Will a warming planet and melting sea ice spur development in the Arctic? (+video)
Researchers predict that nearly ice-free summers are on the way, although it’s not yet clear when this will happen.
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The problems:Skip to next paragraph
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Inadequate maps: The increase in traffic brings up a navigation problem. NOAA's maps and other navigational information are unavailable or outdated in parts of the Arctic Ocean, because thick, impenetrable sea ice kept ships out. In addition, most Arctic waters that are charted were surveyed using obsolete technology dating back to the 1800s, according to NOAA.
Little infrastructure or support: Alaska has twice the length of coastline as the lower 48 states, but the U.S. Coast Guard has extremely limited resources to devote to search-and-rescue operations or to oil spill cleanup, Siders said. Admiral Robert Papp, the Coast Guard commandant, has been quoted in the media as saying, "The Coast Guard has zero capability in the Arctic. … If we are going to have a permanent presence there, it's going to require some investment. We don't have the infrastructure in place right now." As an example of when things go wrong: In 2010, a cruise ship called the MV Clipper Adventurer ran aground in the Northwest Passage, and its passengers had to be rescued by the Canadian Coast Guard. [Disasters at Sea: 6 Deadliest Shipwrecks]
Territorial disagreements: The Arctic coastal nations, the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland is a Danish territory) are seeking to lay claim to territory far out over the continental shelves, but the United States can't lay its own claim and has little say in others’ because the U.S. is not a party to the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty, CNN Money reports. There are other territorial issues as well, for instance, Canada maintains that the Northwest Passage is sovereign Canadian territory, while other nations, including the U.S., maintain that it is an international strait.
The loss of summer ice will not, however, transform the Arctic into the Caribbean.
“Some of the challenges to operating in the Arctic are and have been the same for a very long time,” Siders said, adding these will remain at least to some degree, requiring people to work “in the dark, in the cold, in the middle of a storm,” as earlier arrivals have done before.
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