Posts Tagged ‘Arctic Ice Cap’

North Pole is 50 degrees warmer than usual

December 27, 2016


The temperature of the Arctic is 50 degrees warmer than usual—so warm that it is off the chart for this map.

A warming Arctic in some ways is a good thing.  It frees up the Arctic Ocean for navigation and (which may or may not be a good thing) opens up the oil and mineral resources of the Arctic for exploitation.

But it disrupts the weather patterns throughout the whole Northern Hemisphere.  A melting Arctic ice cap changes ocean currents and a melting Greenland glacier raises the levels of the sea.

Meanwhile 2016 is on track to replace 2015 as the hottest year on record worldwide.

Stopping greenhouse gasses immediately would not reverse global warming within the lifetime of anyone now alive.   They will affect the world’s atmosphere for a long time to come.

The choice for the world’s policymakers is whether and how much to stop making things worse.   The choice for us, the citizens of free countries, is how much we care about those who will come after us.


Will the Arctic be the next big arena of conflict?

December 9, 2015
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The warming Arctic is likely to be a new arena of conflict between Russia and the USA.

But unlike in current conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, there will be no question of democracy or a fight against terrorism to cloud the central issue—control of oil and gas resources and transportation routes.

The infrographic by the South China Morning Post provides a good snapshot of the situation.   The potential conflict in the Arctic is even more dangerous than existing conflicts, because of its potential for direct confrontation between the USA and Russia.

The other nations with the greatest physical presence in the Arctic are Canada and Denmark (which controls Greenland).   It will be interesting to see whether they will follow the lead of the United States or try to steer an independent course.

The irony of the situation is that the Arctic is being opened up by global warming, which causes the Arctic ice cap to shrink over time, and that the warming is caused mainly by burning of fossil fuels, but the new oil and gas supplied from the Arctic will make it easier and cheaper to keep on burning fossil fuels.

The best outcome would be for the Arctic powers to agree on sharing and conserving the region’s resources.  That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

Russia and the Northern Sea Route

September 5, 2013


As the Arctic ice cap melts, the Russian government is trying to develop a Northern Sea Route, as a better and shorter way to connect northwestern Europe with northeastern Asia than the Southern Sea Route through the Suez Canal.

It is an example of how leaders of nations such as Russia, China and others are working quietly to develop their assets and build up their strength, while American leaders take the strength of the United States for granted and heedlessly dissipate it through reckless military actions and neglect of national needs.

The map is from a 2011 article in The Guardian.  Click on Melting Arctic ice clears the way for supertanker voyages to read it.

Click on With Arctic ice melt, ships now ply the Northern Sea Route for a more recent article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

An Arctic future that’s already here

June 4, 2012

The future is already here, the science fiction writer William Gibson once wrote; it just isn’t widely distributed.  Charles Emmerson in his 2010 book, The Future History of the Arctic, said the future of the Arctic is already here, shaped by the melting of the polar caps, the opening of the Arctic Ocean to navigation and the world’s appetite for the Arctic’s natural resources, especially its oil and gas.   I learned a lot from the book about the present and future importance of the Northern world.

Russia is the nation with the largest presence in the Arctic and strongest commitment to developing the Arctic, Emmerson said; the Russians are more oriented toward their Far North than any other people except Greenlanders.  This goes back to the old Soviet Union.  The first Heroes of the Soviet Union were Arctic aviators and explorers, and many Gulag forced laborers died building the White Sea canal and other Arctic infrastructure.

In present-day Russia, exports of oil and gas are the basis of the economy, and as production in the older oil fields peaks out, the new Arctic fields become critically important.

Gazprom, a company in which the Russian government holds a majority interest, is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and owns the world’s largest natural gas reserves.  It has an ambitious plan to develop Arctic gas fields and  ship liquified natural gas (LNG) from Arctic ports.   Like the old USSR, Russia is determined to press forward regardless of cost, efficiency or the ups and downs of oil and gas prices.

The Russian dilemma is that its energy industry needs the technological expertise of Western companies, but the government is unwilling to accept foreign control of its resources.  Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil magnate, was reportedly on the verge of selling a large part of his company, Yukos, to ExxonMobil and Chevron when he was arrested in 2003.

The United States and Canada became Arctic powers partly as a result of historical accident.  The purchase of Alaska from Russia by U.S. Secretary of State William Seward in 1867 was unpopular.  Also in 1867, the British North American Act created the Dominion of Canada, consisting of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the southern parts of present-day Quebec and Ontario.  British Columbia was a separate entity and most of the land area of present-day Canada was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was devoted to trading for furs with the native peoples.  Canada’s Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, alarmed by Seward’s ambition to acquire British Columbia and Greenland, negotiated the purchase of the Hudson Bay territories, and persuaded British Columbia to join Canada by promising to build a Canadian Pacific Railroad.  Without Seward and MacDonald, history may have taken a different course.

