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Arctic

King of Norway urges Alaskans to prepare for Arctic warming

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 27, 2015

King Harald V of Norway concluded his state visit to Washington and Alaska on Wednesday in Anchorage by stressing his message of concern over warming in the Arctic.

"Research and accurate data is essential in our struggle," he said at a luncheon meeting of the Alaska World Affairs Council. "Without it, we will never understand the complexity of our region."

He shared a quote from the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, who observed that most of what people call luck is a matter of preparation. The king urged the audience to promote learning as much about the Arctic climate as possible.

"Let no stone be left unturned," he said. "Be well prepared and you will have good luck."

Several other speakers at the luncheon addressed reports of shrinking Arctic Ocean ice, including Robert Papp, the U.S. State Department's special representative for the Arctic. Change in the Arctic "presents a change in the history of the world," he said. "Shipping routes for the world will change. It has the potential for leading to prosperity for our people."

Craig Fleener, Gov. Bill Walker's Arctic adviser, said America "needs to make the Arctic a national imperative" with the kind of urgency that led to construction of the Alaska Highway and trans-Alaska pipeline. However, "Alaska cannot be treated as a jewel, something to be set on a shelf." The state will need to be part of any decision-making process, he said, and the state's industrial, economic and industrial needs will need to be addressed.

Harald Steen, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute's Center for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems, said Arctic Ocean ice is shrinking at an alarming rate.

"We've lost 40 percent of the ice in the past four decades," he said. "And it's thinner. In the 1990s the average thickness was 3 1/2 meters. Today it's 2 meters. Furthermore, in 1990 most of it was multiyear ice. Today it's mostly first-year ice, which acts differently."

Steen described a Norwegian project in which a ship has been frozen into the ice to gather research over a period of months.

"We want to understand the ice from cradle to grave," he said. "From when it freezes until it melts. This project gives us more and better data."

Norwegian adventurer Borge Ousland, whose exploits include the first solo unsupported trip to the North Pole and the first circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean, said he had witnessed the reduction of the polar ice cover. The reasons for his adventures went beyond the sense of physical excitement and accomplishment, he said. He hoped they would get people to think about climate change.

For instance, he sailed a catamaran through both the Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage in just four summer months. The same course was considered unnavigable in the 19th century. "It demonstrates a clear and visual example of what's happening in the Arctic," he said.

After the luncheon, the king went to the University of Alaska Anchorage, where an academic cooperation agreement was signed by UAA Chancellor Thomas Case and Rector Anne Husebekk of the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso.

The agreement expressed a general commitment to explore future collaborations, exchanges, publications and programs. Specific details will be laid out in a forthcoming letter of agreement.

The universities in the sister cities of Anchorage and Tromso have a long history of collaboration.

"This isn't new," the king acknowledged at a short press conference after the signing. "We've had something like it for some time." However, he suggested the document was important because it would encourage more cooperation between the universities and their students.

He responded cautiously when asked whether he was concerned about reports of increased Russian military activity in the Arctic.

"Like America, we have a border with Russia and we try to pay attention to what is happening there," he said. "But beyond that, there's nothing we can say here that will make a difference."

Harald V's final Anchorage stop was at a reception hosted by the Sons of Norway. He is scheduled to leave Alaska on Thursday.

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