Posts tagged ‘Arctic’
Arctic Temperatures Waaay Up
A new study by scientists at the University of Colorad-Boulder indicates that average summer temperatures in the Eastern Canadian Arctic over the last 100 years are higher than during any century in the past 44,000 years.
According to CU-Coulder Professor Gifford Miller, the study is the first direct evidence that the present warmth in the Eatern Canadian Arctic exceeds peak warmth in that same region during the current Holcene geological epoch – when the solar energy reaching the Northern Hemisphere in summer was 9 percent greater than it is today.
The Holocene epoch began after Earth’s last glacial period ended roughly 11,700 years ago and which continues today. Miller and his colleagues used dead moss clumps emerging from receding ice caps on Baffin Island as tiny clocks to determine what happened. At four different ice caps, radiocarbon dates show the mosses had not been exposed to the elements since at least 44,000 to 51,000 years ago.
Since radiocarbon dating is only accurate to about 50,000 years and because Earth’s geological record shows it was in a glaciation stage before that time, the indications are that Canadian Arctic temperatures today have not been matched or exceeded for roughly 120,000 years, Miller said.
The journal Geophysical Researcher Letters published the study’s findings this week.
Iceland Seeks to be Arctic Hub
Iceland wants to turn itself into a hub for business in the Arctic and strike more trade accords on its own after scrapping talks to join the European Union, Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson tells Bloomberg.
The island nation is focusing its foreign policy on the Arctic Sveinsson said, adding that it will seek deeper cooperation within the Arctic Council and seek to provide a base in the region to help support trade with China, Singapore and South Korea, among others, Bloomberg reported.
With temperatures rising and sea ice melting, the Arctic is attracting a lot of attention from the nations that border the polar region and countries like China seeking to navigate new ice-free shipping routes across the High North. The sea ice recession could also open the area up to oil and gas exploration. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13 percent of its untapped oil may lie beneath the Arctic Ocean’s waters.
Arctic Waters Could Get Crowded Soon
Satellite photos by NASA, show that the white Arctic ice around the North Pole is shrinking every summer and is being replaced by more open water. And that means an increase in commercial shipping across the Arctic, reports the Voice of America.
Last summer, China sent its first icebreaker over the top of Russia, from Shanghai to Iceland. And this summer, a freighter operated by China’s COSCO shipping company, became the first Chinese merchant vessel to take the shortcut, cutting two weeks off the usual route, through Egypt’s Suez Canal, according to VOA.
Are Arctic shipping lanes for real?
A continuing concern of the five countries that border the Arctic Ocean is that melting sea ice will create — sooner rather than later — previously non-existent shipping lanes that could pose all sorts of headaches like oil spills and search and rescue operations in a remote and hostile environment with little infrastructure.
But Tom Ricks’ Best Defense blog notes there’s an article out by an experienced maritime shipping executive that pooh-poohs the idea that melting sea ice in the Arctic will lead to a “Cold Rush” of commercial interests at the top of the world crowding Arctic waters with cargo ships, tankers and cruise ships.
The article, in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, maintains that despite record low formation of Arctic sea ice in recent years, “it is virtually certain” that the Northwest Passage across the top of Canada won’t ever be useful to international trade. That’s because transiting the Arctic may not be as cheap or fast as proponents suggest, according to the article’s author, Stephen Carmel.
Visibility may still be poor due to fog that is common in the region, winds can blow large chunks of ice into transit lanes. Neither the Northwest Passage nor the Northern Sea route across Russia can accommodate the largest container ships. Also ships will need additional structural toughening and and crews will need more training to transit Arctic waters — all of it expensive., says Carmel, a senior vice president with the Maersk Line and former merchant ship’s master.
Red Stars in Arctic Skies
U.S. and Russian leaders may be engaged in diplomatic tussling over what to do about Syria or rogue NSA contractor Edward Snowden, but the militaries of both countries are still working together on solutions to terrorist threats.
Here we see Russian Federation air force Su-27 Sukhois intercepting a simulated hijacked aircraft entering Russian airspace during Vigilant Eagle 13, a trilateral exercise operating out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.
The four-day exercise kicked off Aug. 26 with scenarios requiring the United States, Canada and Russia to respond to simulated terrorist hijackings of commercial aircraft. Both NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) — a U.S.-Canadian bi-national command — and Russia, had to scramble fighter jets to track and intercept the jetliner as it crossed international boundaries.
To see a Defense Department slideshow of the exercise including Royal Canadian Air Force fighter jets, click here.
To see a DoD video explaining the exercise’s purpose, click here.
U.S. Arctic Strategy
“The United States is an Arctic nation,” begins the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released last week by the White House.
