat as Arctic decisions are made” Eager to turn policy proclamations into action, Representative Heron and Senator McGuire each introduced legislation to address Alaska’s lack of Arctic infrastructure, one of the major shortfalls identified in the report. The legislation proposes to establish an Arctic port authority and an Arctic development fund (EOTA). Heron also introduced Bill HJR 24, which urges the U.S. government to consider Alaska’s policy priorities during its upcoming Arctic Council chairmanship and consult state officials when appointing a chair.

Inuit Circumpolar Council nominates next chair

Okalik Eegeesiak, the current president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, has been invited to assume the position of chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) this July (AD). As chairmanship of the council customarily rotates between Canada, Alaska, and Greenland based on host territory, ICC Canada’s six-person board of directors made the pick (NN). Eegeesiak, who said she was “delighted” and “humbled” to be chosen, will officially take over at the ICC General Assembly in Inuvik, Canada July 21-24 (AJ).

Russia to strengthen Asian partnerships

Russia and South Korea’s foreign ministries held consultations on Arctic cooperation last week (ITAR-TASS, AIR). Building on commitments the two countries made to one another in Seoul last November, the talks aimed at promoting mutually beneficial cooperation surrounding shipping, shipbuilding and scientific research. Russia’s “strategic partnership” with China and its potential economic partnership with Japan also make headlines in the Valdai Discussion Club and The Voice of Russia, respectively.

Two articles, “The European Union’s Gateways to the Arctic” (written by TAI’s own Kathrin Keil and Andreas Raspotnik and published in European Foreign Affairs Review and summarized on our website) and “The European Union’s Potential Contribution to Enhanced Governance of Arctic Shipping” (written by Nengye Liu and published in Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht), address avenues for increasing EU involvement in the Arctic region.

The Nordics


United States


The Wilson Center hosted a roundtable discussion to launch the publication of their recent report on Arctic oil and gas exploration, “Opportunities and Challenges for Arctic Oil and Gas Development.” The Huffington Post also provided coverage of the event.

More discoveries in Norwegian Barents, but is Statoil dragging its feet?

Norwegian company Det norske announced it has made a hydrocarbon discovery in the Norwegian Barents Sea, though the company didn’t release any size estimates, or even if the discovery was oil or gas (Reuters). Statoil, on the other hand, has announced it will cut back on exploration in the Arctic in favor of more promising investments in other regions (Reuters).  Statoil’s plans aren’t sitting well with Petroleum and Energy Minister Tord Lien.  Frustrated that Statoil has postponed development of the Johan Castberg field and is now scaling back on exploration, Lien expressed his desire to get more companies involved in the Barents to provide some competition for a sluggish Statoil (Bloomberg). Will more completion spur development in the Barents? If Statoil cannot proceed economically in the current environment, it’s hard to see how anyone else could. It seems a lot of other companies are getting cold feet in the Arctic.  See this article in the Arctic Journal for background on the decisions of ExxonMobil, Shell, Cairn, and Statoil to put the brakes on Arctic drilling for the time being.

Rosneft moves ahead in Kara Sea, looks to China for financing

No such pause in the Russian Arctic. Rosneft received the first USD 20 billion payment from the China National Petroleum Company based on contracts for future oil sales (BO). These contracts, signed late last year, are providing essential funds for the cash-strapped Rosneft to finance expanding exploration and production at its leases in the Kara Sea.  Rosneft is also discussing construction of a LNG plant on the Yamal Peninsula to handle gas that comes off the Kara Sea, though Chinese companies have so far begged off from signing long term contracts for gas from Russia, putting financing for such a project into question (AIR, in Russian). Rosneft will be basing its Kara Sea operations out of Murmansk, where it has acquired several shipyards for the construction of vessels to support the project (BO).

Refinery’s closing in Alaska raises questions on causes and impacts

The Flint Hills Refinery outside Fairbanks, Alaska, announced that it will cease operations in May of this year.  The company cited the enormous costs required to remediate contaminated soil and groundwater at the site, though the refinery has been in financial difficulty for some time due to high oil prices (Bloomberg). Alaska Governor Sean Parnell took issue with company’s claim, saying the closing was not the result of the state-mandated environmental cleanup but the cumulative effects of challenging economic conditions (FNM). Parnell, a Republican, seems to want to avoid the perception that the closing of the plant, and the loss of 81 jobs, is due to aggressive state regulation.  Alaska’s Democratic Senator Mark Begich weighed in encouraging the state to find a reasonable settlement with the refinery that would keep it in operation (FNM). It turns out that the contamination problem has been known for some time and the plant’s previous owners have gone to great lengths to avoid liability for the problem (AD). The refinery’s closure could send ripples across other industries in interior Alaska.  The Alaska Railroad warned that the loss of the refinery’s business would present serious challenge for its operations (AD). There are concerns that the plant’s closure may upend the finances of the municipality of North Pole (FNM) and lead to higher fuel costs in the region (FNM).

