More than just the level of waters in the Arctic Ocean is rising as sea ice melts.
So is the pace of research within the Canadian segment, opposition from a Canadian-Alaskan coalition to fossil fuel exploration in the region and even attempts to resolve a boundary spat between Canada and Denmark.
A major push to advance research into Arctic energy and the environment was launched March 26 through an agreement between the University of Calgary and the Canadian government.
The pact is designed to gain a better understanding of the Arctic’s energy potential, while bolstering Canada’s sovereignty claims over the North.
Under the deal, Natural Resources Canada and the U of C will establish a research center in Calgary, sharing laboratory space and equipment with the Geological Survey of Canada.
The projects will range from geology, geochemistry and geophysics, allowing U of C scientists and the GSC to perform joint field work, said Dave Eaton, head of the U of C’s geosciences department.
“This is all about breaking down barriers between two silos (government and academia),” bringing together the previously separate research efforts of Natural Resources Canada and the university, he said.
“New research on carbon capture and storage, or possibly geothermal energy sources, will contribute to broad-based efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Eaton said.
Rob Anders, a member of the Canadian Parliament, said the collaboration will “advance our understanding of Canada’s Arctic energy resources and help us manage our greenhouse gases, support our competitiveness and promote our long-term energy security.”
Alan Harrison, the U of C’s provost and academic vice president, said the research that will take place in the Arctic energy basins will “provide the scientific framework needed to underpin new exploration and development initiatives.”
Benoit Beauchamp, geosciences professor and executive director of the Arctic Institute of North America on the U of C campus, said the center will open the way to “new and necessary opportunities for research and exploration” of the largest remaining conventional oil and gas fields in Canada.
Geomapping under wayThe Canadian government is already spending C$100 million over the 2008-13 period on a geomapping for energy and minerals program, called GEM, to guide investment decisions that will result in the discovery and development of new energy and mineral deposits in the Arctic.
GEM is mapping Arctic regions where there is insufficient public geosciences information to attract private sector spending.
The government said the need is particularly acute in the Northwest Territories and even more for Nunavut Territory, where adequate geological knowledge exists for only one-third of the land mass.
GEM will also fill critical information gaps in the knowledge base to boost exploration activities in the Canadian provinces.
About 75 percent of the federal funds will be allocated to the Arctic and the balance to the provinces.
A collision courseHowever, governments and industry are also on a collision course with Canadian aboriginal and environmental groups, which issued a joint open letter March 26 urging an international ban on all new exploration in the Arctic.
The Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environmental Network have teamed up with an IEN affiliate, Resisting Environmental Destruction Of Indigenous Lands Network of Alaska, to make their case to Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark and Russia, prior to an Arctic Summit, which started in Quebec City March 29.
The letter said it is “abundantly clear that we collectively face a climate crisis that requires profound changes to our economics and societies.”
It said carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere are estimated at 390 parts per million, compared with the 350 parts per million that scientists regard as safe, sending a clear warning signal that greenhouse gas emissions caused by dependence on fossil fuels have reached dangerous levels.
The coalition said it is “imperative that steps are taken to transition away from fossil-fuel-based economies.”
“Agreeing to a moratorium on all new exploration for fossil fuel resources is a logical first step” towards the creation of sustainable jobs, energy and environment, the letter said.
The push to open up the Arctic to fossil fuel development has seen a steady decline in the health of aboriginal peoples in Arctic regions where energy development has taken place over the past 30 years, the coalition said.
The letter estimated that the Arctic could contain 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of gas — a prize that is rapidly attracting interest from the petroleum industry.
If allowed to go unchecked, such development — which the coalition noted has been made possible by the impacts of climate change on the fragile Arctic ecosystem — will only contribute to the “already serious climate crisis.”
Bolstering territorial claimsBut the Canadian government has made Arctic development one of its leading priorities to bolster its territorial claims.
In 2005, Canada and Denmark sent warships to assert control over Hans Island, a pinprick outpost off Greenland, and in 2007 a Russian submarine planted a flag in a titanium capsule to assert its claims to the North Pole.
The issue is being examined by the United Nations, which has given the affected countries until 2013 to submit mapping and technical data to resolve boundary disputes.
Sources say Canada and Denmark have started discussions to resolve their own Arctic boundary dispute, mostly involving an area of about 52 square miles of the Lincoln Sea north of Canada’s Ellesmere Island and separate from Hans Island.