Executive Summary for February 26th

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including concerns over stalled Arctic sea ice, an Arctic military boost for Canada and the U.S. and a look at the renewable energy plans being adopted by remote Canadian communities.

Published on Feb. 26, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Northern Towns Look to Alternative Energy Strategies

Many Canadian Arctic communities rely on diesel generators for electricity. The fuel is shipped in on barges when the waterways are ice-free or trucked in on ice roads when it’s cold. But now a small, off-the-grid community in the Northwest Territories will run off the sun this summer, reports the Canadian Press.

Colville Lake, a Dene community of 150 people, has set up a system of solar panels and batteries that will generate power and store the excess. During the winter months, when sunshine is limited, the community will switch back to diesel.

In neighboring Yukon, the territorial government had adopted a different approach to wean households off fossil fuels. Burning biomass – wood or wood pellets – could support the industry in the Yukon and reduce the transportation of fossil fuels, reports CBC News. Larger buildings, including government facilities, could also make the switch: the Whitehorse Correctional Centre has been heated using wood pellets since it opened.

Arctic Sea Ice Stalled?

Unusually high air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and a strong negative Arctic oscillation early in the new year caused Arctic sea ice extent to hit a record low for January – but it has yet to rebound. Arctic sea ice extent – the area of the ocean covered with sea ice – has been at a plateau for the past two weeks, raising concerns that it has stopped growing for the year.

This week, Arctic sea ice extent measured about 14.2 million square kilometers (5.5 million square miles). Last year, the maximum sea ice extent was the lowest on record, reaching 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles) on February 25 – two weeks earlier than usual, according to records from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado.

As reported by the Alaska Dispatch News, scientists at the center aren’t ready to say that Arctic sea ice has reached its maximum for 2016. Temperatures could drop and sea ice could start growing again, but even if it did, that ice would be thin and would melt quickly once the melt season began.

The region has been unusually warm this winter. On Tuesday, the Capital Weather Gang looked at the anomalous temperatures being felt through much of Alaska, Greenland, northern Europe and Russia and parts of northern Canada. On that day, the average Arctic temperature was more than 7C (12.6F) above baseline, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Global Forecast System.

The areas missing the most ice are the Barents, Kara and East Greenland seas near the Atlantic side of the Arctic and the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk on the Pacific side of the Arctic. Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told Climate Central that the ice loss in the Barents Sea was due to warmer water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.

What this might mean for the summer Arctic sea ice minimum remains uncertain. Climate change underlies the long-term negative trends for sea ice, but weather patterns have a major impact on its day-to-day fluctuations.

Expanded Military Presence

Russia has been expanding and modernizing its forces in the Arctic lately, but Norway does not see it as a threat today, according to a recent report released by the Norwegian military. Moscow’s economic interest in the Arctic has led to an increase in its military presence there, according to a report released by the Norwegian military, reports the Arctic Journal.

The Canadian Forces are also looking to increase their presence in the Arctic by expanding their Arctic training center, reports the National Post. The facility, located in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, runs training exercises during the winter, but the Forces would like to conduct training during the spring and summer, too. That would mean adding space for storage and equipment, and possibly building other training locations elsewhere in Nunavut.

The U.S. Navy has also expressed interest in adding to its northern coverage. It has requested funding in the 2017 budget to upgrade the Keflavik air base in Iceland, reports High North News. The investment would add hangars and cleaning facilities to the base for surveillance aircraft to monitor the waters between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom for submarines, according to the article.

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Top image: The community of Colville Lake, NT, plans to run on solar power during the summer. (Flickr/Sahtu Wildlife)