Search Results for Tag: Cooper Island
Arctic investment: still a hot prospect?
As I mentioned in the last post, I talked to various people about the current state of interest in the Arctic, in connection with the ArcticNet conference on “Arctic Change” in Ottawa last week. I would like to share some of the insights I gained with you here on the Ice Blog. With a lot of concerned people still suffering from a kind of mental hangover after the two weeks of UN climate negotiations in Lima, let me also direct you to a commentary I wrote for DW: Lima: a disappointment, but not a surprise. If you expected any action at the meeting which might help stop the Arctic warming, you will have been highly disappointed. If, like me, you think the transition to renewables and emissions reductions we need have to happen outside of and alongside that process, all day and every day, your expectations will not have been so high.
But back to the Arctic itself. With Canada coming to the end of its spell at the helm of the Arctic Council and preparing to hand over the rotating presidency to the USA at the end of the year, the annual conference organized by the research network ArcticNet was bound to attract a lot of interest. More than 1200 leading international Arctic researchers, indigenous leaders, policy makers, NGOs and business people attended the Ottawa gathering to discuss the pressing issues facing the warming Arctic.
Hugues Lantuit from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute is a member of the steering committee. He’s an expert on permafrost and coastal erosion. He told me in an interview that the region had to prepare for greater impacts ,with the latest IPCC report projecting the Arctic would continue to warm at a rate faster than any place on earth. While the retreat of sea ice allows easier access for shipping and more scope for commercial activities, Lantuit is concerned about the thawing of permafrost, a key topic at the Ottawa gathering:
“An extensive part of the circumpolar north is covered with permafrost, and it’s currently warming at a fast pace. A lot of cities are built on permafrost, and the layer that is thawing in the summer is expanding and getting deeper and deeper, which threatens infrastructure.”
Northern communities worried
Residents of northern communities are concerned about the impact of melting permafrost on railways, landing strips and buildings. Lantuit and his colleagues have created an integrated data base for permafrost temperature, with support from the EU. At the Ottawa meeting, he and his colleagues worked on identifying priorities for research, taking into account the needs of communities and stakeholders in the Arctic.
Another key issue on the Ottawa agenda was coastal erosion. Sea ice acts as a protective barrier to the coast, preventing waves from battering the shore and speeding up the thaw of permafrost. With decreasing sea ice in the summer, scientists expect more storms will impact on the coasts of the Arctic. “In some locations, especially in Alaska, we see much greater erosion than there was before”, says Lantuit. This creates a lot of issues: “There is oil and gas infrastructure on the coast, villages, people, also freshwater habitats for migrating caribou, so the coast has a tremendous social and ecological value in the Arctic, and coastal erosion is obviously a threat to settlements and to the features of this social and economical presence in the Arctic.”
Bad news for furred and feathered friends
Amongst the participants at the conference was George Divoky, an ornithologist who has spent every summer of the past 45 years on Cooper Island, off the coast of Barrow, in Arctic Alaska. Divoky monitors a colony of black guillemots that nest on the island in summer. His bird-watching project turned into a climate change observation project as he witnessed major changes in the last four decades:
“Warming first aided the guillemots (1970s and 1980) as the summer snow-free period increased. The size of the breeding colony increased during the initial stages of warming. Continued warming (1990s to present) caused the sea ice to rapidly retreat in July and August when guillemots are feeding nestlings, and the loss of ice reduced the amount and quality of prey resulting in widespread starvation of nestlings.”
The 2014 breeding season on Cooper Island had the lowest number of breeding pairs of Black Guillemots on the island in the last 20 years, Divoky says. Reduced sea ice is increasingly forcing polar bears to seek refuge on the island, eating large numbers of nestlings. Polar bears were rare visitors to the island until 2002.
The Arctic and the global climate
Divoky went to Ottawa to fit his research and experience into the wider context of climate impacts in the Arctic. Researching climate change and its effects are important but of little practical use if the research does not inform government officials and result in policies that address the causes of climate change, Divoky argues.
