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Executive Summary for June 3rd

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including Arctic tourism and a Russian rocket set to splash down in the Arctic Ocean.

Published on June 3, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Russian Rocket Splash Down Concerns Hunters and Environmental Groups

Environmental groups are concerned that the space debris from a Russian rocket launch that will splash down on Saturday in Baffin Bay, between Greenland and the southern tip of Baffin Island, will still contain toxic fuel, reported the Canadian Press.

The rocket – an adapted intercontinental ballistic missile – is being used to launch a satellite into orbit.

Although hydrazine fuel has been used extensively for more than 50 years, space agencies are seeking safer alternatives. The fuel is expected to burn completely before the debris lands in the ocean, minimizing the environmental risks.

The debris is expected to land in the North Water Polynya, an 85,000 square kilometer (33,000 square mile), ice-free area of open water that attracts whales, polar bears, seabirds and fish. The impact zone falls outside of Canada’s territorial waters, but within an economic zone that it partially controls.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said that Russia hadn’t provided enough warning about the launch, reported the Canadian Press.

Still, it’s unclear who will be responsible for cleaning up the debris. Canada has cleaned up radioactive debris from crashed Russian satellites in the 1970s and 1980s, the Globe and Mail reported.

Debris often plummets to Earth following a rocket launch, but usually the flight paths are planned to avoid populated areas.

A Soyuz rocket launch from French Guiana in late May added two European navigation satellites into Earth’s orbit. In that launch, four boosters fell into the Atlantic Ocean and debris from the rocket’s third stage was expected to fall into the ocean near the U.K, Spaceflight Now reported.

In November, debris from a rocket using hydrazine propellant fell on to a Chinese village, GB Times reported, and NASA advised people to stay away from a rocket crash site in Virginia in October, reported.

Tourism Growing in the Arctic

Greenland will invest in lengthening and improving its runways to double its tourist numbers over the next four years, reports The Arctic Journal.

The runways in Nuuk and Ilulissat are too short to accommodate international air traffic. To get to those popular destinations, tourists must fly into Kangerlussuaq airport and transfer to a regional jet. The overhaul of these two runways is part of 2 billion kroner ($290 million) project for airport improvements, according to the article.

Greenland’s tourist numbers have been unsteady in recent years. Between 2012 and 2015, visitor numbers fell by roughly a third to 57,000. By 2040, Greenland hopes to see more than 100,000 tourists visiting its communities and kayaking its fjords. Tourism is one of the four pillars Greenland sees supporting its economic future.

Tourism continues to grow elsewhere in the Arctic. As many as 10 percent of Icelanders work in the tourism industry, which is growing at such a pace that foreigners are expected to fill many of the new positions, the Independent Barents Observer reported. A recent survey of China’s “generation Y” found that 10 percent of its luxury travelers, young households that spend HK$496,000 ($64,000), had visited the Arctic or Antarctic in 2015 and 17 percent wished to, according to the South China Morning Post.

Greener Alaska Stores More Carbon

Alaska’s forests may store more carbon as the region warms, possibly offsetting the amount lost to forest fires and permafrost thaw.

A new study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey used computer models to look at the effects of warming on tree growth in Alaska’s forests. They found that the warmer temperatures drive tree growth in southern Alaska to store more carbon than wildfires and thawing permafrost will release into the atmosphere throughout the century, reported Climate Central.

NASA recently released a series of satellite images taken between 1984 and 2012 that show the greening of northern North America. Grassy tundra is changing to shrubland and shrubs are getting bushier, reported the Mail Online.

The study does not include an analysis of the release of methane from warming lakes in northern Alaska. The authors cautioned that, without that information, they could not say if Alaska would become a source or sink for greenhouse gases over the next century.

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