Arctic

Who’s Driving That Tanker? New Polar Code For Sailing Emerges

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 23, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after a drunk captain and his fatigued crew ran the Exxon Valdez onto a reef where it spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, new rules are taking shape to prevent a similar disaster in the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean.

There, melting sea ice is opening a new frontier for cruise and cargo ships as well as prospectors for oil, gas, and hard rock minerals.

A key goal of the new rules is to ensure people skilled in navigating ice-strewn seas are aboard every vessel in Arctic and Antarctic waters, according to Lawson Brigham, a distinguished professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who has participated in the development of the so-called Polar Code for more than 20 years.

Giant Waves Pose New Risk for Ships in Ice-Diminished Arctic

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Monster waves should be added to the list of hazards faced by ship captains as they plot a course through the waters of the Arctic Ocean, according to a new study that reports observations of house-sized swells in seas that until recently were covered in ice year-round.

“Waves always pose a risk to working at sea,” study author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle, said via email to NBC News from off the coast of northern Alaska. “The unique thing about the Arctic is that it is changing so rapidly that we cannot apply past measurements to understand future risk.”

Arctic Ship Traffic and Oil Spill Worries Rise as Ice Recedes

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 25, 2014   View Article

Ships packed with frozen mackerel and herring will sail in convoy behind a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker from Norway to Asia this summer along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean — a trial run as companies rush to capitalize on the world’s hunger for fish and to extract minerals from the top of the world.

Dozens of ships now transit the Arctic each year amid decreasing summer ice — in 2013,71 vessels plied the Northern Sea Route, including the first container ship. In another first, a bulk carrier transited coal through the famed Northwest Passage on a voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Finland. And that traffic is only likelier to get busier.

Hundreds more ships “go up to the Arctic and perform some activity and then they come out,” Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explained to NBC News. Most of these ships transport equipment to mines and other industrial sites and leave with commodities such as oil, gas, copper, nickel, and iron ore.

The Next Exxon Valdez? Remote Alaskan Waters, Experts Fear

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 24, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after 10.8 million gallons of crude oil gushed from the Exxon Valdez and scarred Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil spill responders fear that another disaster looms in more remote Alaskan waters where ship traffic is on the rise, due in part to the North American energy boom.

The largest concern centers on the Arctic, where oil exploration and development is progressing in fits and starts, and Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, a choke point on a major shipping route between North America and Asia. Both regions are expected to see increased traffic as summer sea ice disappears and producers of North American crude oil and coal look to export fossil fuels to Asia.

Greenland to sprout new shades of green as planet warms, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 28, 2013   View Article

Scientists have long expected Greenland to get greener as the planet warms. Now they have a better idea of what trees will be able to take root on the Arctic island as the glaciers there retreat inland over the course of this century.

Newly published research shows that human assistance will be key to the spread of any trees over the coming decades.

Greenhouse gas escaping in the Arctic could cause economic harm, experts say

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 24, 2013   View Article

Methane bubbling to the surface as the Arctic sea ice retreats could have catastrophic consequences for the global economy, a team of researchers argue in a new paper. To avoid the economic pain measured in tens of trillions of dollars over the coming century will “require major reductions in global emissions” of greenhouse gases, the team concludes.

The economic fallout will come from an added uptick in extreme weather, rising seas, reduced crop yields and other impacts already associated with global climate change.

Ice-free Arctic may come as soon as 2054, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 15, 2013   View Article

Cruise ships and oil tankers may be sailing through ice-free waters of the Arctic as early as 2054, according to a new study that narrows to a handful of years the uncertainty of when this climate-change milestone will occur. Previous studies have pegged it to everywhere between 2015 and 2100.

The implications of an ice-free Arctic range from loss of habitat for polar bears and seals to a surge in extreme weather around the world and an acceleration of global climate change, according to Arctic experts.

It also matters for ships, noted study leader Jiping Liu, an assistant professor in the department of atmospheric and environmental sciences at the State University of New York at Albany. “If the Arctic is totally ice free, you don’t need to go through a specific route, you can go anywhere,” he told NBC News.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach