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This week in the Arctic: Svalbard, shipping and fixing Arctic research

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 5, 2016

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

The future of Svalbard

As Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic, pivots away from coal, a Reuters report looks at the archipelago's future in photos and video. Tourism, up in recent years, is one potential economic driver. Scientific research is another; recent research from the islands includes startling revelations about the unusual behavior of marine life in winter, the prevalence of microplastics in the ocean, and pulsating movements of glaciers there. Whatever the future holds for Svalbard, an unlikely player may be part of the mix; North Korea signed the Svalbard Treaty in January, giving it the right to conduct research and economic activity there.

Arctic shipping makes small strides

In a small milestone for Arctic shipping, Chinese shipper COSCO and the American Bureau of Shipping, a classification and technical services nonprofit serving the industry, agreed to work together, in an "aim to expand COSCO's use of the Northeast Passage for more regular trading, explore navigation in Northwest Passage, and develop ice-classed vessel types appropriate for Trans-Arctic shipping," according to coverage from industry news site Hellenic Shipping News. Meanwhile, as the prospect of shipping grows, so do efforts to ban heavy fuel oil in the region's waters, culminating in a letter from 15 organizations timed to coincide with a meeting in Sweden by the Arctic Council's environmental working group, reports Al Jazeera America.

Arctic sea ice shows more signs of decline

The extent of Arctic Ocean sea ice last month was the lowest on record for January, according to a the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which tracks the ice. A freak storm brought freezing-point temperatures (about 50 degrees above normal) to areas around the North Pole late in December, perhaps contributing to the low levels of ice, a USA Today report points out. But the record low levels also come on the heels of a September that saw one of the lowest minimum extents on record. A new animated video from Hakai Magazine explains how, with the feedback loops of the "New Arctic," the Arctic Ocean is now contributing to the shrinkage of its own ice cap.

Can Arctic research find the right focus?

The Arctic is the focus of an outsized body of research, with more being done all the time. And increasingly, researchers, residents and policy makers have called for more holistic research. But that hasn't really happened, according to one team examination of research grants. "So what's the problem? One possibility is that tackling such applied questions requires scientists to stretch outside their comfort zone," writes Arctic Deeply in a detailed piece on the study and the subject. "Others say the Arctic may simply be changing too fast for traditional scientific establishments to keep pace." One attempt to circumvent such limitations is underway now, as the Arctic Council launches an online survey with a holistic scope as part of its One Health initiative, the CBC reports.

Further reading:

- Why didn't Shell find significant quantities of oil in Alaska's Chukchi Sea? One longtime North Slope geologist has a theory that has to do with the region's unusual geology. He explains in the newsletter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

- Will Norway develop its Arctic natural gas reserves? That depends on whether the EU makes gas part of its emission reduction strategies.

- As it melts, Greenland's ice sheet is releasing as much phosphorus into the oceans as the Mississippi River does.

- The Arctic isn't the only U.S. region in line to get a new icebreaker; the Great Lakes will too.

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