It is hard to keep up with all the Arctic stories happening at the moment amidst all the other news on the environment front with Fukushima, 25 years of Chernobyl and a year since Deep Water Horizon. Let me make up for having neglected the Arctic a little while I was busy on other things by passing on a few links.
At the Oil Spill Response conference for the future in Trondheim, (see earlier entries) I had the pleasure to meet John Farrel, Executive Director of the US Arctic Research Commission. I interviewed him about oil exploration in the Arctic, which I will make available at a later date. The website of that organisation is worth following.
The English website of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for polar and marine studies has several interesting if worrying stories about coastal erosion in the Arctic, record depletion of the ozone layer over the Arctic and a significant increase in the freshwater content of the Arctic Ocean.
Icy Meltwater Pooling in Arctic Ocean: A Wild Card in Climate Change Scenarios is also worth reading on this topic. The findings are from the CLAMER project, a collaboration of 17 European institutes with the difficult but important task of synthesizing the research of almost 300 projects funded by the EU over the last 13 years, relating to climate change and Europe’s oceans.
That should provide ice blog fans with some interesting reading while I have a few days off enjoying the definitely ice-free weather of this western European April. More in May, although I will look out for your questions or comments as usual.
DateApril 20, 2011 | 12:34 pm
Norwegian youth for a wind-win situation
In Trondheim at the weekend, I came across this group of young people from Natur og Ungdom, or “Nature and Youth”, also known as Young Friends of the Earth Norway.
Good to see the young generation taking an interest in our future energy supplies.
DateApril 13, 2011 | 2:09 pm
Arctic race against time
I have had an interesting and informative couple of days here in Trondheim, including a visit to the SINTEF laboratories, opened in 2005 on the water-front in Trondheim, so that they have direct access to sea water for their experiments.
This is the view of the fjord from inside the lab. It was a very wild weather day when we went there yesterday. There is a fine view of the water from the lab, and yesterday was unusually windy, so some of the scientists were even taking photos of the waves crashing over the breakwater – photos through the window, though. It was too stormy to open a window.
It was high tide and the wind was blowing strongly right in to shore. I actually like windy weather and have enjoyed watching waves crash on the shore in a lot of places. Apparently this is rare here, because Trondheim is comparatively sheltered in the fjord.
This is a lab dedicated to finding out all about oil and how it works in the environment. There is an “oil library”, with samples of different oil types from all over the world, so that the scientists can figure out how different types of oil behave in contact with sea water and test methods of dealing with oil spills.
Oil exploration and drilling are a “given” to this organisation. Their business is not to question the wisdom of, for example, moving north, but to find out about possible environmental impacts and develop technology for oil spill response.
This laboratory received a lot of funding from Statoil, so there is a clear interest in making oil exploration possible.
I have learnt a lot about the problems of oil spill response and the different technologies available over the past few days.
(test basin where oil is added to seawater)
There were quite a few experts from the USA at the meeting, the Canadian coastguard was represented, and of course plenty of Norwegian oil experts. People said they’d like to see more Russian involvement next time as they are a key player in the Arctic.
Summing up the presentations and sentiments I experienced here I’d say in spite of the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe a year ago, oil exploration in Arctic regions will still go ahead. There is a strong awareness of the challenges posed and the danger of an oil spill either from oil exploration or increased shipping in remote, icy waters. Oil in ice is a big research topic. Of course the DWH accident has drawn public and political attention to the risks attached especially to deep-sea drilling.
I have the strong sense – and quite a few of the experts I talked to agreed – that this is a race against time. Oil and gas exploration are already moving northwards. “Accidents will happen” is a phrase used by a few speakers. Can the technology to prevent and respond to a spill keep pace? The other fact I saw confirmed was that there is a lack of “baseline data” for Arctic areas, from charting to ecosystems. And climate change is changing the Arctic at a very fast pace, making it more difficult still to predict how increased shipping, oil and gas exploration will affect the environment.
DateApril 9, 2011 | 8:14 am
Oil in icy waters
„Spill response for the future“ – that’s the title of a conference that has brought me to Trondheim in northern Norway.
There\’s still a pile of snow on the runway – but it\’s hardly recognizable as such as the winter gradually fades even up here.
At the Arctic Frontiers meeting in January, several people said to me in interviews it was just a matter of when and not a matter of if we would see another oil accident of one sort or other in northern waters. Just shortly afterwards, an Icelandic ship ran aground at the mouth of the Oslo Fjord, spilling fuel into the Ytre Hvaler marine park, Norway’s only natural marine reserve.
Weather conditions, ice and the cold temperature of the water make oil accidents harder to deal with up here. As climate change is opening up Arctic areas to shipping, oil and gas exploration, the chances of an oil spill in remote and extreme conditions will rise. There are still clumps of oil in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989.
SINTEF is a Scandinavian independent research organisation, with its headquarters here in Trondheim. Over the next couple of days, experts here will be discussing the challenges of extending oil and gas development northwards and presenting technologies to respond to oil spills. On Friday I’ll be paying a visit to the laboratories. I’ll keep you posted.
A year after the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, it will also be interesting to hear from experts involved in trying to clean up and limit the damage.
DateApril 6, 2011 | 5:57 pm
Fukushima and the climate
The first round of UN climate talks is taking place in Bangkok this week. You might not have noticed, as there are so many other things on the news agenda they have not been featuring prominently. More than 1,500 experts are trying to hammer out more partial agreements to pave the way for the big conference in Durban at the end of the year.
Unsurprisingly, the ongoing Fukushima reactor catastrophe has thrown its shadow over the UN talks. The question is: what do the events in Japan mean for the climate negotiations? There are many who see nuclear energy as acceptable as a “last resort” or “bridge technology” to reduce emissions and put the brakes on climate change. Some of them are now changing their minds, with a further nuclear disaster right around the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl showing the risks.
But there are also plenty of viable proposals around for renewable energies.At the EJC conference I attended in Budapest I talked to Stephan Singer, Global Energy Director of WWF International. Even before Japan, he told me, WWF is convinced that Europe can cover its energy needs 100% using renewable energy. He also stressed the duty of wealthy industrialised countries to help the developing world to do the same.
I also talked to Artur Runge-Metzger in Budapest, from the EU’s climate policy directorate, as you might have read here on the blog. He was explaining the EU’s “roadmap” to a low-carbon economy by 2050. He is now amongst the negotiators in Bangkok and has indicated the developments in Japan will probably lead to a re-working of the document this autumn. He and WWF’s Stephan Singer said it was quite possible that some previously pro-nuclear countries might change their minds.
The question then is what do they replace it with? If it\’s coal, for instance, emissions will rise again.
DateApril 5, 2011 | 10:55 am