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Arctic Shipping Lanes Open as Polar Ice Retreats

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Arctic shipping lanes to open as polar ice bids a retreat
Rapid arctic climate change is set to open the northern seas for a major expansion in oil transportation and exploration
24 May 2005
Lloyd's List

FOR ALL the controversy surrounding the science of global warming, the shipping industry can be sure of the fact that the retreat of the polar ice cap means commercial Arctic sea lanes will be a reality by 2050.

Centuries of romance surrounding the icy fate of explorers, such as Martin Frobisher, Wilhelm Barents or John Franklin, and their search for a northern passage over the next few decades will melt into reality.

Arctic climate researchers with extensive recent field work report that change from the later half of the 20th century has been unprecedented.

Experts from the US Arctic Research Commission in Alaska to organisations such as Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research agree there is no evidence this process is going to let up.

This July, the science will be published in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment following approval in November by international forum the Arctic Council in Reykjavik.

“The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth”, emphasises US Arctic Research Commission deputy executive director Dr Lawson Brigham. “Each of the five global climate models used offer a continuous decline in Arctic sea ice cover throughout the 21st century. The observed retreat of Arctic sea ice is a real phenomenon.”

The importance of these findings to the industry was in evidence recently at a Lloyd’s List Arctic conference that drew top figures from across shipping.

An Arctic marine strategic plan, lead by Iceland and Canada through the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group, has set down an initial map of the risks posed by shipping and the energy industry for the region’s environment and people.

The Reykjavik summit also established a full-scale Arctic marine shipping assessment, with Canada, Finland and the US at the helm, over the next three years.

Even the staunchest sports utility vehicle enthusiast can no longer dispute the steady decrease in polar ice cover, even if explanations how and why are hotly disputed.

The paradox for shipping is that this dramatic sea change — viewed by others as a global catastrophe — holds out huge business opportunities.

And the driving force for this will be oil and gas transportation through the Russian northern seas, and to a lesser extent through the North American Arctic, and demand for more of the very fossil fuels behind the ice’s steady retreat.

By the mid-century a wider expanse of open water in the Arctic during the summer will offer shipping seasonal trade lanes, as accumulated multi-layer ice in the central Arctic decreases and sea ice thins around the ocean.

An ice-free summer Arctic Ocean by 2050, with multi-year ice in the sea disappearing, is one likelihood, with remaining sea ice in summer by 2100 retreating further away from most Arctic coasts.

Other projections for the end of the century calculate a 25% probability of unimpeded access along the Northern Sea Route for almost 180 days of the year.

“There are many variables, but it is clear that warming in the Arctic is occurring”, adds US Arctic Research Commission chair George B Newton. “More and more of the Arctic will become ice free each year and will be that way for longer periods of time.

“Routine Arctic shipping will be possible in about three decades, limited to shorter voyages with intercontinental transit later.”

Effected areas include the Russian Littoral, the Canadian archipelago, the Lincoln Sea north of Greenland and off the Alaskan north slope, all of which are shallow water or continental shelf areas where first year ice forms.

The latest observational data suggests a 3% decrease per decade in sea ice, with perennial pack ice diminishing by 7% every ten years and ice thickness reductions reported between 14% to 32% over the time span.

“This has great significance for Arctic marine shipping since multi-year ice would essentially disappear, with all the next winter’s sea ice first-year”, adds Dr Brigham.

“Global climate models to the end of the century suggest increased marine access and an extended season of navigation in nearly all Arctic regional seas.”

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research meteorologist Dr Jan Lieser, who has participated in three Arctic expeditions on the German RV Polarstern, points out that there has been a steady retreat in sea ice cover since 1978, with a record ice loss in September 2002.

Scientific analysis of the Canadian Arctic Northwest Passage has not been clear-cut, with inter-annual variability of observed sea ice in the region.

However, observation of Russia’s northern sea route from the Kara Gate to the Bering Strait shows a lengthening season for shipping through the century. With ice remaining on the tip of Severnaya Zemlaya, ACIA research suggests there will be a reliance on a transit route through Vilkitskii Strait between the seas of Kara and Laptev, rather than further north in the open Arctic Ocean.

And, amid all the talk of a doomsday in the cryosphere, Arctic experts are also at pains to stress that research indicates that winter Arctic sea ice will undergo only a modest decrease in coming years.

“There will always be an ice covered Arctic Ocean in winter, although the ice may be thinner and contain less multi-year ice”, adds Dr Brigham.

The ACIA research has also led to the development of an ice atlas of the future, which will offer a strategic, long range view of the possible shape over coming decades of sea ice and marine access in the Arctic basin.

“Sea-going interests will look to the polar routes as a way to reduce costs”, observes Mr Newton. “Transit time and distance savings of nearly 40% can be anticipated using either Russian or Canadian routes.”

One major concern for shipping, apart from the economics of commercial Arctic exploitation, will be safety, with increased oil production and shipping raising the spectre of oil spillage.

“With easier access and increased shipping, and on and offshore exploitation of fuel resources, the concern for an oil spill in high latitude, ice-infested waters becomes very real”, warns Mr Newton.

“It is an event the world is ill prepared to face”.

With 982 spills of at least 10,000 gallons since 1960 off high traffic areas, such as the English Channel and Florida and Malacca Straits, Mr Newton argues that an accident at some point statistically is not unlikely.

“One must assume that a significant oil spill will occur some day in the Arctic Ocean sea ice”, he warns.

The environmental impact of increased oil shipments in the region is an important aspect of a three-year EC-backed research programme into the development of a marine transportation network in Russia’s northern sea routes. Arctic Operational Platform started in 2002 and has counted 22 participants from seven countries, including Russia, Finland, Norway, Germany and Great Britain.

ARCOP figures project a twelvefold growth of export volume by the end of the decade to 102.9m tonnes of crude from northern Russian ports from 8.1m tonnes in 2003, with a peak estimate of around 151.m tonnes.

Big projects include the Shtokman gas project in the Barents, and the inshore terminal at Varandey in the Pechora Sea, as well as the Prirazlomnoye offshore field.

Another Pechora Sea project at Indiga is set to yield 50m by 2010 for Transneft, and is an alternative to Lukoil’s proposed development of Varandey, which already pumps 400,000 tonnes of oil and could yield 20m at full pelt or 12m projected for 2010.

Lukoil’s joint development of Severodvinsk with Taftnet is expected to offer 10m tonnes by the end of the decade and 15m at its peak.

Tambeyneftegaz’s plans for Tambey potentially tripling from 10m tonnes at the end of the decade.

Rosneft has its hand in three projects, with exports in 2010 via the more easterly Dikson development up to 10m and via Arkhangelsk more than doubling to 4.2m with a potential for 7m tonnes. The offshore Prirazlomnoye field is inked for 5.9m tonnes by the end of the decade going to perhaps 7m tonnes.

“Russia is the biggest supplier of oil and gas to Europe and Europe is the biggest user of Russian oil and gas”, explains project co-ordinator Kimmo Juurmaa of Aker Finnyards.

“For the participating European and Russian industries, this project gives ideas of how to develop their products.”

The project focused on an oil transportation scenario from Varandey to Rotterdam, with the development of the south-east part of the Barents considered a realistic first step in the development of the region.

Taking a conservative hypothetical transport volume of 328,000 barrels per day or 16m tonnes per year, the project has also presumed $15 per tonne for the Varandey-Rotterdam route.

The shipping analysis focuses on six areas of concern ranging from ice and navigational information to legal and cross border issues.

The big stumbling block for many investors has been the legal status of the northern sea routes, with the confused state of ice classification rules and the cost of insurance.

For now shipping has to assess the economics and feasibility of an Arctic transportation system, with suitable tanker sizes and corresponding icebreaking alternative.

With shallow coastlines and approaches requiring offshore loading, specially-designed terminals and sub-sea pipelines, along with testing conditions for manpower and machinery, Arctic projects will be a huge operational challenge.

And it is these issues that the shipping industry will have to assess over the next decade if commercial sea lanes are to be a reality in 2050.
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Thinning ice already allowing more commercial shipping in Northwest Passage
14 June 2009
The Canadian Press

The thinning Arctic ice pack is already producing the much-anticipated surge in commercial shipping through the Northwest Passage.

And as the pace of ice loss accelerates, experts say the federal government is not keeping up to ensure Canadians control it.

Three companies are now planning to send commercial vessels deep into the Passage's once ice-choked waters this season _ triple the number from 2007. There are now more solely commercial vessels in the Passage than there were ships of all kinds just a few years ago.

``The ice is more favourable than in past decades,'' said Capt. Georges Tousignant, who is scheduled to take a cargo ship from Montreal almost to the western gates of the fabled waterway this September _ the first such passage for Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping.

``It's navigable,'' Tousignant said. ``It's not that high-risk.''

With that run, which will land supplies at communities all along the Arctic coast, NEAS joins two other shippers plying the same waters.

DesGagnes Transarctik sent its first cargo vessel into the Passage last season. Northern Transportation Company Limited has shipped to those communities for years, sailing from west to east.

Experts have long predicted that shrinking Arctic ice cover would lead to an increase in use of those waters. The increase, they said, would be created by demand from local communities and growing northern industrial development.

That's exactly what's happening.

Coast Guard figures show there were 62 commercial and re-supply ships and three ore carriers in the Passage last year. That's more than all 54 of the ships that entered those waters just four years earlier, which includes research and recreational vessels.

