Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Arctic in the U.S. House of Representatives: “Science-based precautionary management” in the Arctic?

MARCH 25 UPDATE and corrigendum to this entry: On March 24 a joint oversight hearing took place on "Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf and the Future of our Oceans" before The House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, led by Jim Costa (D-CA), and Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, led by Del. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU). Read Scientific American's interview with Oceana's Jeffrey Short about his March 24 testimony here. Witnesses from a range of industry, environmental, government and academic institutions testified and are listed on the committee's website. The letter mentioned below relates directly to the March 24 hearing.

In advance of tomorrow’s hearing on "Climate Change and the Arctic: New Frontiers of National Security," before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, 67 Democratic members of the House have written to President Obama urging creation of an inter-agency task force to develop a conservation and energy plan for the Arctic. The letter calls for application of “science-based precautionary management” in the region, identifying the federal portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, as areas of particular concern.

The three witnesses scheduled for the March 25, 2009, hearing are Scott Borgerson, Council on Foreign Relations; Robert Corell, The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and Mead Treadwell, Institute of the North. The hearings can be viewed via webcast here. Texts of each of their prepared statements are available here, under 3/25, 9:31 a.m..

Readers may recall that the Arctic Fishery Management Plan (AFMP) adopted in February 2009 by NOAA’s North Pacific Fishery Management Council relied on the precautionary approach in calling for a ban on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean. The AFMP (draft) defines the precautionary approach as follows:

“The Council’s policy is to proactively apply judicious and responsible fisheries management practices, based on sound scientific research and analysis, to ensure the sustainability of fishery resources, to prevent unregulated fishing, and to protect associated ecosystems for the benefit of current users and future generations. For the past 30 years, the Council’s management policy for Alaska fisheries has incorporated forward-looking conservation measures that address differing levels of uncertainty.”

The NPFMC is one of eight NOAA regional fisheries councils established under the Magnuson Fishery and Conservation Act of 1976. The Council oversees the 900,000 square miles of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone off of Alaska.

Thanks to two D.C. based sources for highlighting these activities of the U.S. House of Representatives and its members: Caitlyn Antrim in her Ocean Law Daily and Diane Derby, Communications Director of Georgetown Law’s State-Federal Climate Resource Center.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Coast Guards, Two Reports: Canada-U.S. Cooperation in the Arctic

“Our Canadian partnership has strengthened to the point that we are full partners in our Arctic initiatives.” 
               Commander, USCG District 17, Juneau, AK - 19 February 2009

The joint mapping of the Arctic Ocean extended continental shelf by U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers in 2008, and planned for 2009 as mentioned in my last entry, is an important but by no means the only way in which the two Coast Guards cooperate.  Another is in improving our understanding of maritime activity in the Arctic.

Last month the Commander for the USCG 17th District in Juneau, reporting on Operation Salliq 2008, the USCG Arctic Initiative, characterized the two countries’ Coast Guards as “full partners in our Arctic initiatives.” Writing in the context of efforts to improve USCG Arctic Domain Awareness (ADA), the Commander reported that one of five such initiatives – biweekly flights of C-130s out of the USCG Air Station Kodiak during summer shipping season to observe maritime activity – were supplemented by cooperation with Canada: “Through engagement with the Canadian Coast Guard and Canada's Joint Task Force North in Yellowknife, we began intelligence sharing with Canada, enhancing the awareness of both countries.”

The four other prongs of Operation Salliq 2008 were i) employing the USCGC Polar Sea in homeland security, search and rescue and other missions in the Arctic, ii) resurrecting the long USCG tradition of deploying buoy tenders to remote native villages in Northern Alaska, focusing in 2008 on needed navigational aids, iii) inserting a “tailored force package” into Barrow, the idea being to “forward deploy helicopters and small boats to the North Slope and to use them as we would use them in Southern Alaska,” and v) a conceptual security exercise in Prudhoe Bay. Just one conclusion policy makers would do well to heed: “The existing infrastructure in the U.S. Arctic is insufficient to support prolonged or seasonal Coast Guard operations.” Specifics as to U.S. icebreaking capacity have been discussed elsewhere.     More information on each of the five prongs of Operation Salliq is available in the District 17 Public Affairs online report, which emphasizes the centrality of engagement with Native Alaskan communities to the success of USCG Arctic Domain Awareness.

