The Xuelong 2 icebreaker is christened in Shanghai on 10 September. Photo via Getty Images.

As polar ice melts, the Arctic will become increasingly important for its untapped oil, gas and minerals as they become more accessible, as well for its shipping routes, which will become increasingly cost efficient for cargo as parts of the routes become ice-free for extended periods.

A number of countries, including Russia and China, are also exploring the possibilities around overflights, commercial fishing, the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and scientific research.

Earlier this month, China announced the launch of its first domestically built conventionally-powered polar icebreaker, Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2. Like its (foreign-built) predecessor,Snow Dragon, this vessel’s purpose is framed as scientific research into polar ice coverage, environmental conditions, and biological resources.…  Seguir leyendo »

A path remains after the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica traversed the Northwest Passage through the Franklin Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in July 2017. (AP)

Heat waves from Greece to Siberia — and fires north of the Arctic Circle — are the latest signs this summer that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. This once-inhospitable corner of the globe is becoming the next global commons as the polar ice cap melts.

This will have broad implications for the Arctic as well as non-Arctic nations, and for local and global ecosystems. But the changing environment, new sea lanes and potential new commercial opportunities also open up global security and diplomacy questions.

Here’s what’s happening. Scientists project that the Arctic Ocean will be largely open water during the summer months, a change that will occur within the next two decades.…  Seguir leyendo »

Winter Warming. The average temperature during winter months has risen sharply since the 1980s. Note: Each year represents a five-year average concluding that year. Winter months include December through March. | Source: European Reanalysis Interim. By The New York Times

In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.

In recent years, the air at the Arctic Ocean surface during winter has warmed by over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Rosneft oil rig drills the first exploration well in the Khatanga Bay as part of the East Taimyr oilfield. Photo by Vladimir Smirnov\TASS via Getty Images.

Russia has vast oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, but is unable to exploit them due to sanctions, the technological shortcomings of state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft, and their unwillingness to cooperate with private Russian companies with the relevant experience.

The current price of crude on international markets should make extraction from the bed of the Arctic Ocean profitable, but sanctions are precluding Russia from engaging Western companies with the necessary technological capacity to explore Russia’s Arctic resources.

However, Russia has its own self-imposed restriction – private companies in Russia with specialist experience and technology are also unable to support the exploration of Russia’s untapped Arctic reserves.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hace ya treinta y cinco años, como parte de una expedición global, Charles Burton y yo cruzamos el Océano Ártico a través del Polo Norte, acampando durante tres meses en un témpano a la deriva. Para nosotros fue un viaje que definió nuestras vidas y formó parte de un duradero record mundial.

Sin embargo, otro record mucho menos estable pertenece al Ártico mismo: para marzo de este año, su capa de hielo se había reducido al menor tamaño jamás registrado.

El uso de combustibles fósiles es una de las causas de la desaparición del hielo polar, no solo porque contribuyen al calentamiento global, sino también por el efecto más inmediato de la dependencia generalizada del petróleo pesado (HFO) para repostar barcos.…  Seguir leyendo »

China has become more active in global governance issues. Its involvement in new regulations about the changing environment of the Arctic is no exception.

Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate; according to a recent report from NASA, the Arctic has lost almost 95% of its older ice cover since 1984. Due to this loss and other impacts of climate change, the marine ecosystems of the Arctic Ocean are also evolving.

It’s now widely recognised that fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean may occur both within areas under current fisheries’ jurisdiction of the coastal states, and in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean.…  Seguir leyendo »

This month, as the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity completed its pioneering transit of the Northwest Passage, a Canadian expedition announced the discovery of the Terror, a British ship that vanished along the same general Arctic route some 170 years ago.

