Monday, January 31, 2011

Fighting For A Slice of Arctic Pie

US Coast Guard’s HEALY icebreaker. Image credit – UCSGC.
ETHAN TREX for Mental Floss, Jan 28, 2011.
by Ethan Trex
The Arctic is changing—fast. In fact, within the next 30 to 40 years, the region could be ice-free. So why are countries and companies lining up to get their share of the Arctic pie? And what does a melted Arctic mean for the global economy?

Why does everyone want the Arctic?

These days, countries are fighting tooth and nail to stake their claim to the Arctic. But a century ago, you couldn’t give the region away. When American explorer Robert Peary reached the North Pole in 1909, he wired President William Howard Taft to let him know that he’d claimed the territory for the United States. Taft’s response? “Thanks for your interesting and generous offer. I do not know exactly what I could do with it.”

Taft’s indifference reflected the prevailing sentiment of the day: Why would anyone want an inhospitable, frozen wasteland?

The Cold War changed this line of thinking. Suddenly, the Arctic became a choice piece of real estate. It was the perfect surveillance point for listening in on enemies and the quickest bombing route between the Soviet Union and North America. By the 1950s, generals were eyeing the region as the strategic lynchpin for the next World War.
The Cold War may have ended more than two decades ago, but nations are still salivating over the Arctic—just for very different reasons. For starters, there are vast riches buried in the Arctic’s ocean floor. Geologists estimate that nearly 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas may be lingering beneath its frigid waters. Indeed, the Arctic could contain more than 90 billion barrels of oil, which is enough to supply the world’s current demand for three full years. Further, the United States Geological Survey has estimated that there are 1,670 trillion cubic feet of untapped natural gas in the area, about one-third of the world’s reserves.

Oil workers in Newfoundland prepare to “tow” an iceberg off course, to prevent it from colliding with the Hibernia oil production platform, in 1998.
You’d think figures like that would have sparked an Arctic gold rush, but until recently, extracting those resources has seemed like a long shot. As the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown, getting black gold out of the ocean’s floor is no simple task, and the potential for environmental damage is real. While Arctic oil drillers don’t have to contend with the Gulf’s hurricane season, the region has its own problems. Cutting through the ice is difficult and expensive, and massive icebergs threaten to topple offshore rigs. (In the past, some companies have dealt with this problem by pulling the icebergs away with what amounted to giant lassoes.)
But as the ice melts, these hurdles are disappearing. The crowning irony of the Arctic is that by burning fossil fuels, we’ve helped to melt the Arctic, which has given us access to more fossil fuels. Soon, oil companies could be able to tap into these vast reserves without fighting through packed ice and battling icebergs.
That isn’t the only reason countries are eyeing the region, though. The new Arctic is also revolutionizing the shipping industry. In 2007, high summer temperatures melted enough ice that the Northwest Passage—the once-fabled shipping route through Arctic waters near Canada—was navigable all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific for the first time in recorded history. This ice-free Arctic is a serious boon to any country that currently ships exports around the world. Take China, for instance. In 2009, the nation’s exports totaled an eye-popping $1.2 trillion. If Chinese companies can get their goods to the United States and Europe through the Arctic instead of the Suez Canal, they stand to cut their trips by 5,000 miles, reaping huge savings along the way. Germany also has been tempted by the prospect of going north. In September 2009, two German ships navigated across the melting Arctic ice to transport heavy cargo to Siberia. The trip was much faster, and thanks to savings on fuel and supplies, the cost was $300,000 less per ship than navigating traditional routes.

So, who owns the Arctic right now?

Figuring out who owns what part of the Arctic might seem straightforward, but it’s not. By United Nations’ conventions, the countries with coastlines in the region—the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (thanks to its ownership of Greenland)—all have control of an economic zone that extends 200 miles beyond their shores. Also, Arctic nations can expand their territorial claims to include 350 miles of the seabed on the continental shelf.
If you can’t visualize exactly what that means, don’t worry; neither can anyone else. Figuring out where the seabed begins and ends is a maddening task, and there’s a good deal of ambiguity about what defines a country’s continental shelf. U.N. conventions also state that if a country wants to extend its territorial claim in the Arctic, it must present geological evidence showing that an area is part of its continental shelf. But getting such a claim approved by the U.N.’s panel of scientists is far from easy. In 2001, when Russia asked to expand its territory in the region, it got shot down because of insufficient evidence.
The issue of ownership in the Arctic is further complicated by the fact that the United States has failed to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which created a lot of these rules. Ronald Reagan refused to sign the treaty in 1982, fearing that it would hinder American deep-sea mining, and it’s been sitting in limbo ever since. The Obama administration is currently attempting to convince the Senate to finally ratify the treaty, but until it does, the United States can’t expand its territory in the region.