I asked Hugues Lantuit whether he thought the UN climate conference in Peru could achieve anything that would halt the warming of the Arctic. He said reducing emissions and reducing temperature were the only way to reduce the thaw of permafrost. But he is quite clear about the fact that there is no mitigation strategy in terms of permafrost directly. “You would have to put a blanket over the entire permafrost in the northern hemisphere. This is not possible.”
At the same time, he stressed the key role of the Arctic with regard to the whole world climate: “Permafrost contains a lot of what we call organic carbon, and that is stored in the upper part. And if that warms, the carbon is made available to microorganisms that convert it back to carbon dioxide and methane. And we estimate right now that there is twice as much organic carbon in permafrost as there is in the atmosphere”.
So far, the international community has not been able to take measures to break that vicious circle.
What happened to the Arctic gold rush?
Communities who live and companies that work in the Arctic have to focus on adaptation to the rapid change, says Lantuit. In his eyes, economic activity is increasing, posing new challenges for infrastructure and the environment.
Malte Humpert, the Executive Director of the Arctic Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Washington DC has a different view on the matter. He says while attendance at Arctic conferences and interest in the Arctic is still high, commercial activity has actually been cooling off. “We are seeing a slow-down of investment. Up to this point there has been a lot of studying, a lot of interest being voiced, with representatives from China or South Korea, Japan, Singapore or other actors, arriving at conferences, speaking about grand plans. But up to this point a lot of the talk has been just that.” A lot of activity has been put on hold, says Humpert. He says the “gold rush mentality we saw a few years ago” has weakened. “There was a lot of talk about Arctic shipping initially, then we had oil and gas activity in 2012, north of Alaska, then we had the discussion about minerals in Greenland. The question is now, with the oil price being down below 70$ a barrel, some political uncertainties over the Ukraine, involving the EU and Russia, how will that affect Arctic development?”
Humpert stresses the Arctic does not exist in a vacuum, but has to be seen within the global context. Sanctions on Russia because of the Ukraine crisis have created economic problems for Moscow and limited access to technology it might need for its Arctic activities. “Maybe Arctic development has been oversold and overplayed and will be more of a niche operators’ investment. One could definitely question if there will be this global push into the Arctic.”
Arctic development on ice
Humpert is skeptical that any major development will take place before 2030. He says developing the infrastructure in terms of ports and communications in the remote Arctic region would require billions of dollars of investment, and would have to be a very long-term proposition. It will also depend to a large extent on exactly how climate change affects ice conditions in the Arctic. Climate change can make the climatic conditions in the Arctic more variable. This means that for a temporary period, there might even be more ice, which would block transport routes.
The Arctic Institute says there has actually been a slow down this year in terms of navigation on the northern sea route (NSR) in particular: “The season just closed about a week ago. Last year we had 1.35 million tonnes of cargo being transported along the NSR, this year we had less than 700,000 tonnes, so an almost 50% decrease, just because there was more ice in the way”, says Humpert.
Whether slower development is good news or bad depends on your perspective. The lull in Arctic activity could pre-empt environmental degradation or destruction, says Humpert, and leave scope to consider development of the Arctic in what he calls a 21st century way. Instead of “old-school” thinking about extracting minerals, oil and gas and increasing shipping, there could be a focus on bringing modern, high-speed communications, fiber optics and thinking about renewables, such as wave energy. This would benefit the small populations in the Arctic, the expert argues.
But from the viewpoint of a country like Russia, he adds, where 40 percent of your exports are generated above the Arctic circle, in terms of hydrocarbon resources, the slowdown in Arctic development because of the drop in oil prices and political tensions over Ukraine is very worrying.
So while these developments seem to have brought the Arctic a breathing space, ultimately, the commercialization of the region could be just a matter of time. Ottawa conference organizer Lantuit argues that there has always been activity in the high North. The priority now, he says, must be to ensure international cooperation and additional investment in protecting the environment and maintaining safety in a region where rapid change seems to have become the status quo.
