The Arctic region at the northernmost part of the Earth is known for its ice covered seas, barren permafrost, and a unique marine ecosystem. The resource rich area is changing fast. Nations are jockeying to take advantage of the changes.
Because climate change in the Arctic region is occurring faster and to a greater extent than anywhere else, the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free for a short period of time as early as the summer of 2015, according to the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Report completed by the eight Arctic Council Nations.
The U.S. National Ice Center and the U.S. Arctic Research Commission held the 4th Symposium on the Impact of an Ice- Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C, from June 20 to June 22.
“Interest in the Arctic continues to grow, both nationally and internationally, as globalization and increased maritime commerce and resource development, due primarily to the effects of climate change, capture the public’s interest,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement prepared for the conference.
The melting of the sea ice cover in the Arctic region has opened the area to more commercial fishing, shipping, tourism, and potential mineral and energy extraction.
Energy resources in the Arctic Region are considerable. In 2009 the first comprehensive survey of Arctic oil and gas deposits revealed that the region accounts for 13 percent of the undiscovered oil, 30 percent of the undiscovered natural gas and 20 percent of the natural gas liquid in the world, according to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission’s Report on Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research 2009–2010.
Recognizing the changes in the maritime environment, the U.S. Navy Task Force Climate Change (TDCC) issued the Navy Arctic Roadmap, outlining the Navy’s policy, strategy, force structure, and investment in the Arctic Region for fiscal years 2010–2014.
Climate change affects maritime and ecological matters. More ship traffic and energy exploration needs planning and international agreements.
The conference addressed the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) development of a ship code, a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters; the finalized Search and Rescue agreement signed by the ministers of the Arctic Council member states; and the joint industry program on oil spill contingency for Arctic and ice covered waters, and how to develop new solutions for oil spill response in ice covered waters.
Lisa Mack, commander of the International Ice Patrol (IIP), and co-director of North American Ice Service (NAIS) spoke about IIP iceberg reconnaissance and tracking. Dr. Ronald J. Filadelfo, director of the Environment & Energy Research Group, Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) spoke on the challenges of climate change, and climate and energy imperatives for future naval forces.
Murkowski spoke on behalf of the Alaska congressional delegation.
US Policy in the Arctic Region
Recognizing the vulnerability of U.S. marine environments in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama issued an executive order in July 2010, during the spill, called the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes.
Obama stated, “America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental changes, social justice, international diplomacy, and national and homeland security. “
As part of the order, the National Ocean Council and National Ocean Policy was established to address the challenges faced by American oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. One of its top priorities is to address the changing conditions in the Arctic.
Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar attended the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Ruuk, Greenland, marking the first time a secretary of state has represented the United States at an Arctic Council meeting.“The United States is an Arctic nation. This region matters greatly to us. That’s why I was delighted to be joined by Senator Lisa Murkowski, who represents Alaska. We know that the decisions we make now are going to have long-lasting ramifications, and we want to make the right decisions,” said Clinton in her remarks following the meeting.
The symposium, the fourth in a series of conferences, followed Naval Operations in an Ice-free Arctic, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), NIC, the oceanographer of the Navy, and the USARC in April 2001, the Impact of an Ice- Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations, co-sponsored by NIC and USARC in July 2007, and the prior gathering at the U.S. Naval Academy in June 2009.