The Arctic This Week: 3 March – 10 March, 2014

With kind permission of Clare Kines
The Arctic This Week 2014:10

Welcome and thanks for joining us this week! We hope that you find TATW interesting and entertaining to read. 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.


TAI Senior Fellow Kevin Casey and Research Associate Seth Myers were quoted in an article titled “The Navy Lays Out Its Plan for a More Accessible Arctic” on Analyst Andreas Raspotnik and Senior Fellow Andreas Østhagen co-authored an article on the EU Parliament’s involvement in Arctic issues. The article titled “From Seal Ban to Svalbard - The European Parliament Engages in Arctic Matters” can be found here. Finally, TAI Executive Director Malte Humpert gave a presentation and participated in a panel discussion on Arctic Shipping at CBS' Blue Business and Shipping Conference in Copenhagen on Feb 27. A copy of his presentation titled “The Economic Potential of Arctic Shipping in the 21st Century” is available here. He also attended the Arctic Summit conference and dinner at the invitation of The Economist.


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.


Instead of starting by directing you to something to read, we suggest that if you haven’t already you should spend some time experiencing the interactive Arctic mapping program ArkGIS, built and hosted by the World Wildlife Fund. ArkGIS places an impressive amount of geographic data at your fingertips with an easy-to-use interface that even the more geographically-challenged will find quite easy to navigate. You can overlay different layers and compare, for instance, shipping traffic and fish distribution, or ice concentration and oil and gas leases. Spend some time on the site, the experience drives home the complex issues that we face in the Arctic when it comes to balancing industry and environment.

Two new political briefings should draw readers’ attention this week. The first is the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ paper on “China’s strategic Arctic interests” which focuses on maritime interests as key to understanding China’s growing involvement in the Arctic. The second is a timely read from Andreas Raspotnik and Andreas Østhagen’s on the European Parliament’s Arctic engagement (ahead of the Parliament’s forthcoming Arctic resolution, which is set to pass today). Their article, which discusses fisheries policy and the EU’s desire to be “a sensible and responsible Arctic actor,” can be found on our website.

In the military realm, an article in the Ottawa Citizen looks at efforts by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to increase and improve its surveillance of the Arctic. According to the Citizen, documents it obtained relating to the “NORAD Next” initiative indicate that as current radar systems near the end of their life cycles in 2020-2025, NORAD will look to replace them with a “‘surveillance network to provide improved multi-domain coverage, particularly in the Arctic region.’”

Science news this week was topped by the story of a 30,000 year old giant virus discovered in a Siberian ice sheet, appropriately named Pithovirus sibericum, which was brought back to life by a team at Aix-Marseille University. Even though the virus infects only amoebae, questions arose about the resurrection of other (giant) viruses, freed by melting ice sheets (Nature). Does this sound like the back story to a zombie apocalypse movie to anyone else?

In business news, the maritime classification society DNV GL has just published its assessment of risk levels in the Arctic, focusing on the risks associated with shipping and industrial activity in the region. If you’re expecting a dry, technical report, you are in for a surprise. While the report incorporates an impressive amount of data, the findings are presented in a clear and readable format that makes for compelling reading, even for the non-specialist. The report and associated Arctic risk maps can be downloaded here.

Our infrastructure read of the week sounds – and looks – like something from a science fiction novel. A group of French students has created a design – known as Arctic Harvester – of a floating superstructure that would utilize icebergs to power the structure and grow foods in greenhouses (DailyMail). The concept is undeniably cool, and far beyond your correspondent’s descriptive powers, so check out the Arctic Harvester’s official website for videos, drawings, thoughts, and descriptions.

The 2014 Iditarod is underway! Follow along live at Alaska Dispatch’s Iditablog. If you just can’t get enough Iditarod, check out links to day-by-day coverage below in the sports section, as well as these videos from Alaska Dispatch featuring mushing greats Dallas Seavey and Martin Buser, and any Norwegian-speakers out there should check out the blog at describing the life of a musher.