Although the Coast Guard expects the number of research and tourist ships to decline slightly, commercial shipping is still expected to increase.

``The demand is increasing steadily,'' said Waguih Rayes, DesGagnes' general manager.

That demand comes not only from Nunavut's growing population, but from the federal government's increasing spending on northern infrastructure. Northerners rely on sealifts for everything from bulk supplies of dog food to concrete and lumber.

``Ten years ago, how much money was spent on infrastructure building schools and hospitals in the North compared to today, the difference is huge,'' said Rayes.

Shippers also have their eyes on the mining industry. While the current economic slump has delayed development of the several resource projects slated for the Arctic, Rayes said it's not too soon to start preparing for them.

``The mines one day will become active. We're going to see years when what we talk about today will be doubled and even tripled.''

Ice conditions are likely to encourage that increase.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre reported last week that the pace of ice melting throughout the Arctic over the month of May was about 54,000 square kilometres per day _ well above the long-term average.

And every May, there's less ice. The long-term trend shows an average decline of 34,000 square kilometres of ice per year.

That means that thick, multi-year ice that impedes navigation could soon be a thing of the past, said Michael Byers, international law professor and Arctic expert.

``From that point, the Arctic becomes comparable to the St. Lawrence,'' he said.

International shippers are already making increasing use of the Passage. A cable-laying ship sailed through last year from Hong Kong to a project in the North Atlantic, Byers said.

Canada hasn't kept up, he said.

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared last fall that all ships in the Passage would be required to report to the Coast Guard, those regulations still haven't been passed into law.

Nor does Canada have a reliable way to enforce its rules or provide search and rescue in Arctic waters. A few long-range helicopters stationed at existing facilities in Inuvik, Northwest Territories and Iqaluit, Nunavut, would go a long way toward answering those needs, Byers said.

``We need to step up our enforcement capability,'' he said.

Meanwhile, shippers are welcoming the emerging routes and markets. ``For the last 10 years, this route was practicable seven times out of 10,'' said Rayes. ``The fact that the last three years were the years where (this route) was ice-free is very encouraging.''
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On the trail of the Arctic's most enduring mystery
An Alberta archeologist feels certain he can locate the lost ships of the Franklin expedition

15 July 2009
The Globe and Mail

EDMONTON -- A marine archeologist from landlocked Alberta has set his sights on finding two of the world's most coveted shipwrecks: the long-lost Royal Navy vessels from the doomed 19th-century Franklin expedition.

Rob Rondeau and his small team plan to travel to the central Arctic archipelago later this summer to launch a privately funded underwater search.

The race to find the fabled shipwrecks has been continuing for more than 160 years, but Mr. Rondeau is confident his group's research and use of state-of-the-art sonar will solve the vexing mystery.

Parks Canada was supposed to dispatch its own marine archeologists to the Arctic later this summer as part of a high-profile, three-year search for the ships that began last year. It scrubbed this year's effort because no government vessel was available.

While most modern-day Franklin hunters, including Parks Canada, have focused their attention on areas southwest of King William Island, Mr. Rondeau is confident the shipwrecks are in fact located north of the island, in the waters of Larsen Sound.

The missing ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, were part of an 1845 British expedition led by Sir John Franklin to map the Arctic and locate the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia.

The vessels and their crews never returned, and since the late 1840s, dozens of search efforts, both public and private, have been mounted to answer one of the Arctic's greatest riddles. Graves of some of the crew and wreckage from the expedition are all that have been recovered.

The search for the Franklin expedition over the decades has become a lifelong obsession for many people around the world, but Mr. Rondeau, who is head of Alberta-based ProCom Diving Services, said he picked the project primarily to test newly developed sonar equipment in the Arctic.

“That was the first priority. I'm not a Franklin-phile,” he said during a telephone interview from his home in Coronation, about 290 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

Mr. Rondeau said the plan is to find the ships, which have already been designated national historic sites, this year and return next summer, possibly with a mini-submarine, to photograph and research them further.

“All the work we are doing is non-intrusive – it's look but don't touch,” said Mr. Rondeau, who has worked on locating and recovering shipwrecks around the world.

“This isn't a salvage mission. This is full-on archeology – and philanthropy, to a certain extent.”

The expedition is being backed by several sponsors, including Canadian North Airlines, Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. and Discovery Channel Canada, which is sending a documentary crew along on the search. Mr. Rondeau also invited the head of Parks Canada's underwater archaeology service to join them this summer. Parks Canada declined the invitation yesterday.

The search will be launched in early September from Taloyoak, Nunavut, a small, mainly Inuit community located on the Boothia Peninsula.

Jayko Neeveacheak, a 39-year-old Taloyoak resident, has been hired to help Mr. Rondeau's team and to find an Inuit guide. He said this is only the second time that a search for the expedition has been launched from his community, and that most head out from Gjoa Haven, at the southeastern tip of King William Island.

Most Inuit in his community grew up hearing about the lost Franklin expedition but few spend any time looking for signs of it, Mr. Neeveacheak said.

“We know the stories, but it doesn't really matter to people around here. They like to go out on the land and that kind of stuff.”


Lost in the ice

The first attempts to find Franklin's ships were rescue missions, and began within three years of the expedition leaving England.

1848-1859 - Numerous expeditions were launched, including the first, which was paid for by the British government and led by Arctic explorer Sir James Clark Ross . During this period, human remains and relics were found. Stories that some of the crew resorted to cannibalism also began to surface. In the late 1850s, an expedition funded by Franklin's widow, Lady Jane Franklin, and led by Leopold McClintock found a note left by crew members on King William Island. They wrote that Franklin had died in 1847, the ships were abandoned a year later and the remaining crew were attempting to walk overland for help.

1860-1869 - American explorer Charles Francis Hall led two searches after receiving a tip, which later turned out to be wrong, that survivors existed.

1878-1880 - The American Geographical Society sponsored an expedition led by U.S. Army Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka.

1967 - Canadian soldiers took part in "Project Franklin" to mark Canada's centennial. They conducted air, land and sea searches.
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Arctic losing thick sea ice, U.S. data show
7 April 2009
The Globe and Mail

HALIFAX, WASHINGTON -- The amount of thick sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk sharply, according to new U.S. surveillance data, adding urgency to Canada's push to exert sovereignty in the North.

But Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said yesterday it could be decades before the Northwest Passage is open for shipping.

“Some experts predict that the entire Arctic could be ice free by 2013, others say that this will happen by 2050,” Mr. Cannon told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“Our own Canadian Ice Service, however, believes the various internal waterways known as the Northwest Passage will not likely be a reliable commercial shipping route for decades owing to extreme ice variability.”

NASA and the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported yesterday that Arctic sea ice more than two years old made up only about 10 per cent of the total this winter. That's a drop from 14 per cent last year and at least 20 per cent two years ago.

There's an increasing presence of thin, new, first-year sea ice, which is more likely to melt during the summer. A decade ago, this type of sea ice, which is also less likely to impede the types of ships several countries are planning to use, made up half of the Arctic total. It now accounts for 70 per cent.

Tom Wagner, cryosphere program manager with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, acknowledged yesterday that diminishing ice has “very big implications” for northern shipping and resource exploitation.

“[It] opens up issues of who owns the Arctic,” he said in a conference call presenting the new data.

Canada claims sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. The United States regards it as an international strait no different from other vital sea lanes such as the Strait of Hormuz, and thus open to international maritime traffic.

Although nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S., British, French and Russian navies routinely were deployed in the Arctic during the Cold War and continue to make less frequent forays, Canada remains largely in the dark about those operations.

Yesterday, Mr. Cannon suggested that the U.S. Navy – in what would be a departure from previous practice – would notify Canada in future through joint military channels about its submerged patrols.

Although successive governments in Ottawa and Washington have sought to smooth over the dispute, the prospect of an ice-free, and thus commercially viable, summer passage through the strait threading Canada's Arctic archipelago has raised the possibility of a new showdown.

“What the anticipation of an opening Arctic has created is a lot of countries [investing] in technology to help them get through first-year ice,” said Rob Huebert, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary and an expert in circumpolar relations. “Even if it gets colder again, we're going to have new traffic and new actors in the Arctic.”

The Canadian military – which three years ago renamed the Northwest Passage “Canadian Internal Waters” – is running a sovereignty exercise in the Far North. Inuit reservists are patrolling on Ellesmere Island and air surveillance and parachute-borne search and rescue exercises are planned there.

But Dr. Huebert warned that exercises on land do little to bolster Canada's claim to control the areas covered by thinning sea ice. He noted that Russia has an active maritime presence promoting its claim to the Northern Sea Route, and that Canada needs to act to protect its interests.

He said Canada should not delay in mounting a major diplomatic campaign promoting its claim and should accelerate the purchase of icebreakers, even if it means buying them from foreign shipyards.
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Thinking about the Arctic's Future: Scenarios for 2040
1 September 2007

The warming of the Arctic could mean more circumpolar transportation and access for the rest of the world-but also an increased likelihood of overexploited natural resources and surges of environmental refugees.

The Arctic is undergoing an extraordinary transformation early in the twenty-first century-a transformation that will have global impacts. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at unprecedented rates and are likely to continue increasing throughout the century.

Significant environmental changes in the region include retreating sea ice, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, increasing coastal erosion, and shifting vegetation zones. The Arctic Ocean could even be temporarily ice-free during summer 2040, predicts one recent study.

