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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs 3 Arctic Environmental Change and Potential Challenges OVERVIEW OF ARCTIC ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE The Arctic seas have experienced major shifts in water mass properties, circulation, sea-ice coverage, and ecosystems over the past few decades. Some of the first indications of widespread, systematic change in the Arctic were the observations of successive pulses of warm, salty water from the Atlantic Ocean deep within the Arctic Ocean (Carmack et al., 1995; Morison et al., 1998; Steele and Boyd, 1998). Another indication of change is that recent satellite images have shown that summer ice extent has been reduced significantly. From 1979 through 2000, Arctic sea-ice extent has been shrinking by about 2.2 percent per decade, driven mostly by reductions during the ice melt season (Comiso, 2003). The rate of decline of summer minimum ice extent amounted to almost 8 percent per decade from 1979 to 2005 (NSIDC, 2006). At the same time, submarine sonar data collected in the central and western Arctic indicate that the Arctic ice pack thinned by approximately 40 percent from the 1950s to the 1990s (Rothrock et al., 2003). The past several years have been nothing short of remarkable. Since 2000, four out of the five Arctic ice seasons have exhibited consecutive record summer ice minima (Stroeve et al., 2005). From the available record it appears that perennial ice extent is as low as it has been in the past few centuries. Moreover, most recent indications are that winter ice extent is now also starting to retreat at a faster rate, possibly as a result of the oceanic warming associated with a thinner, less extensive ice cover. These observations of a shrinking, thinning Arctic sea-ice cover are consistent with climate model predictions of enhanced high-latitude warming, which in turn is driven in significant part by ice-albedo feedback1 (Holland and Bitz, 2003). It has been argued that the Arctic climate system has reached a “tipping point” and is now on a trajectory to a different, stable state, characterized by a greatly reduced or absent summer ice cover (Lindsay and Zhang, 2005; Overpeck et al., 2005) and—by inference—significantly thinner, less extensive winter ice. These changes in the physical ocean and sea-ice environment affect ecosystem structure and function as well as other key ecological processes, such as the exchange of gas between the ocean and atmosphere and the transfer of material from land to the sea, and these changes ultimately affect the living resources on which local human populations depend. In fact, these types of changes in the Arctic marine ecosystem are currently under way; dramatic shifts in the structure of the Bering Sea ecosystem have occurred (Brodeur et al., 1999; Hunt et al., 2002; Grebmeier and Dunton, 2000; Overland and Stabeno, 2004; Grebmeier et al., 2006). The ranges of species such as salmon, seabirds, and gray whales have extended north- and eastward into the Beaufort Sea (Moore et al., 2003). Changes in the timing of the northward migration of animals, such as walrus, associated with the timing of the retreat in the annual ice cover, are impacting the hunting success of local human communities. Despite numerous observations that ecosystem change is ongoing, the extent and magnitude of these changes, the range of natural variability of many characteristics, and the interactions between the biological, physical, and chemical components that shape ecosystem change are still poorly understood. High latitude ecosystems are sensitive to climate, and recent studies indicate that the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas are shifting toward an earlier spring transition between ice-covered and ice-free conditions (Grebmeier et al., 2006). The detection of biological changes in the Bering Strait region coincides with recent observations of larger-scale Arctic environmental changes in water temperature, hydrography, and sea-ice regimes (Overland and Stabeno, 2004). 1 Ice-albedo feedback is a positive feedback loop whereby melting sea ice exposes more seawater (of lower albedo, or less reflective), which in turn absorbs heat and causes more sea ice to melt.
