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Ocean Warming Is Accelerating Faster Than Thought, New Research Finds

In yet another sobering announcement about the ability of nations around the globe reverse the effects of climate change, A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for the past several years in a row with 2018 being the “warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans.”

Because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters, as the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere, which is currently the only thing saving the rest of  the planet from massive warming.

At the same time, the rapidly increasing ocean temperatures are already harming marine ecosystems and causing raising sea levels and destructive storm surges that threaten human health and welfare and critical infrastructure of Alaska Native coastal communities. As the heating continues these impacts will become more destructive.

UK Bank Says it will no longer make controversial oil and gas drilling investments in Arctic oil

It appears that some international banks are pulling out of drilling in the Arctic due to violations of international human rights standards: https://www.arctictoday.com/barclays-says-it-will-no-longer-make-controversial-energy-investments-including-in-arctic-oil/.

According to the article, Barclay’s has adopted “Self-imposed restrictions on investment in fossil fuels which prevent it from financing new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, including in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” And this recent announcement follows after another one “in May that directs the bank to avoid doing business with clients involved in projects in or near UN World Heritage sites.” Also, “projects singled out in the bank’s guidelines may still be funded by the bank “as long as they pass a tougher vetting process it calls Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD).”

But based on the fact that those guidelines singled out the potential for Arctic drilling to damage coastal and marine environments as a major concern, in particular and the ANWAR an area it described as a “particularly fragile and pristine ecosystem which is central to the livelihoods and culture of local indigenous peoples,” the likelihood of a project being approved is low, according to the bank.

Based on the policy’s pronouncement that “[b]anks have an important role to play in ensuring that the world’s energy needs are met while helping to limit the threat that climate change poses to people and to the natural environment,” Barclays says that the new guidelines will keep it out of “sensitive energy sectors” entirely.

The release of the policy may have also been in response to the Trump administration’s continued push for the expansion of oil drilling on sensitive, federally owned lands in Arctic Alaska, even as a partial shutdown halted the functions of many U.S. government departments, forcing the Department of the Interior to stop regulating existing oil and gas leasing: https://www.arctictoday.com/trump-administration-working-on-arctic-oil-leases-despite-shutdown/.

According to Banktrack, a group that is lobbying for banks to become more socially responsible, Barclays is the 12th major bank to limit funding for Arctic oil and gas exploration.


WWF Calls for strong environmental protection, less O&G for Arctic Ocean

Environmentalists warned that it is urgent that the Arctic Ocean be protected and critical that such protections are put in place soon. During a presentation at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway last month, Peter Winsor, Arctic program director at the World Wildlife Fund and an oceanography professor, said “When I started to study the Arctic 20 years ago it was a completely different Arctic,” and that because, “The Arctic is warming and losing sea ice, it is an unprecedented change and the way we deal with that is a big challenge”, in Ten to 20 years, the Arctic will be completely different. 

In order to address the new open ocean coming to the Arctic, the WWF issued a report in 2018, on Blue Economy, calling for the creation of a pan-Arctic, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. Many of the strategies in the report have also been discussed as part of the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group.

Much of Winsor’s criticism during the conference was directed at Norway’s arctic policies: “The international target for protection of the Arctic Ocean is 10 percent, while Norway has protected only less than 1 percent. There is a disparity here” and pointed out that Russia has been far more active in protecting its Arctic territory.

[Norway wants to fight plastic pollution in the Arctic — and drill for more oil: https://www.arctictoday.com/norway-wants-to-fight-plastic-pollution-in-the-arctic-and-drill-for-more-oil/]

The Norwegian double policy of continued exploitation of the ocean while focusing it’s environmental policy on trash clean-up, is not well perceived by many in the arctic community.
According to Winsor “I would not say that the Norwegians are hypocritical; they are doing a lot of good things. But I am concerned that they still are pushing for development of non-renewable energy and extraction in Arctic”. “There is no way we can reach the IPCC goals of 1.5 degrees if we continue extracting oil”.

Murkowski Trys to Get Alaska to Return to Having A Presence in the Arctic

In an effort to compete on an increasingly international stage that is focused on the Arctic, Alaska Sen. Murkowski is trying to reinvigorating two actions taken by President Obama that President Trump has attempted to quash. Addressing the Alaska State Legislature recently, Murkowski re-introduced the Arctic Policy Act which would put into law parts of two executive orders created by Obama.
First, the Act would codify the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, originally created by Obama to coordinate shipping, energy, science, diplomacy, Coast Guard and other Arctic issues to the forefront. The bill would also transfer the committee’s chairmanship from the White House to the Department of Homeland Security, presumably to prevent the Trump administration from rendering the committee useless by leaving it dormant like it has for the past two years.

The APA would also establish an Arctic Advisory Committee made up of representatives from the country’s eight Arctic regions including Arctic Slope, North West Arctic, Norton Sound, Interior, Yukon-Kuskokwim, Bristol Bay, the Aleutian Islands, and the Pribilof Islands.

Importantly for Alaska Native communities, the bill would bring back a portion of President Obama’s North Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area executive order that called for establishing regional tribal advisory groups, starting with the Bering Sea Regional Tribal Advisory Group. With the support of the Alaska Delegation including Murkowski, in 2016 President Trump rescinded the Obama order, to pave the way for application of his “Energy Dominance” policy in Alaska. Ever since then, Alaska Native groups, including NBITWC have lobbied the delegation to return the NBSRA in it’s entirety.

Finally, the APA bill it would add two Indigenous commissioners to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Indigenous communities in Alaska have an advanced knowledge of the Arctic and deserve a seat at the table, Murkowski said in December. “In the Arctic, we’ve got an opportunity to show the world here how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and voices into policy and science.”

The Bering Sea is already nearly ice-free, setting up more havoc for its ecosystem and residents

In a similar scenario to last year, the winter extent of Bering Sea ice is shaping up to be the lowest in more than 150 years of records. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Bering Sea lost two-thirds of its ice area since late January. Currently, open water persists across the entire sea, including in the Bering Strait and that narrow strait that normally links Alaska’s Little Diomede Island to Russia’s Big Diomede Island through May.
As in the case of last winter, this year wind-driven waves from unusually powerful storms, have been crashing onto beaches in communities along the Bering Strait pounding melting coastal sea ice into pieces and threatening people and infrastructure. Due to storm surges last month Kotlik was flooded and when the temperature dropped back to normal for a brief period in Shismareff, ice swept onto shore by the wind formed a 20 foot wall that began moving towards the village and stopped just short of the road to the airport.
Experts believe that this winter’s Bering Sea ice maximum was set and passed in late January making it the region’s second-lowest maximum extent on record. With unusually warm weather forecast for the coming week at the start of March, the region’s ice extent is expected to keep dwindling.
This means that Arctic village communities are not only threatened by storm surges and flooding but by impacts to subsistence resources caused by a major shift to the Bering Sea marine ecosystem. The lack of a “cold pool” (defined as colder than 2 degrees Celsius, that until last year, separated northern and southern Bering Sea species),in part contributes to these impacts. Experts doubt whether the ice that briefly appeared earlier this winter but is now gone was enough to regenerate the cold pool this year.
Does this mean the point of no return for the Bering Sea? On a March 5, webinar addressing the alarming lack of sea ice in the Bering Sea for another winter, in answer to my question about whether this marked the beginning of the end of permanent sea ice for the North Bering Sea, Rick Thoman who is a climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Fairbanks, said that, in the future, while in some years sea ice may remain to carry over into the next year, it is highly likely that in most years this will not occur.

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