These changes have profound consequences for the indigenous people, for all Arctic species and ecosystems, and for any anticipated economic development. The Arctic is also understood to be a large storehouse of yet-untapped natural resources, a situation that is changing rapidly as exploration and development accelerate in places like the Russian Arctic.

The combination of these two major forces-intense climate change and increasing natural-resource development-can transform this onceremote area into a new region of importance to the global economy. To evaluate the potential impacts of such rapid changes, we turn to the scenario-development process, the creation of plausible futures to enhance a dialogue among a multitude of stakeholders and decision makers.

The key themes providing the framework for the four Arctic scenarios posed for 2040 include:

* Global climate change, which results in significant regional warming in each of the four scenarios.

* Transportation systems, especially increases in marine and air access.

* Resource development-for example, oil and gas, minerals, fisheries, freshwater, and forestry.

* Indigenous Arctic peoples-their economic status and the impacts of change on their well-being.

* Regional environmental degradation and environmental protection schemes.

* The Arctic Council and other cooperative arrangements of the Arctic states and those of the regional and local governments.

* Overall geopolitical issues facing the region, such as the Law of the Sea and boundary disputes.

Scenario One: Globalized Frontier

In this first scenario, the Arctic in 2040 has become an integral component of the global economic system. Formerly a hinterland, the region has rapidly been drawn into the globalization age. Abundant natural resources, a less-harsh climate, mostly sparse populations, and a geography permitting shorter global air and sea routes between North America and Eurasia have been critical factors influencing the Arctic's development.

The Arctic remains a bellwether for global environmental change, because the manifestations of global warming are amplified in the high latitudes. The Arctic's dramatic environmental changes include the shrinking and thinning of sea ice and significant thawing of permafrost in the Russian Arctic, Alaska, and northern regions of Canada. Arctic sea ice disappeared completely for a two-week period during summer 2040. Such climatic change has had profound and largely unfavorable consequences for a majority of the Arctic's indigenous peoples. Several coastal communities in Alaska and Canada have simply washed away.

The age of polar transportation has arrived, as the Arctic now offers greater access than at any other period in circumpolar history. The opening of Russian airspace over the Arctic early in the twenty-first century shortened flights between North America and Asia and have relieved congestion on trans-Pacific routes.

Greater marine access-earlier and longer navigation seasons-has been achieved throughout the Arctic Ocean, and commercial shipping has steadily increased in Hudson Bay, northwest Russia (Barents and Kara seas), and around coastal Alaska. Sensitive nuclear cargoes have been transported in summer across the Northern Sea Route between Europe and Jap a n , t h e reby avoiding traditional navigation straits and coastal waters where political opposition has been intense. The sum of these transportation activities has placed unprecedented environmental pressures on the entire Arctic.

Rising global prices for oil and natural gas, as well as for key commodities such as nickel, copper, zinc, coal, and freshwater, have made Arctic natural resource exploitation economically viable. Oil and gas developments in western Siberia, including offshore in the Pechora and Kara seas, have been extensive.

The region's boreal forests, especially those in subarctic Russia, have experienced intense harvesting pressure. Since 2030, freshwater from the Canadian north has been transported by ship from Hudson Bay to warmer climates throughout the world. Tourism is flourishing, and everyone now has access by sea or air to the remotest Arctic regions.

Overfishing has plagued several Arctic seas since early in the twentyfirst century. The fish stocks of the Bering and Barents seas have already been seriously depleted. The Greenland west coast fishery has been stabilized, but current fishery revenues are far too low to sustain the local communities. Thus, the Greenland Home Rule Government has pushed for increased tourism and further increased royalties by extending mineral rights to commercial firms for seabed tracts in Greenland's exclusive economic zone.

With growing industrial activity in the Arctic has come the specter of a major environmental disaster or emergency situation. Well-worn oil and gas pipelines in western Siberia and Alaska have experienced recurring, serious spills, and new pipelines have been built. No large marine spills have occurred, but serious ice damage to many ships operating in the Arctic has reawakened public interest in an enforceable Arctic marine environmental protection regime.

By 2020, five Arctic coastal states (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Norway, Russia, and the United States) have asserted their sovereignty over resources of the seabed beyond 200 nautical miles. Only two small regions in the central Arctic Ocean remain under international jurisdiction.

Long-term sustainable development initiatives of the Arctic Council have come under considerable strain with the onslaught of recent Arctic industrialization. Environmental concerns that once fostered circumpolar cooperation have been superseded by economic and social interests, often driven by the private sector. Issues involving the freedom of navigation and commercial access throughout the Arctic Ocean remain highly contentious. The eight permanent member states of the Arctic Council have increasingly excluded outside participation in the Council's deliberations.

The protection, development, and governance of Svalbard have been a particularly vexing problem, as other nations (many outside the Svalbard Treaty) and several international consortiums believe they have a stake in the islands' potential resource exploitation. Russia continues to complicate the politics of Svalbard by not recognizing Norway's claim of a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around the islands.

Scenario Two: Adaptive Frontier

In this scenario, the Arctic in 2040 is being drawn into the globalization era much more slowly than might be anticipated. However, there is substantial international cooperation and harmony among many actors and stakeholders, principally because the circumpolar nations realize they have significant environmental, social, and economic interests and responsibilities in the Arctic. The indigenous organizations around the Arctic have a much higher profile and significant influence over decisions related to regional environmental protection and economic development.

The Arctic continues as a key indicator of global climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions have remained relatively high, and the resulting impacts on the Arctic by 2040 are widespread and serious. Visible effects of decades of warming-on land and sea-are observed over large expanses of the Arctic.

A full-scale assault on Arctic oil and gas has not yet materialized. World prices have risen, but not enough for all regions of the Arctic to be competitive. New developments in the Caspian Sea, offshore Sakhalin Island, and in deep waters have generally met global energy demand. While northwest Russia and the Alaskan Arctic have witnessed expanded oil and gas development, the Canadian Arctic and offshore Barents Sea have experienced only minimal investment. European Union funding has helped Russia repair its Siberian pipeline infrastructure and fix its serious spill problems.

Transportation systems are more robust in the Arctic than ever before. Polar air routes are thriving, as in the Globalized Frontier scenario, but international accords have controlled aircraft emissions, limiting their impacts on the Arctic atmosphere.

Warming climates have fostered development of an aquaculture industry in Arctic coastal areas. Commercially viable fishing has continued in the Arctic marginal seas, and a total collapse of any single fishery has been averted using stringent harvesting quotas and other bilateral agreements.

Arctic tourism has flourished, and effective regulations have been issued by Nunavut, Svalbard, Iceland, and Greenland for managing the thousands of Arctic tourists who now travel north in all seasons.

The Arctic Council has proven to be a proactive forum resolving several disputes regarding Svalbard and effectively engaging Arctic indigenous peoples in all deliberations. Much has been accomplished, despite intense pressure from outside governments (who believe the United Nations should have a greater role in Arctic affairs) and from several nongovernmental organizations (who want much of the Arctic to be a wilderness area with a moratorium on further development).

Arctic contingency planning for environmental (man-made) and natural emergencies is advanced and well coordinated. Multinational response teams, jointly funded by private and public sources, have been established and operational exercises conducted in sea ice and permafrost.

Arctic Council and Northern Forum initiatives have also positioned the Arctic as a model region for habitat protection. Policies and funding mechanisms have been designed to support joint, private-public sponsorship of unique natural reserves. Despite significant transportation and resources development pressures, Arctic national parks have expanded modestly and been adapted to deal with increased tourism.

Scenario Three: Fortress Frontier

Widespread resource exploitation and increased international tension exist throughout the Arctic in this scenario. The Arctic is viewed by much of the global community as a storehouse of natural riches that is being jealously guarded and developed by a handful of wealthy circumpolar nations. Preventing uncontrolled access to these vital resources, especially oil and natural gas, has become an obsession for all Arctic stakeholders. The Arctic is a part of the global economic system, but any linkage is orchestrated or dictated by the most powerful Arctic states.

The Arctic is undergoing extreme environmental stress as global warming continues unabated. Greenhouse gas emissions have been unleashed globally at unprecedented rates; the result has been massive permafrost thawing (and disappearance), rapid glacial retreat in Greenland and Canada, extensive coastal shore erosion, and a historic retreat of Arctic sea ice in all marginal seas and the central Arctic Ocean. Multiyear sea ice-that is, ice that survives the summer melt season-has disappeared, as no Arctic sea ice has been observed anywhere in the Arctic Ocean during September of the past two years.

Many Arctic indigenous populations have been displaced from their traditional homelands due to extreme environmental events. Although many people living in the Arctic have gained a measure of economic independence, their existence has nonetheless become unstable. For the first time in history, illegal immigration into many subarctic regions is a reality. Border law enforcement officials in the eight Arctic states acknowledge that their northern territories are very vulnerable to massive influxes of environmental refugees and economic migrants.

Air and marine transportation routes in the Arctic remain open to world fleets in 2040, but foreign aircraft and ship access has been periodically suspended. Russia has denied polar access to its airspace as retaliation against states' actions elsewhere in the world; global air cargo flows have been seriously disrupted without a polar network. Russia and Canada continue to tightly control marine access through the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage. Both countries have allowed non-Arctic class tankers to make open water transits for the export of oil and gas to world markets. This newfound flexibility in the navigation and environmental safety regulations has been applied when significant economic gain is anticipated from major exports.