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs Thus, ecosystem change on the shallow shelves of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas is likely to be directly connected to systems further to the north. POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA, 2005), a major multinational compilation of information, concluded that reduced sea-ice extent will pose new challenges for the Arctic environment because increased human presence in the Arctic Ocean is highly likely. When historically closed passages become open to navigation, increased marine transport and improved access to resources are expected. It is further expected that questions regarding sovereignty over shipping routes and seabed resources, as well as issues of security and safety, will arise (ACIA, 2005). Potential conflicts among competing users of Arctic waterways and coastal seas, for example, in the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage are likely. Commercial fishing and sealing, hunting of marine wildlife by indigenous people, tourism, and shipping all compete for use of the narrow straits of these waterways, which are also the preferred routes for marine mammal migration. Global crude oil prices are currently at historic highs and projected to continue at present levels (Garfield, 2005.). This has led to increased exploration and development budgets for the oil industry and to the development of oil fields in more challenging environments. The Arctic is one of the major areas in which increased oil exploration and development are occurring. Price increases for basic commodities are not limited to crude oil, which is spurring increasing investments in gas exploration and development as well as other commodities. Ships operating in the Arctic environment are exposed to a number of unique risks. Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of reliable charts, underdeveloped communication systems, and insufficient navigational aids pose challenges for mariners. The remoteness of Arctic areas makes rescue or cleanup operations difficult and costly. Cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery to emergency equipment. When ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system, and appendages. Safe navigation in any area depends on accurate knowledge of hydrographic data. Unfortunately, these data, as well as standard aids to navigation (e.g., channel marking buoys) are lacking along much of the Arctic shipping lanes. For example, the Russian Ministry of Transport’s Federal State Unitary Hydrographic Department, responsible for mapping the hydrographic details of the Northern Sea Route, reports that the mapping along the Northern Sea Route is “far from finished” (Garfield, 2005). Similarly, the hydrographic charts for the Northwest Passage are incomplete. The Canadian Hydrographic Service reports that although Canadian charts in the Arctic are generally adequate for navigation in most traffic corridors, there are significant unsurveyed areas within the limits of many charts and many charts exist that do not meet modern Canadian Hydrographic Service standards. In addition, unique Arctic conditions require supplementary operational guidelines to account for the operating environment. Recognizing the need for recommendatory provisions applicable to ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters, additional to the mandatory and recommendatory provisions contained in existing instruments, several organizations2 have developed guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters. It should be noted, however, that these guidelines are simply recommendatory and that the wordings are commonly interpreted as providing recommendations rather than mandatory direction. On the other hand, Part XII, section 8, Article 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), specifically allows coastal nations to adopt and enforce rules for vessels operating in ice-infested waters in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or territorial sea in order to prevent and protect against marine pollution and similar environmental accidents. Concerns about the increasing commercial activities in the Arctic region led the Arctic Council to issue a declaration in 2002,3 which stated that the existing and emerging activities in the Arctic warrant a more coordinated and integrated strategic approach to address the challenges of the Arctic coastal and marine environment. The declaration further stated that the Arctic Council agreed to develop a strategic plan for the protection of the Arctic marine environment under the leadership of its Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group. The Arctic marine strategic plan established the following four goals: (1) reduce and prevent pollution in the Arctic marine environment; (2) conserve Arctic marine biodiversity and ecosystem functions; (3) promote the health and prosperity of all Arctic inhabitants; and (4) advance sustainable Arctic marine resource use. With increased marine access in Arctic coastal areas— shipping, offshore development, fishing, and other uses— and the apparent lack of strict operational guidelines and aids to navigation, national and regional governments will be called upon to revise and to develop new national and 2 The International Maritime Organization adopted the Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-covered Waters. BIMCO (Baltic and International Maritime Council) published the BIMCO Ice Handbook—a quick reference manual that includes a “Captain’s Checklist” that “should be readily available to anyone involved in chartering before they direct a vessel into waters where ice may be present at the time of call.” The Artic Council’s working group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) published Guidelines for Transfer of Refined Oil and Oil Products in Arctic Waters (TROOP) (PAME, 2004). 3 Declaration was issued by the Ministers at the Third Arctic Council Meeting in Finland, October 2002.
