U.S. submarines on Arctic training

Barents Observer 2011-03-18 original article here

The US Navy attack submarine USS Annapolis during Ice Exercise 2009 (Photo: Wikipedia)The nuclear-powered submarines “USS New Hampshire” and “USS Connecticut” are currently conducting submarine operations in Arctic waters, the U.S. Navy informs.

The two submarines started the exercise ICEX-2011 on March 15, the U.S. Navy’s web site reads.

– It is critical that we continue to operate and train today’s submarines in the challenging Arctic environment, said Captain Rhett Jaehn, ice camp officer-in-tactical-command.  -ICEX-2011 is the latest in a series of Arctic exercises, which are key to ensuring our submarines are trained and ready to support U.S. interests in this region, he added.

Read also: US navy warned to prepare for Arctic struggle as climate changes

The overall exercise has been planned and will be coordinated by the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory in San Diego and a temporary tracking range will be built into the ice flow north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

The camp consists of a small village, constructed and operated especially for ICEX, by the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory, and members of the U.S., Canadian, and British navies.

As BarentsObserver reported, the U.S. Navy and civilian scientists have established a program called SCICEX – short for Science Ice Exercise, which enables scientists to use Navy submarines to collect data from Arctic regions that are normally beyond scientists’ reach.

For the latest information on ICEX and life at the ice camp, visit the official blog of the United States Navy, at http://navylive.dodlive.mil/

US Demolishes Old Antarctic Bases

Softpedia. com, March 11th, 2011 – Original article here

Since the American flag was planted at the South Pole, on October 31, 1956, the United States constructed three research facilities in Antarctica. Recently, two of them were demolished, and the only structure remaining is a high-tech, latest-generation lab that is perched on stilts.

[I have to add here that the Norwegian flag was planted on the South Pole on December 14th 1911, 45 years before the Americans… and 100 years ago this year. Hornfar]

Image showing the destruction of the Old Pole station. Image credits: Robert Schwarz

For the past 55 years, the US has had a constant presence at the South Pole in terms of science. Its stations were ahead of their time as far as the engineering complexity and technology needed to build them went.

But, with the construction of the new facility, it became clear that there was simply too much effort to manage the separate stations, when a single, advanced one was enough. The costs of maintaining a crew in the Antarctic are very steep, and researchers often deal with lack of appropriate funding.

The Dome Station was disassembled in 2010. The US Antarctic Program had made the announcement some time before, mentioning that the structure had far outlived its shelf life, and that it was becoming a menace for people venturing within.

During this season’s austral summer, construction workers also demolished the original Antarctic station (the Old Pole), which was built for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58.

“It took a lot of effort and a lot of people. But we got it done in a timely fashion,” says of the effort Andres Martinez, who is the South Pole Technical Support manager. He is now based in the new research station, which isn’t actually new, since it was opened in January 2008.

He explains that the first South Pole Station remained occupied for nearly 20 years, even if it was put together hastily, and was buried by Mother Nature under feet of snow. The ice that subsequently formed endangered its crew constantly, and maintenance work needed to be conducted at all times.

“The old station, no longer the object of structural or mechanical improvements, gamely carried on. It showed its years in the distortion of buildings, metal arches, and shoring timbers,” wrote Dick Wolak.

“Its generators were a constant problem, and often irregular in their output. The patchwork of devices used to heat buildings and provide water was notably inefficient in its use of costly diesel fuel.” he added.

The expert was the civilian South Pole Station manager between 1974 and 1975, as researchers were in a period of transition between the Old Pole station and the then-new Dome Station.

Following a series of accidents involving heavy equipment falling through the unstable ices covering the Old Pole station, the US National Science Foundation decided to implode it during the austral summer.

The support beams that held the structure together were blown up, and snow is now forming new ice where researchers worked nearly 20 years for unraveling the mysteries surrounding the Antarctic, SpaceRef reports.

Arctic oil drill splits Norway’s government

Euractiv.com 14 March 2011 -original article here

Norway’s Labour-led coalition government is preparing for crisis talks after one of its parties, the Socialist Left (SV), pledged to hold out against oil drilling in the pristine Lofoten region.

The oil industry views the untapped waters around the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands as one of the best remaining prospects off Norway, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, whose output has fallen by a third in the past decade. But Norway’s green and socialist movements oppose oil and gas activities in the region, which is home to Europe’s largest cod stock and unique cold water reefs.

A decision on whether to order an impact assessment study for drilling in Lofoten – the most divisive issue in Norwegian politics – is due within weeks. On March 9, Labour MPs asked Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to negotiate a way out of the stalemate with SV, possibly by changing the study’s name or tweaking its scope. But the Socialists rejected this. “We can’t accept any study that leads to opening the region for oil and gas activities,” SV’s energy spokesman Snorre Valen told Reuters. “We simply won’t compromise on this.”

Oil industry pressure
The ruling coalition has survived for six years, partly by delaying decisions on the Lofotens. But pressure from the oil industry, trades unions and some local people is forcing Labour to move on the issue. The SV environment minister Erik Solheim played down the chances of a government collapse to the Aftenposten newspaper.

“The government has for the past six years shown a phenomenal ability to survive. We have like Lazarus risen from the dead, and several times at that,” he was reported saying. Norway’s oil row comes as a report by the US National Academy of Sciences warns of a new struggle for oil and gas resources in the Arctic by 2030. Melting ice cover due to climate change will upset the Arctic power balance and intensify unresolved disputes among countries with Arctic borders. These include Norway, the US, Canada, Denmark, Russia, Iceland, Sweden and Finland.

“The geopolitical situation in the Arctic region has become complex and nuanced, despite the area being essentially ignored since the end of the Cold War,” the study says. It predicts a low chance of conflict but cautions that that “co-operation in the Arctic should not be considered a given even among close allies.”

(EurActiv with Reuters.)

Background

The resource-rich Arctic is becoming increasingly contentious as climate change endangers many species of the region’s flora and fauna but also makes the region more navigable. Up to 25% of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas could be located there, according to the US Geological Survey.

No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic surrounding it. The surrounding Arctic states of the USA, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland) have a 200 nautical mile economic zone around their coasts.

In August 2007, a Russian icebreaker reached the North Pole and a Russian mini-submarine planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed there. The move was widely interpreted as a bellicose claim by Russia to the North Pole seabed and its resources.

Norway covers between 10 and 18% of EU oil demand and about 15% of its natural gas. The country, a member of the European Economic Area since 1994, is the world’s third largest exporter of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

By 2015-2020, natural gas deliveries from Norway to the EU are expected to grow from 85 billion cubic metres to 120 bcm, covering 7-9% of the EU’s entire gas consumption by 2020.