World access to the Arctic region's resources is tightly controlled. Fishing rights have been suspended to all but the Arctic states: Japan, for example, has been excluded from fishing in the Bering Sea for the first time in 70 years and seeks redress. Since 2020, oil and gas exploration and production efforts have intensified in the Barents, Kara, and Canadian Beaufort seas. These new flows will meet increased U.S. and European demands as decreased imports are coming from the Middle East. Hard rock mineral production from mines in Arctic Canada and Greenland has also been rejuvenated. Technological advances have made offshore Arctic drilling safer and more efficient, and significant new drilling is being conducted off Alaska.

Svalbard has become a source of potential conflict over access to living and nonliving resources. A majority of states believe the 1920 Treaty of Spitsbergen is no longer operative. Norway, with assistance from the United States and Russia, has increased military forces in the region.

The Arctic Council remains, but it is an entirely different forum than originally envisioned. Any notion of sustainable development has disappeared, and environmental issues have taken a backseat to economic and security concerns. The United States and Russia, thought to be leaving the group in 2020, have found the Council useful in arguing collective security, combating mass migration, and orchestrating the flow of exports from the Arctic consortium. The Council's avowed longterm strategy has been to make the circumpolar states less dependent on natural resources from outside the Arctic. Few in the global community have directly challenged this exclusionary strategy because of the collective economic and military strength of the United States, Canada, and Russia.

Arctic tourism continues to grow, since many other traditional tourist destinations are experiencing turmoil and a shortage of the necessities of life. The view is that the Arctic is a safe place with a more hospitable climate and with ready access to all the region's natural wonders. Tourism has become an economic boon to local communities, particularly those in Arctic Russia, and has alleviated some pressure on regional fisheries.

Early in the twenty-first century the five Arctic coastal states declared their sovereignty over resources of the Arctic seabed beyond 200 nautical miles to the edge of the continental shelf extensions. In 2030, the two small regions that remained within international jurisdiction were unilaterally placed by the Arctic Council under strict Arctic environmental protection measures, with marine access tightly controlled. Total dominance over the Arctic Ocean has thus been achieved by a handful of Arctic states-the epitome of fortress mentality!

Scenario Four: Equitable Frontier

In this scenario, the Arctic remains integrated with the global economic system in 2040, but the evolving international sustainability paradigm has altered the region's development strategy to one emphasizing gradualism. Resource exploitation such as fishing is a given (not an option) in much of the Arctic, but such commercial activities are being tempered by greater consideration of broad social and environmental concerns. Mutual respect and cooperation among the circumpolar nations are the norm. The Arctic governance system is viewed as a model for resolving complex sustainable development issues and regional disputes.

While the International Global Climate Treaty has resulted in sizable and continuing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, these changes have had little immediate impact on the Arctic. Eight decades of unprecedented regional warming have taken their toll on the cryosphere. Thus, a comprehensive set of adaptive strategies has evolved to take into account such regional changes as thinner permafrost layers, an elevated sea level, and longer seasons of open water normally covered by Arctic sea ice. Transport user fees and other eco-taxes have funded the implementation of these strategies in cases where change has seriously impacted indigenous communities.

Transportation (air and sea) is a key Arctic industry that not only links the region with global trade, but also generates considerable revenues for the Arctic states. Since 2030, there has been a modest reduction in air freight on polar routes, and a fivefold increase in shipping around the Arctic basin. The extensive seven-month summer navigation season made possible by environmental changes has enabled the growth of international transits on the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage. This has enabled great savings in ship time and fuel for select cargoes. Canada and Russia have maintained their stringent marine regulatory regimes that emphasize environmental protection.

Despite differences over freedom of navigation issues, the United States, Canada, and Russia have negotiated an agreement that allows ships a seamless voyage around Alaska and through the routes under a uniform set of operational procedures. Regional (multinational) disaster teams have been created under the Arctic Council to respond to maritime or other emergencies.

Boundary disputes in the Barents (between Norway and Russia) and Beaufort (between the United States and Canada) seas have been resolved. The Treaty of Spitsbergen (1920) has been reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice and its terms accepted by the global community. Fishing rights off Svalbard and in specific areas of the Barents and Bering seas have been allocated to a group of developing nations.

Social well-being and quality of life in the Arctic has been transformed: Poverty has been reduced thanks to revenue sharing from tourism, transport, and minerals extraction (fees mostly from transnational corporations), which has created sustainable incomes and helped develop affordable housing. By 2040, only a few pockets of poverty remain in the remotest regions of the Russian north.

The University of the Arctic, pioneered using the Internet in 2001, has brought quality education to within easy reach of all northern citizens. The Arctic Council has brokered an agreement among Canada, Russia, and the UN High Commission for Refugees to allow settlement of 30,000 environmental refugees in subarctic territories. Future Arctic relocation programs are being studied by a human rights team headed by the president of Iceland.

Arctic and subarctic fishing, forestry, and reindeer herding have been conducted using successful sustainable practices for nearly two decades. Reindeer herding has also benefited (and grown) as the warmer climate results in more robust and larger grazing lands. Oil production in the Arctic has plummeted, but natural gas continues to flow from western Siberia to Europe. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council, exhibiting regional solidarity, has funded environmental cleanup in much of the old oil-gas pipeline corridor through northwest Russia.

Clean freshwater has become a valuable global commodity due to its scarcity and chronic shortage in many regions of the world. How to distribute and market the vast quantities of freshwater from the Arctic and subarctic has been a consuming vision for many. Russia and Canada have developed plans for pipelines to carry water south from their northern territories. In several experimental voyages, tankers have carried water from ports in Greenland and Canada to the Middle East, Japan, and the Mediterranean.

A steady growth in Arctic tourism continues, prompting national and regional parliaments to establish additional wilderness lands and scientific (biodiversity) reserves and to add areas to existing Arctic national parks. To enhance environmental protections, the international Arctic Tourism Commission has developed access guidelines, established an Arctic surcharge or fee structure, and advocated a moratorium on wilderness adventures.

Although the Arctic is no utopia in the Equitable Frontier scenario, the Arctic Council can take much credit for fostering a vision and focus on social equity and environmental well-being. There is a low military presence in the region, and tension among the eight Arctic states is almost nonexistent. The Arctic Council has shown regional solidarity and foresight in engaging the rest of the planet on vexing problems such as refugees, transborder pollution, and access to living and nonliving resources by developing nations.

Conclusion: Arctic Prospects

The above four scenarios offer a structure for thinking about the Arctic's future and its global impacts. There are also many intriguing wildc a rd issues that should be anticipated, such as:

* The continued enclosure of the Arctic Ocean seabed by the five Arctic coastal states (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Norway, Russia, and the United States)-a trend that will surely drive regional geopolitics.

* Key boundary disputes between the Arctic states-between the United States and Canada, between Canada and Denmark, and between Russia and Norway-continue to be unresolved, vexing issues.

* Future ships voyaging into the Arctic Ocean could bring alien species in their ballast water and increase air emissions into the cooler surface atmosphere of the Arctic.

* A future "Global Climate Treaty" might slow climate warming, but by how much? It is plausible that the relentless loss of Arctic sea ice and glacial ice, observed during recent decades, might continue and possibly accelerate.

The Arctic is a complex but relatively small region of Planet Earth. Impacted heavily by global climate change and being viewed by many as a region of vast and now accessible natural resources, there can be little doubt that extraordinary change is coming to the entire region and its people. These four scenarios of the Arctic in 2040 are designed to be provocative but plausible. Hopefully, they will stimulate strategic thought and rational discussion about how the Arctic region should evolve throughout the twenty-first century.

Siberian lakes shrink as the Arctic permafrost beneath them melts.

Satellite images showing minimum levels of Arctic sea ice in the summers of 1979 (left) and 2005 demonstrate warming trend. One result has been increased accessibility of the Arctic for marine transportation.

The Arctic Express breaks through ice. The Arctic-going container ship was built by Finland's Aker Arctic Technology Inc. for the Russian mineral company MMC Norilsk Nickel Group. Both transportation and resource exploitation could increase in the future as climate change opens up the Arctic to increased development.

Russian man walks past a bust of Lenin in Svalbard. Though the islands are governed by Norway, Svalbard is largely settled by Russians, who dispute Norway's claims of exclusive fishing rights.

Scientists with U.S. Office of Naval Research study Arctic Ocean currents and their potential effects on the Arctic ice pack.

Arctic hunter in Alaska. The future well-being of indigenous Arctic peoples and cultures may be affected by changes in the region's relationship with the rest of the world, suggests author Brigham.

Assessing the Impacts of Arctic Climate Change

A major report on Arctic climate change was released in 2004 by the eight-nation Arctic Council. The report, Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), captured global attention and wide media coverage, as it was the world's first comprehensive, regional review of the impacts of climate change.

Several hundred Arctic researchers worked for four years to produce this fully referenced and independently reviewed scientific evaluation of Arctic climate change and its impacts that affect not only the Arctic region, but the entire planet. Important to ACIA was the inclusion of special knowledge of the indigenous people throughout the Arctic.

Among the key findings of the report:

* Climate change intensely affects the Arctic, where the average temperature has risen at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet.

* The Arctic is experiencing widespread melting of glaciers and sea ice and rising temperatures of the permafrost (frozen ground). During the past 30 years, the annual sea ice extent has decreased by about 8%-nearly 385,100 square miles.

* Severe coastal erosion is being observed around the entire Arctic basin, and Arctic coastal communities are literally eroding into the sea.