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs international regulations focusing on marine safety and environmental protection (ACIA, 2005). Nations will also be required to provide increased services such as icebreaking assistance, improved ice charting and forecasting, enhanced emergency response in dangerous situations, and greatly improved cleanup capabilities. The sea ice, while thinning and decreasing in extent, is likely to become more mobile and dynamic in many coastal regions where fast ice and relatively stable conditions previously existed. Competing marine uses in newly open or partially ice-covered areas will call for increased enforcement presence and regulatory oversight (ACIA, 2005). Potential for Increased Commercial Vessel Operations in the Arctic Commercial vessel operations in the Arctic consist primarily of (1) natural resource exploration, development, and production; (2) fishing; (3) tourism; and (4) commercial vessel transits. Commercial vessels are used to support exploration or transport developed natural resources (e.g., oil, gas, minerals, ores) from Arctic sources to non-Arctic destinations. Commercial fishing operations currently are restricted to certain areas of the Bering Sea and, to a lesser extent, to certain areas of the Chukchi Sea. Ships in these regions harvest specific fish stocks and, in U.S. territorial waters, are strictly regulated by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, whose main role is to conserve and develop the fishery resources of the state. Tourism is typically in the form of ocean cruises that occur in the summer months between July and September when the ice pack is at a minimum extent. Destinations throughout the Arctic including the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Spitsbergen, Alaska, the Russian Far East, and even the North Pole are visited by large icebreakers, luxury cruise ships, and small (~50 passenger) converted research ships. Commercial vessel transits typically encompass cargo vessels transiting either the Northern Sea Route (above Russia) or the Northwest Passage (above Canada) or the delivery of supplies to Arctic destinations along either of those routes. In 2004, $4.5 billion dollars worth of orders were placed for the construction of ice class tankers. Additionally, the ice class tanker fleet will grow by 18 million deadweight tons (dwt) by 2008; 262 ice class ships are presently in service and another 234 are on order (ABS, 2005). Natural Resource Exploration in the U.S. Arctic The Arctic has long been viewed as a likely source of natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, ores, and other commodities.4 Indeed, U.S. West Coast Refineries are fueled primarily by Arctic oil produced on Alaska’s North Slope. In 2005, approximately 335 million barrels of oil was produced on Alaska’s North Slope (State of Alaska Department of Resources). There is further expectation that additional large volumes of recoverable oil are to be found in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, although environmental concerns and political pressures have blocked development to date. Alaska’s North Slope has large proven natural gas reserves that have not been developed in commercial quantities as of yet. The principal producers (ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips) are planning to build a pipeline for moving Alaska North Slope gas directly to the U.S. Midwest. Sustained high oil prices have invigorated industry interest in oil and gas exploration in the Alaskan Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Exploitable natural resources in the U.S. Arctic are found throughout the region, but the majority of active leases and current exploratory drilling occur within the Beaufort Sea. There are currently 181 active outer continental shelf (OCS) leases in the Beaufort Sea (Figure 3.1). Thirty-one exploratory wells have been drilled in this area, and there is production from a joint federal-state unit, with federal production of more than 15 million barrels of oil since 2001. Ten OCS lease sales have been held in the Beaufort Sea since 1979, and an additional sale is scheduled in the current five-year program for 2007. The proposed sales include consideration of 1,877 whole or partial lease blocks in the Beaufort Sea Planning Area, covering about 9.8 million acres (3.95 million hectares).5 There have been two sales in the Chukchi Sea, the most recent in 1991. There have been five exploratory wells drilled with no commercial discoveries. While there are no existing leases at this time, this area is included in the current program as a special interest sale during 2007 to 2012. No interest was expressed in the first two calls for information in 2003 and 2004. Industry interest was expressed in a large portion of the area in response to the call in early 2005, but there was not adequate time remaining in the current program to complete the necessary pre-lease steps and environmental documentation. The sale was deferred for consideration in the 2007- 2012 program, which was released in draft form. The new five-year oil and gas leasing plan proposes four additional annual lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas between 2007 and 2012 (MMS, 2006). It is not possible to accurately predict the level of oil and gas activity that will occur in the U.S. Arctic over the 4 The Antarctic Treaty prohibits these commercial operations in Antarctica. 5 Minerals Management Service Five-Year Leasing Program: The five-year program is the basis for leasing. It identifies the areas to be offered for leasing during a five-year period and establishes the schedule for individual lease sales. No area will be offered for sale that is not included in the five-year program. During the course of developing the five-year program, all affected states and applicable federal agencies will be consulted; comments from interested parties and the general public will be solicited. From 2002 to 2007, for the Beaufort Sea OCS Planning Area, Sale 186 was scheduled for September 2003; Sale 195 for 2005; and Sale 202 for 2007.