If the ice melts, who will benefit the most?

Let’s preface this answer by saying that an unfrozen Arctic is unequivocally bad for the world. Nobody will be dancing in the streets when ocean levels start to rise and thawed methane gas is being released into the atmosphere. However, the economic reality is that if the Arctic as we know it disappears, one country will benefit more than any other—Greenland.

At first blush, Arctic thawing seems like bad news for an island that has 80 percent of its surface covered in ice. But from a political and financial standpoint, the warmer temperatures may be just what Greenland’s 57,000 residents need.

Although Greenland has enjoyed self-governance since 1979, the country is still a part of Denmark. In fact, Denmark props up Greenland’s economy with an annual grant of about $650 million, a subsidy that represents about a third of the island’s GDP. Without that cash, Greenland couldn’t support itself. Its exports, mainly shrimp and fish, simply don’t cover the expenses. Greenland has been taking steps towards independence for decades, but until it finds some additional streams of revenue, the island will continue to remain a Danish protectorate.
That new stream of revenue, oddly enough, may come from global warming. Greenland’s residents hope that as the ice thaws, they’ll be able to drill down to previously inaccessible oil and mineral deposits on the northern tip of the island and offshore, where about 50 billion barrels of oil are buried. (That’s worth about $5 trillion in today’s market.) Greenland has already made a deal with Denmark to split the profits from these resources. Still, Greenland’s share will be more than enough to give it some financial independence—and put full autonomy within its reach.

Would anyone else profit from Arctic ice disappearing?

The United States would definitely enjoy tapping into oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, but it doesn’t need to in order to remain economically viable. The Russian economy, however, is a different story. Because Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest exporter of oil, its economy depends on exploiting its natural resources. Russians have done of good job of this lately, too. Gazprom, the country’s state-controlled natural gas firm, was the world’s most profitable company in 2009, with a net income of $24.5 billion. If Russia’s natural resources dry up, its economy could tank.
Since 2007, the Russian government has been building up other money-making sectors, such as technology, to reduce its reliance on oil and gas. But progress has been slow. Gaining access to a huge new pool of resources in the Arctic could give Russia a lot of wiggle room as it tries to modernize its economy.
The United States also stands to gain from the Arctic thaw. While America might not need the Arctic’s fossil fuels with the same urgency that Russia does, getting our mitts on fresh, offshore oil would mean a lot. Every U.S. President since Richard Nixon has promoted the idea that decreasing our dependence on foreign oil would improve national security. If we could only get our oil from home—say, Alaska—then our country might be safer.
About 10.4 billion barrels of oil sit under Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to Alaska’s offshore reserves. A 2008 study from the United States Geological Survey estimated that Alaska had nearly 30 billion barrels of undiscovered oil resources—roughly four years’ worth of American demand—under its surface and coastal waters. Although drilling for that oil could be dangerous, tapping into this Arctic bonanza could significantly change our relationship with the Middle East.

But global warming is still bad, right?

Yes. If you’re thinking globally, then nobody really benefits from defrosting the Arctic. A 2010 study by the Pew Environment Group pegged the global cost of the melting Arctic ice at more than $2.4 trillion over the next four decades. This estimate takes into account the Arctic’s function as Earth’s air-conditioner. Once our AC unit melts, heat waves and flooding will increase across the world, and rising sea levels will force people living on the coasts to move inland.
People living in the Arctic region may end up in rough shape, too, despite the economic potential in their neighborhoods. Most of the infrastructure in the Arctic has been built on permafrost. When designing roads, houses, and buildings, engineers made the assumption that the permafrost was as permanently frosted as the name implies. But that’s no longer the case. When the frost thaws, it will wreak a unique type of havoc on the towns and cities. Roads will crack, warp, and buckle on top of the soggy ground, and houses will sink or collapse altogether. Additionally, water and oil pipelines will burst, and the fixes won’t be cheap; oil pipelines cost up to $2 million per mile.
In fact, all of Alaska’s problems will be expensive to fix. A Congressional study estimated that fixing the public infrastructure in Alaska could cost $6 billion by 2030. On the other side, somebody is going to get very, very rich while retrofitting these buildings and bridges to survive the warmer weather.
Clearly, the Arctic thaw is going to leave the world in a tight spot, and the drama that’s set to unfold in the region will demand global attention. So although the Arctic may be losing its ice, its stock in the political arena is just starting to heat up.

