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Arctic Round-Up: New Sea Routes Opening Up, New Infrastructure Imagined, and Canada's Taking Action
Amanda Reed, 3 Sep 10

Melting and thinning ice in the Arctic has proceeded so rapidly that new sea routes are opening up, infrastructure is being imagined, and countries like Canada are working to assert their sovereignty in the north...

Last year, Beluga Shipping became the first shipping company to transport goods through the 'Northeast Passage'; two ships, escorted by a pair of Russian icebreakers, traveled from South Korea to Siberia via the newly broken up NE passage. Now, the sea is ice-free enough in the summer that it is projected to become a regular shipping route as early as next year. As a mark of this change, the Northeast Passage has even been renamed the "Northern Sea Route." Charlie Jane Anders has the story at io9: "2010 Will Be Remembered as the Year the Arctic Ocean Became a Trade Route"

The MV Beluga Fraternity and MV Beluga Foresight traveling through the Northeast Passage, July 2009. (Source: The Boston Globe)

In addition to the new Northern Sea Route (the NE Passage), the 'Northwest Passage' is closer to becoming a viable shipping route connecting the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As the image below shows, the Northwest Passage was already ice-free in the summer of 2007.

(Image Source: NASA; Credit: Jesse Allen, using data obtained from the Goddard Land Processes data archives (LAADS))

As these Arctic shipping routes open up and Arctic communities become more connected to larger networks of distribution, local economies will likely change and new infrastructure will be needed to support a transition of goods distribution from air to shipping, as well as support growths in population. Infranet Lab explores the design challenges of this transition by looking at one conceptual design proposal for the community of Igloolik: "Frozen Cities/Liquid Networks: (air)Port and Infrastructural Autonomy"

The following project, developed by Amrit Phull and Claire Lubell, in the Frozen Cities/ Liquid Networks studio at the University of Waterloo, examines how new infrastructure can be produced in the Arctic that allows for the transference from air to shipping logistics and, while doing so, addresses the issue of food production and coastal erosion in the Arctic. It questions how remote coastal communities throughout Canada’s Arctic can establish self-sufficiency in anticipation of economic and environmental fluctuations. As stated by Lubell and Phull:

"The proposal seeks to provide a hard infrastructure which responds to the immediate needs of the community, but is also the root of growth in a context where change in landscape, resources and community occurs at varying speeds. In particular the project examines the potential development of Port Churchill as well as a major international port in the Northwest Passage and how this can create a network of small ports, at existing communities, along the west coast of Hudson’s Bay."

Rendering of New Infrastructure Typology in Igloolik by Lubell and Phull. (via Infranet Lab)

Canada has been preparing for an ice-free Arctic and asserting its sovereignty for a few years (the military operations in Resolute Bay were announced back in 2007), and this week Anita Dey Nuttall at the Edmonton Journal published an update on Canada's plans in the Arctic: "Canada Stakes a Claim to Arctic Power, Influence"

As the Canadian military exercise Operation Nanook 10 drew to a close this week and Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled in Canada's North, the federal government made two key announcements that sum up the country's main Arctic priorities.

Both the statement on Canada's Arctic foreign policy and confirmation of the location of the long-awaited High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay place Arctic sovereignty and Arctic science at the heart of Canada's resolve to exercise power and influence in the circumpolar region and indeed in the wider international community.

Added to this, the formal apology to Inuit last week for the government's controversial High Arctic relocation program in the 1950s suggests hope for a new chapter in relations with Inuit communities and organizations.


As climate change makes the Arctic more accessible, and as energy companies assess the oil and gas development potential in Canada's northern territories, the gaps in Canada's infrastructure in the North, both civilian and military, have been brought into sharp focus. This underscores the urgent need for Canada to organize and augment its defence, civic and scientific facilities in the North to enable good governance and responsible stewardship -- key pieces in exercising its sovereignty in the Arctic. Responding to this, recent moves by the government have therefore included plans for investing in new patrol ships, the building of a berthing and refuelling facility in Nanisivik, expanding the size and capabilities of the Canadian Rangers, and establishing a new Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Operation NANOOK 10 on August 25, 2010, a major sovereignty exercise conducted by the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Coast Guard and other government departments and agencies in Canada’s North. (via Prime Minister of Canada Website)

For more on the new Arctic Research Station mentioned above, see Hannah Hoag's story for Nature News: "Canada Picks Site for Arctic Research Station"

After months of deliberation, the Canadian government has chosen Cambridge Bay — a hamlet midway along the Northwest Passage in the country's far north — as the site for a world-class Arctic research station.

Once built, the station will house scientists all year round, giving them a modern space to study Arctic issues, including climate change and natural resources. It will host conference facilities and laboratories for research on marine biology and geophysics, provide ecologists with the space to do long-term ecological monitoring in aquaria and greenhouses, and give researchers in the health and social sciences a base for their studies.

Cambridge Bay, a hamlet in Canada's far north, is marked by the red point. (Image via Google Maps)

Related stories in the Worldchanging archives:

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billy connolly's 'journey to the edge of the world' took a short jaunt to igloolik... it's a little weird how history repeats itself, a modern expansion similar to the hudson bay co.

Posted by: mike eliason on 3 Sep 10

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