Crimean crisis raises concerns among Arctic stakeholders

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson made headlines this week when he expressed concern over the “ripple effect” of Russian actions in Crimea (The Toronto Star). While on a trade mission to Edmonton, Canada, the Prime Minister expressed worries that Russia’s tactics – which he argues create “a sense of insecurity and maybe lack of trust” – might hamper the Arctic Council’s decision-making capabilities (The Reykjavik Greapvine). Gunnlaugsson hasn’t been the only leader to raise concerns. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton noted in a speech in Calgary, Alberta that Russian aggression in Ukraine and the reopening of Soviet military bases in the Arctic threatens to militarize the Arctic region (The National Post). The Arctic Journal’s Kevin McGwin argued that while leaders of Arctic countries have been disapproving of Russia’s actions (Sweden’s princess Victoria cancelled her trip to the Sochi Paralympics and Stephen Harper stated that Russia had violated international law), Arctic leaders have “prevented their disagreements from spreading north.” Edle Astrup Tschudi similarly highlighted Russia’s cooperation in the Arctic, where Russia has less bargaining power than with post-Soviet states, as a “stark contrast” to its relationships with Ukraine and Georgia (The Brown Political Review). With the fall in the Russian ruble likely to harm the Finnish economy (AD), and NATO’s “overt threats” (according to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin) likely to result in a beef-up of Russian defense (BO), staying levelheaded on Arctic issues may be a trying task.

Icelandic foreign policy and the “Arctic model”

A number of political moves confirmed Iceland’s intentions to be a major Arctic player. Speaking at The Economist’s Arctic Summit, Iceland’s foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson outlined his case for investment and business partnership with Iceland in the Arctic. In an interview with Xinhua at the summit, Sveinsson expressed a desire to work even closer with China to develop the Arctic (New Europe Online, AIR). President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, speaking on clean energy at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, also highlighted the Arctic, suggesting that the Middle East should draw upon the Arctic example as a model of conflict resolution and international cooperation (The National). Articles on Iceland’s foreign policy and its alliance with China also appeared in The Arctic Journal this week.

Greenpeace asks investigators to expedite the return of Arctic Sunrise (AIR, in Russian).
Pirate laid: Greenpeace calls on Russia to return Arctic Sunrise (Gazeta, in Russian).
Development of the Russian Arctic will require more than 560 trillion rubles (AIR, in Russian).

An opinion piece written by Yule Schmidt, a special advisor to Yukon’s premier Darrell Pasloski, stirred up a “bit of a tizzy” in Canada this week, drawing criticism from the territory’s opposition leaders for its “jaundiced view of Yukon’s land-claim agreements” (Yukon News).

Knowing me, knowing you (AJ).                 

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A social media campaign targeting pension funds that invest in Shell has been making the rounds on twitter the last few weeks. The campaign seeks to force pension funds to divest in Shell unless it abandons its oil exploration in Arctic Alaska.

A lot in the Arctic hangs on the future price of oil

Observers of Arctic oil and gas development understand the impacts that swings, even modest ones, in crude oil prices can have on industry’s enthusiasm for Arctic exploration. The current upswing of interest in Arctic oil and gas has a lot to do with the fact that oil prices have been above USD 100 a barrel for the last few years. Many industry insiders are beginning to bet that the price of oil will be declining over the coming years, perhaps to around USD 90 a barrel by 2017 (WSJ). Such a price drop will certainly have a chilling effect on Arctic investment and will also have wider political and economic impacts across the Arctic. Economist Brad Keithley crunches the numbers on what lower oil prices will mean for the state of Alaska’s budget, and his conclusions paint a fairly grim picture of billion dollar deficits in the coming years. Scott Goldsmith of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage has also warned that current government spending levels will exhaust fiscal reserves by 2024, particularly if oil prices drop and production continues to decline. The message has not seemed make a great impression on Alaska’s governing class as next year’s budget still puts the state in the red.

Concern in Iceland over oil and embrace from China

News that Iceland’s energy regulator awarded the China National Offshore Oil Company leases to explore for oil and gas on the country’s shelf (China Daily) sparked speculation on China’s Arctic interests as well as hand wringing amongst Iceland’s environmental community. Headlines trumpeted China’s entrance into Arctic oil and gas exploration (Energy Live News), and Iceland’s foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson is looking for other opportunities to expand trade and cooperation with China in the future (Xinhua).  While Iceland’s national energy authority is optimistic about the prospects for oil and gas in the lease areas, others are more sanguine about the area’s potential, citing its remoteness and the lack of infrastructure (AFP). Environmental groups decried the renewed push for oil and gas exploration by Iceland’s government. Árni Finnsson, head of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, frames the latest developments in the context of Iceland’s decision not to pursue EU ascension and sees a risk that the island nation may align itself more with Russia and China when it comes to environmental protection and resource development (AJ).