Set sail for adventure - Pilot joins boat’s crew to experience the chills of the Northwest Passage

Set sail for adventure
Russell D. Roberts on watch in Peel Sound. With only three crew members aboard the Fiona, sleep was in short supply. Overnight, each man pulled two hours of watch duty.

As a boy, Russell D. Roberts’ heroes were Arctic explorers.
Growing up in FairbanksAlaska, he was familiar with the way snow squeaks underfoot and how the wind can take your breath away when it’s 40 below zero. So when he was reading about men like Sir John FranklinHenry Hudson andRoald Amundsen, he had something of an understanding of what they had endured while looking for the Northwest Passage.
Finding the long-sought trade route to Asia through a maze of ice-gripped islands in the lower reaches of the Arctic Ocean had captivated explorers for centuries. Some, like Franklin and his crew, suffered and perished in the attempt.
Set sail for adventure
An iceberg off Disko Island, Greenland, illustrates the dangers faced by Russell Roberts and his colleagues. Roberts called the west coast of Greenland "the world's greatest nursery for icebergs."
Reading the biographies of such men familiarized the youngster with the lore and dangers of the Northwest Passage. It also sparked in him an interest in sailing the waters of the world.
Roberts was 12 years old when he first took the helm of a sailboat and heard the wind and canvas sails sing their enchanting duet. As an adult, he had the exhilarating experience of being a crewmember on the square-rigged tall ship HMS Surprise.
Then, two years ago, while surfing the Internet in his Charlottesville home, Roberts saw an opportunity as large as an iceberg appear on the screen.
“I had started getting the idea that sailing the Northwest Passage was something I could do one day,” saidRoberts, who is a pilot with Delta Airlines. “While shopping for sailboats on the Internet, I ran across Eric Forsyth’s blog.
“He was planning a trip to circumnavigate North America, which included an attempt on the Northwest Passage. I e-mailed him and said if he needed a crewmember, I could give him a couple of months.
“He accepted my offer, and I joined him on his 42-foot sailboat Fiona on July 15, 2009. I was on board until August 28, 2009.”
At 7 p.m. Tuesday at Unity Church in CharlottesvilleRoberts will present a free talk about his sailing adventure. Among the subjects he will address is why he would take on such a dangerous challenge in one of the most inhospitable regions on Earth.
“I’ve asked myself why I wanted to go up there,” said the 56-year-old pilot. “All I’ve come up with is a quote from the Greek poet Lucian of Samothrace.
“He said, ‘It was merely a curiosity of mind, and a desire to find out the bounds of the ocean.’ That about sums it up for me, as well.
“We based the trip on the fact that, with climate change, the ice has started to melt a lot more than what it had in decades past. It has only been in recent years that a fairly ordinary pleasure boat like Fiona stood a chance of making its way through that part of the world.”
The skipper of Fiona is a former Royal Air Force pilot and retired engineer who had spent his career building supercolliders and superconductors at Brookhaven Institute on Long Island, N.Y. Forsyth had purchased the hull of Fiona in 1974 and spent the next eight years turning it into a first-rate sailboat.
Forsyth was 77 years old when Roberts joined him and first mate Joe Waits in NuukGreenland. Although the waterways through the Northwest Passage have become more navigable during summer months, it’s still an arduous trip rife with danger.
It was too much for one crewmember, who had signed on for the entire circumnavigation of North America. But by the time the sailboat reached the western coast of Greenland, the fog, cold and potential danger sent the landlubber heading home.
The departure made Roberts’ timely arrival all the more important. His sailing and navigational skills, as well as his upbeat spirit, quickly became appreciated.
“Russ proved to be a great companion for the voyage through the Northwest Passage,” Forsyth said via e-mail. “Like all experienced pilots, nothing bothered him.