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs FIGURE 3.1 OCS leases in the Arctic. SOURCE: http://www.mms.gov/. next decade because oil prices, exploration, and development activity onshore and State of Alaska offshore areas adjacent to the OCS and in the Canadian Beaufort Sea influence the rate and level of activity. However, the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) anticipates that between one and three exploratory wells will be drilled annually over the next five years (Elmer Danenberger, personal communication). To support resource exploration efforts, the MMS anticipates multiple geophysical (seismic) surveys to occur in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas over the next several years during the open-water seasons. Up to four seismic vessels could be operating in any one year. In addition, MMS expects that up to two ice-reinforced floating drilling units will be operating simultaneously in the Beaufort and/or Chukchi Sea during open-water conditions. Drilling operations could extend into the early fall freeze-up conditions. Each drilling operation would be supported by an icebreaker to provide ice management during drilling and to assist in demobilization to “over-wintering” harbors at the end of the drilling season. Additionally, up to two ice class vessels and ice-reinforced barges could be staged in the Beaufort Sea during drilling to support oil spill response operations. Exploratory drilling from bottom-founded drilling structures during the winter solid ice season is also anticipated. Bottom-founded drilling structures, such as the Steel Sided Drilling Caisson, would be mobilized to location during the open-water season using tugs, left on location throughout the winter, and removed the following open water season. Bottom-founded structures would be used only in the Beaufort Sea; water depths are restrictive in the Chukchi Sea. Natural Resource Development and Production in the U.S. Arctic Over the next five years, at least two new development projects will most likely begin in the Beaufort Sea (Elmer Danenberger, personal communication). The Liberty Development Project, proposed by British Petroleum Exploration Alaska (BPXA), Inc., will develop the Liberty reservoir, which is located about 6 miles offshore in the central Beaufort Sea. BPXA is proposing to develop this reservoir from onshore using extended-reach drilling technology, and no offshore facilities are proposed. Following exploration activity in the 2007 or 2008 drilling seasons, MMS anticipates at least one other commercial discovery in the Beaufort Sea. The time line from discovery to design, permit, construction, and installation of a new production facility is between three and four years. The MMS anticipates that new development will involve a purpose-built, bottom-founded concrete and steel structure fabricated offsite and installed during the open-water season. The new product will most likely be brought onshore by subsea pipeline. Unlike the plans for the Beaufort Sea, no new start development is projected in the Chukchi Sea over the next five years; the first lease sale is scheduled for 2007 and initial exploration would not likely occur until 2008.
