Danish minister scoffs at Canadian, Russian moves to assert Arctic sovereignty
(Jan M. Olsen, AP-CP, August 14, 2007)
Denmark's science minister on Tuesday dismissed recent moves by Russia and Canada to assert sovereignty over the Arctic, saying flag-planting and political visits would not settle any territorial claims in the potentially resource-rich region.
The scramble for control of the Arctic heated up two weeks ago when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole. Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent three days in the Canadian Arctic.
Harper announced that Canada would build two new military facilities within contested Arctic waters to bolster its sovereign claim over the fabled Northwest Passage.
He said the Canadian Forces will create a new army training centre and a deep-water port at distant points of the Arctic archipelago.
"No matter how many flags you plant or how many prime ministers you send, that doesn't become a valid parameter in the process," Helge Sander, Denmark's minister of science, technology and innovation, told reporters.
Denmark sent a team of scientists to the Arctic ice pack on Sunday to seek evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 2,000-kilometre underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland.
The Danish expedition, which had been planned for years, might allow the Danes to stake a claim under a UN treaty that could stretch all the way to the North Pole, although Canada and Russia also claim the ridge.
The United States and Norway also have claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.
Russia and Canada "also have serious projects. But the lowering of the flag was simply a summer joke," Sander said.
The race for sovereignty in the Arctic is heating up partly because global warming is shrinking the polar ice, which could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes.
The pressure is also on the Arctic nations because of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which gives them 10 years after ratification to prove their claims under the largely uncharted polar ice pack. All but the United States have ratified the treaty.
Denmark which also plans expeditions in 2009 and 2011, expects to tender its claim in 2014, Sander said.
Scientists warn Arctic sea ice is melting at its fastest rate since records began
(Steve Connor, The Independent, 15th August 2007)
Scientists warned yesterday that the sea ice is already approaching the record minimum set in September 2005, even with a further month of the summer melting season still remaining.
This year has seen one of the most rapid rates of sea ice melting, which began in spring after one of the most disappointing winters for ice formation. "Unless something unusual happens we're definitely on track for a record loss of sea ice. We're on track to shatter all records," said Mark Serreze, an Arctic specialist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University in Denver. "The rates of sea ice loss this year are really rather remarkable. Some of the daily rates of loss are the biggest we've ever seen. Things are happening really fast," Dr Serreze said.
The area covered by Arctic sea ice has been monitored by American satellites since 1979. Sea ice, which floats on the surface of the ocean, naturally expands in surface coverage each winter and recedes in summer, but there has been a significant overall loss recorded during the past 27 years.
The rate of loss also appears to have accelerated since 2002 and this year has seen one of the fastest melt seasons on record. In July of this year, more sea ice melted than for any month on record. The surface area covered by the ice in July was 3.13 million square miles, about 347,492 square miles below the area recorded for July 2005 - an area seven times the size of England.
"Unless conditions change in an unprecedented way, the Arctic will continue to lose ice for at least another month," said the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. "At this point in the 2007 melt season, this much is already clear: the Arctic is experiencing an unprecedented sixth consecutive year with much less sea ice than normal, and it looks like this year's sea ice-melt season may herald a new and steeper rate of decline," it added.
Some computer models used by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict the Arctic will be virtually ice free by the summer of 2070. However, other computer models suggest that the year of an ice-free Arctic summer could come as early as 2030 or 2040.
Dr Serreze said that even these pessimistic predictions may have overestimated the resilience of the Arctic sea ice. He said that we may have already reached the tipping point when there is a rapid disintegration. "The big question is whether we are already there or whether the tipping point is still 10 or 20 years in the future. My guts are telling me we may well be there now," Dr Serreze said.
Most polar specialists agree that as more ice is lost in summer, the Arctic is liable to heat up faster than normal as a result of a positive feedback in the climate - instead of solar energy being reflected from the surface of the white ice, it is absorbed by the open, darker ocean, leading to even more melting of the ice.
The Arctic is already heating up at a faster rate than many other parts of the globe. While average temperatures on Earth rose by about 0.6C since 1900, the regional temperatures of the Arctic have risen by 2C to 3C.
Polar bears, which rely on sea ice to hunt for seals in summer, are already showing signs of malnutrition because they have to swim further between ice floes. Scientists believe the species could quickly go extinct if there is no sea ice at all in summer.