“Russ’ familiarity with modern navigation systems took a burden off me when it came to the tricky navigation through the ice and rock-bound straits that form the passage. I was very pleased to have him along.”
Having just a three-person crew ensured that no one ever would get a full night’s sleep. And with only a little heater onboard, which Roberts said put out about as much warmth as a candle, it always was pretty nippy.
“The average temperature during the time I was onboard was around 40 degrees,” Roberts said. “At night, from 10 p.m. on, we would each pull two hours of watch.
“The fog was with us about 90 percent of the time, so our visibility was often restricted to 100 yards or less. The west coast of Greenland, where we were sailing, is the world’s greatest nursery for icebergs.
“We saw icebergs up to 300 feet above sea level. We had radar, but icebergs can be stealthy and radar doesn’t always pick them up. So there was always the worry that a big iceberg that hadn’t shown up on radar was going to loom up and we’d hit it.”
When an iceberg was spotted, the crew had about 45 seconds to steer away from it. The crew didn’t hit any, but they got stuck twice in moving ice packs.
“Because there are thousands of islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the ice that breaks off the polar icecap starts moving down into those water passages and clogs them up,” Roberts said. “That’s the great barrier to passage up there.
“Even in the summer, when you get breakup of ice, that moving ice can create ice dams in any number of those straits. Although there’s a melting of ice, there’s still a lot of it, and it moves in very strange ways that’s hard to predict.
“We were stuck in ice in Resolute Bay and again in Franklin Straits, when we were 125 miles from the nearest human habitation. We drifted along in the ice pack for three days before we finally got free.”
While stuck in the ice in Franklin StraitsRoberts passed the time reading and writing in his journal. He was doing one of these activities when he heard a nearly inaudible pinging sound.
“It turned out that it was the sound of beluga whales making their living far below us,” Roberts said. “They were sending their sonar and you could hear it go, ping, ping, tick, tick, tick.
“It was awesome. Here we were prepared to be crushed by ice and sunk, and all of a sudden we hear this life from down below. It was so beautiful. I wrote that it was like listening to a harp playing.”
For nearly two months, Roberts helped sail the trusty Fiona through the treacherous waters. What little hot water there was was used for brewing tea, and the food consisted largely of Spam and macaroni and cheese.
No complaints there, considering the skipper picked up all expenses, including food and fuel.
Roberts ran out of vacation time and had to leave the sailboat at Cambridge Bay, on the southeast coast of Victoria Island.
From the bay, it’s pretty much open sailing to the Bering Straits and NomeAlaskaNome is considered the western terminus of the Northwest Passage.
Forsyth and Waits continued — and successfully completed the circumnavigation of North America in 2010.Roberts still is shopping for a sailboat, and said a return to the fabled Northwest Passage isn’t out of the question.
“Being cold and tired for two months wasn’t fun, but it was a challenge,” Roberts said. “When I first got back, it was like, ‘OK, done that. Don’t need to do that anymore.’
“But then I started thinking about what I would do differently commanding my own boat. Eric was very mission-oriented and was intent on getting from point A to point B.
“That was fine, and he was very efficient, but I would like to spend more time with the Inuit people who live up there. So, given the right circumstances, I would do it again.”
Russell D. Roberts will talk about his travels through the Northwest Passage at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Unity Church at 2825 Hydraulic Road.
The event is free, but a small donation for the church’s lights will be appreciated.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On the Matter of Polar Bears - Required reading for Arctic travel