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs Additional development activity beyond 2012 is difficult to project, however an offshore production facility and pipeline in the Beaufort Sea may provide synergy for additional development opportunities through subsea completion technologies and tie-backs to an existing facility (Elmer Danenberger, personal communication). Additional exploration may lead to additional commercial discoveries that can support independent production facilities; however, the MMS does not anticipate oil tankers or offshore loading facilities in either the Beaufort or the Chukchi Seas. It should be noted, however, that industry has independently been evaluating the potential for using offshore loading and tankers in the Chukchi Sea. While the oil and gas industry would not seek or expect assistance from the U.S. icebreaker fleet in support of exploration or development activities, there may be increased need for shared information, ice surveillance, reconnaissance, and emergency response (Elmer Danenberger, personal communication) as well as environmental monitoring. Russian Arctic Natural Resource Exploration, Development, and Production Russian Arctic oil is expected to move from offshore production platforms in ice-strengthened shuttle tankers (with icebreaking capability) to Murmansk (the most northerly ice-free port in the world). At Murmansk the crude oil will be transshipped into ice-strengthened tankers for export to U.S. and European refineries. The Murmansk transshipment facility is expected to have a throughput capacity of 1 million barrels per day. The Murmansk facility is expected to handle crude oil delivered via pipeline as well as by shuttle tankers from offshore platforms. Russia’s largest ice-affected oil export port is Primorsk in the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea). Primorsk is fed by Transneft’s Baltic Pipeline System, which opened in 2001 and carries crude from onshore western Siberian oil fields as well as the Timan-Pechora fields (Garfield, 2005). Additionally, Russia’s Prirazlomnoye field in Pechora Bay (Barents Sea) has reported reserves of more than 200 million tons. The tankers required to move Arctic oil through ice-affected waters are specially designed and built to meet those special requirements (to move safely through ice). Ice class tankers range from ice-strengthened tankers up to and including super ice class tankers such as the state-of-the-art double-acting icebreaking tankers being built to serve Russia’s offshore Arctic oil fields. There are currently 210 ice class tankers on order with a capacity of 16 million deadweight tons (Garfield, 2005). Russia has begun development of its Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, which is expected to come online in 2010. The current plan calls for building ice-capable ships for transporting the natural gas in liquefied form to U.S. and European markets. Additional gas fields in the Yamal-Kara Sea region will likely follow the same pattern. Russia is producing large volumes of oil from its Arctic oil fields in the Baltic, Barents, and Kara Seas as well as onshore oil fields in Siberia. Asian Energy Demand The average demand for oil in China and India is expected to grow by approximately 4 percent per year until 2020, increasing Asia’s foreign oil dependence from 69 percent (1997) to 87 percent in 2020 (Ögütçü, 2003). In addition, China’s need for natural gas will out strip its own resources and will force new energy agreements, most likely with Russia in the near future (Ögütçü, 2003). In anticipation of the increased demand for oil and potential economic and environmental changes, China has begun building strategic relationships to secure the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea to ensure unimpeded delivery of oil (Ögütçü, 2003). Instability in the Middle East, coupled with increased demand in Asia, may make Arctic oil reserves more economically attractive, spurring further oil exploration, development, and production. Chinese demand for these resources may fundamentally alter shipping patterns if the Arctic sea ice recedes and the Arctic routes become routinely navigable (Hanna, 2006). With potential access to the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage at certain times of the year, the Chinese may pursue these northern routes. In support of national interests, the United States currently patrols the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz and is prepared to defend these important shipping lanes, but if transit routes develop in the Arctic, the United States must be prepared to patrol and defend these routes equally (Hanna, 2006). Minerals and Ores The largest zinc mine in the world, the Red Dog Mine, is located in northwest Alaska above the Bering Strait about 50 miles inland from the Chukchi Sea in the DeLong Mountains. The mine’s remote location is 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Red Dog Mine produces approximately 1.2 million tons per year of lead and zinc ore concentrates. It began production in 1989, and the first ore was moved in 1990. The Red Dog Mine’s output is trucked to a specially developed port on the Chukchi Sea for shipment to markets. Because of the shallow draft at the Chukchi Sea port, the dry bulk ships used for the long-haul ocean movement must anchor offshore in deeper waters. The mined ore is moved offshore to those vessels using two specially designed self-unloading barges operated by Foss Maritime. Because of ice conditions, the shipping season is restricted to about 90 to 100 days per year. If current trends in decreasing Arctic sea ice and the retreating ice margin continue, commercial endeavors such as these will extend the time during which they operate each year, resulting in a potential increase in demands for icebreaker services given the variability that oc-