In Yakutia, several localities will be receiving upgrades to their power generation facilities, including automated diesel power stations and wind turbines (AIR, in Russian).

A plan to bring new, LNG-powered generators to Whitehorse, Yukon, is under review by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board’s executive committee (YN).

Though sales of electricity increased in 2013, Swedish state-owned energy company Vattenfall posted a USD 2.33 billion dollar loss last year, leading the board to decide against paying shareholder dividends for the year (AD).


Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski pressed the nominee for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider for assurances that, if approved, her agency would work to provide more clarity on regulatory requirements for Arctic drilling (press release). Murkowski seemed reassured by Schneider’s responses (UPI). Frances Beinecke, president of the National Resources Defense Council, provides hers perspective on Shell’s decision to forgo drilling in Arctic Alaska this year (The Energy Collective). For more post mortem analysis of Shell’s 2014 drilling season, see this article and video from Joss Fong at Live Science. And if you’re not Shell-ed out already, move on to this short article on Shell’s woes from James Hansen at About Oil.



Melting glaciers in Greenland and Alaska

In Greenland, the speed with which the Jakobshavn Glacier is moving into the ocean seems to be the fastest ever recorded for any glacier in the world. In the summer of 2012, a research team from the University of Washington and the German Space Agency (DLR) measured a speed of more than 17 kilometers per year, i.e. over 46 meters per day (Science Daily). Irene Quaile links the glacier’s extreme speed to its important contribution to global sea level rise. The substantial number of icebergs breaking off the glacier also pose a threat to Arctic shipping (AD). A study published in Geophysical Research Letters by scientists at the Michigan Tech Research Institute accounts for the vast amount of water that the Bering Glacier pours into the Gulf of Alaska per year, which is comparable to the volume that “flows from the mouth of the Nile River” each year (AD).

Sea ice extent and volume

While the NSIDC’s data points to a January sea ice extent well below long-term average (NN), the sea ice volume is 50% higher than the volume in autumn last year according to CryoSat, (WUWT).

Up, up and away (YuKonstruct’s high-altitude camera balloon) (YN).

Wildlife and the changing environment

The warm weather in some parts of the Arctic this winter are proving to be challenging for wildlife. While Alaska Dispatch describes problems for the animals in Canada’s northwestern Yukon Territory related to changes in snow conditions (AD), Elizabeth Harball describes Arctic climate change as a “survival experiment for wildlife” in this article for Scientific American. She questions whether species will be able to adapt to the rapidly forming “entirely new environments”. Adaptation strategies include a change in the diet of polar bears or geese’s new migration patterns. Some species however are finding adaptation more difficult, such as the American pika (check out the article for an adorable picture). Even though a few populations have switched their diet to moss, it is “far from an ideal food source”. Their long-term survival is therefore uncertain.

As reported in previous weeks (TAI, see for example Nature), polar bears are adapting their diet due to the melting sea ice and shorter winter season. The bears’ adaptation, however, is weighing heavily on vulnerable bird species, such as the common eider (Somateria mollissima) or the thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), whose nesting colonies have increasingly suffered from depredation as detailed in this article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences. Bears have been observed picking whole islands clean of eggs, a development that could have severe repercussions on the rest of the food chain (Daily Kos). Meanwhile in Nunavut, Canada, community consultations are underway regarding how to manage the territory’s polar bear population (NN).

Flora and fauna

The art of science (Extreme diving, a flask of vodka and a unicorn horn) (NM).


United States

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the first patrol by Arctic Rangers in Ontario; to celebrate, the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group “embarked upon a 1,400-mile snowmobile trek across northern Ontario.” The Rangers patrol in five regions, with the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group responsible for Nunavut, Yukon, and NWT; the 2nd Ranger Patrol Group responsible for northern Quebec; the aforementioned 3rd Ranger Patrol Group responsible for northern Ontario; the 4th Ranger Patrol Group operates in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba; and, the 5th Ranger Patrol Group works in Newfoundland and Labrador (AD).