With the apparently inevitable melting of polar sea ice, areas of the Arctic previously locked in by thick ice will be open – at least in summer months – for maritime shipping, oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing scientific research and tourism. The mineral riches beneath the Arctic Sea – which is bordered by six nations, Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States — have prompted concerns about a “Cold Rush” of industries, corporations, speculators and governments hoping to take advantage of resources once thought inaccessible. But there are many more nations in Europe and Asia that want a say in how the top of the world is managed. [More on that in Arctic Council item below].
The brief (12-page) document released by the White House last Friday outlines where U.S. policy should be going in the High North. It calls for three strategic priority efforts:
- Advancing U.S. security interests in the Arctic, including operating vessels and aircraft through, over and under the airspace and waters of the Arctic. Providing for future U.S. energy security is also seen as a national security issue.
- Pursuing Responsible Stewardship of the Arctic, and that includes protecting the environment, conserving its resources and considering the needs of native peoples in the region.
- Strengthening International Cooperation to advance common interest and keep the region stable and free from conflict. The eight-member Arctic Council, which includes Sweden and Finland as well as the six previously mentioned Arctic nations, approved an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in 2011.The opening of sea lanes through Arctic nations’ territory and the extent of the mineral riches beneath the ice has raised concerns about who owns what and who controls territorial waters. A few years ago, a Russian underwater robot placed a Russian flag beneath the North Pole to assert Russia’s stake in the region. And Canada has been gearing up its defense forces and mapping its Arctic coastline to secure sovereignty over its portion of the region. The U.S. Continental shelf claim in the Arctic region “could extend more than 600 nautical miles from the north coast of Alaska,” according to the Arctic Strategy statement.
Scientists estimate that as much as 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas deposits – as well vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore and nickel – lie beneath the waters of the Arctic Circle. Easier access has all sorts of implications. It could break the monopolies some nations like China have on resources such as rare earths (needed in advanced weapons systems and mobile devices). It could also take business away from transit points like the Panama and Suez canals and create all sorts of headaches for countries like Canada if all the world’s shipping starts taking unrestricted shortcuts through their backyard.
The United States will seek to enhance “sea, air and space capabilities as Arctic conditions change,” the new strategy says, adding that “We will enable prosperity and safe transit by developing and maintaining sea, under-sea and air assets and necessary infrastructure.”
The new Arctic Strategy also calls for eventual U.S. acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only Arctic state that is not a party to the convention. The complex series of agreements defines the rights and responsibilities of national governments in their use of the world’s oceans. Despite the support by Presidents Bush and Obama, the Pentagon, State Department and several major business and industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents in the Senate have blocked ratification of the treaty largely on sovereignty and national defense grounds.
Patricia F.S. Cogswell, the senior director for Transborder Security on the National Security Staff, an a special assistant to the president for Homeland Security, says administration officials will be hosting roundtable discussions in Alaska sometime next month to discuss the best ways for implementing the concepts laid out by the strategy.
Arctic Council Grows
The eight member Arctic Council held their biennial ministers meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week and decided to admit six nations – five of them Asian – as permanent observers. Only nations with territory in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States [Alaska] can be members. Permanent observers can’t vote or speak at the meetings but they can automatically attend, unlike non-permanent observers.
Added to the list of 26 existing observer nations were: China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. No non-state entities, like Greenpeace, were approved. And the application of the European Union – which has a dispute with Canada’s Inuit people over trading in the skins, meat and other parts of seals – was put on hold.
Canada’s Health and Northern Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq took over the two-year council chairmanship from Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. The United States is slated to take over the chairmanship role in 2015.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the council meeting that he looked forward to filling out the details of the new U.S. Arctic strategy “with all of you over the course of the next few years.”
NORTHCOM looks North
Increased activity in the Arctic — brought on by the decrease in icebound waters during the summer months — could lead to more requests for U.S. and Canadian military assistance to other government agencies, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) says.
U.S. Army Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today (March 19) that “other traditional military actors” are already setting priorities for the region. For example: Russia is actively recapitalizing its Arctic-focused fleet. And China — which doesn’t even have any territory in the Arctic, but is looking for maritime short cuts in the High North to cut the travel time of its merchant ships — is acquiring a second icebreaker. The U.S. has two ice breakers — the Healy and the massive Polar Star, both based in Seattle — far from the Arctic.
In his testimony before the committee, Jacoby — who also commands the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — said NORTHCOM and NORAD have signed an agreement with the Canadian Joint Operations Command to support other government departments and agencies “in response to threats and hazards in the region when requested or directed.”
Sea lanes across the Arctic have been opening up with the summer melt of sea ice in recent years. For the first time, this accessability is expected to draw more oil drilling, commercial fishing, shipping activity and sightseeing in the harsh environment (See March 6 posting on 4GWAR)
Jacoby also said U.S. military leaders were reaching out to engage with the Russian military, which has been expanding its modernization and training efforts “that extend the range of patrol activities by their air forces.”
