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Executive Summary for February 1st

We review and analyze the latest news and most important developments in the Arctic, including demands to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, an update on the die-off of common murres in Alaska and a proposal to create a new relationship between Canada’s Inuit and its federal government.

Published on Feb. 1, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Push to Ban Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic

Environmental groups are calling on the Arctic Council to support a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, reported The Canadian Press.

“We believe that measures are desperately needed to reduce the environmental impacts from Arctic shipping,” said a letter sent from 15 international NGOs to Ambassador David Balton of the U.S. State Department, chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.

The groups identify many reasons why heavy fuel oil should be banned from the Arctic to reduce its environmental impacts. Heavy fuel oil is difficult to clean up because of the way it behaves in ice-covered waters, spreading throughout the water column, sinking and sticking to everything it comes into contact with.

Banning the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic would also reduce black carbon, or soot, which can fall on snow and ice and speed up its melting. Scientists have found that eliminating black carbon may be one of the fastest ways to slow down the melting of Arctic sea ice.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, an Arctic Council working group, has found that Arctic warming could be reduced by 0.25C (0.45F) by 2025 if black carbon emissions were cut back globally.

Less than one-third of the vessels operating in the Arctic run on heavy fuel oil, but because they tend to be larger ships, their fuel consumption amounts to about three-quarters of regional shipping fuel use, according to the letter.

The International Maritime Organization previously banned the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by vessels in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica in 2010. But the IMO did not opt to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic when it created the Polar Code, due to pressure from some countries, including Russia, according to The Canadian Press.

The Arctic Council’s working group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment will meet in Stockholm for three days, beginning today, and will discuss the protection of the marine environment.

Murre Die-Off in Alaska Largest in History

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989, 22,000 dead common murres were collected from Alaska’s beaches.

The current die-off hitting the common seabird is now on par with that disaster, reported Alaska Public Radio. It is one of the largest die-offs in history, the article said. Scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spoke about their findings at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium last week.

Small numbers of dead murres began washing up on beaches in Alaska last summer, but the numbers skyrocketed in January, according to the article.

Scientists are still working out the cause of the die-off, but suspect that a change in food availability contributed to the birds’ decline. The birds they have studied did not show any signs of poisoning from toxins, but appeared to have starved.

An abrupt change in the water temperature along the Alaska coast may have disrupted the food web. The “blob” of warm ocean water may have led to steep declines in the availability of murre prey such as capelin, which live in cool waters. At higher temperatures they die or move on to find cooler temperatures.

New Inuit-government Body Proposed

Canada’s Inuit organization has proposed the creation of a new political body that would improve links between the Inuit and the federal government.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization, put forward the idea at a January 26 meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reported Nunatsiaq News.

If it were to go ahead, the new entity would have representatives from both the federal government and Inuit leadership, the article said. Obed was quoted as saying that the new body would translate statements and pledges into political commitment for change.

The meeting with Trudeau has been hailed as historic; he is the first prime minister to meet with Inuit leaders at the ITK office in Ottawa.

Recommended Reading

Top Image: The use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters increases the risk of an oil spill and the emissions of black carbon. A ban could protect the environment and reduce the melting of sea ice. Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard/Patrick Kelley