DateDecember 15, 2014 | 11:57 am
TagsAlaska, Arctic, Arctic Institute, AWI, Barrow, Cooper Island, ice, permafrost, polar bears, sea ice, UN talks, Warming, Zackenberg
From Alaska to Ottawa
Ottawa has been the setting for “Arctic Change”, another major Arctic conference this week. It is organised by the research network ArcticNet. I was not able to attend, but have been interviewing various people for an article on DW about the meeting, and about what is happening in the Arctic at the moment. One of the people I spoke to was George Divoky, who went to the meeting to put his own work into context and get the “big picture” of how climate change is having an impact on the Arctic. George is the mainstay of Friends of Cooper Island
He has a bird research station on Cooper Island, off Barrow, Alaska. For 45 years, he has been there every summer, observing a colony of black guillemots, who breed there. As he told me when I first met him during a trip to Alaska in 2008, his ornithological observation widened out into an observation of climate change over the years, witnessing some dramatic changes. I would like to share his views with you here on the Ice Blog.
Iceblogger: Why are you attending the conference and what do you expect from it?
As someone who has spent the past 45 summers studying seabirds in the Alaskan Arctic, I am very interested in hearing the findings of arctic researchers working in other disciplines and geographic areas.
I expect to be brought up to date on the most recent findings of how warming and development is affecting the ecosystems and people of the Arctic. The information I obtain allows me to put my work (which is on a single species breeding on one island) in a much larger context.
Has the Canadian chairmanship of the Arctic Council affected Canada’s interest in the Arctic?
I know little of the international politics of the Arctic but my feeling is that Canada has always had a major interest in the Arctic because of the extent of their arctic lands and the large number of villages and settlements. With all that is now going on in the Arctic, Canada’s chairmanship certainly provides an opportunity for the country to focus on the region even more.
Are there differences in attitudes to the Arctic in the various countries involved? US; Canada, Russia, Norway…?
I feel that the US (with the exception of the indigenous people who live there) tends to treat its small part of the Arctic as a place to exploit natural resources and conduct research while Canadians have a much more organic (holistic) approach to the region. My impression is that is also true for Scandinavian countries.
What has been your experience of Arctic change on Cooper Island this year?
The 2014 breeding season on Cooper Island had the lowest number of breeding pairs of Black Guillemots in the last 20 years. Breeding success in 2014 was low as all of the younger siblings in then nests died from starvation during a major windstorm that occurred in August after ice retreat and parent birds could not find sufficient prey. We also had more polar bears on the island and interactions with them than during the last few years. Polar bears were rare visitors to the island until 2002.
What impacts of the above-average rise in temperature have you seen over your years on Cooper island?
Warming first aided the guillemots (1970s and 1980) as the summer snow-free period increased and was better suited for the 90 days it takes guillemots to breed. The size of the breeding colony increased during the initial stages of warming. Continued warming (1990s to present) caused the sea ice to rapidly retreat in July and August when guillemots are feeding nestlings and the loss of ice reduced the amount and quality of prey resulting in widespread starvation of nestlings. Reduced sea ice also forced polar bears to seek refuge on the island with large numbers of nestlings being eaten by bears.
How serious is the problem of thawing permafrost?
Thawing of permafrost has the potential to drastically change terrestrial ecosystems due to changes in drainage and plant communities. The large shorebird and waterfowl populations breeding on the tundra require large areas of ponds and lakes for breeding. Melting permafrost is allowing water to drain from the surface decreasing the extent of aquatic habitats while increasing the depth for root growth which facilitates shrubs replacing tundra plants.
Do you have a sense that there is a “rush for the Arctic’s resources” or is this just media hype?
It is clear to me that there is a rapidly increasing interest in arctic resources from government and industry.
Where should the priorities of Arctic research and Arctic policy be in coming years?
