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TOPIC: arctic

Russia

How The War In Ukraine Could Overturn Everyone's Plans For The Arctic

Russia owns 60% of Arctic coastline and half of the region's population. In recent history, NATO has not been overly concerned with the defense of the Arctic region because the U.S. military has been focused on the Middle East. This is all changing since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

-Analysis-

KYIV — As important as the Arctic is for studying climate control and ecology, various states have eyes on it for another reason: resources. Climate change has made the Arctic more accessible for mining, and much of that area is in the Russian Arctic. In order to exploit these potential natural resources, Russia turned to foreign investors and foreign technology, from both the West and China. The war in Ukraine is throwing all of that into question.

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Russia's invasion of Ukraine will have a profoundly devastating impact on the development of Russian Arctic infrastructure, as well as shipping routes through the Arctic. Western companies have left or are about to leave the market, and counter-sanctions threaten those who still cooperate with the Russians.

Given that Russia does not produce the sophisticated equipment to operate in such a complex region and soon will not even be able to repair the equipment it possesses, we can expect Russia's activity in the Arctic to slow down.

Yet, Vladimir Putin has continued to emphasize the Arctic as a priority region, and extended invitations to cooperate to both India and China.

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How Putin's Arctic Dreams May Crack Under The Weight Of Ukraine War

With its vast untapped resources up for grabs, the Arctic region is where the climate crisis is now inextricably linked to a new global arms race. Now Moscow finds itself shut out in the cold after invading Ukraine.

The worldwide impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine extends from everything from food and energy supply to a massive refugee crisis to the revival of nuclear arms tension. Yet thousands of miles to the north, Vladimir Putin has his eye on another region with its own hefty weight on the future of the planet: the Arctic.

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The reason? The glaciers and icebergs covering parts of the Arctic Ocean are melting away. In the last 40 years, the multi-year ice (the thicker part that stays throughout the summer) has decreased by roughly half, and estimates predict that the Arctic Ocean is heading for ice-free conditions by mid-century.

While that is bad news for the planet, as sea ice acts as a huge white sun reflector keeping our planet cool, it also means that lucrative resources such as oil, gas and minerals become increasingly accessible to the countries with territorial access to the Arctic.

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How Climate Consensus Could Cool Appetite For Arctic Exploitation

As global warming melts the ice covering parts of the Arctic Ocean, new opportunities are opening up for the exploration of natural resources, including oil. But the accelerating cooperation on climate objectives could wind up saving the Arctic from both business and military interests.

Analysis

PARISMoscow is militarizing the North Pole ... China claims near-arctic state status ... Trump wants to buy Greenland ...

That sampling of headlines from the last few years is a testament to the emergence of the Arctic as a frosty point of potential conflict among the major geopolitical force reshaping our world. Most would still struggle to imagine why this distant place of drifting ice blocks and polar bears, historically considered a place too inaccessible and distant for governments to pay any mind, is suddenly emerging as a frontier of global power play.

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Pathogens In The Permafrost: A New Climate Change Health Risk

French researchers have recovered a pair of viruses that were long frozen below the Siberian tundra. In this case, the microorganisms are harmless, but others may not be.

Deadly pathogens, frozen for tens of thousands of years in the soil of the Arctic circle, suddenly freed and reactivated because of global warming. It sounds like science fiction, and indeed, U.S. author Christy Esmahan imagined a similar scenario as the premise for her 2015 thriller The Laptev Virus.

In it, Esmahan imagines an oil company that, while drilling in the far north, accidentally releases a "megavirus' that's been dormant in the frozen tundra for 30,000 years. Death and mayhem ensue.

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Russia
Elena Kudryavtseva

When The Ice Is Gone: Russia's Vision For Arctic Development

A coming Siberian station called Snezhinka (Snowflake), will be at the center of both scientific and economic development of the Northern territories in the times of global warming.

MOSCOW — A new generation, year-round Arctic station is rising from the cold Siberian ground with the name: Snezhinka (Snowflake). The goal of this international outpost is the development of the Northern territories in the times of global warming.

