Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alaska Arctic Update September 2010: Sea Ice Minimum, Vessel Grounding, Gas, Fish, Exxon Valdez-Deepwater Horizon, Coast Survey Mapping, Broadband

In keeping with this weblog’s two most recent posts, which provide brief updates on recent arctic developments in Canada  and the United States, readers are referred to the September 15, 2010, broadcast and transcript of Alaska News Nightly (produced by the Alaska Public Radio Network) for an Alaska (mostly arctic) update.  Yesterday’s broadcast is a particularly fine edition of this consistently reliable news program and highlights how Alaska faces in microcosm many of the issues facing the Arctic as a whole.

Reports include excellent interviews, both worth hearing in their entirety, about:

-- the Arctic Sea Ice Minimum for 2010, reached September 10, which is the third lowest since satellite data collection began in 1979 (for details visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center  )

-- Tlingit contributions to mapping “Russian America” in the 19th century, providing many of the place names and cartographic features, e.g. from the Lind Canal to Yukon River, that cartographer George Davidson used in his maps for the US Coast Survey. NOAA historian John Cloud was in Klukwan earlier this month to present scanned images of the maps to descendants of the original mappers, the Tlingit leader Kohklux and his wives. The maps are in the public domain, and will soon be posted on this NOAA site; NOAA asks to be credited as the source.

Other stories relate to:
-- Alaska lawyers heading to the Gulf, to bring post-Exxon Valdez experience to litigation resulting from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.
-- a barge running aground about 40 miles west of Prudhoe Bay, although this time equipment failure rather than outdated charts caused the grounding.
-- the proposed All-Alaska Gas Pipeline, as discussed by candidates for governor (see also two different angles on the pipeline here and here).
-- an award-winning commercial seafood processing cooperative plant in Sitka that sends between 50 and 60% of its product overseas.
-- the future of broadband in Alaska, with a focus on public libraries.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Canada Arctic Update August 2010

August 2010 was an active month for Canadian policy developments in the Arctic.  In keeping with this blog’s July 2010 report  on numerous U.S.-related arctic news items for that month, here is a short form update on significant Canadian announcements, projects and decisions in August affecting the Canadian Arctic. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his five day visit to the Arctic, from August 23-27, and the run-up to that visit, to unveil several Canadian initiatives, including the Canadian national policy on the Arctic.

August 20, Ottawa: Canada releases its Arctic Policy, formally titled “Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy,” which elaborates on the international component of Canada’s Northern Strategy announced in 2009.

August 26:  Harper announces that his government will establish the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area in the Beaufort Sea, as part of an effort to conserve Beluga whales.  For background on the Tarium Niryutait MPA and on the Beaufort Sea Large Ocean Management Area visit the Beaufort Sea Partnership.

PM Harper’s visit also coincided with:

The August 26th completion of a Canadian Coast Guard training exercise on environmental emergency (oil spill) response in Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

The exercise was part of Canada’s larger annual military training exercise in the North, “Operation NANOOK”.    Danish and US forces participated in the operation for the first time this year. 

Other relevant August 2010 developments for the Canadian Arctic:

August 8; Nunavut judge issues an injunction stopping a science expedition’s seismic operations from the R/V Polarstern in Lancaster Sound.
August 25:  Canadian Air Force shadows Russian bombers in international airspace north of Inuvik.

August 29:  Parks Canada announces completion of the 2010 Arctic Survey.

August 30:  The Bahamanian-flagged Clipper Adventurer cruise ship runs aground on uncharted* rocks in the Northwest Passage; Canadian Coast Guard evacuates passengers to Kugluktuk (Update Sept. 8: *subsequent reports indicate that the hazard was known and that the the Canadian Hydrographic Survey had informed the shipping industry of the rock's location in 2007).  Outdated charts appear to have contributed to the August 8 grounding of the fuel resupply vessel the
Mokami near Pangnirtung and the September 2 grounding of the fuel tanker Nanny (Canadian flagged) on a sandbar in Simpson Strait; neither vessel suffered any reported loss of its cargo (the latter ship carried 9.5 million liters of diesel fuel).

Thanks to the Institute of the North  and its Top of the World Telegraph , and to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission Arctic Update for reporting earlier on many of the sources drawn on here.

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.