For the Crystal Serenity, the biggest luxury liner ever to complete the passage, it was smooth sailing on waters that in the Terror’s day were covered by sea ice so impenetrable that it trapped the ship and another British vessel as they sought a route across the top of North America. All 129 men on what was known as the Lord Franklin expedition died.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cuando asumí el cargo ministro de Exteriores de Noruega en 2005, el gobierno de Jens Stoltenberg definió nuestra política hacia el Ártico y el Polo Norte como una prioridad nacional. El principal desafío político en el Ártico en ese momento era la falta de interés internacional. Al entrar en la segunda década del siglo XXI, el Ártico emerge como una región de inmenso potencial, creciente compromiso por parte de los Estados costeros y mayor atención desde todas partes del globo, incluyendo desde China e India.

Esta transformación ha sido impulsada por el cambio climático, con el deshielo como la evidencia más palmaria del calentamiento global.…  Seguir leyendo »

Traveling through the chilly landscape around the arctic city of Murmansk, Russia, it quickly becomes clear that this barren region is, in fact, a strategic centerpiece in President Vladimir V. Putin’s vast armory. The overland road from the Norwegian border passes by miles and miles of double-row fences of ice-crowned barbed wire, warning signs and surveillance cameras. Many of the gray, silent settlements along the way appear to be less towns than military installations, with soldiers in long, thick coats trotting through the streets.

But to grasp the full military import of this place, the Kola Peninsula — Russia’s northwestern-most territory — you would have to look down on it with thermal imaging from high above.…  Seguir leyendo »

La opinión pública está relativamente familiarizada con la noción de geografía política: una disciplina que analiza la distribución y organización territorial surgida de procesos y decisiones de índole política que, entre otros aspectos, explican el trazado de las fronteras entre países y estados. Sin embargo, no es tan conocido que en la actualidad estamos asistiendo al nacimiento de una nueva disciplina que podríamos denominar geología política. Algo que resulta particularmente evidente en el Ártico, donde dicha ciencia se ha convertido en una herramienta indispensable para la justificación y la protección de los intereses políticos de los estados y la expansión de sus fronteras marítimas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagining 2030 The Far North

Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.

It’s 2030, the Arctic landscape has changed significantly both geographically and ecologically over the last few decades. The transition from ice and snow to open water has increased the availability and access to natural resources and shipping routes. However, the increased economic activity in the Arctic has not been linear and has suffered various setbacks.

To begin, the North Sea Route has seen increased navigation. This route currently allows ships from North East Asia to transport cargo to Europe and even the Canadian and American East coast.…  Seguir leyendo »

We crested the northern rim of Alaska’s Brooks Range, and from the windows of our truck looked out across the undulating foothills toward the Arctic Ocean. Instead of seeing snow as we had in years past, we were greeted by a landscape already green with spring.

We flew by helicopter to our remote camp and shed our heavy parkas. The fish we had come to study had already disappeared downstream to spawn.

We now realize that what we saw last May was historic — the hottest May for Alaska’s North Slope during what scientists recently concluded was the hottest year on record for the earth.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sailors aboard the USS “Seawolf” remove ice from the hull after surfacing at the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean, July 30, 2015. U.S. NAVY/Handout

President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Alaska helped draw attention to global climate change — and to the national-security tensions that could result from a warming Arctic region.

Surveyors believe that the seabed under Arctic waters could contain hundreds of billions of barrels of untapped oil. As the North Pole becomes more accessible, and so more valuable, Arctic countries — each with its own and in some cases overlapping territorial claims — are getting ready for some serious competition.

The United States and Russia are geopolitical rivals and uneasy Arctic neighbors. More and more Russian and U.S. military forces are deploying on and under the Arctic Ocean.…  Seguir leyendo »

A couple of years ago, a Canadian minister proudly declared that Santa Claus was a citizen of Canada. After all, his home and toy factory are at the North Pole, which, according to the minister’s interpretation, belongs to Canada.

Though Santa Claus has not commented on the matter, it is now clear that he could choose several passports when he travels the world. In 2007, a privately funded mini-submarine planted a Russian flag directly beneath his alleged home. And last month, Denmark, which has sovereignty over Greenland, staked its own territorial claim, also covering the North Pole.