The station will be located on the Yamal Peninsula, in northwest Siberia. These wildlands have been poorly developed by humans, except for natural gas extraction sites, which account for about 20% of Russian reserves.

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Green Or Gone
Sukriti Kapur*

Global Warming North: A Balmy Research Journey To The Arctic

Warmer temperatures and plastic waste lying about reminded an expedition to Svalbard that no part of Earth is untouched by the activities of its humans.

SVALBARD — The mere mention of our planet's polar regions brings to mind masses of frozen ice, hostile conditions and a general absence of all living things. This is unfortunate, because although the areas above the Arctic circle and below the Antarctic circle are indeed remote, they are teeming with all sorts of life, from microflora to megafauna.

I was a part of an 86-member team that journeyed to the Arctic region to study climate change in real-time, as part of the Climate Force Arctic 2019 expedition. This expedition, led by Robert Swan, the first man to walk to both of the Earth's poles, is conducted every year. Swan also launched the 2041 Foundation, whose mission is to develop leadership skills among individuals by helping them take responsibility and act sustainably toward a more resilient future.

The name of Swan's foundation revolves around the Antarctic Environment Protocol. Signed in Madrid in 1991, it bans all drilling and mining in Antarctica. It will reopen for negotiations in 2048, and Swan hopes to increase awareness and gather support by 2041 — the 50-year anniversary of the signing.

The temperature on some days was as high as 12 °C.

The Arctic is composed of all areas north of the 66°33'44" N latitude. After three days of briefing in Norway's capital, Oslo, we set off to Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Sea between Norway and the North Pole. At Svalbard, we boarded a ship, ready to sail around the islands for a full week.

Each day on the ship began with a series of talks where participants shared inspirational stories, before experts spoke about the Arctic landscape and how the climate crisis has been altering it. After that, we would go on hikes, photo walks and cruises, each of which brought us second-to-none insights into the Arctic realm. Every afternoon, there were discussions on the Paris Agreement, climate change mitigation and carbon trade, involving climate experts. The day would end with a recap of the day's events before undertaking free-ranging trips or speaking to other participants.

Climate change is not new to any of us. But the surface air in the Arctic is now warming twice as fast as in the rest of the world. Arctic ice (like all ice) strongly reflects solar radiation. And as it melts, it exposes the underlying tundra soil and ocean to heat, the latter absorbing the heat instead of reflecting it. The tundra soil is very rich in organic matter because decomposition is slow, meaning that as the soil warms, the permanently frozen subsoil melts and releases a large amount of methane into the atmosphere, which causes Earth's atmosphere and surface to warm further. As a greenhouse gas, methane is more potent than carbon dioxide.

Another conspicuous consequence of a warming Arctic is the loss of sea ice. Sea ice forms each winter when the ocean surface freezes. Some of this ice melts in the following summer and some doesn't, to weather another winter. But in a warmer world, more ice melts each summer, and ice forming in the winter does so later and breaks up earlier than it has before. Not to mention that the ice build-up isn't as thick.

Less sea ice means a smaller feeding habitat for polar bears. So the bears are forced to concentrate over ever-smaller patches of the surviving ice, leading to heavy predation pressure on the local seal population.

Our group was lucky to encounter a lot of wildlife on our expedition, some of which hadn't been spotted in the Arctic for over 30 years. These included the beluga, bowhead, humpback and fin whales, bearded seals, arctic walruses and polar bears. Each of these species is facing a loss of habitat, declining food sources and sea acidification due to global heating.

The surface air in the Arctic is warming twice as fast as in the rest of the world.

At the start of the trip, we were given a list of clothing items to bring on the trip but we didn't use many of them by the end. The temperature on some days was as high as 12 °C, and the average was around 1-3 °C. This is significantly high for this region, and a subtle, yet persistent reminder of how the world is changing.

