Environment Forum

from Reuters Investigates:

Oil under ice

Still there

Still there

BP's Macondo Gulf spill would be nothing compared to the effect of a drilling accident in the Arctic, Jessica Bachman reports from "the foulest place in all of Russia."  Scientists and Russian officials are just starting to wake up to the fact that "if something happens on the Arctic Barents Sea in November it would be, 'OK, we'll come back for you in March,'" Jessica says.

But quite what Russia would do about that is not at all clear. The Russian government gets more than 50 percent of its revenues from oil and gas and Prime Minister Putin's stated aim is to keep producing more than 10 billion barrels a day through 2020. Environmentalists aren't the only ones who are worried.

Which countries make the grade in solar power?

germanysolar

Germany is still at the top of the class when it comes to solar power, according to a new report by nonprofit Global Green USA.

The group graded 16 countries plus the state of California in terms of how much solar power they added in installations and what kind of policies they have for future development.

Germany– the world’s biggest solar power market — again got the highest grade, with an A minus.

Arctic expedition reaches the ice

    U.S. and Russian scientists exploring the Arctic ocean finally reached ice on Monday, about 435 miles (700 km) northwest of Barrow, Alaska.

    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.

    The mission’s science chief, Terry Whitledge, said it he did not expect explore such a northerly location without an icebreaker. 

‘Not enough ice to make a margarita’

Scientists aboard the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov spent the weekend collecting samples of water, sealife and ocean-floor mud at a spot in the western Arctic Ocean that in most years would be covered with sea ice.

The ship, carrying researchers for the six-week RUSALCA expedition, was in its most northerly planned sampling stop, or “station,”  a location nearly 350 miles (563 km) northwest of Barrow, Alaska. During the mission’s last cruise in 2004, the most northerly accessible location was 345 miles (555 km) south of the weekend’s station.

Mission coordinator Kevin Wood, of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,  writes from the ship that the water is open on all sides. “There isn’t enough ice here to make a margarita,” Wood said.

German ships navigate Northeast Passage – but is it a good thing?

Two German ships have successfully navigated their way through the fabled Northeast Passage on the first commercial journey by a western shipping company on the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s Arctic-facing northern shore — a new cost-cutting passageway from Asia to Europe made possible by climate change.  

 

The MV “Beluga Fraternity” and the MV “Beluga Foresight” (pictured above) arrived safely at Novvy Port/Yamburg in Russia at the delta of the river Ob on Monday after a 17-day trip through the icy cold but briefly ice-free Arctic Ocean after departing from Vladivostok on Aug. 21. The ships had earlier picked up their cargo in Ulsan, South Korea and after delivering it in Novvy Port will steam on to the Netherlands to complete the Pacific-to-Atlantic journey that explorers and merchants have been dreaming about for centuries. 

 

 

By taking advantage of the short two-month window of opportunity in August and September before the Arctic Ocean freezes over again, the journey from South Korean through the Northeast Passage (not to be confused with the Northwest Passage through Canada) to Europe cut about 3,300 nautical miles off the usual 11,000 nautical mile trip via the southern route through the Suez Canal. Instead of the usual 32-day journey on the southern route, the Northern Sea Route takes 23 days. The shorter distance cuts the cost of the journey considerably because less fuel was used — and thus less CO2 emitted. 

Tasty find for Russian researchers in Alaska

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.

But a side trip into the rolling, lichen-covered hills around Nome, the one-time gold rush town on the Alaskan coast, proved to be more than worth their while for the prize they stumbled upon — mushrooms.

Climate change opens Arctic’s Northeast passage

Two German ships set off on Friday on the first commercial journey from Asia to western Europe via the Arctic through the fabled Northeast Passage – a trip made possible by climate change. Niels Stolberg, president and CEO of Bremen-based Beluga Shipping, said the Northern Sea Route will cut thousands of nautical miles off the ships’ journey from South Korea to the Netherlands, reducing fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gas. I had the chance to ask Stolberg a few questions about the Arctic expedition:

Question: What’s the status of the voyage?
Stolberg: MV “Beluga Fraternity” and the MV “Beluga Foresight” have just started to sail from Vladivostok (on Friday) with the destination Novyy Port at the river Ob.

Question: When did they leave Vladivostok and when will they arrive in Europe?
Stolberg: They’ve just left Vladivostok. They are scheduled to arrive in Novyy Port around September 6th. After discharging, they will proceed via Murmansk to Rotterdam. Estimated time of arrival is still to be confirmed and up to further voyage development.

Environmental research in an age of Arctic sovereignty

In an age of angst about security and Arctic sovereignty, it’s no mean feat piecing together an oceanographic expedition involving scientists from the United States, Russia and elsewhere and launching the whole affair from a northern U.S. port.

In the choppy waters of the Bering Sea just off Nome, Alaska, the Russian research ship Professor Khromov is waiting to come in to port, where strict security protocols will be adhered to under the watchful eye of U.S. authorities.

As many as 50 scientists are teaming up for two legs of study in the Bering Strait and northward in August and September, and those without special U.S. Transportation Security Administration clearance cards will be escorted aboard by people designated to do so. No exceptions.

Calling Dr. Strangelove!

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Russian submarines patrolling international waters off the U.S. East Coast (if you haven’t, take a look at a Reuters story about it) in what feels like an echo of the old Cold War. The Pentagon’s not worried about this particular venture, but there are concerns from the U.S. energy industry about another Russian foray — this one in concert with Cuba. In rhetoric that may ring a bell with anyone who saw the 1964 satirical nuclear-fear movie “Dr. Strangelove,”
the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research is sounding the alarm about a Russian-Cuban deal to drill for offshore oil near Florida.

“Russia, Communist Cuba Advance Offshore Energy Production Miles Off Florida’s Coast,” is the title on the institute’s news release. Below that is the prescription for action: “Efforts Should Send Strong Message to Interior Dept. to Open OCS in Five-Year Plan.” OCS stands for outer continental shelf, an area that was closed to oil drilling until the Bush administration opened it last year in a largely symbolic move aimed at driving down the sky-high gasoline prices of the Summer of 2008.

Environmentalists hate the idea. So does Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has made opposition to offshore drilling one of his signature issues. But as it turns out, it’s unlikely that anybody — from Russia, Cuba, the United States or anywhere else — is going to get petroleum out of the OCS in the immediate future.

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