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs curs in the formation and melting of Arctic sea ice from year to year. Effects of Environmental Change on Marine Resources The Arctic marine environment is biologically important. The cold waters, ice, and ice edges of the Arctic seas are enormously productive, and seasonal phytoplankton and algae blooms support the entire Arctic food web (Markham et al., 1993). Although a few degrees increase in seawater temperature may not seem critical, the consequences would affect the Arctic marine ecosystem in many ways. For example, because many Arctic species are dependent on and adapted to floating sea ice and ice edges, changes in ice extent and timing will affect the ice-associated community, including fish species such as polar cod. In addition to commercial species in the Bering and Barents Seas, there are expected impacts on other parts of the marine ecosystem, such as Arctic and migratory whale species that feed along the ice edge. Populations of Arctic marine birds would also be affected (Alexander, 1992). Animals that depend on the ice as a platform, such as ringed seals, walruses, and polar bears, would lose habitat and possibly prey species (Alexander, 1992). Recent research shows that some changes are already under way in the northern Bering Sea ecosystem (Grebmeier et al., 2006). The northern Bering Sea provides critical habitat for large populations of sea ducks, gray whales, bearded seals, and walruses, all of which depend on small bottom-dwelling creatures for sustenance. These bottom-dwellers, in turn, are accustomed to colder water temperatures and long periods of extensive sea-ice cover. Research data from long-term observations of physical properties and biological communities have been used to conclude that previously documented physical changes—including rising air and seawater temperatures and decreasing seasonal ice cover—in the Arctic in recent years are profoundly affecting Arctic life. Data showed, for instance, that a change from Arctic to sub-Arctic conditions is under way, causing a shift that favors fish and other animals that until now have stayed in more southern, warmer seawater. Fishing operations are following these species as they migrate into the more dangerous northern waters, with implications for the U.S. Coast Guard’s capabilities to perform search and rescue as needed. Effects of Environmental Change on Tourism The spectacular scenery found in the Arctic—including mountains, glaciers, fjords, and tundra, combined with distinctive wildlife, including rare marine mammals, massive herds of caribou, and millions of migratory and resident birds—and unique native cultures give the region significant tourism potential. Among the eight Arctic nations, tourism is most well developed in Alaska. In 2001, the state hosted 254,000 visitors during the autumn and winter and 1,202,800 visitors during the summer; 510,000 of those arrived by cruise ship (Pagnan, 2003). Cruise tourism experienced annual growth of about 11.6 percent a year between 1991 and 2003, although growth has since tapered off. In summer 2001, tourists spend $1.2 billion and the industry accounted for about 20,000 direct jobs (Pagnan, 2003). Greenland, as another example, hosted about 3,000-5,000 mountain climbers a year in the 1970s, and by 2002 it was attracting 32,000 visitors doing a range of activities such as dog sledding, enjoying the Midnight Sun, experiencing the culture, and participating in extreme events such as ice golf, snow festivals, and the Polar Circle marathon. The industry has grown to be a significant component of the economy (approximately 19,000,000 Danish kroner annually in 2003). Although the tourist season is short and transportation costs are high, tourism is looked to as a growth opportunity and one of few sectors of the economy offering new jobs. Cruise tourism is a growing portion of the total, with coastal tours particularly popular (Pagnan, 2003). Throughout the Arctic, ship-based tourism has become an especially important part of the market. Cruises now go to various Arctic regions, including the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Svalbard, the Russian Far East, and Alaska. The peak season now for exploring the Arctic Ocean runs from July to September, when the pack ice recedes, but this season is likely to expand as the extent and thickness of summer ice change. Arctic tourism is, in general, a marginal enterprise that is vulnerable to shifts in demand. The high costs of transportation and infrastructure present ongoing challenges. The possible impacts of environmental changes are important. On the positive side, reduced ice could increase tourist access, as well as contribute to a longer tourist season. On the negative side, any disruption of the natural setting or wildlife on which the industry depends could have serious and far-reaching effects on the industry (Pagnan, 2003). Anecdotal information from tourism professionals about the impacts of the changing polar regions on tourism includes the following: The severe epidemic of the Spruce Bark Beetle on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, caused by warming conditions, has created some 60,000 acres of dead trees in a prime tourist area, harming the visual experience and causing a risk of forest fire. Glaciers have been melting at unprecedented rates in the last decade, reducing one of the primary sights that tourists expect to see. Some migratory birds have been arriving earlier and staying later, expanding opportunities for operators bringing visitors specifically for the migrations. Ice along the coasts is melting earlier and freezing later, extending the cruise ship season.
