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Executive Summary for October 28th

We review the latest Arctic news, including an end to protests over a hydroelectric dam and a court decision allowing species to be protected based on future climate change impacts.

Published on Oct. 28, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Agreement Sends Muskrat Falls Protesters Home

Protesters have dismantled a camp set up outside Muskrat Falls, the site of a hydroelectric project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador, after reaching a deal on Wednesday.

The 12-hour meeting resulted in an agreement that provides leaders from Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut and the Innu Nation with more independent oversight of the environmental impacts of the hydroelectric project, reported CBC.

Three people who had launched a hunger strike in opposition to the project returned home from Ottawa, where they had tried to get attention of federal officials, reported CBC.

The Muskrat Falls project has been in the works for years. The 834-megawatt facility has been hailed as the way to transition away from fossil fuels and to provide the province of Newfoundland and Labrador with renewable energy.

But downstream communities raised concerns over methylmercury contamination of the downstream waters and the fish that live in them.

The project relies on flooding a 41-square-kilometer (15.8 square mile) reservoir. The flooding can kick off the process of transforming the mercury within the soil and plants currently occupying that area into methylmercury, a neurotoxin.

Harvard University scientists warned that the methylmercury levels could rise 380 percent in Lake Melville if the reservoir wasn’t cleared of the trees and soil before flooding. Fully cleared, the increase could be as low as 13 percent, CBC reported.

Species’ Protection Today Linked to Future Climate Change Impacts

Alaska-based populations of bearded seals can be listed as “threatened” based on future climate change projections, according to a ruling made earlier this week by a U.S. federal appeals court, reported the Alaska Dispatch News.

The decision could impact other animals facing rapid environmental changes.

The bearded seal is not currently endangered, but is likely to experience a population decline due to melting sea ice in the Bering and Okhotsk seas off the coasts of Alaska and Russia, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list the species in 2008. The animals rely on the ice for mating, birthing and feeding.

The National Marine Fisheries Service had first listed the bearded seal as threatened based on projections that the population could be endangered by 2095 largely due to sea ice loss and enhanced by ocean acidification, which threatens the marine food web. Two oil and gas organizations and the state of Alaska filed a lawsuit against NMFS, arguing that the estimates were too far in the future and lacked data, reported Bloomberg’s Daily Environment Report.

U.S. Senate Debate Crosses the Arctic Circle

Alaskan politicians vying for a spot in the U.S. Senate took to the stage at the Barrow High School auditorium for the first U.S. Senate debate to be held within the Arctic Circle, reported KTVA Alaska.

Some of the issues up for discussion had not been broached in other debates, including the Endangered Species Act, whaling quotas, ports and infrastructure, climate change and subsistence hunting, and Russia’s military, according to the article.

The four candidates, which included Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, also discussed how they would address the high costs of adapting to climate change, including the relocation of entire villages like Kivalina, Alaska Public Media reported.

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