The federal government has authorized the beginning of the engineering and design phase of Canada’s troubled Arctic offshore patrol ship program. Construction should begin as early as next year (CTV News).

Russia plans to test its Pantsyr-S SAM system (NATO reporting name SA-22 Greyhound) in Arctic conditions. Tests are scheduled to begin in April and will take place near the New Siberian Islands (Itar-Tass).

Russian military scientists have developed a new form of diesel fuel for use in the Arctic (, in Russian).
Several scientists have been rescued in the Yakut taiga after their SUV became stuck in the snow (AIR, in Russian).



Diamond mines move forward in NWT, more consultation sought on uranium mine in Nunavut

DeBeers Canada signed an impact benefit agreement with the Tlicho First Nation, paving the way for the development of the Gahcho Kué diamond mine in the Northwest Territories (NJ). The mine will employ 700 workers during its two year construction phase, and around 400 during its projected 11 year operational phase ( Dominion Mining Corp. has also released new mine plans for its two diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, the Diavik and Ekati mines (CMJ). Meanwhile the Kiggavik uranium mine in Nunavut is in holding after the Athabasca Dene claimed that they were not properly consulted on the project. Even though the Kiggavik mine is hundreds of kilometers from the Athabasca Dene’s traditional lands, plans to fly uranium out from the site and over Dene lands has raised concerns and led the Athabasca Dene to pass a resolution opposing the transport of uranium across their land (NN).




In the wake of an academic report that concluded that Greenland’s minerals would likely not be able to finance the island nation’s dreams of independence, politicians in Greenland have struck back, calling the report too pessimistic and politically motivated (AJ).

Reflecting the very political nature of the debate over the proposed Pebble mine above Bristol Bay, AK, Northern Dynasty Minerals has tapped a former Department of the Interior chief of staff Thomas Collier to be CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership (North of 60).


The lack of infrastructure on the Northern Sea Route

Deutsche Welle’s Irene Quaile asks if there is a risk of catastrophe in the Arctic due to insufficient maritime infrastructure. Building from The Arctic Institute’s presentation of its Arctic Infrastructure Survey at Arctic Frontiers on January 24, Quaile concludes that the infrastructure in the high north is insufficient considering the dramatic increase in commercial and touristic activities in the Arctic Ocean and the potential for accidents  (DW, in German). In the same vein, the final marine investigation report released by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) blames insufficient monitoring and ineffective bridge resource management for the grounding of the tanker vessel Nanny in Nunavut in 2012 (Digital Journal).

Shipping frenzy in Russia

Also hinting at the current lack of infrastructure in the Arctic, Arkady Tishkov, deputy director of the Russian Institute of Geography, argues for establishing at least 12 weather stations in the Russian Arctic along the NSR (AIR, in Russian). Russia’s Rosneft has received approval for its plan to establish a “center of Arctic shipbuilding” in Murmansk (G Captain). According to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, this entails military and civilian shipbuilding facilities (RIA). The Arkhangelsk Trawl Fleet (ATP) will be monitored for five years by the Government of the Arkhangelsk region after its recent privatization (AIR, in Russian). The first “oblique icebreaker”, Russia’s Baltika, is scheduled for delivery to the Russian Marine Emergency Rescue Service this spring (AJ). The development of shipping in the Arctic will be discussed in detail at the International Investment Summit “Northern Sea Route: Infrastructure, transport and communication systems of the Arctic region” on February 27 in Moscow (AIR, in Russian).

Russia’s frenzy of activities related to the opening of the Northern Sea Route, in particular its investment in infrastructure development, leads Bengt Saelensminde of Money Week to talk about “Russia’s new Cold War” (Money Week). Contradicting the theory of an Arctic shipping ‘boom’, Jackie Dawson and Larissa Pizzolato contend in an article for The Globe and Mail that the major increase in shipping activities along the Northern Sea Route in the past decades has come from tourism, research, and government support vessels, with minor increases in fishing and community re-supply vessels. The article summarizes a larger study the two partly co-authored for the journal Climate Change that concludes that the relationship between sea ice loss and increased ship activity is not as strong as expected. The European Union’s perspective on Arctic shipping and the EU’s role therein is presented by Didier Schmitt of the European Commission (Horizon Magazine).