Alaska gas pipeline plan advances, though questions and concerns remain

With only about forty days left in the current session of the Alaska legislature, the heat is on to pass Governor Sean Parnell’s plan for an Alaska gas pipeline to bring North Slope gas to south central Alaska for liquefaction and export. The plan would see the state take an equity stake in the project, which will be a new development for the state’s traditionally hands-off management of the oil and gas sector. Legislators are questioning the wisdom of the state buying into the project (AD) while local politicians in interior Alaska want more clarity on the tax structure for the pipeline. The plan calls for property taxes to be waived for the pipeline and instead payments will be made to local communities based on how much gas the pipeline carries. Worse, say local politicians, is a clause that states that local communities only need to be consulted during tax determinations (FNM). Interior politicians are mobilizing to make sure their communities have a voice in discussions around the evolving project (FNM). Exxon Mobil, a major player in the gas pipeline deal, has congratulated the state for coming to the realization that it will take state support and incentives to get the project going as many competing LNG projects are currently being contemplated across the globe (EOTA).


Energy consortium Fennovoima has filed a revised plan for a new nuclear power plant in northern Finland. The new plan, which calls for a smaller plant and brings in Russian state owned energy company Rosatom as a major partner, will have to be reapproved by regulators (AD). The plan for the smaller plant has raised questions about the benefits the project will have for Finland versus the challenges of dealing with the waste, and the Green League has threatened to quit the government unless the plant is required to obtain new permits for the dramatically revised plans (AD).

The state has filed a lawsuit against current and former owners of the North Pole refinery near Fairbanks for cleanup costs at the contaminated site (FNM, AD). The issue has attracted national attention and assumed an almost House of Cards-esque plot line as the refinery’s closure has been caught up in Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s reelection campaign. Begich, a Democrat in this very conservative state, is facing an uphill fight for reelection made all the harder by USD 850,000 in attack ads targeting him that have been funded by the billionaire Tea Party patrons the Koch brothers. Interestingly, the Kochs also own the North Pole refinery and have threatened to close the plant if forced to pay for the cleanup. Begich has fired back with ads of his own, accusing the Kochs of polluting Alaska and destroying Alaska jobs (Washington Examiner). A note to Alaska journalists: watch your steps around train tracks.


Rosneft has proposed loosening some of the regulations governing foreign companies’ participation in Arctic offshore oil and gas exploration, including allowing them to own licenses for operating drilling rigs and refineries through Russian subsidiaries (AIR, in Russian). Rosgeologia is looking to spur innovation in the development of technologies for the extraction of unconventional oil and gas resources by setting up eight sites throughout Russia to focus on unconventional technologies (AIR, in Russian). Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil announced it will suspend cooperation with Rosneft on a drilling project in the Ukrainian Black Sea in response to the political crisis there, though it will continue to work with the Russian state-owned company on exploration in the Arctic Kara Sea (AIR, in Russian). Exxon Mobil stands to lose a lot if it has to postpone Russian cooperation. The company is also looking to explore for shale resources in Ukraine, another project that will likely be out on hold for the time being (Bloomberg).



The state of the ice

NSIDC reports an above average winter when it comes to temperature. This takes its toll on the Arctic sea ice (NSIDC). The Arctic sea ice extent in February 2014 was the fourth lowest ever recorded for that month. This is in line with the long-term trend of declining sea ice extent, with a 3% decline rate per decade (Reporting Climate Science). Confirming the trend, Julienne Stroeve’s team from UCL Earth Sciences observed that the Arctic Ocean’s ice-free season is getting extended by five days per decade (SD).

Warm rivers contribute to melting

A team of researchers of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory analyzed the water surface temperature of the Beaufort Sea in summer 2012 using satellite data and concluded that the sudden influx of warm river water significantly contributed to the melting of sea ice. This is in strong contrast with Antarctica, where there are no rivers that could spread this enormous amount of heat over the ocean (NASA). NASA’s Earth Observatory provides several images of the Beaufort Sea’s surface and temperature (Wired). The study led by Son Nghiem was published in Geophysical Research Letters.


Flora and fauna

Expeditions & research blogs



U.S. Participates in some – and cancels other – training exercises

U.S. troops are in Norway participating in Exercise Cold Response 2014 (Marine Corps Times). Among other exercises, U.S. Marines are working with their Norwegian counterparts to train for cold weather survival, as documented at Marine Corps Forces Europe’s Youtube page. U.S. Navy medical corpsmen have also been preparing for the exercises by learning about Norwegian equipment and training with Norwegian medical personnel (Marforeur). Back in North America, members of the U.S. National Guard participated in exercise Guerrier Nordique alongside soldiers from the 35th Canadian Brigade Group near Iqaluit. Troops worked with Canadian Rangers to learn about cold-weather survival and warfare, as well as SAR missions in Arctic conditions (AD and EOTA). Conversely, in a reminder that normal geopolitics do not stop at the 66th parallel, the United States has cancelled the biannual Northern Eagle exercises between the U.S., Norway, and Russia scheduled for April as a result of increasing tensions between the USA and Russia over events in Ukraine (BO).