While there will certainly be increased research in the Arctic in coming years I think it is important to realize that just because humans know more about a region or ecosystem it does not necessarily follow that they will be any better at protecting it from impacts – or likely to do so. Pre-development ecological research is something most governments feel they must do to satisfy concerns about environmental degradation, but the ways in which that research can limit the effects of the post-development degradation – or assist in mitigating that degradation – is unclear. Similarly, researching climate change and its effects are important but of little practical use if the research does not inform government officials and result in policies that address the causes of climate change.
With the climate conference going on in Peru – do you have the feeling the world takes the changes in the Arctic seriously?
I feel that the entire issue of current and predicted climate change is now being taken more seriously and, as a result, there is more focus on what is occurring in the Arctic since people and government now see the changes in the Arctic as being less removed from their own experience.
Are you optimistic about the future of the Arctic?
I am not optimistic that what used to be considered the “Arctic” will persist into the future. The Arctic where I do research now bears little resemblance to the Arctic I first went to in 1970. With models showing summer sea ice may soon disappear and predictions for increasing temperatures and development, it is likely that current and future generations of researchers will also be taken aback with the pace of change during their time in the region. Clearly, the Arctic as a geographic region will persist but the characteristics that are evoked by the word “arctic” (i.e. snow and ice dominated landscapes far from human industrial development) will no longer apply to the region. And, of course, the biota adapted to the arctic ecosystems of the past will have very uncertain futures given the pace of change.
What will it look like in 20, 30, 50 years?
Much of the Arctic became technically subarctic during the last 20 years. At least for the near future, winters will always be cold in the Arctic so some seasonal snow and ice cover will be present but the annual period when snow and ice are present will decrease. The rate at which these changes will take place is unclear as an Arctic that is ice free in summer (and losing land ice in Greenland) might cause more rapid changes.
Can anything happen to save it?
I was very lucky to be able to be in the Arctic in the late 20th Century but it now seems clear that with the projected increases in atmospheric CO2 and resulting increases in temperatures and ocean acidifcation that the Arctic (as well as many of the earth’s natural areas) could be unrecognizable by the middle of the 21st Century.
DateDecember 11, 2014 | 4:24 pm
TagsAlaska, Arctic, ArcticNet, birds, Canada, Climate, Cooper Island, Divoky, Ottawa, polar bears, Warming, wildlife
From Barrow to Barcelona
The Ice Blog hasn’t been updated for a few days, but only because of technical problems, not a lack of stories, I could have been writing non-stop.
It will take a while to catch up, but I have to start with sharing my “small world” story with you.
I was on the plane (sorry, yes, but for a greater cause…) to Barcelona for the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
(I know this is a boat, not a plane, but it is all related. Bear with me – and see below):
(This is the TARA, a famous Arctic research vessel, far from the Arctic, but still in the service of publicising global warming, open to the public at the IUCN congress in Barcelona).
Meanwhile, back on that plane: I got talking to my neighbour from the USA, who was also heading for the event. He turned out to be Gary Braasch, a nature photographer who is now dedicating almost his entire work to photographically documenting and publishing climate change.
The climate photographer’s global warming website
He told me how he became so concerned about global warming back in the 1990s that he decided to start working on that theme – and has never stopped since.
He got his latest book out of his bag to let me have a look.
Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World (University of California Press).
I am trying to acquire a copy. The photos are great – and the information, as far as I can judge from a skim on the way to Barcelona – is thorough but readable.
“Oh, the inevitable polar bear”, I said.
“I’ve got much more beautiful pics of polar bears” – says Gary.
“But they’ll be on ice, this one’s on land, because his seea ice is melting away” – says IQ.
“Exactly”, says Gary, evidently pleased to be sitting beside a kindred spirit.
His picture reminded me of a segment from an interview I had just been editing, with the ornithologist and indirect climate change monitor George Divoky.
George Divoky and Friends of Cooper Island
George told me in the interview that the sea ice was on the retreat, the permafrost of his island was melting and his campsite was being visited too frequently by polar bears who wouldn’t have touched it with a bear-claw before.
I told Gary the story.