On the Matter of Polar Bears

By Finley Perry January 2009
In collaboration with Steve Loutrel, who has sailed to and climbed in the Torngat region,
and Angus Simpson at the Torngat Mountians National Park
The subject of bear viewing and personal protection is a complex one. To begin with, the wilderness is not a zoo. Animal sightings are not predictable, and can occur unexpectedly. Bears are numerous north of Nain, and one will see them - both polar bear and black bear. It makes sense to prepare for an encounter.
If not "endangered", polar bears have at best a challenging existence. They are adapted to the far north of frozen seas, hunting seals on the sea ice for much of the year, and living on whatever can be scrounged ashore in the warmer months. They live where food is scarce. Anything that looks like a meal is worth investigating. For whatever reason, polar bear populations on the Labrador and Baffin coasts are reported to be increasing in recent years. It could be that the populations are growing, or, perversely, it might be that changes in the extent of sea ice, or other environmental factors, have stranded concentrated static or even shrinking populations in certain areas, making these populations appear to be increasing.
Polar bears are meat eaters. Their primary diet is seals taken on the sea ice. They are opportunistic predators. They may kill and eat when they find food regardless of hunger. In summer they will scavenge as evidenced by berries in their scat, and it is safe to assume that along the Labrador coast in the summer and fall before freeze-up, they are generally always hungry. They will attack when an opportunity appears favorable. For example, "opportunity" might exist if potential prey appears weaker or slower than the hunter, or separated from a protective group. A single scared tourist hiking across the landscape might constitute such opportunity. A pack or group of "prey" keeping close together would appear more troublesome.
Black bears on the other hand are omnivorous and in fact most of their diet is vegetation. It varies, but 20 or 30% of their diet may be meat. Black bears may not be as predatory as polar bears, but they make up for it in unpredictability. Keep in mind, as you look around at the north Labrador landscape, that there is not a lot to eat in this place.
The native Inuit will not go into the country without a rifle. At the Parks Canada Saglek base camp, those venturing out of camp for research or recreation are accompanied by an armed "Bear Monitor". On the other hand, in Canadian national parks, no visitors may carry firearms. In the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve a special agreement allows the carrying or use of firearms only by native Inuit.
Considering that the carrying or use of firearms outside the Park requires, at best, a cumbersome permitting procedure for non-Canadians as well as Canadian citizens, and, if used less than expertly, a gun could well make an otherwise innocuous bear encounter truly dangerous…then what other protective measures can be employed?
  • When going ashore, go in groups and keep close together. Keep a very close watch for bears, always scan the surroundings, be aware of where you are most likely to find a bear. You don't want to surprise a bear or be surprised by a bear.
  • Before going ashore, scan the landscape carefully for signs of animals. If you see a bear, chances are he has seen you and curiosity will bring him to the shore giving both parties a good look at each other. Do not go ashore where you see bears. Either move to another harbor or simply stay on board.
  • If using an inflatable dinghy, consider taking along a second inexpensive inflatable "raft" to enable a safe return to your vessel in the event a curious bear "playfully" punctures your primary transportation while you are away walking. See Steve Loutrel's notes below.
  • Don't leave trash and garbage ashore. Avoid things that will attract bears when ashore -- for example, cleaning fish or game. Avoid cooking if possible.
  • Look for signs of animal presence - tracks, scat, fresh kill.
  • If you find a fresh kill, stay away from it. Don't get between a bear and its food.
  • Try not to surprise any wildlife. Make noise. Use care when approaching blind corners.
  • In the same vein, be aware of wind direction. If you spot an animal, and he sees you, try to stay upwind of him to give him notice of your presence and a scent of what you are.
  • Carry noise-makers, "bear bangers" - perhaps a flare pistol - to frighten off an animal that comes too close. See Steve Loutrel's notes below.
  • If you encounter a bear, keep your movements slow (relatively) and deliberate. Do not run.
  • Don't get between a mother and cubs. A mother with her cub is especially dangerous. If she sees you as a risk to her cub you are in an extremely dangerous situation.
  • Do not encourage an attack by making eye contact. Move off slowly. Speak assertively.
  • Pay constant attention to your surroundings. If a bear appears interested and / or approaches you, try to scare him away as early as possible. You do not want to observe him up close!!!!

Those who make camp ashore will sooner or later have a bear encounter in camp. For this reason, Parks Canada discourages kayaking along the coast without a mother ship for sleeping. Camping on the beaches, particularly in the northern part of the Torngat Park is dangerous. The issue is not that "you might have a bear encounter, but you will have a polar bear encounter". Those who cruise the coast in a yacht will find bears along the shore or swimming off a beach, but it would be most unusual to hear of one coming aboard or attempting to board (see point on opportunity above). If your plans include extensive activity ashore, consider enlisting the services of a native guide / bear monitor. There is much to be learned of the country, customs, and wildlife from these individuals in addition to the peace of mind they provide.
One must do everything one can to avoid confrontations with polar bears. This includes studying and understanding polar bear behavior as much as possible. If you are forced to kill a polar bear, it should be considered a personal defeat - you did not do your job in avoiding a confrontation or scaring the bear away. You must report the event to the authorities. There will be an investigation to ensure that the circumstances were unavoidable and that it was in self defense. If there is strong evidence that the actions were unnecessary and irresponsible, then charges may be laid.
For a further excellent discussion on eastern Canadian Arctic wildlife in general and bear encounters in particular download the Parks Canada visitor information on polar bear encounters for Auyuittuk National Park in Baffin which you can find using the Parks Canada website Use to access extensive and useful information on the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve. Finally, make note of bear and other wildlife sightings (time, location, lat/lon, gender, behavior, weather, etc), and report them to Parks Canada in Nain.
Parks Canada
P. O. Box 471
Nain, NL
Canada AOP 1L0
Tel:709 922-1290
Toll Free: 1-888-922-1290
Also a reminder that anyone planning to cruise along the coast of the Park and land in the Park must register with the Parks Canada office. And further, permits from the Nunatsiavut Government (NG) are required for landing on Inuit owned land. Contact the NG before arriving to determine applicability to your itinerary and to obtain a permit. The address is below.
Department of Lands and Resources
Nunatsiavut Government
PO Box 70
Nain, NL
Canada A0P 1L0
Tel: 709-922-2942
Fax: 709-922-2931

