Global environmental challenges
A handful of oily sand grabbed from a Louisiana wetland brought back some strong memories for Earl Kingik. As a traditional hunter and whaler in Alaska’s Arctic, it reminded him of the Exxon Valdez spill. As he and other tribal leaders toured the U.S. Gulf Coast for signs of the BP oil spill, they worried that what’s happening now in Louisiana could happen if offshore drilling proceeds off the Alaskan coast.
“There’s no way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic,” said Kingik, an Inupiat tribal member from Point Hope, Alaska. Compared to Louisiana, where the waters are relatively calm and cleanup equipment and experts are nearby, the Arctic Ocean is a hostile place for oil and gas exploration. The Arctic leaders made their pilgrimage to the Gulf Coast as part of a campaign to block planned exploratory drilling by Shell Oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
“What I saw was devastating out there,” Martha Falk, the tribal council treasurer of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope in Alaska, said after the Gulf Coast tour by seaplane, boat and on foot. If the same thing occurred off Alaska, she said, “We would have to wait days and days and days for (cleanup) equipment to reach our area.”
The planned start of Alaska offshore drilling in July coincides with the spring hunt of the bowhead whale, a central event in the Inupiat culture, Falk said.
On a year when the Arctic sea ice has receded in the summer to its third-smallest on record, researchers on the RUSALCA expedition got the opportunity to study the water, sea life and the ocean floor at a location where there is rarely open water.
You have to be creative when you’re a Russian scientist, bad weather is preventing your research ship from picking you up for your expedition and you’ve got time to kill in Nome, Alaska.
Such was the case for a group waiting to begin a joint mission with U.S. researchers in the Bering Sea in late August.
It takes the equivalent of a massive chunk of ice of 390 cubic kms (150 cubic miles) to raise world sea levels by one millimetre, according to David Carlson, director of the International Programme Office of the International Polar Year.
As an example, he says that works out as a lump 39 kms long, 10 wide and 1 km thick. Or I reckon it could be a blockbuster ice cube with sides 7.3 kms long — that would smother most of a large city such as Paris (top left — you can see the Eiffel Tower in the middle).