Russian Base-Building Continues

The Russian Armed Forces are planning to reestablish the Alakurtti military base on the Kola Peninsula in September 2014 (BO). In the Siberian Department of Spetsstroy, construction is underway on facilities on the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago as part of the Ministry of Defense’s ongoing efforts to rebuild Russia’s Arctic military infrastructure (MarineLink and AIR).

With Search and Rescue activities on the rise, Nunavut practitioners ask for more resources

Emergency searches in Nunavut have risen 10-15% per year for the last several years – with almost half as many in 2013 as the prior three years combined – with some 27 searches already carried out in 2014 (CBC). Not unsurprisingly, the head of the territorial government’s search and rescue unit has requested more and better equipment and assistance to keep up with the trend (NN).

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Discouraging news for mining sector in Canadian Arctic

It looks like there may be some lean years ahead for mining in the Canadian Arctic. After record investment in Nunavut mineral exploration over the past few years, investment will drop to only CND 166.5 million in 2014 from 535.7 million only three years before (NN). Declining commodity prices are likely behind the sagging investment. The Fraser Institute has also released its yearly Survey of Mining Companies which ranks global mining regions in terms of attractiveness for investment for mining companies. Several Canadian regions ranked high, including a third and ninth place for Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, respectively, though Nunavut placed 44th and Yukon slipped from 8th place in 2013 to 19th place this year (YN).

Greenland mining projects at risk from falling mineral prices

An opinion article in the Arctic Journal from NunaMinerals managing director Ole Christiansen shows how the fickle nature of global commodity prices make it exceedingly difficult to correctly time the development of large-scale mining projects in Greenland. It looks like several of the large mines that were supposed to fund Greenland’s move towards independence may be mothballed as mineral prices continue to decline around the world. In an attempt to revive enthusiasm in Greenland’s mining sector, the government is contemplating a cut to mineral taxes to make projects more profitable (AJ).





Tourism and climate change in the Arctic

In the introduction to the forthcoming Special Issue on Nordic Perspectives on Tourism and Climate Change of the Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, Jarkko Saarinen of the University of Oulu examines the nexus between tourism, climate change and sustainability, a topic area which is particularly relevant to the Arctic region. On a related topic, an interesting recently published paper by Eva Kaján explores community perspectives to vulnerability and climate change in relation to tourism in the Arctic (Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism).



Other business and economic news


Flag-raising raises tensions in Nunavut

Controversy bubbled to the surface in Nunavut last week, when NTI president Cathy Towtongie commended an Iqaluit city councilor for speaking out against the decision to raise a rainbow-colored flag in front of Iqaluit city hall during the Sochi games to protest Russia’s ant-gay laws (NN). In response to their comments, Nunavut MLA Paul Okalik defended the gay community in the legislature, maintaining, “no one deserves that kind of treatment in our territory” (NN), and openly gay Inuk Robbie Watt started a Facebook page for the LGBTQ community in the Arctic (NN).

Icescapes and ice sculptures in Alaska’s Arctic

The Smithsonian’s Ocean Postal posted a feature this week on the cultural importance of sea ice for Alaska’s Inuit peoples. Yet beyond being a natural phenomenon essential to the High North’s “cultural landscape,” ice can also be an art medium. Last week, Fairbanks, Alaska hosted the World Ice Art Championships, a popular event drawing sculptors from around the world (FNM). Although warming temperatures worried organizers and participants early in the week, temperatures held steady, allowing competitors to make their creations (FNM).


Tomsk University students to study the Siberian Arctic shelf (AIR, in Russian).
Youth Video Contest: How to Enter (Arctic Children and Youth Foundation).





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United States

Day-by-Day Iditarod Coverage
March 5:
March 6:
March 7:
March 8:



To fulfill your flickr fix, check out “Ice Dance” by Clare Kines, "Sunset over Cambridge Bay" by Sophia Granchinho, “Gym Class” by Bruce McKay, and “Val” by nwtarcticrose. On twitter, check out these photos of a wolf snapped by @DanWeaver, Northern Lights via @Olepost, ice fishing via @alexhibbert
UNIS fieldwork via @HonzaDX, and a preview of @ScienceNorth’s Arctic Voices exhibition. Instagram users posted a cold Canadian flag, a polar bear in Manitoba, a Russian walrus, a chilly beach in Norway, and a sun-kissed Alatna River Valley. To check out this week’s Arctic-related photo collections and features, see SAMS Arctic, Wild-Walking Woman, and The Star Online.

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)