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs Commercial Vessel Transits Although most oil in the Arctic region moves overland through pipelines, tanker trafficking of this commodity is certainly feasible and can provide transport from offshore production platforms. In 1969, the 108,000 dwt oil tanker SS MANHATTAN transited the Northwest Passage in an experiment run by Exxon to understand the viability of using an ice-strengthened oil tanker for moving Alaskan North Slope oil to mainland East Coast U.S. refineries. This major research project demonstrated the feasibility of moving oil through the Arctic region in tankers. However, the difficult ice conditions and the lack of year-round access resulted in an industry decision to build the trans-Alaska pipeline as the more proven and lower-risk alternative. Commercial vessel transits fall into two types: vessels delivering cargo to Arctic destinations and vessels using the Arctic sea routes as “shortcuts” for delivering cargoes between Asia, Europe, and/or North America. Through-transits of the Arctic, using either the Northwest Passage (above Canada) or the Northern Sea Route (above Russia), are being discussed primarily as options for moving containerized cargo. Containerized cargo to or from Asia’s more northern Pacific ports (e.g., Japan, Korea, Shanghai) to northern Europe (e.g., Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Hamburg) could use the Northern Sea Route instead of the much longer route through the Malacca Strait and Suez Canal. Similarly, containerized cargo to or from these same northern Pacific Asian ports could move to the U.S. East Coast by transiting the Bering Strait and continuing through the Northwest Passage to Halifax, Boston, New York, and other eastern seaboard ports (Table 3.1). For shipments from Asia to North Europe, Hong Kong represents the southernmost Asian port where using the Malacca Strait-Suez Canal route is equidistant to the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The distance from Murmansk to the Bering Strait using the NSR is 3,454 nmi (voyage of oil tanker UIKKU in 1997) (see Niini, 2000). Russia opened the Northern Sea Route to foreign navigation on July 1, 1991. The first non-Russian vessel transit was by the French Antarctic supply ship ASTROLABE in August 1991. The ASTROLABE sailed from Murmansk to TABLE 3.1 Northern Sea Route Comparative Distances Port Port Via NSR (miles) Via Canal (miles) Percentage difference Murmansk Yokohama 5,770 12,840 55% Rotterdam Yokohama 7,350 11,250 35% Murmansk Vancouver 5,400 7,350 27% Rotterdam Vancouver 6,920 8,920 22% SOURCE: Frank, 2000. Provideniya, south of the Bering Strait, in 12 days at an average speed of 11 knots (Garfield and Corbett, 2005). Despite the distance savings the NSR has seen relatively little commercial traffic. For example, during 2004 there were no commercial through-transits of the NSR, which may be due to the high risks associated with the unpredictable environment and the complete lack of fuel or resupply stations along the route. Despite the shorter transit distance, the Arctic routes present significant reliability problems compared to Suez Canal or Panama Canal transit, and the economics would not support a switch to Arctic routes for transit voyages under present environmental conditions (Richard Voelker, U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, personal communication, October 7, 2005). Although there were no through-transits, significant vessel traffic occurs along the Northern Sea Route between Arctic ports (Figure 3.2). Approximately 52 vessels made on the order of 165 voyages into the Northern Sea Route carrying 1.75 million tons of cargo (AMSA, 2005). However, it is the consensus of the committee that it would be short-sighted to assume that Arctic transit routes will continue to be devoid of commercial shipping. Continued improvement of sea-ice conditions will make Arctic routing more attractive, especially in the summer. In addition, secondary factors may provide incentives in this direction. Escalating fuel prices will improve the economies of shorter Arctic routes. Political instability in the Middle East and in Southern Asia, including the risk of piracy and terrorism, could also improve the Arctic as an option. Finally, increased Arctic experience with oil and gas development may transfer to general cargo movement as ice-strengthened tankers become more common. In short, there remains considerable potential for increased traffic in the Arctic. It is not yet certain what changes in Arctic sea-ice extent