The fourth annual Vigilant Eagle counter hijacking exercise between the U.S. and Russia is slated for August 2013. It will be a live-fly exercise involving a variety of NORAD and Russian military aircraft.
Fix it, or Lose it
The U.S. government is banning Shell Oil from drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters until it overhauls how it manages it’s drilling operations.
In one of his last acts before leaving office, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a press conference call March 14 that the oil company “screwed up” its preliminary drilling operations in 2012 and would not be allowed back until the oil giant developed an integrated management plan.
Salazar’s decision came after a new report found that Shell’s contractors were repeatedly ill-prepared to meet the demands of operating in the harsh Arctic environment, the Los Angeles Times reported.
During its first efforts in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, Shell suffered a number of mishaps including the grounding of its Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska. Another Shell drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Shell has already said it will not be coming back to drill in Alaskan waters until 2014.
The grounding of Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska was the most heavily publicized incident in a season plagued with misadventures. Shell’s second drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, drifted and came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the report said, because of contractor Noble Corp.’s use of “only the minimum amount of anchor chain” and failure to have a contingency plan for bad weather.
The report’s harshest criticism was directed at Shell’s management of its contractors, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper site said. “The review said the company failed to make sure its contractors were up to operating in Arctic conditions, the Guardian reported.
Busy Arctic by 2050?
By 2050, according to a new scientific report, warming climate is expected to create new sea routes through the once impenetrable ice of the Arctic, Reuters reports.
Increasingly warm temperatures could also make the Northwest Passage in the waters north of Canada an economically viable shipping route. Now, only at the end of most summers is it passable. The ice could also open up a route — for medium icebreakers — directly over the North Pole by mid-century, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s welcome news for countries like China that would like to take a shorter Arctic route to export their manufactured export goods to Europe. But other countries, like Canada, worry about retaining sovereignty over their Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters. The change in Arctic sea ice has increased concerns about a Cold Rush to the High North for untapped reserves of oil, other mineral resources and fish — sparking future international boundary and right-of-way disputes.
There is also concern about the difficulties of mounting an oil spill cleanup or search and rescue operation in the remote and still hostile environment.
The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth because sun-reflecting, light-colored ice is frequently replaced by sun-absorbing dark-colored water. The result: more melting ice. Last September, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic sea ice had melted to its lowest recorded level.
“Because of this, activity in the most remote reaches of Alaska continues to evolve and grow,” Admiral Robert Papp said in his annual State of the Coast Guard address last month. That activity includes planned oil drilling “in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, foreign tankers using the northern sea routes which transit through the Bering Strait and Sea, and small cruise ships pressing even further into the Arctic,” the Coast Guard commandant added.
The nearest Coast Guard facility to the Arctic is Kodiak Air Station, Alaska — nearly 1,000 miles away by air. Last year, Papp deployed a National Security Cutter and two ocean-going buoy tenders that can navigate icy waters to the polar region as part of the nine-month Arctic Shield exercise. Two MH-60 helicopters were also located temporarily at Barrow, 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.
Papp said he would be issuing the first comprehensive Coast Guard Arctic Strategy this month.
Shell: Wait ’til Next Year
After two of its drilling ships got banged up in Alaska’s waters last year, Royal Dutch Shell oil company says it won’t be returning to the Arctic in 2013 to drill for oil. But in a statement, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum said it was only a “pause” in its exploration drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
“Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop,” the Feb. 27 statement said. Two Shell oil drilling ships were damaged and have been towed to Asia for repairs leaving too little time for their return for the company to commence drilling operations in the short summer season.
The Interior Department, the Coast Guard and the Justice Department are all reviewing Shell’s operations in Alaskan waters — including weather delays, environmental and safety delays, the collapse of it’s spill-containment equipment, the New York Times reported.
The Washington Post reported that Shell’s drilling barge Kulluk was damaged after it ran aground in a storm off Alaska’s Kodiak Island two months ago. Last July, another drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, nearly ran aground at Unalaska Island, Alaska, after dragging its anchor.
Shell has invested more than $4.5 billion on its Alaska drilling venture after a multi-year effort to convince federal officials it could drill safely in the Arctic.
This week’s FRIFO performs double duty. It gives an inside view of all the gauges, displays and switches that pilots of the HC-130H have to monitor to get where they’re going (always a popular topic with 4GWAR visitors). It also highlights this year’s Operation Arctic Shield exercise in the Far North of Alaska.
Arctic Shield, which runs until October is an exercise to determine what capabilities the Coast Guard needs to ensure it can respond to search and rescue or disaster relief missions — like an oil spill — in the harsh Arctic environment. With polar sea ice melting and the world’s thirst for fossil fuel sources of energy growing, more activity is expected in Arctic waters in the near future, including: oil and gas drilling, commercial fishing, tourism and trans-oceanic cargo transport.
