GIRDWOOD -- The warming Arctic Ocean is opening up to shipping, tourism and oil exploration, with the eight countries bordering its fringes all vying to claim their bounty in the natural resource-rich territory.
Alaska Dispatch and other organizations are sponsoring a conference in an effort to focus the world on Arctic policy -- not to mention Alaska investment.
At Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, interested parties are convening.
Rural village mayors are dining with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Pete Slaiby, vice president of Shell Alaska is here. So is Sergey Kislyak, and Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the Russian and Danish ambassadors to the United States, respectively. The president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, is speaking in Girdwood, as well.
The kickoff of the conference Sunday night, however, was more devoted to hyperlocal, coastal Alaska issues. At the opening to the Arctic Imperative Summit, Barrow Mayor Robert Harcharek said that indigenous people are "tired of being screwed. Indigenous people have everything imposed on them, after the fact," he said.
As the Arctic icepack increasingly shrinks, some believe the Bering Strait might be the next Strait of Gibraltar. All of this could have huge implications for Alaska and other Arctic nations. Many, particularly people most affected in Alaska, have long been aware of the melting Arctic sea ice. But the impacts are just being realized.
Meantime, nations are jostling for position in the Arctic. In 2007, a Russian submarine planted a flag on the sea floor at the North Pole. The expedition's leader, Artur Chilingarov -- one of the speakers at the Arctic Imperative Summit -- proudly proclaimed afterwards, "The Arctic is ours." Last month, it was reported the Danish government was preparing to claim the North Pole for the Kingdom of Denmark, along with other areas of the Arctic.
On Sunday at the summit, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska's senior senator, said the United States needs to take its role as an Arctic nation seriously.
"The next two days will bring opportunities for investment," in the Arctic, she said. Murkowski spoke about the controversial Law of the Sea treaty and promised to work "aggressively" on Senate ratification. "I believe that the pace of change in the Arctic demands attention."
Speakers on Monday include Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, Iceland President Grimsson, as well as other ambassadors of Arctic nations. The conference ends Tuesday evening.
Imagine, it's just before summer solstice in 2050. U.S. commercial ships are steaming through the Bering Strait, bound for Europe. But come winter, travel options sharply dwindle as ice roads take longer to freeze.
Despite talk of the Arctic being the new frontier for energy and minerals, the land today is largely vacant with little sign of any movement toward a more prosperous future.
The summer melt of Arctic ice is underway, eating floes that cover an area the size of Vermont and New Hampshire each and every day. A small winter growth puts the ice behind the curve.
Think of the Bering Strait as the world’s next Panama Canal. It will happen in some Alaskans’ lifetimes, and we need to start preparing.
Like plastic wrap covering a bowl of soup, Arctic sea ice keeps the churning ocean underneath from splashing against the coast. As ice melts, ocean tears coastlines, flooding seaside villages.
Alaskans along the Bering Strait are seeing more ships pass by their homes. What's the best way to keep everyone safe as shipping traffic increases in the Arctic?
But federal regulators and environmentalists say the company still has to prove it has an oil spill response adequate to the fragile Arctic environment.