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Sea Ice, Security, Intelligence

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 4:33 PM GMT on August 13, 2009

Sea Ice, Security, Intelligence

Last week I mentioned a report that was published in 2007 entitled National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. This week, I want to take a section of that report and take it forward to a couple of more current items – a new report from the National Research Council and the current observations of sea ice.

In National Security and the Threat of Climate Change there is a subsection entitled “The Arctic: A Region of Particular Concern.” In this particular report, one item that emerges is the need for completely different approaches to security in the north. If the Arctic Ocean is basically open water, then there will be much more ship traffic for both military and commercial purposes. There will be more, relatively easy, access to borders. The Arctic would still be a harsh environment; therefore, a whole new class of systems and operations might be required in order to function effectively. New article on Security and Climate Change from NYTimes

As some may recall, in the last couple of years countries have been laying claim to the Arctic and the North Pole. As I recall Russia and Denmark went to the effort of placing markers at the bottom of the sea. At a meeting in 2006, a Canadian colleague who works in the Arctic told me that there were already U.S. and Canadian activities to show sovereignty and to lay claim to potential resources, especially oil. There are already organizations addressing Arctic issues including, potentially, shared governance. The Arctic Council was formally established “as a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic”. (from their web page) The Arctic Council’s working groups are focused on management and protection of the environment. Intuitively, the “opening” of the Arctic increases the vulnerability of the environment because, simply, we will be doing more there, with big machines.

Related to this opening of the Arctic, there is a new report from the National Academy of the Sciences / National Research Council. The Scientific Value of Arctic Sea Ice Imagery Derived Products calls for the expansion of programs that release observations taken by the intelligence community for scientific research. The report is placed in the context of preparing for an ice-free Arctic. The specific scientific interests are the use of unique data sets that might better define and refine the physical processes that take place during the summer melting period. The goal would be to improve the predictions by coupled climate models on WHEN (not if) the Arctic will be ice free. Currently the models range from, say, 2030 to 2100. (This report has a free PDF. It does require you to “register” to get the report. The registration is simple and innocuous.) In the spirit of connections, in the report that started this blog, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, they also call for the release and use of environmental observations by the national security community as much as is possible.

So what about the ice free Arctic? Over the weekend there was an Associate Press story about the melting of sea ice in the Arctic this summer. Here is the primary source from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. According to this summary the melting in July was very high, comparable to the record loss of 2007. The current amount is the third lowest on record. (My friends are predicting a new low – we’ll see.) Here is daily update image.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent from Snow and Ice Data Center Daily Update


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