But the nearest Coast Guard station to the Arctic is in Kodiak, Alaska – thousands of miles away. The Coast Guard’s only ice breaking vessel is even farther away, so during the summer and early fall, Arctic Shield will deploy a temporary Coast Guard air station at Barrow, Alaska on the Arctic Sea.
Fixed wing aircraft as well as two HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters will be deployed in and around Barrow and Coast Guard cutters will be on patrol at sea.
The photo below shows the big four-engine Hercules at Kodiak.
To see a Defense Department slideshow of preparations for Arctic Shield, click here.
For other photos, click here.
Take a look at all that frozen wasteland. The Russian tanker Renda follows a path through the ice of the Bering Sea made by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB-20). The Seattle-based Healy – the only polar ice breaker in the U.S. fleet — assisted Renda on its mission to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome, Alaska, after a winter storm restricted a scheduled delivery by barge.
The storm prevented November’s scheduled delivery, leaving Nome’s 3,500 residents without enough gasoline and diesel fuel before the next scheduled delivery in late May or June. The 370-foot tanker set out from Russia in mid-December. It stopped in South Korea to pick up diesel fuel and then called at Dutch Harbor, Alaska to load up unleaded gasoline. Renda left the Alaskan port — accompanied by Healy — on Jan. 3.
The 420-foot Healy — yes, the ice breaker is bigger than an oil tanker — is designed to break 4 ½ feet of ice continuously at three knots and can operate in temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero (Farenheit).Unlike most ocean-going vessels, the Healy has a blunt, rounded bow that enable it to ride up on top of the ice. As the bow goes up and the stern (rear) sinks below the water, the force of buoyancy acting on the submerged part of the stern create a lever-like action bringing Healy’s 16,000 tons down onto the ice — breaking it, according to Lt. Commander Kristen Serumgard of the Coast Guard’s Office of Cutter Forces.
After a 5,000-mile journey, the Renda made it — almost — into port at Nome on Jan. 14. Because of the tremendous amount of ice that was as hard as concrete, the Renda pumped out its cargo through hoses that stretched over 500 yards to the distribution facility. See photo below. The Renda completed pumping out its cargo on Jan. 19.
To see a slideshow of the two vessels’ mercy mission through 500 miles of ice-packed Bering Sea, click here.
For more information on the Healy’s mission breaking up the ice for the Renda, click here.
To see a short (27 second) video on You Tube of the two ships in the frozen north, click here.
Guarding Canada’s Arctic territory comes with a big price tag, as much as $1 billion Canadian, according to a series of internal Defense Department documents.
Those documents, dating back to 2008, show the cost of getting fuel, ammunition, food and shelter to the High North might tally between $843 million (US $820.7 million) and $1 billion (US$973.5 million), according to the Canadian Press. The Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force are grappling with the challenges of standing on guard over the mineral rich land beneath the Arctic’s melting sea ice.
The country’s top military commander, Gen. Walt Natynczyk has said it’s harder to sustain operations in the High Arctic than it is to operate in Afghanistan “because in the Arctic, it’s what you bring.”
And getting supplies to the sparsely populated, transportation-dependent North poses numerous logistical problems from transporting fuel to a deepwater port on Baffin Island – 750 kilometers (466 miles) inside the Arctic Circle – to a lack of airports that can accommodate large cargo planes like the C-17 or C-130.
The reports and other documents obtained by the CP through a freedom of information request indicate the Canadian military might have to turn to commercial contractors – and maybe even an exchange of services with the United States military – in order to keep itself supplied in the High North.
Since 2006 the Canadian government has been taking steps to assert its authority over now-frozen wastes that climate scientists say will become summertime sea lanes in the near future. Many countries, including the United States believe those shipping lanes constitute international waters. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party think Canadian “sovereignty over its Arctic territory “is not negotiable.”
Some critics say the world’s second-largest country – two-fifths of which is above the 60th parallel – may have over extended itself and its military capabilities trying to secure an area larger than Western Europe.
Cold Air Drop
Petty Officers 2nd Class Chris Smith (right) and Jared Morrison prepare a canister with equipment to be dropped to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis St. Laurent near the North Pole Sept. 7, 2011. Smith and Morrison conducted three canister drops to the two icebreakers. Both Coast Guardsmen are HC-130 Hercules airplane crewmen assigned to Air Station Kodiak, Alaska.
The Healy, based in Seattle, Washington, is the Coast Guard’s newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. It is designed to break 4.5 feet-thick ice continuously at three knots. The ship can operate in conditions as low as 50 degrees below zero (Farenheit).
The Healy crew is working with the Canadian crew to map the Arctic sea floor and conduct scientific research.
Friday Foto Two-fer
Here is a shot showing what a tough target the two ice breakers made.