The Arctic This Week

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Two Robs weighed-in on Arctic politics last week. Rob Huebert discussed “How Russia’s move into Crimea upended Canada’s Arctic strategy” in the Globe & Mail, and Robert R. Murray talked (Mis)understanding the Arctic for E-IR. Murray argues that “the scholarly study of international relations is lagging behind in its application to Arctic politics,” and Huebert predicts that “the very face of Canadian Arctic security is about to change, and not for the better.”

Also in politics this week, a blog post by Heather Exner-Pirot – “The Arctic Council’s Immunity to Crimean Flu” –praises the Arctic Council’s ability to proceed with “business-as-usual” in the wake of the Crimean crisis, arguing that Arctic conflict, although “improbable,” is now “less impossible” (EOTA).

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation has published an extensive report titled, “Emergency Preparedness in Canada’s North.” The report finds worrisome deficiencies in risk assessment, planning, and training, and offers a series of seven recommendations for shoring up Canada’s capabilities (MedicalXpress). Among the recommendations of the report, a common thread is the need to operate more effectively at the local level, and both empower local communities to take the initiative in both emergency response and preparedness (NN).

In science reads this week, we recommend you see this article in Yukon News on the overlooked science of snow and avalanche prediction. Can snow crystals indicate potential avalanches? For Matt Holmes, member of the Yukon Avalanche Association’s field team, they do. The crystals’ formation determines the stability of the snowpack. In combination with weather data, snow structures are key to forecasting avalanches and determine their likelihood and potential severity.

In mining reads this week, see this excellent and troubling report prepared by Karine Czyzewski, Frank Tester, Nadia Aaruaq, and Sylvie Blangy titled “The Impact of Resource Extraction on Inuit Women and Families in Qamani’tuaq, Nunavut Territory.” The report, prepared for Pauktuutit, explores the social and economic impacts the Meadowbank gold mine has had on Inuit women.  While many women have gained employment and new incomes have benefited the community, a rise in alcohol and drug use, social conflict and truancy have been some of the negative, second order effects on the community.

In business reads, learn about novel business practices that are supporting organic agriculture in the High North.The founders of Goosefoot Farm, three farmers in Fairbanks, Alaska, have benefited from crowdfunding this spring to turn their vision of a 5 ½ acres organic vegetable cultivation into reality. They raised nearly $10,000 within two months (NM). Their site “How to Start a Farm at -40 Below” discloses the details of the project.

Finally, in infrastructure reads, a new report from Alaska’s Department of Labor confirms what most residents have long known to be true: the state lags behind the lower forty-eight when it comes to telecommunications. Currently, a number of rural Alaska communities are still without 3 or 4G wireless connectivity, and Alaskans “overall have slower access and download speeds than residents of other states, but they pay more for their services than the rest of the nation” (AD).


Devolution takes effect in Canada’s Northwest Territories

Devolution officially began in the Northwest Territories last week, giving the territory province-like regulatory powers (CBC, APTN). The Northwest Territories Devolution Act (or Bill C-15), passed jurisdiction over Crown lands and resources to the territorial government and amended the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. Shauna Morgan criticized the bill in iPolitics, saying the bill’s two components were “giving power with one hand, while taking it away with the other.” Although devolution officially took effect on April 1, the Government of the Northwest Territories says it will wait until the summer to commemorate the occasion, when more people should be able to attend (NJ). While devolution has moved forward, the Northern Journal’s Meghan Wohlberg noted that that “April 1 now marks the start of further legislative and policy review” of the final devolution bills, which some MLAs said were rushed through without proper public consultation.

Arctic conflict: “improbable, but less impossible”

A blog post by Heather Exner-Pirot – “The Arctic Council’s Immunity to Crimean Flu” – explores the recent bristly relations between Russia and the West and praises the “remarkability” of the Arctic Council’s ability to proceed “business-as-usual” at the recent SAO meeting in Yellowknife (EOTA).  Of all the commentary on the Crimean crisis and Arctic affairs, we may like Ms. Exner-Pirot’s best. Without adding fuel to the panicked fire, she notes the subtle changes in Arctic cooperation since the crisis and states that “conflict in the Arctic remains improbable, but less impossible.” With NATO halting military and civilian cooperation with Russia (BO), and an “Alaska back to Russia” petition circulating on the White House website, it’s no wonder that some Arctic commentators are a little nervous.