Paradoxically, the loss of sea ice will give Arctic countries such as Russia, Denmark, Canada, Norway and the US easier access to the parts of the seabed that are thought to be rich in oil and gas - the same fossil fuels that have exacerbated the global warming that has caused the sea ice to melt in the first place. "It's really rather disappointing when we talk about 25 per cent of the world's oil and gas reserves being under the Arctic when the loss of sea ice is the reason why we can get to it," Dr Serreze said.
In addition to record melting of sea ice in summer, the past two winters have seen a failure of sea ice to reform to the extent recorded in previous winters. This has meant that there is less sea ice in spring, and a greater chance of record summer ice loss.
Ironically, CI, some opportunists are saying global warming may be a good thing if it gives us access to oil in arctic seabeds.
Canadian Troops Finish Arctic Exercise
(The Associated Press, August 17, 2007)
IQALUIT, Nunavut -- Canadian soldiers, sailors and other forces wrapped up their largest-ever Arctic Circle exercise Friday, aimed at asserting sovereignty in the resource-rich area amid competing international claims.
Approximately 600 Canadian Forces personnel, along with members of the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other groups, were involved in Operation Nanook, which took place around Baffin Island and the Hudson Strait.
Activities during the 10-day mission included a counter-drug operation on Resolution Island. The Coast Guard and Canadian Forces also simulated an environmental spill and cleanup effort near the Nunavut hamlet of Kimmirut.
The exercise, which Canada's defense department called "a sovereignty operation," took place as several countries race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed.
The controversy heated up earlier this month when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole. Danish scientists are currently on the Arctic ice pack seeking evidence to position their country in the race.
The United States and Norway also have claims in the vast region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that Canada will build a new army training center and a deep-water port within contested Arctic waters - an effort to bolster its claims.
Canadian Prime Minister to make Arctic claim in summit meeting with President Bush
(The Associated Press, August 19, 2007)
MONTEBELLO, Quebec: Sovereignty claims over the Arctic and its energy wealth, highlighted by a Russian expedition to the ocean floor three weeks ago, will figure at talks between U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper starting Monday.
Also attending the two-day North American leaders' Summit is Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose top issues include the drug wars.
The summit is largely about expanding economic cooperation between the three nations, but Harper will table Canada's claim to the fabled Northwest Passage during a private meeting with Bush, Canadian officials say.
Harper went to the Arctic earlier this month and announced Canada will build a new army training center and a deep-water port near contested waters.
The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole in early August. The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.
A senior Canadian government official said the issue is very important to Canada.
"Leaders will want to take stock of what's happened recently. They may discuss how they see the Russian expedition," the official said on customary condition of anonymity ahead of summits. "The symbolic staking of the North Pole was a symbolic act only. No one has claim over the North Pole. But the leaders may well want to explore what lies behind Russia's act."
Global warming has raised the stakes in the scramble for sovereignty because shrinking polar ice could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes.
Harper has said Canada's new military installations will help back up Canada's claim to the waters and natural resources of the Northwest Passage, which runs below the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.
The United States says the passage isn't Canadian.
"It is a strait for international navigation," U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins said in an interview. "That's not a unique view of the United States. That is the view shared by a majority of the countries in the world."
Stephen Clarkson, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, says bringing up the Arctic is a way for Harper to show Canadians he's not too close to the unpopular U.S. president.
"It's a gratuitous way to create a little distance between himself and Bush," Clarkson said.
Clarkson says the U.S won't respect Canada's claim over the Northwest Passage and that it is widely assumed the U.S. has been sending submarines through there for years.
A former U.S. ambassador to Ottawa says it's time for his country to reconsider its traditional position on Arctic sovereignty and admit that the Northwest Passage is part of Canada.
Paul Cellucci told CTV's Question Period he recommended such a course to the U.S. State Department before he ended his term as ambassador.
The Americans have long contended that the Northwest Passage is part of international waters. But Mr. Cellucci says that should change in the age of global terrorism.
He says acknowledging that the passage is Canadian territory would make it easier for the Canadian navy to patrol the area, monitor shipping and guard against potential infiltration by terrorists seeking a route to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into North American.
Mr. Cellucci says it's in the American interest to see a beefed-up Canadian military presence in the Arctic for continental security reasons.