Oil companies in Canada and Alaska are pressing forward, but they are constrained by economic and environmental considerations more than the government-controlled Russian companies.

Leaders of the native peoples of Alaska and northern Canada are caught in the middle.  They want economic development, but also want to continue traditional activities such as whale and seal hunting.  They distrust the oil companies, but think they can deal with them, and they have no use at all for environmentalists, who, as the native leaders see it, want to deprive them of the benefits of the modern world.  Arctic warming threatens this way of life regardless of what the oil, gas and minerals do.  Any actions to mitigate global warming will not change the current situation, but may prevent things from getting even worse 20 or 30 years from now.

Emmerson thinks Norway has the most enlightened and balanced approach to development of its Arctic resources.  Iceland is attractive to outside companies because of its abundant geothermal and hydroelectric power, and Greenland even more so because of the potential resources under the melting Greenland ice cap.   Iceland’s population is slightly over 300,000, less than Monroe County, N.Y., where I live, and Greenland’s is about 56,000, yet many Greenlanders want independence from Denmark.  They are in much the same position as the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, tiny communities sitting on enormous resources which they lack the power to defend.

The book is worth reading, and contains a lot more interesting material.  One sidelight, and sign of the times:  The world’s largest manufacturer of icebreakers is Aker Arctic, a Finnish company, but the only work still done in Finland is design and testing of prototypes.  Manufacture has been outsourced to Korea.

Click on The Guardian, Financial Times and Eye on the Arctic for reviews of Emmerson’s book.

Click on The potential wealth of a warming Arctic and Navigating a warming Arctic Ocean for maps showing national territorial claims, Arctic oil and gas fields and potential Arctic sea routes.

[Added 6/5/12]  A number of people, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Saturday, have called on the Arctic nations to make the region a zone of peace and international cooperation.  It certainly would be a good place to begin.  Without enlightened action, the Arctic seems destined to become a zone of economic rivalry, political conflict and military confrontation.

The potential wealth of a warming Arctic

June 4, 2012

Arctic oil and gas exploration fields

The gradual shrinking of the Arctic ice cap is opening the Arctic’s oil and gas, minerals and fisheries for development. Corporations and Arctic nations all want their share.

British writer Charles Emmerson wrote in The Future History of the Arctic, which was published in 2010, that the Russian Federation is the nation with the greatest presence in the Arctic and the greatest commitment to expanding in the region.   Russia thinks of itself as an Arctic nation.  This has been so, Emmerson wrote, since the days of the old Soviet Union, which built an Arctic infrastructure on the bodies of Gulag laborers.  The earliest Heroes of the Soviet Union were Arctic aviators and explorers.  Present-day Russia has no Gulag, but, like the old Soviet Union, it is committed to Arctic development by government policy regardless of cost, efficiency and fluctuations of the world price of oil and gas.

Click to enlarge

The above map shows the conflicting claims of nations.  The map below shows just the Russian claim.  The heavy black line shows the limits of the part of the Russian claim recognized by other nations.  The darker region shows the more extensive Russian claim.

Click to enlarge

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to the Norwegian Arctic on Saturday and called for cooperation among the Arctic nations—Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

Click on Arctic Oil and Gas Resources for more about the Arctic’s potential as a source of oil and gas.

Click on Russia: the non-reluctant Arctic power for more about Russia’s claims in the Arctic.

Click on Arctic Warming Means Challenges, Clinton Says for the Voice of America’s report on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call last Saturday for international cooperation in the Arctic.

Click on Clinton in Arctic: Promenade with profit in mind for Russia Today’s version of Clinton’s position.

Click on Navigating a warming Arctic Ocean for more maps.

Navigating a warming Arctic Ocean

June 4, 2012

The Arctic ice cap is shrinking under the influence of global warming.  The map compares the extent of the Arctic ice cap on Sept. 10, 1011, with the September average for 2002 through 2006.

A Northern Sea Route across the top of Russia and a Northwest Passage across the top of Canada soon will be open.  Someday it may be possible to cross the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole.

The warming of the Arctic will open its vast oil, mineral and fisheries resources for development, and create an arena for economic rivalry, political conflict and perhaps military confrontation.  Below is a map showing the Arctic ports in relation to oil and gas fields and the projected shrinking of the Arctic ice caps over the next few decades.