* Arctic warming increases glacial melt and river runoff, adding freshwater to the oceans and potentially influencing global ocean circulation.

* Melting of the Arctic's highly reflective snow and sea ice uncovers darker land and ocean surfaces. This change perversely increases absorption of the sun's heat and further warms the Arctic and the planet.

* Reductions in Arctic sea ice will drastically shrink marine habitats for polar bears, ice seals, and some seabirds, potentially pushing some species toward extinction.

* Arctic warming is very likely to alter the release and uptake of greenhouse gases (such as methane and carbon dioxide) from Arctic soils and sediments. Boreal forests and arctic tundra contain some of the world's largest land-based stores of carbon.

More information about this compelling and historic study of the Arctic may be obtained from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, .

-Lawson W. Brigham

FEEDBACK: Send your comments about this article to [email protected].

The Arctic is undergoing an extraordinary transformation early in the twenty-first century -- a transformation that will have global impacts. To evaluate the potential impacts of such rapid changes, this paper turns to the scenario-development process, the creation of plausible futures to enhance a dialogue among a multitude of stakeholders and decision makers. In this first scenario, the Arctic in 2040 has become an integral component of the global economic system. Long-term sustainable development initiatives of the Arctic Council have come under considerable strain with the onslaught of recent Arctic industrialization. To enhance environmental protections, the international Arctic Tourism Commission has developed access guidelines, established an Arctic surcharge or fee structure, and advocated a moratorium on wilderness adventures. Impacted heavily by global climate change and being viewed by many as a region of vast and now accessible natural resources, there can be little doubt that extraordinary change is coming to the entire region and its people.
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Arctic ice melts to third-smallest area on record

LOS ANGELES, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The Arctic's sea ice pack thawed to its third-lowest summer level on record, up slightly from the seasonal melt of the past two years but continuing an overall decline symptomatic of climate change, U.S. scientists said on Thursday.

The range of ocean remaining frozen over the northern polar region reached its minimum extent for 2009 on Sept. 12, when it covered 1.97 million square miles (5.1 million square km), and now appears to be growing again as the Arctic starts its annual cool-down, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported.

That level falls 20 percent below the 30-year average minimum ice cover for the Arctic summer since satellites began measuring it in 1979, and 24 percent less than the 1979-2000 average, the Colorado-based government agency said.

This summer's minimum represents a loss about about two-thirds of the sea ice measured at the height of Arctic winter in March. By comparison, the Arctic ice shelf typically shrank by a little more than half each summer during the 1980s and 1990s, ice scientist Walt Meier said.

The lowest point on record was reached in September 2007, and the 2009 minimum ranks as the third smallest behind last year's level. But scientists said they do not consider the slight upward fluctuation again this summer to be a recovery.

The difference was attributed to relatively cooler temperatures this summer compared with the two previous years. Winds also tended to disperse the ice pack over a larger region, scientists said.

"The long-term decline in summer extent is expected to continue in future years," the report said.

The U.S. government findings were in line with measurements reported separately by the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center in Norway, which reported this summer's minimum ice extent at just under 5 million square km (1.93 million square miles).

Scientists regard the Arctic and its sea ice as among the most sensitive barometers of global warming because even small temperature changes make a huge difference.

"If you go from a degree below freezing to 2 degrees above freezing, that's a completely different environment in the polar region," Meier said. "You're going from ice skating to swimming. Whereas if you're on a tropical beach and it's 3 degrees warmer, you probably wouldn't even notice it."

World leaders will meet at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday to discuss a climate treaty due to be agreed on in December.


The shrinking polar cap poses a loss of crucial habitat for polar bears and has implications for maritime shipping, opening up new routes to navigation.

Once again this year, the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean along the coast of Siberia opened, enabling two German ships to navigate the passage with Russian icebreaker escorts.

Russian vessels have traversed the passage many times over the years, but the maritime fleets of other nations are showing more interest in the route as the summer thaw expands.

This year, the Amundsen's Channel through the Northwest Passage also opened briefly, as it did in 2008, but the deeper Parry's Channel did not. Both opened in 2007.

Scientists have voiced concern for years about the alarming decline in the size of the Arctic ice cap, which functions as a giant air conditioner for the planet's climate system as it reflects sunlight back into space.

As a greater portion of the ice melts, larger expanses of darker sea water are exposed, absorbing more sunlight and adding to the global warming effect attributed to rising levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by human activity.

Scientists also have measured a thinning of the frozen seas, as older, thicker ice more resilient to warming temperatures gives way to younger, thinner layers that melt more easily in summer.

Scientists monitor Antarctic sea ice as well, but the Arctic is considered a more critical gauge of climate change because more of the northern sea ice remains frozen through the summer, playing a bigger role in cooling the planet.
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The Canadian government is spending billions of dollars to militarize and patrol this area for good reason it seems. Use it or lose it. Looks like Canada is prepared to use it.
So they can reclaim Hans Island as well from the Danish? :)
Arctic short-cut still perilous
23 September 2009
The Shipping Times

This is despite the much-reduced extent of the ice there during summer

THIS week's column is about the Arctic Sea. However, I must disappoint those who may I assume I am about to reveal exclusive insights about the strange saga of the cargo ship of that name, apparently hijacked a month ago and still languishing somewhere near Las Palmas.

I am afraid I don't have clue about what has gone on and your guess is as good as mine. But this is the first time I can remember a shipping journalist having to flee his home country in fear of his life for reporting a maritime story.

Rather, this column is about the great expanse of water at the top of the world that is largely covered by ice. In fact, the aspect that is attracting interest and concern in probably equal amounts is just how large, or small, that covering of ice has become.

Ice cap melting

Attention has been drawn to the much-reduced extent of the ice during summer by what are being claimed as the first successful commercial transits of the Northeast Passage recently by two Beluga Shipping-owned ships that sailed from South Korea to Siberia. The two vessels then continued north about to Rotterdam. The German shipping company says it is looking to make more trips next summer.

The long-standing attraction of the Northeast Passage is that it can substantially cut the distance that ships have to travel to get between Asia and northern Europe.

Arctic navigation, even in summer, is not without its risk. That was underlined by the presence of two ice-breaking tugs accompanying the two Beluga ships.

The dangers have certainly not been lost on marine insurers. 'The remoteness of the area and the lack of salvage facilities is a real concern for underwriters,' says Mike Thompson, chairman of the Navigating Limits Committee for the Lloyd's Market Association, in a special feature on the Lloyd's of London's website.

The condition of vessels looking to undertake the perilous voyage and their crews' experience of navigating through ice would also be crucial considerations for insurers, according to Mr Thompson.

Nevertheless, it appears that climate change is having a profound effect on the Arctic. The Lloyd's article states: 'The polar ice cap is melting fast, which may open the fabled Northwest Passage to commercial shipping and make it easier to explore the vast mineral wealth below the North Pole.'

It is perhaps that last comment which is most relevant. Navigation along the northern coasts of Russia, Canada and Alaska is never (unless climate change is incredibly rapid) going to be like sailing through the Singapore Strait. It is going to be riskier and more difficult. Nevertheless, summer navigation of previously ice-covered areas in support of exploitation of natural resources is likely to become much more common.

While that is good news for countries and companies wishing to expand mineral and oil and gas extraction from Arctic areas, for many people, certainly environmental campaign groups, the increased summer melting of sea ice is a disaster and a rapid consequence of global warming.

Negative trend

Interestingly, the latest news from the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is, however, that the ice covering the Arctic Sea has melted a bit less this year than in the previous two. The NSIDC says that Arctic sea ice appears to now have reached its minimum extent for this year, the third-lowest extent since the start of satellite measurements in 1979.

Although this would appear to be a reversal of the long-term trend, the NSIDC says: 'While this year's minimum extent is above the record and near-record minimums of the last two years, it further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past 30 years.'

I, for one, will certainly be awaiting with interest this time next year the NSIDC's report. And I don't expect to see massive convoys of containerships taking the 'short cut to Europe' anytime soon.
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Canada's rights of passage; Climate change and international security converge on the melting ice floes of the Arctic
21 August 2010
Vancouver Sun

In the summer of 2009, a disparate group of individuals was aboard the Louis St. Laurent icebreaker sailing through the Northwest Passage. Among them were scientists from Canada, the United States and the European Union, a Dene senator from Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories, an Inuk woman from northern Quebec, two young Rhodes scholars and the legal adviser for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

On the third day of the journey, Peter Harrison, the newly appointed director of Queen's University's School of Policy Studies, was talking about the Northwest Passage and what it meant to the people of southern Canada, to the trading world and to the Inuit we had left behind in Resolute Bay.

Harrison is a big bear of a man who hasn't lost his ability to tell a good story, even after having been in the upper echelons of the civil service for the past 30 years guiding the development of Canada's Arctic strategy and implementing the largest court-ordered, out-of-court settlement of the Indian residential schools claims. When he has something to say, people generally listen.

But even he couldn't keep the attention of the audience when the chief officer on-board announced that the ship was approaching two polar bears on the sea ice.

A fire couldn't have cleared the room any faster. Up on the foredeck, all talk of science, sovereignty, the status of the Northwest Passage and the future of the Arctic gave way to rapt silence as the ship slowly sliced its way through the ice. The bears -- a mother and her cub -- were blood-soaked after finishing off a seal they had just killed.

This was the fourth time we had been alerted to bears on the sea ice that day, and it wouldn't be the last. By the time dinner was served that night, we had spotted 16 bears in about eight hours.