On the Canadian side, an Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans from June 2008 offers a comprehensive overview of “The Coast Guard in Canada's Arctic.” The Canadian report serves a much different purpose than the Operation Salliq report, and neither focuses primarily on cooperation between the two countries’ coast guards. Nonetheless, the existence of such cooperation is evident in both reports. For example, of commitments undertaken for last summer by the Canadian Coast Guard fleet in the Arctic and highlighted in the Canadian Senate report, at least three have distinct international components:

“• icebreaker participation in an Arctic environmental response exercise in Ilulissat (Greenland) with the United States and Denmark, the host country of the 2008 North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum;

• continued icebreaking support to the US Military Sealift Command off Greenland; and

• continued and significant activity related to IPY research and mapping of the Canadian continental shelf.”

In further contrast to the USCG report on Operation Salliq, the Canadian Senate report on the Canadian Coast Guard in the Canadian Arctic offers formal recommendations to policy makers for reinforcing Canadian sovereignty and presence in its Arctic, worth perusal in their original context, at pages 39 ff., as are the recommendations, at page 44, of a February 2008 Canada–U.S. Model Negotiation on Northern Waters.  Speaking only to icebreaking capacity and not overall Canadian Coast Guard infrastructure in the Arctic, the report's observation that "(a)t present, the Coast Guard has a limited capacity to navigate in Canada’s Arctic," still provides an interesting complement to USCG conclusions about inadequate U.S. infrastructure capacity in the Arctic. Finally, the Canadian report recalls the existence of the 1988 Arctic Cooperation Agreement between Canada and the United States (also mentioned in a Parliamentary Arctic Chronology), which treaty serves as an important foundation for bilateral engagement in the region.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The USCGC HEALY is underway for Arctic West Summer 2009 and in the ICE!

From the USCGC HEALY this past week:


While I need not say more, I will, lest we take for granted the things the Healy crew -- Coast Guard and Scientists -- undertake on behalf of national, and international, interests.  It's useful to recall conditions that mariners and scientists around the globe endure for the sake of learning more about the oceans.

The Healy embarked Seattle on March 4, 2009 for its Arctic West Summer 2009 (AWS 09) deployment.   Before reaching the "perfect day" recorded above, the Healy crew endured some pretty punishing gales and accompanying rolls (up to some 28 degrees) crossing from Dixon Entrance to Chatham Strait, en route to Kodiak a few days back.  

The Healy is underway for AWS 09 in support of the Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST), "a multi-year project sponsored by the National Science Foundation that studies the ecological processes of sea ice as it retreats through the Bering Sea.” BEST program scientists at sea and at several locations around the US are studying connections between "external forcing mechanisms and hydrographic structure and physical processes", between "physical aspects of the marine environment and the response of the biota of the eastern Bering Sea" and developing tools with "the goal of forecasting how the ecosystem might be expected to behave under different climate scenarios." Data gathered for BEST includes Benthic, Biology, Hydrography, Ice, Local Traditional Knowledge, Meteorology, Microbiology, Optics, Plankton, Productivity and Water Chemistry.

Views from the Healy the Healy aloft con are updated hourly at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The Healy's trackline is available at Icefloe.  Note that a new beta track using Google Map is available at Icefloe as well, and provides ship information at each marker plotted there.

The Healy will return to Seattle in May following this three month deployment. When it embarks again, the Healy will head for the Arctic Ocean for the rest of the arctic summer. As occurred in 2008, the Healy will spend part of its 2009 deployment in joint mapping of the Arctic Extended Continental Shelf with the Canadian Icebreaker, the Louis St Laurent.

Thanks to LDEO for the photo (with Steve Roberts) and trackline (with Tom Cook).  

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.