By filing its claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Denmark has joined our era’s “great game”: the contest for economic control over a large part of the Arctic.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hace un par de años, un ministro canadiense declaró con orgullo que Santa Claus era un ciudadano del Canadá. Al fin y al cabo, su hogar y su fábrica de juguetes están en el Polo Norte, que, según la interpretación del ministro, pertenece al Canadá.

Aunque Santa Claus no ha comentado ese asunto, ahora está claro que, cuando viaja por el mundo el 24 de diciembre, podría elegir varios pasaportes. En 2007, un minisubmarino con financiación privada plantó una bandera rusa directamente debajo de su supuesto hogar y, hace dos semanas, Dinamarca, que tiene la soberanía sobre Groenlandia, señaló su propia reivindicación territorial, que también abarcaba el Polo Norte.…  Seguir leyendo »

According to the worldview of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, the town of Kirkenes, Norway, is an illusion. To Mr. Putin, there is only east and west, two separate spheres split by a straight north-south line through Europe. But the place does actually exist: in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county, just a few miles away from the Russian border and farther east than Sweden, Finland and the Baltic countries.

In geopolitical terms, one can see incredible things here. Huge fishing vessels with Cyrillic nameplates unload tons of king crab and cod at Kirkenes harbor, destined for the European market. Farther down the road, at the shopping mall — labeled in Cyrillic — Russian families from across the border come to purchase yogurt, cheese, winter coats and perfumes.…  Seguir leyendo »

There’s an international tourism boom happening in the United States, but the newly popular destination might surprise you. This summer, Japan, China, Russia, Canada and Sweden will all have icebreaking research ships cruising U.S. waters in the Arctic Ocean, where they will collect information about navigation routes, study the effect of a changing climate on wildlife and generally gain a better understanding of the region’s unique weather patterns and geography. Meanwhile, Washington is giving limited attention to our country’s increasing responsibilities in the Arctic. It’s time for that to change.

In fact, with so many national security, economic and environmental interests at stake, it is well past time to raise the profile of Arctic issues in the United States.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia Arctic Bear Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

Today the world continues to focus on Moscow’s brazen aggression in Ukraine and its blatant disregard for international law. However, Russia’s imperial delusions and energy dependence are also creating major problems elsewhere in the world, including in the Arctic — a vast, energy-rich region where the Kremlin has both great ambitions and is pursuing dangerous policies.

Despite its superpower pretensions, Russia remains a poorly developed state with a unidimensional economy that is extremely dependent on oil and natural gas, and saddled with often difficult-to-access energy deposits costing billions to exploit. An increasingly stagnant economy has only widened the disconnect between Moscow’s ambitions and its economic capabilities.…  Seguir leyendo »

While much of the world is focused on the Russian incursion into the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, another long-term move may allow the former Soviet navy to dominate U.S. interests to the north: the Arctic.

The rapid melting of the Arctic Ocean is quickly creating a new variety of challenges that have the potential to cause significant global damage if they remain unaddressed.

The Obama administration’s policy correctly recognizes that the United States has profoundly important economic and cultural interests in the Arctic but regrettably reveals very little about what the federal government will be doing outside of the science field.…  Seguir leyendo »

While many existing oil and gas reserves in other parts of the world are facing steep decline, the Arctic is thought to possess vast untapped reservoirs. Approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil deposits and 30 percent of its natural gas reserves are above the Arctic Circle, according to the United States Geological Survey. Eager to tap into this largess, Russia and its Arctic neighbors — Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland and Denmark (by virtue of its authority over Greenland) — have encouraged energy companies to drill in the region.

For Russia, which recently seized a Greenpeace ship and is prosecuting 30 of the group’s activists for attempting to scale an oil platform, the temptation to exploit the Arctic Ocean is especially powerful.…  Seguir leyendo »