Who Owns the North Pole? Debate Heats Up as Climate Change Transforms Arctic (Bloomberg).


United States
Benjamin Nageak, a Democrat representing Barrow, Alaska in the Alaska House of Representatives, was appointed to the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission last week, replacing Mark Newman (The Bristol Bay Times). Commission co-chair Lesil McGuire called Nageak “a wonderful addition to the AAPC” (Alaska State House of Representatives). McGuire’s office also issued a press release last week commending Canada’s creation of an Arctic Economic Council at the Arctic Council’s most recent SAO meeting in Yellowknife last month.
Are we an Arctic nation? (Anchorage Press).

Russia's bid for the expansion of the Arctic shelf will be ready in the autumn (AIR, in Russian).

The Nordics


Pressure mounts on Norway to cancel leases as hunt for oil reaches critical stage in Barents Sea

Environmental groups are pressuring Norway to not issue new licenses in the Barents Sea in areas approaching the seasonal limit of winter sea ice (NVONews). The new licenses, part of the proposed 23rd licensing round, are located in the northern Barents Sea and will be the farthest north that oil exploration has been allowed in Norway’s waters. A consortium of environmental groups including Greenpeace and WWF warned that the new leases were too close to the ecologically sensitive ice edge where an oil spill would have catastrophic effects (Bloomberg). This next licensing round could be key for the future of oil and gas development in the Barents. Discoveries in the region so far have been modest and mostly of gas, complicating plans for development (AJ). Unless major oil discoveries are made, it will be difficult to finance the major infrastructure upgrades that will be required to support oil and gas in the Barents Sea (Reuters). Statoil has already announced that it would rather not invest in onshore facilities to develop the Castberg field, meaning that more and larger discoveries will be needed to create a critical mass that will justify large-scale oil and gas infrastructure investments (BO).

Many obstacles still ahead for Alaska LNG export plan

Plenty of more news this week on Alaska’s proposed gas pipeline and LNG export plan.  See this article by Pat Forgey in the Alaska Dispatch for a good overview of the challenges to exporting the North Slope’s gas and the many moving parts involved in the current pipeline plan. In some unwelcomed news for Alaskans, the current plan for developing North Slope gas could lead to a loss of USD 1.5 billion in tax revenue as major oil companies will be able to write off the massive infrastructure investments necessary for the project (AD). Mayors in interior Alaska communities along the route of the proposed pipeline are worried their concerns aren’t being accounted for in the new project (FNM) while Governor Sean Parnell pushed changes to legislation guiding the project’s development so non-residents of Alaska could sit on the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AD).

Shell ignored dangers, made poor decisions in 2012 rig grounding

The US Coast Guard released its report on the grounding of the drill rig Kulluk in 2012, blaming Shell for making poor decisions and ignoring risks that led up to the accident.  Jennifer Dlouhy provides good coverage for FuelFix, including a damning warning that Shell received from the master of the Aiviq, one of the ships involved in towing the Kulluk, that attempting to move the Kulluk during the final week of December “guarantees an ass kicking.” The report concluded that fines against Shell for the incident should be considered (Telegraph).  The editorial page of the Anchorage Daily News said the report should lead to greater oversight and caution when it comes to oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic waters, while the National Resources Defense Council used the report’s release to call for a moratorium on Arctic oil and gas.

The Yukon Utilities Board is considering replacing aging diesel generators with natural gas ones to provide power for Whitehorse, though residents are demanding that the gas used be “frack-free,” that is, not extracted by hydraulic fracturing (YN).

A new book titled “Breaking Oil for Ice: The Epic Voyage of the SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage” by Ross Coen looks at the story of the SS Manhattan, a massive, ice-strengthened tanker built to ship oil from Alaska’s North Slope before the advent of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  David James provides a review of the book for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.

Rosneft is set to begin aerial geophysical surveys of several of its lease areas in the Chukchi Sea in advance of ship-based seismic surveys which the company will begin later this year (AIR, in Russian).



Monitoring the Greenland ice sheet

The Polar Portal for monitoring ice and climate in the Arctic presents four products for monitoring the Greenland ice sheet: PROMICE, which collects weather data from more than 20 stations around the margin of the Greenland ice sheet; and of the Centre for Ocean and Ice of the Danish Meteorological Institute the Daily Mean Temperatures in the Arctic since 1958, Arctic weather, and Fjord wind, which provides detailed wind information (Polar Portal).