Contributed by Steve Loutrel - January, '09

Information on handling bears.
  1. Canadian web site - Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve, also Auyuittuk National Park in Baffin
  2. An excellent DVD is available from Park Headquarters in Nain (address above). We viewed it and discussed handling polar bears with Angus Simpson, Resource Conservation Supervisor at Park headquarters. We learned much more about Polar Bears than we had learned in our seven previous expeditions to this coast. It was good timing, since with the dramatic increase in polar bears in Northern Labrador, we had our first two close experiences with bears in the summer of 2008. We were able to recognize the bears' behavior and scare them away using tactics given in the DVD. I would suggest that every member of the crew view this DVD. Multiple viewings are helpful.
  3. Tactics for scaring bears away. (This is covered in the DVD) If a bear seems to be interested in you, you should scare him away when he is as far away as possible - don't wait for him to get close. The more comfortable he gets with you and the more time he is in contact, the more chance he has to become predatory. If he becomes predatory, he will attack with the intention of having you for dinner. The advice from the park information is that if you are attacked "fight back". Without a firearm, this is a daunting situation! Start by throwing large stones. As climbers, we carried our ice axes - even if we didn't need them for the climb. I believe a group of people, all armed with ice axes against one bear does have a chance - do not consider it hopeless and give up! There is a (reasonable ?) chance that a predatory bear, feeling the results of well aimed blows with an ice axe may decide it is not worth it and depart. Clearly, the goal is to avoid encounters and to never let the situation get to this point!
  4. Equipment you should have ahead of time.
  5. Pen-launched bear bangers
  6. Pen-launched screamers - launch a projectile which emits a loud screaming whistle.
  7. Flare gun?? I have not seen it recommended but it may be helpful and you have it on board anyway.
  8. Loud horn.
  9. Bear repellent - pepper spray. This must be declared at customs. They should let you through though there have been problems with them not allowing the spray through. It is important to note that you are going to a wilderness area and that the pepper spray is for repelling bears. The container must say that it is a bear repellent. Pepper spray for protection against people is illegal. We are told by the park personnel that it is not clear whether pepper spray is effective against polar bears. There are documented cases where spray was deployed effectively, BUT IT MUST BE STRESSED THAT BEAR SPRAY IS A VERY LAST RESORT AFTER ALL ELSE HAS FAILED. BEAR SPRAY IN AN OF ITSELF SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED ADEQUATE PROTECTION AGAINST POLAR BEARS.
  10. Consider carrying a legal weapon - heavy walking stick, ice axe, axe, etc. Realize that it may not be effective.