“That’s George’s camp” – he said. “That’s where I took that picture – and we had to call search and rescue because of the bear”.
A small planet indeed.
This is some of the flotilla of sailing boats that brought committed conservationists to Barcelona in Spain for the IUCN congress. Not a bad idea. It drew loads of spectators down to the port for the “Sailing to Barcelona” parade and boat village, where they could visit the research boats and find out about scientific research.
My colleague Nina Haase and I were guests on board the “Garlaban”, which is chartered for marine research by the “Institut Océanographique Paul Ricard”. Thanks again to the Institute’s President Patricia Ricard our skipper “Jacqui” for letting us be on the boat and record interviews with the scientists and crew for our report on “Sailing to Barcelona” for the environment.
All about the marine research of the institute
DateOctober 13, 2008 | 2:46 pm
Alaska baking faster?
This was us in Barrow just two weeks ago.
This morning, this email reached me from George Divoky, our ornithologist friend, observing climate change as part of his work monitoring a black guillemot colony on the Arctic’s Cooper Island:
“Was able to follow your travels via the B&J website and your blog and it looked like you were able to see some impressive examples of climate change in Alaska.
I was impressed with both the quality of climate change ambassadors and the media traveling with them. I tend to be skeptical of much of what is said and done to bring climate change issues to the public but found this exercise to be a good one and was glad I could become involved.
(…) I head off to Alaska in a week and Cooper Island about a week after that. After the late and snowy spring (which you know about first hand) things have gotten very hot there (5 C as I write this) and the snow all melted in the past two days.
George J. Divoky
Friends of Cooper Island
DateMay 26, 2008 | 8:02 am
Cool Forecasts – a Hot Topic?
They have no doubt that the planet is warming: Arctic explorers Marc Cornelissen,head of the Climate Change College, and archaeologist Anne Jensen, who rescues historic burial sites from being washed into the sea as a result of coastal erosion. (The sea ice is a natural protection barrier. As it diminishes, the land is left more vulnerable to the elements). I took the photo at Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the USA and well into the Arctic Circle.
People here in Germany are talking about a new study published in the journal Nature last week suggesting a possible lull in man-made global warming. (More in the “eco-news” bulletin which Nina Haase wrote for this week’s Living Planet programme):
Scientists and politicians are worried that this might make people think they don’t have to rush to take action after all. The study doesn’t dispute the human role in global warming, but it predicts a cooling down from recent average temperatures between now and 2015, as a result of a natural and temporary shift in ocean currents. Now, experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are worried that people might become relaxed again about reducing emissions. There’s no doubt about the fact that people are more likely to take action if they see clear evidence of climate change and are worried about droughts and floods.
(Ines, I thought of you this morning when I read in the paper that Barcelona is relying on tankers bringing in drinking water.)
I was on a panel at an event here in Bonn today where some of the journalists – discussing the role of the media in reporting on climate change – said doubt had been cast on the methods used in the “cooling” report anyway.
In the hope that it might convince some more undecided readers of this blog (I realize of course I could be preaching to the converted with this), I’d suggest a listen to George Divoky, a dedicated ornithologist working on Cooper Island, in the Beaufort Sea north of the Arctic town of Barrow. George has been observing guillemots for 33 years and has quite clearly seen the evidence of climate change. The interview is attached for your listening pleasure. It’s also featured in our Living Planet programme this week.
This shows climate ambassador Cara, talking to a young eskimo,Kayan, who told us he is very concerned about the warming climate and the changes to the sea ice on which the eskimo culture depends so much. Cara is also on this week’s Living Planet programme.
Trying to look at ancient burial sites at Point Barrow. This shows typical everyday working conditions for scientists and other experts trying to keep track of coastal erosion and the ancient sites in danger of disappearin there.
DateMay 14, 2008 | 4:13 pm
TagsAlaska, archaeology, Arctic, Barrow, birds, Climate Change College, Cooper Island, erosian, indigenous, Inupiat, IPCC, Living Planet, Oceans, science, sea ice, USA, Warming