will have on the U.S. need for icebreakers. Winter Arctic sea ice extends southward through the Bering Strait and into the northern Bering Sea, so that the entire Alaskan northern coast and a substantial portion of the Alaskan western coast are ice-covered in winter. In summer months, the Arctic sea-ice margin retreats northward, which creates open waters around the entire Alaskan coastline for several weeks to several months. Model projections of Arctic sea-ice extent over the next several decades show that the early spring and late summer (shoulder seasons) sea-ice cover is likely to be reduced. Northward retreat of the ice margin in early spring will create more broken ice along the Alaskan coastline as the sea ice begins to melt. These conditions will remain late into the summer until the ice margin begins to advance toward the south in response to cooling seasonal temperatures. These models also show greater spatial and temporal variability in sea-ice extent and thickness throughout the Arctic, which may influence the capability needed to break ice of differing thicknesses in certain regions of the Arctic. Ice conditions may require occasional heavy icebreaking capabilities.
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs FIGURE 3.2 Arctic Ocean Marine Routes. Source: USARC, 2004. The dramatic ice margin retreat over recent years has affected human activities in the Arctic. The change has caused hardships and challenges for some and provided opportunities for others. Some economic activities appear to be moving northward as Arctic fishing fleets have begun to follow the fish stocks that migrate northward as the ice edge retreats. This may lead these fleets to areas further from safe harbors. For indigenous populations in the Arctic, including the Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimo of Alaska and the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic, sea-ice retreat disrupts and significantly restricts their subsistence hunting and food-sharing lifestyles as many key species become less accessible due to northward migrations or, in the worst-case scenario, become extinct (ACIA, 2005). The number of search-and-rescue (SAR) events occurring when the HEALY is in the Arctic for science missions are well documented, yet there has been loss of life due to lack of rescue platforms available for Native populations that rely on the coastal marine environment for food and maintaining a traditional way of life. A workshop on marine transportation in the Arctic (Arctic Marine Transport Workshop, 2004) suggested that it is plausible to expect increased marine tourism as cruise ships venture further north following the retreat of the ice edge. There has also been an increase in oil and gas tanker traffic, particularly in the Siberian Arctic and sub-Arctic. It is also likely that resource exploration, recovery, and shipping activities will expand into previously inaccessible areas. Several companies have begun to develop the extensive oil and gas fields near Sakhalin (Mikko Niini, personal communication, 2005) and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These companies have begun to charter the majority of existing icebreakers for the foreseeable future, which could create a scarcity of these types of ships on the world market. In addi-
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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs tion, many orders for double-acting tankers—ships that can both break ice and transport cargo—have been placed and demand is expected to grow (Mikko Niini, personal communication, 2005). Any increase in marine activity in the Arctic will almost assuredly create greater risks of environmental impact and the potential for human activities that push the limits of safety near the ice edge, especially in the shoulder seasons. These activities will increase the necessity to respond to accidents and create a greater need for law enforcement in ice margin areas, which will increase the need for ice-capable ships (ice-strengthened ships and icebreakers) in the Arctic. This increase in human activity in more northerly latitudes will most likely increase the demand on the United States to have a greater presence in and around the ice margin to perform its many safety, security, and law enforcement missions. U.S. government-controlled access and oversight will be needed with increased vessel traffic, particularly to maintain U.S. interests around the State of Alaska and in U.S. territorial waters.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: