Annals Of Climate Opportunism: Natural Gas Shipments Via The Arctic

Another example of the climate change-carbon economy loop, in which burning carbon leads to warming which in turn leads to new fossil fuel economy opportunities.

In this example, the reduction in Arctic sea ice is opening the northwest and northeast passages to fuel shipping. The first liquid natural gas tanker recently left Norway, and is headed toward Japan, escorted by a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker:

“It’s an extraordinarily interesting adventure,” Tony Lauritzen, commercial director at Dynagas, told BBC News.

“The people on board have been seeing polar bears on the route. We’ve had the plans for a long time and everything has gone well.”

Mr Lauritzen says that a key factor in the decision to use the northern route was the recent scientific record on melting in the Arctic.

“We have studied lots of observation data – there is an observable trend that the ice conditions are becoming more and more favourable for transiting this route. You are able to reach a highly profitable market by saving 40% of the distance, that’s 40% less fuel used as well.”

Forty percent less fuel burned is good, I guess. But the whole thing, along with Arctic oil drilling, reminds me of a cartoon I posted on my Facebook page earlier today.

 

Plastic (Not) Fantastic

If you think humanity is getting ready to trash the Arctic Ocean, now that the Arctic ice is receding and the oil companies are getting ready to go to town with their drilling rigs, you don’t have it quite right. Because we are already trashing the Arctic Ocean, and a recent study revealed that its floor is littered with human debris:

Bremerhaven, 22nd October 2012. The seabed in the Arctic is increasingly strewn with litter and plastic waste. As reported in the advance online publication of the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin by Dr. Melanie Bergmann, biologist and deep-sea expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. The quantities of waste observed at the AWI deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN are even higher than those found in a deep-sea canyon near the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

For this study Dr. Melanie Bergmann examined some 2100 seafloor photographs taken near HAUSGARTEN, the deep-sea observatory of the Alfred Wegener Institute in the eastern Fram Strait. This is the sea route between Greenland and the Norwegian island Spitsbergen. “The study was prompted by a . When looking through our images I got the impression that plastic bags and other litter on the seafloor were seen more frequently in photos from 2011 than in those dating back to earlier years. For this reason I decided to go systematically through all photos from 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011,” Melanie Bergmann explains.

The result was the realization that the amount of trash on the sea floor has about doubled over the past decade. Not good, because here is the consequence:

Melanie Bergmann is unable to determine the origin of litter from photographs alone. However she suspects that the shrinking and thinning of the Arctic sea ice may play an important role. “The Arctic sea ice cover normally acts as a natural barrier, preventing wind blowing waste from land out onto the sea, and blocking the path of most ships. Ship traffic has increased enormously since the ice cover has been continuously shrinking and getting thinner. We are now seeing three times the number of private yachts and up to 36 times more fishing vessels in the waters surrounding Spitsbergen compared to pre-2007 times,” Melanie Bergmann says. Furthermore, litter counts made during annual clean-ups of the beaches of Spitsbergen have shown that the litter washed up there originates primarily from fisheries.

The main victims of the increasing contamination of the seafloor are the deep-sea inhabitants. “Almost 70 percent of the plastic litter that we recorded had come into some kind of contact with deep-sea organisms. For example we found plastic bags entangled in sponges, sea anemones settling on pieces of plastic or rope, cardboard and a beer bottle colonised by ,” Melanie Bergmann says.

When sponges or other suspension feeders come into contact with plastic, this may cause injuries to the surface of their body. The consequence: the inhabitants of the sea bed are able to absorb fewer food particles, grow more slowly as a result, and probably reproduce less often. Breathing could also be impaired. Furthermore, plastic always contains chemical additives, which have various toxic effects. “Other studies have also revealed that plastic bags that sink to the seafloor can alter the gas exchange processes in this area. The sediment below then becomes a low oxygen zone, in which only few organisms survive,” Melanie Bergmann says.

Plastic, and what to do about it is an ungodly difficult problem. It permeates every part of our lives and it is so pervasive that it is almost impossible to Continue reading “Plastic (Not) Fantastic”

9/17/2012 Tumblr Rumbler

Over on Tumblr today, we got into:

–Interspcies amour, featuring a lonely dolphin and a reluctant scuba diver. There’s quite a video.

–the Arctic Ocean’s effort to defend itself against the initiation of oil drilling by Shell.

–and a trainer mutiny at Marineland Ontario, over the terrible treatment of the animals.

Let me know what you think of the Tumblr site, and whether you find it easy to read and use.

And if you are a Facebooker, please like Tim Zimmermann, Writer. I’m experimenting with using that as a place to share ideas, information, and debate.

Exploiting An Ice-Free Arctic Ocean

Among the many disappointing truisms of human history: if there is a way to commercialize nature, nature will be commercialized.

That’s a dynamic that thousands of scientists are trying to stop, at least when it comes to industrial fishing in the Arctic Ocean. As global warming slowly pushes back, and even eliminates, the summer ice cover, it is opening up pristine waters and fish stocks that are barely understood to fleets of fishing boats that are eager for new fishing grounds.

In an effort to preempt the inevitable gold rush, the scientific community is pleading for caution:

Thousands of scientists from 67 countries have called for an international agreement to close the Arctic high seas to commercial fishing until research reveals more about the freshly exposed waters.

Recent Arctic sea-ice retreat during the summer months has opened up some of the waters that fall outside of the exclusive economic zones of the nations that circle the polar ocean. In all, more than 2.8 million square kilometres make up these international waters, which some scientists say could be ice free during summer months within 10–15 years. Although industrial fishing hasn’t yet occurred in the northernmost part of the Arctic, the lack of regulation may make it an appealing target for international commercial-fishing vessels.

“The science community currently does not have sufficient biological information to understand the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean,” says the letter, which was released by the Pew Environment Group on Sunday on the eve of the opening of the International Polar Year 2012 scientific conference in Montreal, Canada. More than 2,000 scientists, including 1,328 from Arctic coastal countries, signed the letter.

Keep an eye on this. It will be a good indicator of whether we have the capacity to learn and change, and elevate conservation and science to balance pure commercialism. But if you take any bets on it, make sure you are offered some serious odds.