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Executive Summary for August 25th

We review the latest Arctic news, including the use of narwhals to study the depth of Greenland’s melting glaciers, a look at the obstacles to plying Canada’s Northwest Passage and new records set traversing Russia’s Northern Sea Route.

Published on Aug. 25, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Cetacean Scientists

Narwhals are becoming oceanographers, Bloomberg reports. As the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, scientists are turning to these whales to help gauge the depth of the island’s glaciers.

Narwhals like to gobble plankton and krill at the bottom of melting glaciers, diving to depths of 1,800 meters (5,900ft). That’s exactly where scientists would like to survey to better understand how much water is being released from the ice sheet, so narwhals have been enlisted to help with the use of tracking sensors.

Not-So-Clear Sailing

Melting sea ice will benefit Arctic development plans, such as an iron mine operating off the northern end of Canada’s Baffin Island. But, as the Associated Press reports from an icebreaker traveling through the fabled Northwest Passage, some big challenges remain.

Oil companies have balked in recent years at the cost and challenges that come with working in the North American Arctic. While the Northwest Passage has long been eyed as a route to connect Europe and Asia, only 10 percent of the passage is currently surveyed to the highest standards. And polar pack ice is expected to continue to clog up the passage in the summer for the coming decades, keeping insurance costs for shipping companies high. As a risk consultant with the insurance giant Allianz put it: “Think about a high mountain pass that is closed for half the year, has no gas stations, convenience stores or repair facilities.”

New Northern Sea Route Records

An icebreaking vessel bearing liquefied natural gas has set a new time record for traversing Russia’s Northern Sea Route of six and a half days. As MarineLink reports, the Christophe de Margerie is the world’s only icebreaking LNG carrier. It was built to serve Russia’s Yamal LNG project.

The ship, which is traveling from Norway to South Korea, is also the first merchant vessel to travel the full length of the Northern Sea Route without an escort icebreaker.

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