There was one day, however, we were reminded of that in a much more sudden, and terrifying way: During a hike, many of us came across pieces of plastic strewn across the Arctic tundra. These items included discarded fishing equipment, cans and containers and plastic wrappers. We'd all read accounts by experts and journalists who had documented the menace of single-use plastic, but none of us had expected to find it in this part of the world. There is really no part of Earth that is left untouched by our activities.

This expedition was an eye-opener. We returned home inspired by the beauty and serenity of the Arctic landscape, and more motivated to protect it — together with the rest of our fellow humans. While the world debates the grainier terms of a global shift to an eco-friendly life, there are many small-scale solutions that we can put into practice every day to drive change from the bottom. They include giving up single-use plastics, shifting to buying and eating local, creating awareness among your friends and family, and voting for leaders that have a strong environmental mandate.

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Green Or Gone
Frédéric Faux

Russia And China Lead New Rush To The Arctic

With the melting of the ice, maritime traffic is growing, which means new economic opportunities, but also some cold and hard questions.

TROMSO — On the maps we all studied in school, the Arctic appears as a huge white spot separating Asia from the Americas — wild, untouched, impassable. But is that still an accurate representation?

The area is changing, and changing quickly, says Ole Arve Misund, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. "In 20 or 30 years, probably, there will be no more ice at the North Pole during the summer, and the Arctic Ocean will become accessible," he says.

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Svalbard and Jan Mayen
Leïla Miñano

An Arctic Pastor On The Front Lines Of Climate Change

As head of the northernmost parish in the world, Leif Helgesen has a clear (and often chilly) view of global warming.

LONGYEARBYEN — At just over 1,000 km from the North Pole, Longyearbyen — population 2,300 — is home to more polar bears than people. For some locals like Leif Magne Helgesen, a 56-year-old Lutheran pastor who keeps his small wooden church open at all hours, that's part of the beauty of living here.

Towards the end of November, Longyearbyen is coated in snow and powerful gusts of icy wind descend on the town. "Usually, during polar nights, the moon and the stars reflect on the snow," says Helgesen. "The light is magnificent." But in 2016, things were different. The sky was pitch black save for the lights of a few houses. In the meantime, Helgesen's snowmobile gathered dust in the parking lot. "There was no snow," he says. "Not even a snowflake."

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Sources
Ludovic Hirtzmann

Diamond Hunting In The Arctic

The pay is good. And much of the work is automated. But life at the isolated Gahcho Kué diamond mine, in northern Canada, isn't for the faint of heart.

GAHCHO KUÉ MINE — The old Jumbolino, a small, 1980s-model British plane, circles above the pack ice and its multitude of frozen lakes. Aboard, the 90 passengers, all of them miners, are waking up. "Welcome to Gahcho Kué," the purser chants in a hoarse voice.

Gahcho Kué means "place of the big rabbits' in the indigenous Chipewyan language. But for outsiders, the name is synonymous with diamonds. The Gahcho Kué mine, owned by the De Beers company, is located in Canada's Northwest Territories, about two-hour by plane from Edmonton, Alberta. It looks a bit like a lunar base, stranded on the tundra, endlessly flat and white.

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blog

Going North

I crossed the Arctic Circle on several occasions — but always under the same polar sun and blue sky.

Economy
Anne Feitz

Why Big Oil's Thirst For Arctic Exploration Is Bound To Return

By announcing the end of its exploration campaign in the north of Alaska, Shell delighted environmental NGOs. But the self-imposed moratorium, to the degree it even exists, will not last.

PARIS — The polar bear lovers have claimed victory. On Sept. 28, Shell announced it was suspending its exploration campaign in the Chukchi Sea, in the north of Alaska, after disappointing results. Many saw in this retreat the signal they'd been waiting and hoping for: oil companies have finally given up on the Arctic's black gold. Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs exulted on social networks.

Their reaction is understandable. But is it also premature? "There is still a lot of oil activity in the Arctic, for instance on land in Alaska and in Russia, or offshore in Norway," says Mikå Mered, the president of the regional consultancy firm Polarisk.

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