Other business and economic news


Increasing recognition of “Arctic” disciplines

“Arctic Studies” appears to be gaining recognition as a discipline within the academic community. The Fulbright Commission has signed an agreement with Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs establishing a Fulbright scholar grant in Arctic Studies (Arctic Portal), and the University of Washington has approved a new, interdisciplinary Arctic minor (The Daily). Late last year, students from the University of Tromsø even held “model Arctic Council” sessions, visiting the Arctic Council Secretariat and role-playing Senior Arctic Officials and EPPR Working Group meetings (Arctic Council).

Nunavut debates lessening alcohol restrictions

Three Nunavut communities, Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet and Kugluktuk will host plebiscites later this month to determine their alcohol restrictions (NN). Arviat voters are considering lifting their total ban on alcohol, and Chesterfield Inlet and Kugluktuk are deciding between restricted and open regulation systems. On Friday, around 300 students held a march in Kugluktuk to oppose lifting the regulations (CBC).


Kelly Black and Sheena Kennedy Dalseg to present at ICASS (Carleton Center for Community Innovation).


Arctic in Rovaniemi Design Week will bring the leaders of Wärtsilä design for Volkswagen (Rovaniemen Kehitys, in Finnish).


Finland eyes Arctic infrastructure improvements

Norway and Finland have agreed to undertake several joint projects aimed at improving roads connecting the north of the two countries. Specifically targeted are the Sevetti Road connecting Kirkenes to Ivalo and Rovaniemi and the road from Tromsø to the Palojoensuu intersection north of Muonio (BO). Meanwhile, 11 March will mark the beginning of the fifth Arctic Business Forum conference hosted by the Lapland Chamber of Commerce, which will focus on improving Arctic transportation. Among other issues, the conference will examine expanding Finland’s railway infrastructure to link it to emerging transport networks in the Arctic. In particular, Finland is looking at constructing a line through Finnish Lapland to connect with port facilities in the Norwegian high north, thus connecting Finland with future Arctic shipping opportunites (Finland Times, BO, and AIR).

Check out this video on Vimeo about wastewater treatment and drinking water services in Nunavut.

United States
The Richardson Highway has reopened after crews finished clearing remaining avalanche debris; the road had been closed since 24 January (FNM). In an unrelated incident, a Fairbanks DOT worker was killed in a fall on the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks (FNM).
AST, SRI Working to Provide Iridium Communications in Arctic (                 



Iditarod organizers weighing course changes to accommodate poor conditions

Unseasonably warm conditions forced the alteration of the course for the Yukon Quest sled dog race, and now it appears they may do the same to the Iditarod. Organizers are currently considering moving the start of the race to Fairbanks – rather than Willow – depending on trail conditions. A decision will be made by 17 February (AD). Mushers have been open to moving the location of the restart, citing safety concerns – especially as related to concerns that thinner-than-usual river ice may not be able to handle traffic in some locations (FNM).

United States

Check out the official webpage of the 2015 Bylot Island Expedition.


Through Lapland Fells (Intelligent Life).
Check out these great photos taken while dog sledding near Tromsø at the Cutflat Blog.



This week’s collection of one-shots, galleries, slideshows, and photo essays was illuminated by light, ocean, and art. Feast your eyes on a sunny trip out past Storm Hills, Foreign Policy’s latest slideshow of Greenland on the cusp, Elena Chernyshova’s documentation of a real Russian winter for NBC, the colorful Cape Dorset Nunavut Mural Project, “Northern Exposure” in Finnmark shot by Haakon Harriss, and breaking waves shot by Mia Bennett near the Okshornan in Senja, Norway.

On Flickr this week are “Araulak Wall Painting,” “Welcome to…umm…” and “Tamron Test Shot” from Paul Aningat, a taste of Inuit fashion from Clare Kines, Leona Aglukkaq at the Sami Parliament of Sweden from DFATD, and two sunrises (here and here) captured by Bruce McKay. On Instagram this week are shots from j_crawford91, arni_coraldo, smokenotfire and ryanisaac. This week’s collection of tweets turned up “a sea of bergy bits,” a North American Arctic one-on-one (between Mark Begich and Leona Aglukkaq), some "Arctic Eye Candy" over the Mackenzie River Delta, a “raven gang” in Iqaluit, and a “historical pic” of Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen.

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)