For oceanographer Eddy Carmack, the architect of this weeklong Arctic boot camp, the day couldn't have been scripted any better. Now that changes in the climate and the inflow of ocean currents are warming the Arctic Ocean, the future of the region appears to be as uncertain as the longevity of the ice those polar bears walk on.

As head of Canada's Three Oceans (C3O) project, Carmack is leading a multidisciplinary scientific effort to figure out how the many channels that make up the Northwest Passage and the Arctic archipelago draw and flush out warm and cold, as well as fresh and salty sea water from the Atlantic and the Pacific. In time, the data should help public policy decision-makers find ways of adapting to and perhaps mitigating the many threats the region is facing.

What Carmack wanted to get from those he invited was advice on how to bridge the wide gap between Arctic science and public policy.

While most Canadians are well aware of the various threats to the Arctic, what to do about them is largely unresolved. So far, the government of Canada has responded largely by making Arctic sovereignty a priority.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid it all on the table in the summer of 2007 when he announced plans for a new icebreaker, up to eight ice-capable patrol boats, a deepsea port at Nanisivik on Baffin Island and a world-class scientific research station to be located somewhere along the Northwest Passage.

The biggest threat to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, he seemed to suggest, were illegal aliens, terrorists and rogue ships that might try to make the voyage without asking for permission or complying with Canadian regulations.

"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty in the Arctic; either we use it or we lose it," Harper said. "And make no mistake, this government intends to use it, because Canada's Arctic is central to our identity as a northern nation. It is part of our history and it represents the tremendous potential of our future."

The remarks were curious in some ways. Legal experts have been pointing out for years that outside of Hans Island, a sliver of territory in the Lincoln Sea near Greenland, and an energy-rich triangle in the Beaufort Sea, no one is disputing Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic.

In legal terms, the dispute over the Northwest Passage is not really a sovereignty issue; it is a dispute over the extent of control that Canada has over these waters. Neither the United States nor any other country challenges Canada's ownership of resources in the water, on the sea floor or below it anywhere in the Arctic archipelago. The United States merely asserts that the Northwest Passage is an international strait, not the inland waters that Canada claims it to be.

Should the U.S. or some other country prevail in asserting that the passage is an international strait, then any ship planning to make the voyage would not need Canada's consent as long as the transits were continuous. Theoretically, these ships could harbour illegal aliens, terrorists or other undesirables.

So why is Harper proposing to defend sovereignty when it isn't being threatened?

Political scientist Franklyn Griffiths has been writing about Arctic sovereignty for 40 years. He suggests a ban on the phrase "use it or lose it." He believes that this government, like those before it, is exploiting public ignorance to push agendas that have little to do with sovereignty.

While Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic is fairly clear in law, the issue is fuzzy in the eyes of most Canadians.

Many people in Canada continue to be obsessed with the idea that control over the Northwest Passage lies at the heart of the Arctic sovereignty debate. They fear the U.S., or possibly some other country, will take away what rightfully belongs to Canadians.

Few realize that the bigger threat to sovereignty and security in the region is climate change, energy development and shipping that has the potential to wipe out or seriously hurt Arctic fish, beluga, narwhal, walrus and polar bear populations, which, in turn, would devastate Inuit, Inuvialuit and Gwich'in cultures.
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Leaders need to show more 'statesmanship' on Arctic issues: Expert
25 October 2010
Canwest News Service

OTTAWA - A provocative report by a leading British expert on polar issues says Canada and the other nations with Arctic Ocean coastlines have shown a lack of "global statesmanship" in managing the profound changes now occurring in the North.

University of Cambridge professor Paul Berkman, head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Program at the Scott Polar Research Institute, concludes in his 132-page report on the security challenges facing the region that high-level, peace-oriented diplomatic vision is the "missing ingredient" needed to ensure the safe and orderly development of an increasingly accessible Arctic.

"The missing ingredient is statesmanship by the leaders of nations who are the only individuals that can establish the political will to both promote co-operation and prevent conflict in the Arctic Ocean for the lasting benefit of all," Berkman states in the paper, commissioned by the British defence and security think-tank RUSI, the Royal United Services Institute.

"Such statesmanship - the ability to extinguish the brush fires of the moment and the vision to offer hope for future generations - appears rarely," he notes. "However, peace and stability in the Arctic region have yet to be identified explicitly as national security objectives of all Arctic states."

Berkman suggests the world has barely begun to grasp the scope of the transformation under way in the Arctic, where climate change is opening long-sought shipping routes and major economic opportunities - principally oil exploration, but also fishing, tourism and mining - are emerging faster than many experts had anticipated.

And the changes, argues Berkman, needn't result in a non-militarized Arctic - which some observers are seeking because of concerns over potential resource conflicts in the region - but a peaceful northern frontier in which collaborative defence operations among several nations could ensure the maintenance of environmental integrity and international security.

"Peaceful use of the Arctic Ocean does not have to equate with demilitarization or restrictions on military operations that are otherwise permitted under international law," Berkman asserts. "The raison d'etre for military presence is ostensibly the maintenance of peace and security in the first place."

The Canadian government, like other Arctic coastal states, has made several major promises in recent years to bolster the country's military presence in the North. Although questions linger regarding timelines and precise spending targets, the Conservative government has announced plans for a new, large-scale icebreaker named for former Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker, a fleet of ice-reinforced patrol vessels, a northern military training centre and several other significant investments aimed at asserting Canada's Arctic sovereignty.

Last week, Postmedia News reported that the government has opened door to arming coast guard icebreakers used in the Arctic, as recommended recently by a Senate fisheries committee and a House of Commons defence committee.

In his report, Berkman says the opening of Arctic sea routes will require the kind of infrastructure investments and organizational commitments that characterized Roman empire-building more than 2,000 years ago.

"The Arctic Ocean is being transformed into a global trade route that will involve sea lanes, ports, and administration facilities along with communication, tariff, monitoring and forecasting systems," he writes. "There will be assets that can be deployed quickly for diverse vessel emergencies. There will be new networks to transport resources and commerce southward across continents."

But the "complication in the Arctic Ocean," Berkman notes, "is that such infrastructure will be a shared enterprise of all the Arctic coastal states, together with involvement from many other states and investment from additional stakeholders."

"The challenge will be to manage escalating competition and demand for resources."

The five nations with Arctic Ocean coastlines - Canada, Russia, the U.S. (Alaska), Norway and Denmark (Greenland) - have pledged to co-ordinate search-and-rescue activities and pursue other collaborative projects.

They've also agreed to sort out boundary disputes in a peaceful manner under terms of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, although bilateral agreements will also be needed in several cases - including Canada's long-running disagreement with the U.S. over control of the Northwest Passage.

But there remains tension among the Arctic powers, as indicated by the frequent testy exchanges between Canada and Russia over northern test flights by military aircraft. And controversy continues to bubble over the role that non-coastal states - from Iceland and Britain to China and India - could play in governing the Arctic Ocean and participating in its commercial activity.

Noting the Arctic's "vast potential for energy extraction and living resources, a burgeoning trade route that will impact the global balance of power, intensifying interests from non-Arctic states - especially the European Union and China," Berkman concludes that the region's blending of "sovereign jurisdictions" and "international spaces" makes the Arctic Ocean "a unique marine region that will establish global precedents for future generations."
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INTERVIEW-US Navy inviting execs to play "shipping game

WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Executives from top U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart and Exxon , are teaming up with the U.S. Navy this week in a "gaming" exercise to study how a warming Arctic Ocean and the widening of the Panama Canal could dramatically change global shipping.

The complex two-day exercise, which begins Wednesday at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, will look at the security concerns and massive investments that may be necessary to cope with the shake up of global trade routes.

"I want people who are looking at this through a different lens," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead said in an interview. He said the Navy needed industry's input to map out the broad economic, military and environmental consequences of both a wider Panama Canal and the warming Arctic.

"All too often we go crashing into these things and we haven't really thought out the problem," said Roughead, whose multiple Arctic visits have earned him the honorary title of "blue nose."

Roughead welcomed more than 75 experts from industry, think tanks and goverment to the event on Wednesday and said their insights would help the Navy facilitate "the flows of commerce, communication and resources" on the sea lanes.

Analysts say increased commerce through the Panama Canal -- and later the Arctic Ocean -- could help companies save billions of dollars in fuel and shipping costs.

Other companies taking part in the "Global Shipping Game" include Lowe's , shipping giant Maersk <MAERSKb.CO>, Raytheon Co , computer maker Dell , Zurich Insurance , toymaker Hasbro Inc , General Electric Co and railway operator CSX .

Port operators, academics and diplomats from Panama and Chile will also help study the two issues, which may also lead to big changes in port cities and railway traffic on land.

A $5.25 billion project to widen the Panama Canal, to be completed in 2014, will shake up global trade routes by vastlyincreasing the amount of cargo that can pass through the 50-mile (80-km) link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Roughead says the wider canal will allow about 90 percent of cargo ships to pass through, including 86 percent of tankers carrying liquid natural gas, compared to just 6 percent now. [ID:nN18346025]

Just a few years later, he says, the warming of the Arctic Ocean will open the world's fifth ocean to fishing, tourism, oil and gas drilling, and eventually commercial shipping.

"We have not seen a change like that since the end of the ice age," he told a conference last month. "It's one that will have a significant effect on trade and on prosperity."


