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Executive Summary for November 18th

We review the latest Arctic news, including unusual temperatures in the Arctic and reports that the Obama administration could block oil and gas exploration in U.S. Arctic waters.

Published on Nov. 18, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Hot Times in the Arctic This Week

Arctic temperatures continue to show anomalies this week, as air temperatures over the central Arctic Ocean soar and sea ice extent continues to sit at record lows for this time of year.

On Wednesday, Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California Irvine, tweeted an image published by the Danish Meteorological Institute that showed Arctic temperatures were about 20C (36F) higher than normal, reported the Washington Post.

“Today’s latest #Arctic mean temperature continues to move in the wrong direction… up. Quite an anomalous spike!” Labe wrote.

The spike comes with the onset of the polar night, when the sun is not visible above the horizon and Arctic temperatures plummet.

Barrow, Alaska, residents are wondering why their harbor isn’t frozen yet, the Guardian reported. The city’s long term average temperature for October is typically -8C (17.6F), but this year it barely dipped below freezing, settling at -1C (30.2F).

The rapid melting of the ice earlier in the year allowed the surface waters of the Beaufort, Chukchi, Barents and Kara seas to warm up, boosting air temperatures and slowing sea-ice formation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said that 2016 will likely “eclipse” 2015 as the hottest year on record, the Associated Press reported.

Obama May Block U.S. Arctic Drilling

As the Obama administration prepares to leave the White House, it is making provisions that would block the sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in U.S. federal Arctic waters.

According to Bloomberg, the release of the plan is expected “within days.” The Interior Department had taken Atlantic waters out of the running earlier this year, but had not done the same to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska, much to the disappointment of environmental groups that say oil and gas activities threaten the region’s wildlife.

The decision would be part of the Interior Department’s plan for offshore drilling, including the auction of drilling rights, for 2017 to 2022, reported The Hill. The plan will be released by January 20, the day President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated into office. Even if President Barack Obama issues the ban, it could be reversed by the next administration.

Shell had already said that it would not produce oil in the Chukchi Sea, saying it had not found enough oil to justify the expense.

Alaska Public Media reported that Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, the Alaska Native corporation representing the North Slope, had acquired two of Shell’s federal leases in the Beaufort Sea, giving the corporation the right to explore for oil and gas in the region. The move is “a sign of local support for offshore drilling,” said Andy Mack, the commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Marine Protected Area Mapped Out in Canada’s Arctic

The Canadian federal government has set aside an area in the Beaufort Sea to protect the habitat of several Arctic marine species.

The coastal waters of the Darnley Bay area near Paulatuk, Northwest Territories, is known to be an ecosystem hosting polar bears, ringed seals, fish and bird species. Every summer, it is home to thousands of beluga whales, reported the Globe and Mail.

The new site is called the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area and was mapped out with the aid of traditional and local knowledge, reported Radio Canada International. The protected area designation will prohibit activities that could “disturb, damage or destroy” living organisms in the area, including oil and gas exploration and development.

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