Skip to comments.Opinion: War over the Arctic?
Posted on 08/03/2012 8:20:59 PM PDT by Coleus
RUSSIAN television contacted me last night asking me to go on a program about the race for Arctic resources. The ice is melting fast, and it was all the usual stuff about how there will be big strategic conflicts over the seabed resources especially oil and gas that become accessible when its gone.
The media always love conflict, and now that the Cold War is long gone, theres no other potential military confrontation between the great powers to worry about. Governments around the Arctic Ocean are beefing up their armed forces for the coming struggle, so where are the flash points and what are the strategies? Its great fun to speculate about possible wars.
In the end I didnt do the interview because my Skype connection didnt work, so I didnt get the chance to rain on their parade. But heres what I would have said. First, you should never ask the barber if you need a haircut. The armed forces in every country are always looking for reasons to worry about impending conflict, because thats the only reason that their governments will spend money on them.
Sometimes they will be right to worry, and sometimes they will be wrong, but right or wrong, they will predict conflict. Like the barbers, its in their professional interest to say you need their services.
So youd be better off to ask somebody who doesnt have a stake in the game. As I dont own a single warship, Im practically ideal for the job. And I dont think there will be any significant role for the armed forces in the Arctic, although there is certainly going to be a huge investment in exploiting the regions resources.
There are three separate resources in the Arctic. On the surface, there are the sea lanes that are opening up to commercial traffic along the northern coasts of Russia and Canada. Under the seabed, there are potential oil and gas deposits that can be drilled once the ice retreats. And in the water in between, there is the planets last unfished ocean.
The sea lanes are mainly a Canadian obsession, because the government believes that the North-West Passage that weaves between Canadas Arctic islands will become a major commercial artery when the ice is gone. Practically every summer Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels north to declare his determination to defend Canadas Arctic sovereignty from well, its not clear from exactly whom, but its a great photo op.
Arctic patrol vessels
Canada is getting new Arctic patrol vessels and building a deep-water naval port and Arctic warfare training center in the region, but its all much ado about nothing. The Arctic Ocean will increasingly be used as a shortcut between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, but the shipping will not go through Canadian waters. Russias Northern Sea Route will get the traffic, because its already open and much safer to navigate.
Then theres the hydrocarbon deposits under the Arctic seabed, which the U.S. Geological Survey has forecast may contain almost one-fourth of the worlds remaining oil and gas resources. But from a military point of view, theres only a problem if there is some disagreement about the seabed boundaries.
There are only four areas where the boundaries are disputed. Two are between Canada and its eastern and western neighbors in Alaska and Greenland, but there is zero likelihood of a war between Canada and the United States or Denmark (which is responsible for Greenlands defense). In the Bering Strait, there is a treaty defining the seabed boundary between the United States and Russia, signed in the dying days of the Soviet Union, but the Russian Duma has refused to ratify it. However, the legal uncertainty caused by the dispute is likelier to deter future investment in drilling there than to lead to war.
Seabed boundary dispute
And then there was the seabed boundary dispute between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea, which led Norway to double the size of its navy over the past decade. But last year the two countries signed an agreement dividing the disputed area right down the middle and providing for joint exploitation of its resources. So no war between NATO (of which Norway is a member) and the Russian Federation.
Which leaves the fish, and its hard to have a war over fish. The danger is rather that the worlds fishing fleets will crowd in and clean the fish out, as they are currently doing in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.
If the countries with Arctic coastlines want to preserve this resource, they can only do so by creating an international body to regulate the fishing. And they will have to let other countries fish there, too, with agreed catch limits, since it is mostly international waters. They will be driven to cooperate, in their own interests.
So no war over the Arctic. All we have to worry about now is the fact that the ice is melting, which will speed global warming (because open water absorbs far more heat from the sun than highly reflective ice), and ultimately melt the Greenland icecap and raise sea levels worldwide by 23 feet. But thats a problem for another day.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
Speculation? Or do they have proof?
Well, up here in the real Arctic, which lies about five feet away from my keyboard right outside the window, we are having the third cold summer in a row. Anchorage just had the coldest July on record. There was record ice in the Bering Sea this winter. Yesterday on the “Alaska Weather” program (yes, our state is so big we have a 30-minute show dedicated to just telling us the weather) there was concern that a northwesterly wind might blow sea ice against the shore up near Barrow, effectively blocking passage between the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. The leaves are already changing. It’s been raining since the Fourth of July, the temperatures remain in the 50s, the beans have turned into a brownish-gray glop, and it looks like a cold front from Russia will send temperatures even lower in the next few days.
From what I’ve heard, global warming will be most apparent here in the Arctic. Instead, it seems to be most apparent in Oklahoma and the Deep South, where it’s been hot and dry for a while.
Of course, weather isn’t climate. On the other hand, the guys at the “Alaska Weather” show don’t forcast any further than two days out.
I believe that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels. And even if that carbon dioxide does lead to an overall increase in temperature, the smart thing would be to adapt to the changed climate. Starting with some apple trees here along the Yukon River.
There's a reason professional meteorologists don't forecast more than 10 days out, while climate "scientists" project 100 years out. Projection is a good word here because it is accurate, and also because the climate "scientists", like other hard-core leftists, project their psychological failings on conservatives.
World climate is heating up at 50% to 70% of the numbers claimed. At least 50% and as much as 100% of the actual change is something other than that evil gas CO2, and we are due for another 15-30 years of cooling, on top of the 14 years of cooling we have had since 1998, before the warming trend resumes.
And in the Arctic, ice doesn't melt from the top down, as temperature get as high as 34F over parts of Greenland during 24 hour days (warmer on the airport runway 30 feet behind jets warming up, which is where the weather station was moved a few years ago). In ocean, it melts at the water line, because the specific heat of water is 1-3 orders of magnitude more than the atmosphere - don't have the table in front of me or would quote specific numbers.
The ice melts and blows away with the strong winds in summer, and freezes up solid long before winter begins. The heat from the Arctic sun barely makes a difference, as it maxes out at 46 degrees at the Arctic Circle on noon at summer solstice, is usually less than 23 degrees, and light on water at 23 degrees mostly reflects off the surface and back into space. So you get 700 W/square meter a few minutes per year, and less than 175 W/sq. m. most sunlight hours (down 50% on angle and another 50% due to reflection). Less than that when clouds cover the sky, maybe 100 W/sq. m.
The Arctic gets most of its thermal energy from convection, as air and water move north from the tropics. And as the ice melts, water, with its higher specific heat, will give up more thermal energy from late May to mid-October, thus acting as negative feedback as part of a 55-65 year cycle. In 1957, the North Pole was ice-free. In 1922, there was an ice-free Northwest Passage, and around 900-1000, there were villages in Greenland that have been under ice for 1000 years. These things run in cycles, many of which last 1000 years to 100,000 years or more.
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