A major Pentagon review released last February urged the military to reduce the risks associated with climate change, including cutting its dependence on fossil fuels.

Roughead said the Navy is already developing biofuels and improving its energy use, but also needed to think about how rising sea levels could affect coastal areas, and changes in the formerly frozen Arctic.

Navy scientists say commercial shippers could save 5,000 miles and lots of fuel by using sending goods from Asia to Europe via the Arctic beginning in the mid-2030s, when they expect ice-free conditions for a full month each year.

By 2050,the Arctic will likely be ice-free for two to three months, spurring even greater traffic in the region.

"We could be looking at major shipping routes going through the Arctic in just a matter of decades," Navy Oceanographer Rear Admiral David Titley told Reuters, noting the Bering Strait could become a key shipping passage in just 40 years.

"That is a huge change," he said, noting that 90 percent of world commerce was shipped by sea and one of the Navy's key missions was to safeguard U.S. economic interests.

Roughead said he hoped early attention, including this week's gaming exercise, would stave off crises later.

The game, created by war gaming experts at the college, aims to take a closer look at changing shipping patterns and identify the strategic implications of both issues. The outcome will help the Navy when it reexamines its Arctic and climate change "road maps" this spring.


The exercise will also look at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans. The United States abides by the treaty, but has not ratified it, despite strong pleas by Roughead and others.

Roughead said it was imperative for the United States to ratify the treaty. "Otherwise we are not going to be at the table when they start talking about how this is going down," he said. Roughead said he began focusing on Arctic warming several years ago when he spent time on a submarine there and heard firsthand about changing ice conditions.

He said it would probably be about five years before the Navy needed bigger funding to prepare for the opening of the Arctic, but said it was important to understand the issues involved now to allow for better budgeting and planning later.

Decisions will eventually have to be made buying new ships to operate in the region or hardening existing ships to deal with the extreme cold of the North Pole; buying more satellites to relay communications; and related issues, he said.

Investing in Arctic activities would be "really expensive" for industry initially, given the austere environment, but could also provide big rewards, Roughead said.

"The economics are going to drive when it makes it worth somebody's while to go up there to either take advantage of the transportation or take advantage of the resources. Because they're going to go up to make money," he said.
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Russia's Sovcomflot plans Suezmax trip via Arctic to Asia in 2011
18 February 2011

Moscow (Platts)--18Feb2011/343 am EST/843 GMT

Russia's largest shipper Sovcomflot is planning to send a Suezmax tanker via the Northern Sea Route from European Russia to Asia over the summer to further demonstrate that regular shipments through the Arctic are realistic, Sovcomflot executive vice president Nikolai Kolesnikov said Friday.

Last August, Sovcomflot shipped an Aframax tanker with a condensate cargo along the Northern Sea Route for Russia's largest independent gas producer Novatek in the first ever voyage by a large vessel along the route.

"We want to make a similar trip, but using a Suezmax vessel this summer," Kolesnikov said at the Russia Offshore conference in Moscow, adding that the route would have to be slightly altered to account for shallow waters in the East Siberian Sea.

Kolesnikov reiterated the route shortens the shipping time to Asia by up to 45% and Sovcomflot hopes to eventually provide customers with the option of sending shipments east via the Northern Sea Route if conditions permit or west via the Suez Canal.

After the successful August test, Novatek said it planned to ship six to eight 72,000 mt cargoes of condensate via the Arctic route in 2011, which would save the company 10-15% on transport costs.

Novatek is testing shipments in the Northern Sea Route as part of its plans for the future Yamal LNG project in northern Russia, which envisions the construction of its first LNG train of between 5-7.5 million mt/year by 2016.

Sovcomflot estimates shipments from Yamal to the Bering Straight between Russia and Alaska would take eight days.
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New shipping rules urged to avert "Arctic Titanic"

TROMSOE, Norway, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The Arctic Ocean needs tough new shipping rules as a rapid thaw opens the remote, icy region and brings risks of disasters on the scale of the Titanic, politicians and experts said on Monday.

"We need to agree on a new binding polar code" for shipping, Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told Reuters during a conference on "Arctic Frontiers" in Tromsoe, a city north of the Arctic Circle in Norway.

New shipping standards could cover designs to resist ice, new equipment and navigation rules, he said. In one step towards improved safety, the eight nations in the Arctic Council are due to agree new search and rescue rules in May.

Countries around the Arctic Ocean are shifting to consider regulations as the region opens more to oil and gas exploration and shipping.

Referring to climate change, Stoere said: "The trends are not slower in the Arctic, they are faster." But he said there were no plans to try to charge ships for access to the Arctic.

Two German cargo ships sailed the route along the north coast of Russia in 2009, cutting about 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km) off what would have been an 11,000-mile voyage between South Korea and the Netherlands via the Suez Canal.

Rear-Admiral David Titley, Oceanographer of the U.S. Navy, said that hazards were greatest for cruise vessels visiting the remote Arctic or Antarctic since they often had hundreds or thousands of passengers, against dozens of crew on cargo ships.

"It has not been because of skill, it has been because of luck that we have not had a Titanic-type disaster," he said in a speech. The Titanic sank in the North Atlantic in 1912 after striking an iceberg, killing 1,517 people.


Titley projected that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free for 2-3 months in summers -- long enough to attact wider interest from shipping companies -- by around mid-century. That could mean a change in world trade with greater importance for the narrow Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia as a gateway.

"The Bering strait could easily, in 30-40 years, have characteristics of the strait of Malacca or the strait or Hormuz," he said. The strait of Malacca runs between Indonesia, Malysia and Singapore and Hormuz is at the mouth of the Gulf.

Iceland's Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson also urged stricter rules for shipping and oil and gas exploration.

"The geographical situation of Iceland makes her very vulnerable to any change in the marine system, be it from climate change or pollution," he said. Oil breaks down more slowly than in warmer waters further south, such as the Gulf of Mexico, which suffered BP's giant oil spill in 2010.

He said that climate change meant fish stocks, the traditional backbone of the economy, were shifting. Mackerel were moving into Icelandic waters while capelin were moving out.

"We are a bit afraid as well," he said of a likely opening of shipping routes. "It would put a lot of responsibilities on our shoulders for search and rescue."

Russia, the United States, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are members of the Arctic Council.
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More Arctic shipping will up local pollution: Study
Nunatsiaq News
July 12, 2011

With two to four months of ice-free conditions forecast for the Northwest Passage by 2030, scientists are now looking at what more shipping traffic will mean for the circumpolar region.

"The melting of Arctic sea-ice will effectively unlock the Arctic Ocean, leaving it increasingly open to human activity — particularly oil and gas extraction and shipping," say scientists at the Oslo, Norway-based Center for International Climate and Environment Research, the Det Norske Veritas foundation and Statistics Norway.

As new circumpolar shipping routes open, climate-warming and polluting emissions from shipping will rise in the Arctic in places where these have never been seen before, they say in a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

And these have the potential to increase Arctic warming.

"The potential increase in Arctic activities and emissions will not only have an impact on the global climate, but may also impact on regional temperature trends," they say.

Previous research suggests that ship emissions could increase warming in the Arctic — a region that's already experiencing a higher level of warming than others.

As the location of oil and gas production moves into remote Arctic places requiring more ship transport, there will be a "rapid growth" in emissions from oil and gas transport by ship.

Arctic shipping emissions will increase faster than the global average and are expected to rise by up to 25 per cent by 2050, the scientists say.

As well, levels of ground-level ozone are expected to double or triple as Arctic shipping traffic moves away from community re-supply, fishing and tourism.

This ozone affects plants' ability to soak up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, accelerating warming.

And it can harm lung function and lead to premature death, asthma, bronchitis and heart attacks

Also associated with an increase in Arctic shipping is soot produced by ship exhaust. The impact of soot on the climate doesn't last long— only up to a month at most.

But soot that originates in the Arctic has a powerful impact in the region because its tiny black particles soak up heat.

Canada could be spared the worst of all this, however, as the majority of the transit shipping emissions will occur on the Russian side of the Arctic, the study's lead author, Glen Peters, said in an email.

© Copyright (c) Nunatsiaq News
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So will the Canadian Arctic soon become "international waters"?

Canada in danger of missing the boat in the Arctic
The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011 10:07PM EDT

Statements by France’s ambassador for the polar regions, Michel Rocard, that Canada appears to have given up on competing with Russia for Arctic commercial shipping traffic, should serve as a wake up call for Canadians. It may be that the country prefers the Northwest Passage as it is, a slightly-used backwater that best protects the fragile Arctic ecosystem and the traditional Inuit way of life. But if Canadians favour sustainable development in the north, and jobs for northerners, then they are in danger of missing the boat.

A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, released in May, revealed the cover of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean is shrinking faster than projected by the U.N.’s expert panel on climate change. It predicts that the Arctic Ocean itself will be virtually free of ice in summer within 30-40 years. The Northwest Passage is forecast to be free of ice earlier than that, in perhaps 20 years. The changing ice conditions make the Northwest Passage an alternative commercial shipping route. The newly-released Danish government Arctic strategy states that use of the passage reduces the distance from Seattle to Europe by almost 25 per cent compared to ships using the Panama Canal. It argues the Northeast Passage, or Northern Sea Route north of Russia, will also result in dramatic savings in distance (and hence costs and time). “The economic benefits of these new routes are potentially significant,” the Danish strategy says.

