Political tension in the Arctic ratchets up as sea ice melts
- 13 May 2011, 12:53
According to a report
on Newsnight last night, political tensions around the issue of
access to the Arctic's resources have seen a 'tremendous
heightening' recently, as the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice makes
accessing the oil and gas in the region into a realistic
Newsnight sourced their report from leaked Wikileaks cables
which showed diplomats from different countries tussling over
potential access to the Arctic resource.
Click to watch the Newsnight report from 32
Tom Burke, of the consultancy E3G and an advisor to the Foreign
Office, noted that the rapidly changing conditions in the region
were beginning to have an impact on the politics of the region:
What's made a difference in the Arctic
is that the speed with which the ice is declining is much faster
then people thought it would be a few years ago, so there's a real
scramble going on for resources, a kind of mini version of the
scramble for Africa in the 19th beginning to
happen…everyone who thinks they've got a chance to get at those
resources wants to get in there and stake their claim, so there s a
tremendous heightening of political tensions around this issue.
In 2007, a Russian submarine planted a flag on the sea floor at
the north pole. Newsnight also spoke with Professor Peter Wadhams,
professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, who suggested
that the pole could be free of ice within the next few years.
Presenter: What are the chances that
there'll be no ice at the north pole within a few years?
Wadhams: Oh, pretty high. In fact it could easily happen that
we'll have an ice free north pole within a year or two. Each year
the retreat in the summer takes the ice back to this line here
which is almost as far as the pole. So it only needs a fairly small
extra retreat to actually expose the north pole, so I really
anticipate that will happen within the next year or two, or
It's worth noting that this isn't the same as suggesting that
the Arctic ocean will be entirely ice-free in summer in the next
Artic sea ice extent May 2011. From the National Snow and Ice Data
Sea ice in the Arctic has seen rapid loss over the past decade,
and a declining trend in both ice extent (a measurement of area)
volume over the past thirty years. Due to an alignment of a
rapidly warming region and specific weather conditions, 2007 saw a
record drop in the amount of sea ice at its minimum summer
extent. Recent years have not seen the same amount of year-on-year
fall, but most researchers now regard an 'ice-free' Arctic ocean in
summer as inevitable sometime this century.
The NSIDC say:
Nobody knows exactly when the Arctic
will lose its summer ice cover, because changes in the ice are
introducing even more changes to the sea ice and Arctic climate.
However, most researchers agree that it is a question of when,
rather than if we will see ice-free summers.