Reporting in the Arctic

il-heo-satelliitti-web-090518-04I am the Washington correspondent for ArcticToday, covering science, health, security and more in the circumpolar region. Here are a few of my recent stories.

A French navigator is trying to sail the Northwest Passage solo — in a solar-powered boat

Are solar-powered boats practical for the Arctic? One explorer wants to find out.

This summer, French navigator Anne Quéméré is undertaking a solo expedition across the Northwest Passage in a six-meter boat powered entirely by the sun. She will attempt to journey from Tuktoyaktuk in Canada’s Northwest Territories to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island in Nunavut, a 3,500-kilometer trip spanning much of Canada’s far north. Read more at ArcticToday.

Growing security concerns make the Arctic loom larger in Washington

As the Arctic opens to more economic activity – and countries like Russia and China seek to fill the void – Washington officials worry about the lack of U.S. preparedness.

Concerns over a shifting security situation could finally be earning the Arctic more attention among Washington insiders, if a series of recent congressional hearings are an indication.

“In the past 10 years, we have seen the Russians move dramatically, and actually in the past year even more so,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski during a May budget appropriations hearing. “And yet, our U.S. Arctic strategy has yet to evolve to this changing dynamic.” Read more at ArcticToday.

The Coast Guard is launching small satellites for Arctic search and rescue

Communications in the Arctic are “woefully inadequate,” experts say — so the Coast Guard is launching new satellites for search and rescue.

Ice melt is opening the Arctic up to new maritime activity, from shipping routes to tourism. Yet only a small fraction of the region — less than 5 percent — has been charted to modern standards. And despite the warming conditions, it remains one of the most extreme environments in the world.

“What if a vessel transiting encounters a seamount that’s not charted, and now we have a vessel run aground up there?” Paul Zukunft, the U.S. Coast Guard’s outgoing admiral, asked in a recent address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Read more at ArcticToday.

Continuous satellite coverage in the Arctic could help predict extreme weather around the globe

Despite its importance to global weather, satellite coverage of the Arctic is often insufficient — or simply unavailable.

This past winter, the Arctic didn’t stay put. A polar vortex bulge brought extremely low temperatures to the U.S. East Coast; Niagara Falls began to freeze, and even Florida saw snow.

These events will only become more common as the climate in the Arctic and around the world changes rapidly. Yet it’s becoming harder to predict weather like this.

But if meteorologists had access to continuous satellite monitoring of the Arctic, they say, predicting the next polar vortex bulge — and more — would be much easier. Read more at ArcticToday.

Alaska aims to steer its own course on climate change

Dependent on oil production, yet already feeling the effects of a changing climate, the only Arctic state isn’t waiting for federal action on climate.

Alaska must transition away from fossil fuels, invest more in renewables, and cut back on carbon emissions, according to a draft policy release by the state government last month.

The policy is part of an effort by Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who was elected as an independent, and it puts Alaska — a solidly red state with an outsized dependence on fossil fuel development — in some unlikely company, including populous and political liberal states such as New York and California. Read more at ArcticToday.

In Alaska, the National Weather Service must change as rapidly as the climate

A changing climate and more interest in economic activity are “testing our ability to provide meaningful, actionable information,” the weather service said.

In 2012, Shell Oil began drilling exploratory oil and gas wells in the Chukchi Sea, off the northwest coast of Alaska.

The company poured billions of dollars into the project, but they soon encountered problems typical of working in one of the harshest environments on the planet; during a storm, for example, a drilling vessel in the Gulf of Alaska broke loose from its tow and ran aground near Kodiak.

In order to anticipate other problems and to plan its drilling, Shell asked the National Weather Service to predict environmental phenomena like sea ice formation.

“They were asking us the sorts of questions we had never been asked before — they were wanting to know, in January, when the ice was going to go out,” says Carven Scott, director of Alaska’s NWS. “Nobody had ever asked us what sea ice was going to do four to five months in advance.” Read more at ArcticToday.

Against a backdrop of shifting Arctic security, Iceland seeks a US trade deal

After seeing its U.S. military presence depart in the post-Cold War era, Iceland is again becoming a strategic location. Will that be enough to help it secure a trade deal with the U.S.?

The United States and Iceland have a long history of bilateral agreements.

In 1951, the United States agreed to provide military protection for Iceland in exchange for using the strategically placed island as a Cold War outpost. Read more at ArcticToday.

Outgoing commandant says Arctic has become a top priority for US Coast Guard

As he prepares to retire, Adm. Paul Zukunft says the Arctic has grown in importance during his four-year tenure leading the Coast Guard.

When he talks about his accomplishments and regrets during four years as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft downplays the idea of a legacy.

“I do not believe in legacies,” he said Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, preferring his successors continue momentum forward, rather than looking back. Read more at ArcticToday.

Note: These stories are behind a paywall, but if you’re able to read them, I hope you enjoy.

Categories: Freelance Articles

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