A Future of Arctic Transit – Arctic Sea Ice Record Low Extent

*Click on the map above to see full extent*

Arctic Sea Ice

On Sept, 16, 2012, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, the Arctic sea ice extent broke through it’s previous record minimum from Sept, of 2007.  Satellites began to track the Arctic sea ice in the late 1970s, and have found the ‘six lowest seasonal minimum ice extents to have occurred within the last 6 years (2007 – 2012).’  (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2012)  The data used in the map above is from the previous year’s minimum ice extent (Sept, 11, 2011).  This can be compared with the median minimum ice extent calculated from 1979 through to 2000.

  • The Arctic sea ice extent typically reaches it’s yearly minimum in the month of September.

What a Melting Arctic Means for Transit

Under historical conditions, icebreakers would have been required to break Arctic Sea Ice ahead of most transit vessels.  Due to melting, unassisted transit is now possible through several of the summer months.  Major Arctic routes are present in the above map.  These have been color coded and are interpretable by means of the legend.

Read ArcticEcon’s, ‘The Northern Sea Route as a Viable Development – Russia’s Fleet of Atomic Icebreakers‘ for a comprehensive analysis of the development of the Northern Sea Route,

  • The Northern Sea Route (NRS), also known as the Northeast Passage, is the shipping lane that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It can thus be recognized as a potential expedited transit corridor for Europe and Asia.  Vessels transitting from ports in Europe to those in Asia via the Northern Sea Route en lieu of the Suez Canal Route are able to halve transit times, reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and finally reduce the risk of piracy through the avoidance of regions prone to piracy such as those about the Horn of Africa.  The Northern Sea Route is currently overseen by the Russian authorities through the Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA) under the Ministry of Transportation.
  • Northwest Passage – Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Northwest Passage stands to serve as a potential alternative to the Panama Canal Route.  The passage falls under the definition of an international strait by some countries.  Canada, on the other hand, views the route as internal.
  • Norwegian and Greenland Traffic Routes – Heavily used general transit routes.

More information and data to come shortly…

Sources

  • National Snow & Ice Data Center. Sea Ice Index. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/. [Last Accessed 21 Sept 2012]
  • Норильский Никель. Заполярный Филиал[ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nornik.ru/our_products/polar_divisions/. [Last Accessed 21 Sept 2012]

An Icelandic Time-lapse – An Incentive to Recycle your Aluminium

Having visited Iceland in 2011, I would have argued that the available promotional material was insufficient in doing the country justice…. until now.  I would thus recommend the following 13 minute time-lapse film to anyone that is weighing the pros/cons of an Icelandic visit, or has a particular affinity for scenery.

Film from http://www.evosiastudios.com/

The film connects with economics as it brings more information to the individual pertaining to the cost/benefit analyses made prior to our recycling decisions.

Aluminium – Brief Economics of Recycling

I have published various materials relating to the energy-intensive Aluminium smelting operations that exist in Iceland.  If the information below falls insufficient, read “Aluminium Smelting in Iceland – Alcoa, Rio Tinto Alcan, & Century Aluminum Corp.

In short, the energy requirements for the smelting process lead multinational firms to places like Iceland that offer low electricity prices and untapped hydroelectric dam potential.  I am unsure about the exact figure (I will attempt to locate a credible study), but it is estimated that the energy requirements to recycle (smelt) used aluminium products make up roughly 10% of the energy requirements for the traditional source smelting of alumina for the production of aluminium products.

If aluminium demand reaches the level sufficient to strain existing production capacity related to, specifically, energy availability, there will be that much more of an incentive to build out the world’s remaining hydroelectric capacity in places like Iceland.

With that said, large-scale increases in aluminium recycling can strongly reduce the propensity to build additional energy-generating structures in areas that would have otherwise not required them.

New Study on Arctic Polar Bear Health and PCBs – Norway

We all know that the Arctic sea ice has been receding, and is projected, according to many sources, to continue this trend into the foreseeable future.   This phenomenon has the potential to decrease the habitable land that polar bears require for denning, along with the ground from which they are able to hunt.  There is, however, some good news that has surfaced as a result of one study put together by 5 scientists, headed by J. Bytingsvik of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (NTNU), Norway.  The study looked at the prevalence of PCBs in the polar bears of Svalbard, Norway.

Above Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Contaminants have been accumulating in the Arctic for a long time and eventually make their way into the bodies of various Arctic animals.  PCBs are no exception as they have made their way up to the Arctic through various air streams.  These compounds are reported to have the ability to travel for days before they are broken down by sunlight, or come down to the earth’s surface by way of rain or snow.

From the US Environmental Protection Agency,

PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 until their manufacture was banned in the United States in 1979 and throughout the world as per the 2004 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.  PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals.  PCBs have also been shown to cause a number of serious non-cancerous health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system, and other health effects.  Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point, and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications.

Bytingsvik’s Study (link at bottom)

The study, available as of January, of 2012 from the NTNU website looks at the plasma concentrations and prevalence of PCBs and hydroxylated PCB-metabolites (OH-PCBs) in mother polar bears and their 4 month old cubs from Svalbard, Norway.  In a nutshell, the study compared the concentrations of PCBs in these bears between the sampling years of 1997/1998, and 2008.  The study also looked at the propensity of mothers to transfer these compounds to their cubs through milk, and while still in the womb.

From Bytingsvik’s publication,

Plasma levels of PCBs and OH-PCBs in polar bears mothers and their suckling cubs were found to be significantly lower in 2008 when compared with results from 1997/1998.

She did however find that,

the levels of PCBs and OH-PCBs in cubs from 2008 were still above levels associated with health effects in humans and wildlife.

Studies have also been done in the past on the human ramifications of PCB exposure specific to our developmental stages.

Human infants that have been exposed to PCBs and OH-PCBs prenatally have shown lower birth weights, smaller head circumferences and alterations to thyroid hormone homeostasis.  Exposed children have also been shown to alter neural development, cognitive, motor, and learning abilities.

All in all, it shows that the global effort to reduce PCB pollutants has had a significant effect.  This is one matter that should lead the way for more positive-outcome thinking as it pertains to our global efforts to reduce the prevalence of harmful contaminants.

Sources

  • PCBs and OH-PCBs in polar bear mother–cub pairs: A comparative study based on plasma levels in 1998 and 2008 – 21/Jan/2012 – http://www.ntnu.edu/documents/139226/8932977/Bytingsviketal.pdf
  • Stockhold Convention – http://chm.pops.int/Home/tabid/2121/mctl/ViewDetails/EventModID/871/EventID/230/xmid/6921/Default.aspx
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) – Basic Information – http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/tsd/pcbs/pubs/about.htm