Yet Canada, despite having a federal government committed to its own Arctic strategy and sustainable development in that largely untapped region, is unprepared for commercial shipping in the Northwest Passage. The infrastructure needed to support such activity does not exist, and there is little sign that will change. Mr. Rochard, a former French prime minister, said he has the “impression that Canada has given up on the competition to attract a large part of the (shipping) traffic in 25 or 30 years.” Russia, by contrast, is actively pursuing the opportunity.

It may be that Canadians are content with this situation, as the costs would be substantial and such development would alter the fundamental nature of Canada’s North. But isn’t it at least a discussion we should be having?
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Korea's Shippers Busy Preempting Arctic Sea Route
19 July 2013
The Korea Economic Daily

Korean shipping companies such as Hyundai Merchant Marine, Hanjin Shipping, and Hyundai Glovis are rushing to send their ships to sail the Arctic sea route on an experimental basis. This is because the sea route can save the shippers time and fuel cost substantially if successful. For this reason, other shipping companies in China and Japan are also getting in on the act.

Ships traveling between Busan and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, through the Northeast Passage can shorten their sailing distance to 13,000 kilometers from the current 20,000 kilometers via the Suez Canal. The traveling time can also be cut to 30 days from 40 days. In the same way, the Busan-New York route can be curtailed by 5,000 kilometers to 13,000 kilometers, with the traveling time reduced to 19 days from 25.

As late as 2007, the Arctic Sea ice began melting in September, allowing ships to travel freely for only one month in a year. But climate change and the accompanying global warming have moved up the ice-melting time to July, giving ships four months a year to travel free of icebergs. Until 2005, there were only seven cases of successful cargo ship voyage through the treacherous seas. But last year alone the number has increased to 46, including the end-to-end travel by an LNG carrier owned by Russia's Gazprom.

But the problem is that the shippers must build hardier vessels that can withstand the shock of floating ice. It would cost them more while making them pay higher insurance premiums. In addition, the thicker, heavier ships may cause them to be less energy efficient. For this reason, it remains to be seen whether the newly opened Northern sea route will turn into a golden opportunity for Asia's shippers.
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September 8, 2016
Apocalypse Tourism? Cruising the Melting Arctic Ocean
Come aboard! Let’s sail the once-impenetrable Northwest Passage.
Bloomberg Excerpt

On Aug. 16, the Crystal Serenity set out from Seward, Alaska, carrying 1,700 passengers and crew, and escorted by a comparatively minuscule, 1,800-ton icebreaker. She circled west and north around the Alaska Peninsula and through the Bering Strait before heading east into the maze of straits and sounds that constitute the Northwest Passage. For centuries, explorers tried to establish a sea route here between Europe and Asia. Many met with ruin. A few stranded sailors famously ate their boots—and each other. When the Crystal Serenity emerged free and clear of the maze on Sept. 5, there were no accounts of scurvy or cannibalism, only tales of bingeing on themed buffets and grumbles from shutterbugs about the Arctic’s monotonous landscape.

Operated by Crystal Cruises, the Serenity became on that day the first passenger liner to successfully ply the Northwest Passage. As climate change melts Arctic sea ice twice as fast as models predicted, more and larger ships have made their way along these fatal shores. In 2013, the Nordic Orion was the first bulk cargo carrier to transit the Passage, hauling a load of coal.

Rates on the Serenity started at around $22,000 per person. For that, passengers were anointed, by Slate, “the world’s worst people”—for venturing into a vulnerable ecosystem in a diesel-burning, 69,000-ton behemoth. Canada’s National Post described the cruise as an “invasion” of indigenous communities. Britain’s Telegraph hinted at Titanic hubris, asking, Is this “the world’s most dangerous cruise”?

As for the Arctic villages the Serenity visited, they were, depending on whom you ask, either overwhelmed or overjoyed by the ship’s hordes of curious, wealthy strangers. The communities staged dances, hawked arts and crafts, and expressed hope that the Crystal Serenity reaches New York safely on Sept. 16. Assuming it does, Crystal Cruises plans to offer the route again next year, departing Anchorage on Aug. 15. Edie Rodriguez, the company’s chief executive officer, says that a few passengers have already rebooked.

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Sails on the horizon in the Northwest Passage as tall ship plans summer voyage
'It's about as state-of-the-art, and about as far away from Sir John Franklin, as you can get'
CBC News Excerpt
Apr 29, 2017

The first tall ship in more than 100 years will sail through the Northwest Passage this summer, according to voyage organizers.

The SSV Oliver Hazard Perry looks like a traditional 19th century sailing ship with three masts and square sails, but its steel hull and twin engines will give it better odds of making the journey than explorers from the 1800s.

"It's about as state-of-the-art, and about as far away from Sir John Franklin, as you can get," said David Clark, the director creating a documentary film of the voyage.

Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen sailed the Gjoa, a square-sterned fishing vessel, through the passage between 1903 and 1906. According to the Canadian Coast Guard, since 1903 "no tall ships have made either a full, or partial transit, of the Northwest Passage."

Clark originally conceived of a trip through the passage to explore the varied implications of an ice-free Arctic with a documentary.

"It's a real turning point, I think, for this very unique place in the world, that was for so long unapproachable and now is quite approachable."

He contacted the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center and the project grew.

With their expedition partners, Clark and the Inner Space Center won a nearly $3 million US grant from the National Science Foundation in the United States.

"The fundamental focus is looking at a changing Arctic because of warming climate, but now it's going to engage students, and be doing some actual science as well as the documentary film," Clark said.

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Silk Road through the Arctic is proposed
Wednesday, July 05, 2017
China Daily Excerpt

President Xi Jinping called on Tuesday for cooperation on the Arctic passage with Russia to help jointly build a Silk Road through the ice.

Xi made the remark during his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the Kremlin in Moscow on his two-day state visit to Russia.

Xi also called for the implementation of projects to boost interconnection.

Calling Russia an important partner in advancing the building of the Belt and Road, Xi said that the two countries have huge potential and a bright future in pragmatic cooperation.

Both should expand cooperation in areas such as the economy, trade, investment and energy; implement major cooperation projects in manufacturing; and enhance high-speed rail cooperation, Xi said. He also called for more efforts to push forward the construction of the Moscow-Kazan high-speed rail project as soon as possible.

The two countries should deepen local-level cooperation, and give priority to working together in cross-border infrastructure construction, resource exploitation, modern agricultural methods and production capacity, he said.

The two countries should also expand people-to-people exchanges in education, culture, sports, tourism and media, Xi said.

He said China is confident of working with Russia to deal with global challenges.

They should stick to mutual support and mutual openness, expand cooperation to create a good environment for the development of their relations and use more power to maintain world peace and stability, Xi said.
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Oct. 10, 2016
Uncharted waters: Mega-cruise ships sail the Arctic
Reuters Excerpt

SVALBARD, Norway (Reuters) - A surge in Arctic tourism is bringing ever bigger cruise ships to the formerly isolated, ice-bound region, prompting calls for a clamp-down to prevent Titanic-style accidents and the pollution of fragile eco-systems.

Arctic nations should consider limiting the size of vessels and ban the use of heavy fuel oil in the region, industry players said, after a first luxury cruise ship sailed safely through Canada's Northwest Passage this summer.

The route, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Arctic, was once clogged with icebergs but is now ice-free in summer due to global warming.

With a minimum ticket price of $19,755, the 1,700 passengers and crew on board the Crystal Serenity followed - in reverse - the route first navigated more than a century ago by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. They left Anchorage in Alaska on Aug. 15 and docked in New York on Sep. 16.

The ship's operator, Crystal Cruises, says on its website it will repeat the voyage in 2017. It declined a request for comment when contacted by Reuters.

Two shipping executives expressed concern that the one-off trip could become a trend, citing worries over safety, risks to the environment and the impact on small communities, in an area where there is no port between Anchorage and Nuuk, in Greenland.

"The Northwest Passage is thousands and thousands of nautical miles with absolutely nothing ... There is a need to discuss possible regulation," said Tero Vauraste, the CEO of Arctia, a Finnish shipping firm specializing in icebreakers.

Were a ship to be in trouble in the Northwest Passage, there would be little authorities could do given the lack of infrastructure, he said.

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August 24, 2018
Maersk sends first container ship through Arctic route

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Maersk vessel loaded with Russian fish and South Korean electronics will next week become the first container ship to navigate an Arctic sea route that Russia hopes will become a new shipping highway.

The Arctic voyage by the 3,600 20-foot container capacity Venta Maersk is the latest step in the expansion of the so-called Northern Sea Route which is becoming more accessible to ships as climate change reduces the amount of sea ice.

The brand new Venta Maersk, one of the world’s largest ice-class vessels, will also collect scientific data, said Maersk, underlining that the voyage is a one-off trial for now.

The decision by Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping group, to test out the route is a positive sign for Russia, which hopes this could become a mini Suez Canal, cutting sea transport times from Asia to Europe.

“A well-respected company like Maersk sending a container ship through the Arctic, definitely signals there’s something there,” Malte Humpert, a senior fellow at U.S.-based think-tank Arctic Institute, said.

The Northern Sea Route runs from Murmansk near Russia’s border with Norway to the Bering Strait near Alaska. Ships sailing it require a permit from Russian authorities.

While the route is significantly shorter than going via the Suez Canal, it has not yet proven to be commercially viable for container shippers.

“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to our usual routes,” a spokeswoman for Maersk said.

“Today, the passage is only feasible for around three months a year which may change with time,” the spokeswoman said.
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