Bear Behavior
  1. Inflatables - for going ashore.
  2. Bears seem to find inflatables interesting - perhaps they remind them of seals. Several yachts have had inflatables which were tied astern destroyed by polar bears.
  3. speeds of approximately 5 knots for significant distances. This means they can easily overtake a rowed inflatable. You would be very vulnerable while rowing in an inflatable.
  4. I have heard of observations of bears swimming at When we leave the inflatable on the beach for any time, we deflate it, roll it up, and if we are going to be gone long, bury it under a pile of rocks. A second method of getting back to the boat is a good idea. Perhaps a dry suit? Check carefully for bears before setting out for the boat in a dry suit!!
Bringing a firearm into Canada -- You can go on the Canadian Firearms Regulations site and study the requirements and regulations. Keep in mind that laws and regulations are enforced as best understood by those charged with that responsibility. Interpretation can vary despite the best of intentions to follow the letter of the law or regulation. In dealing with authorities and firearms one does not always get the same answer, but as best I understand it:
  1. For Canadian Residents - a Possession / Acquisition Firearms License card is required. This is also true for non-residents - e.g. US Citizens coming into Canada with a firearm for more than a month.A US resident can obtain such a license if he has no criminal record.
  2. You must take the Canadian Firearms Safety course and pass the final exam. There seem to be no exceptions to this. The course is given in various places in Canada.
  3. All firearms which you bring into Canada for more than a month must be registered.
  4. If you are staying for less than a month, you may be able to get a 1 month permit and register the firearm at the border. I do not know what other requirements there may be and you should contact the Canadian firearms and border authorities before you arrive at the border.
  5. Carrying a firearm on board. I believe this is legal if you declare it at the border and they allow you to bring it into the country. It is very important to declare it.
  6. Carrying a firearm ashore - outside the park.
  7. If you are in native lands, you must have a permit to be in the native lands (See Nunatsiavut Government contact information above)
  8. You must have a Polar Bear/Black Bear Protection Permit. For this you must apply to the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador Department of Natural Resources.

What firearm to carry if you decide to carry one and can deal with the permits, etc? -- The authorities recommend a pump action shot gun - with no choke. It can be handled quickly for close-in shooting - which is likely to be the case. if you only have one shotgun, it is recommended that you load the magazine with slugs, keep the chamber empty and learn how to top load the gun with deterrents such as bangers, screamers, plastic slugs and beanbags. Do not mix the ammunition in the magazine. If you have to shoot a charging bear you want every shot to count. Ideally you could have 2 shotguns. 1 with slugs and 1 with deterrents. Buckshot can be problematic, and is not recommended. If you prefer a rifle, it should be a big-game caliber.
  1. 375 H&H Magnum would be my preference.
  2. 338 Winchester Magnum is not a bad choice.
  3. Some people use a 30-06 though it is pretty light for stopping an angry polar bear at short range.
  4. The Inuit frequently carry a 243 Winchester but this is very light unless you are an expert Inuit hunter. The shot must be extremely well placed to do anything other than make the bear very mad.
  5. It is important to use hunting ammunition with very controlled expansion so that it will give deep penetration. You want a "big game" cartridge.
  6. The big game calibers generally only carry 3 rounds in the magazine. You should keep the chamber clear unless you are about to shoot so you will only have 3 shots before you reload. If you fire a warning shot you will only have 2 left.
  7. Sights should be useable for short range shooting.

You should be very experienced with the firearm. If you do need to use it, there won't be much time to figure it out! If you do have a firearm with you (outside the National Park), you should use it only as the last resort. The bear protection permit requires you to carry other non-lethal methods for scaring bears away. You must do everything you can to avoid confrontations with polar bears. This includes studying and understanding bear behavior as much as possible. Again, If you are forced to kill a polar bear, you should consider it a personal defeat - you did not do your job in avoiding a confrontation or scaring the bear away. You are the guest in this country. It will pay to find your place in harmony with the land and animals you encounter.

Animation of ice conditions in the Northwest Passage 1969-1998 - what about 2011?

Animation of a normal sea ice season in the Northwest Passage calculated using the average normal ice extent between 1969-1998. The animation indicates weekly ice extent and estimated permanent ice extent throughtout the year.

Animation of normal ice conditions in the Northwest Passage

Be sure to check how climate change has dramatically impacted minimal sea-ice.

Example:  Observe how sea-ice in early August 2010 was gone.

And if you weekly trend ice coverage in Parry Sound from 2009 to 2010 it appears to be increasing?

Weekly trending in Franklin

Weekly trending in Peel Sound for 2009 to 2010

Weekly trending at West Parry Sound for 2008 to 2010

Trend your own parameters from here:

Weekly ice concentrations Northwest Passage:
Weekly Ice Coverage bargraph for the Northwest Passage
Historic ice coverage Northwest Passage: (
Historical Ice Coverage bargraph for the Northwest Passage
Historical Total Accumulated Ice Coverage for the Northwest Passage: (
Historical Total Accumulated Ice Coverage bargraph for the Northwest Passage

'The World in 2050' : The Arctic and everything below

The World in 2050 by Laurence Smith
Everyone wants to predict the future, but Laurence Smith actually does so in his new book, “The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Our Civilization’s Northern Future” (Dutton, 2010).  