Studying marine mammal migrations and making sound underwater

In their creative blog, Caitlin O'Neill and Richard Crawford give you a tour through the sound landscape of marine mammals and the impact of man-made sounds on the animals. Besides the insights you’ll get into their work at Resolute Bay, you will get to know better a keystone species of the ecosystem: the Arctic Cod (Arctic Profiles).


Flora and fauna

Expeditions & research blogs



Training exercises underway in Canadian High North

Operation Spring Forward – a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) training exercise – is underway in Goose Bay, Iqaluit, Inuvik, and Yellowknife (CBC and AD). Concurrently, Joint Task Force (North) is running Operation NUNALIVUT out of Resolute Bay. NUNALIVUT involves over 250 personnel, and “includes both combined and joint operations exercising interoperability and Arctic skill-sets” (Government of Canada). Operations will include patrol, reconnaissance, and airlift, among other competencies, and will be executed in conjunction with U.S. National Guard units and Canadian Rangers (45eNord).


The renovated Tiksi airport will again host Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers (AIR, in Russian).
The deputy commander of Russia’s Western Military District has offered assurances that there is no ongoing threat of radiation from the Mike-class nuclear submarine K-278 “Komsomolets,” which sank in 1989 in the Barents Sea (AIR, in Russian).

United States

The joint Norwegian-Russian “Exercise Barents” SAR drill is expected to continue as planned, despite Norway’s suspension of bilateral military activities with Russia in response to Russian actions in Ukraine (BO).


Fraser Institute studies differences in mineral rights regimes between US and Canada

Canada’s Fraser Institute has produced an interesting report comparing mineral rights regimes in the US and Canada.  The report explores how different historical trajectories in the US and Canada have produced different management regimes which have significant impacts on the mining industry in the two neighboring countries.  A prominent recommendation of the report is to transfer mineral rights to First Nations as a way to streamline land claims issues and better support investment (CMJ).





Booz(t)ing tourism

With an eye on boosting the tourism industry, House Bill 309, sponsored by Alaskan Anchorage Rep. Chris Tuck, aims at allowing distilleries to sell directly to their customers. This would enable distilleries to offer tourist tours and also improve their ability to connect with consumers (NM).



Other business and economic news




A new report by Canada’s prison ombudsman found conditions in Nunavut’s Baffin Correctional Centre “nothing short of appalling” (EOTA). The report indicates that inmates are forced to live in conditions that likely violate international human rights standards (NN).
Seals are cute but starvation is ugly (The True North Times).

Films on indigenous peoples of the Arctic shown in Naryan (AIR, in Russian).


Finland Upgrading Northern Airports to Support Arctic Tourism

Hoping to cash in on expanding interest in Arctic tourism, Finland is upgrading its northern airports. Northern Finnish hotels reported a more than half-million person increase in traffic over two years, with some 3.83 million overnight stays in 2012, and “Finnish Lapland is by far the most popular tourism destination in the Barents Region” (BO and AIR, in Russian).



The head of Rosaviation and the governor of the Chukotka Autonomous District have held discussions on renovating and upgrading the airport infrastructure in Chukotka (AIR, in Russian).
Russia will begin offering direct “domestic” flights from the Barents Region to Simferopol, capital of the recently-annexed Ukrainian territory of Crimea (BO).

United States


United States


North of the North Cape (Travels in Orbit).

Chukotka sled-doge race “Hope” underway (AIR, in Russian).


To an outsider, it might not look like spring in the Arctic this time of year. But for those in the know, full playgrounds and long days (ecojackiejo), sled dog races (dustineddo and arcticmusher),  and Gyrfalcon hatchlings are sure signs, despite snow in Tromsø (kirstimakj) and a “near blizzard” in Pangnirtung (dkulugutuk). Other shots with snow include one of downtown Gjoa Haven via ryanp9ca on Instagram, a polar bear skeleton, “pure isolation” in Barentsburg, Norway, and snow-covered ice in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, via twitter, as well as “Lone walker on the street” and “Prelude Aurora Borealis,” on the flickr streams of Sophia Granchinho and Jason Simpson. Also check out “Heart, beats” by Clare Kines. His stellar time-lapse, “A tale of two igluu,” is also worth a visit to vimeo.

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)

courtesy of clare kines