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This week in the Arctic: Northern navigation and military exercises

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 26, 2016

Here are some of the stories from around the Arctic that we've been following this week:

Sizing up Arctic navigation risks

As Arctic waters become increasingly ice-free, the growth of marine traffic brings a fresh assessment of risks. One is the environmental risk posed by heavy fuel oil. As Reuters reports, the issue gained prominence among environmental advocates after it failed to top the agenda of a recent Arctic Council meeting on environment issues. Environmental groups "plan to raise the issue at the [International Maritime Organization]'s next marine environmental protection committee session in April," according to Reuters. More vessels in Arctic waters also means a greater likelihood of accidents, a fate that befell a Canadian fishing vessel in the Davis Strait this week. The Saputi hit ice and began taking on water about 270 miles northeast of Iqaluit. A rescue mounted by the Canadian and Danish coast guards saw the ship safely escorted to Nuuk, Greenland. With more such rescues likely, Arctic coast guards will need a bigger presence in the region. But to do that, they'll need infrastructure. As the magazine North Public Affairs reports, Canada has plans to build a new heavy-duty icebreaker -- yet at present, the ship wouldn't be able to dock at Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital and main hub.

Canada holds Arctic military exercise

The Russian and U.S. militaries recently held Arctic training exercises. This month, Canadian Forces held Exercise Arctic Ram 2016. The mission simulated securing a crashed satellite with sensitive information near Resolute Bay, in Nunavut. "Have you ever seen Star Wars? The planet Hoth? That's what I thought I was jumping into…," one soldier said of the experience, his first in the Arctic.

Further reading:

- Talks continue on a plan to deploy some U.S. Navy planes to Keflavik Air Base in Iceland, which last hosted U.S. aircraft more than a decade ago, reports Navy Times.

- Traditional reindeer herding practiced by Norway's Sami requires lots of land. But in the nation's Arctic, there's increasing competition for that land. "Our land is being eroded by development," one herder tells the Guardian. "Almost half of our winter lands have gone. I fear that in future there will be nowhere left for the reindeer."

- If you're looking for an polar trip of extreme luxury and can't make the upcoming Crystal Serenity Seward-to-New York cruise by way of the Northwest Passage, the British-based Private Jet Tours has another option: an 11-day trip by private jet that heads first to the Finnish Arctic, then flies south for a tailored visit to the Antarctic. The tour costs a little more than $97,000 at current exchange rates.

- A pair of French divers conducted freedives -- that is, without any artificial breathing equipment -- beneath the Arctic sea ice near Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. CBC News has the hauntingly beautiful video:

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