Smith, a UCLA professor and geographer, traveled the Arctic region after receiving a Guggenheim fellowship in 2006.  In Russia, Canada and the northern regions of Europe, he visited remote aboriginal villages, and studied both permafrost and demography. 
He concludes that the future is a mixed bag of positive and negative: People will urbanize further; the global population will age; and aboriginal groups of the far north will gain a voice in how we spend our natural resources. It’s not how many people live on Earth, but rather how we live that will affect outcomes. 
He recently spoke with The Times about his work.
By 2050, who will be the winners and losers?
The definition of a winner and loser depends on your point of view. There will be a surprising rise of indigenous power; from a human rights perspective, the indigenous groups are huge winners.
Most climate change will be overwhelmingly negative.  But there will be milder winters and a longer growing season in the northern countries, even in the northern U.S. like Minnesota.  If you are a raccoon pushing north, it’s good. But if you are a polar bear, it’s bad.
There will be reduced ice cover in the Arctic, which will allow for easier access for shipping. But the interiors of the north will become less accessible.  So, we’ll see a rising maritime economy –- with greater access by sea, but reduced access by land.
What’s happening with the aboriginal people through the high latitudes?
During the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, these people were pushed out, but in recent years there’s a been a rise in aboriginal power. It started in 1971 in Alaska with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
This means that the northern people are now stakeholders. From a human rights perspective, it’s great. From an environmental perspective, once the agreements are in place, aboriginal people will be able to favor resource development. Though the aboriginal people deeply care about the land and want to minimize damage. This is happening in Canada. But it’s not echoed in most of Europe and in Russia it's bleak.
The perception Americans have of Arctic people is different from the way Arctic people view themselves. To them, they are changing like everyone else –- they want to move to town, they want the Internet. To us, the Arctic is a pristine part of the planet that we like to protect; we like to know it exists.  In terms of hunting, to them, they have lived off of these animals for thousands of years. To them, oil and gas are bounty of the land.
How will Canada fare in the future as compared to Russia?
Throughout most of northern Canada, they are all urbanizing and moving to cities. It’s a young population. Kids there today don’t want to live in a cabin, hunting and fishing; they want to live in town with a Wii. 
Canada is growing, while Russia is falling. They differ in their attitudes toward immigration. Canada has been good at attracting a skilled immigrant population.  In Russia, they are actually headed toward a population crash. Their population will drop by 17% in 2050.
Canada prizes education, work skills, and language. Russia is xenophobic. It’s a political issue -- if a Russian politician says we need to open the door to immigrants, they get crushed. Because of their differing attitudes toward immigration, one nation is thriving and one will crash.

What about the overall aging of the planet?
Looking forward to 2050, the developed countries will be elderly. Fertility rates are falling all around the globe. Every place where women have more education, they choose to have smaller families.
The world population will be 9 billion in 2050.  This affects the environment overall because it affects the resource demands.  But it’s actually the material consumption that matters more.  If everyone on Earth lived like Americans do, it would be equivalent to having 72 billion on Earth today [referencing his UCLA colleague Jared Diamond’s Op-Ed “What’s Your Consumption Factor?”].
In 40 years, where will we stand in terms of fossil fuels?
Up to 30% of undiscovered natural gas in the world is in the Arctic. Most of it is in Russia. Russia is the natural gas giant and will be even more so in the future.
We still won’t be weaned off of oil and gas by 2050. We’re stuck with fossil fuel for the immediate future. We should focus on gas -– we would cut our CO2 footprint dramatically. It’s cleaner than coal. There’s no such thing as clean coal.
IcelandsmithWhat will happen with fresh water -- especially in California?
Access to clean water is the greatest sustainable challenge in our century. You don’t even need to invoke climate change to understand the water stress we’ll face.
Historically, there is no instance of nation states going to war over water. Instead, the water wars we’ll see will be internal conflicts between users. In Southern California, we’ll see cities versus farmers. California is bound by a lot of antiquated water laws. For instance, San Diego has been in a battle with the farmers of Imperial Valley. San Diego is winning.
In the future, parts of southern California will turn to desert, but we won’t be starving as long as the global food trade does not collapse.
If the permafrost [permanently frozen ground] thaws, what will happen?
It won’t completely melt, but when it first begins to melt, sinkholes open up and the roads buckle, crack and fall. You can build on permafrost, but once it cracks and buckles -- this can cause buildings built on top of it to crack and then collapse.