Ocean Currents » Arctic Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 21 Jul 2016 13:44:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Leaving the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/09/leaving-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/09/leaving-the-arctic/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 17:44:53 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12256

The news from the Arctic this week has been all about what’s leaving the Arctic. It’s good news when oil and gas companies leave the Arctic, but it’s really bad news when sea ice leaves the Arctic!!

First, let’s get to the good news. Repsol, an oil and gas company, just announced it’s abandoning 55 of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea and plans to abandon the remaining 38 over the next year. In addition, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Iona Energy and Shell have given up more than 350 leases covering more than 2 million acres in the Chukchi Sea. Soon, there will be only one lease remaining in the Chukchi Sea—and additional drilling on that lease is unlikely.

While oil and gas companies have largely given up their oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, active offshore leases still threaten the Beaufort Sea off the coast of northeastern Alaska. What’s more, the Obama Administration is still considering whether to allow the sale of more offshore oil leases in Arctic waters.

But, you can do something about it! Join us in protecting our Arctic by taking action today! Please take action by asking the Obama Administration to drop Arctic leasing from the final version of the 2017 to 2022 leasing program.

What about the sea ice? That news is not so good: Arctic sea ice extent hit a depressing new low in May. The Washington Post described it in these terms: “The Arctic Ocean this May had more than three Californias less sea ice cover than it did during an average May between 1981 and 2010.”

That’s just the latest bad news. 2016 as a whole hasn’t been a good year for Arctic sea ice; there were record low levels of sea ice extent in January, February and April, too. As the affects of climate change continue to be felt all across our planet, the Arctic is ground zero.

Do we truly know how magnificent the Arctic is—or what’s at stake if we lose more habitat in this precious region of the Earth?

That’s why I want to invite you to join us this summer as we explore the Arctic Ocean in a new blog series. You’ll get to discover some of the world’s largest congregations of seabirds, and learn how iconic wildlife — like polar bears, beluga whales and ringed seals — live in this varied and rapidly changing ocean ecosystem.

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Four Things You Should Know About Polar Bears http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/02/four-things-you-should-know-about-polar-bears/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/02/four-things-you-should-know-about-polar-bears/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2015 14:00:20 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10992

The start of November can only mean one thing — it’s Polar Bear Week!

Up north in Churchill, Manitoba, polar bears are undertaking their annual migration to Hudson Bay, where sea ice is reforming after summer melts. After a long few months of fasting, the migration marks the bears’ return to their icy seal-hunting grounds where their favorite snacks are ringed and bearded seals. Polar Bear Week is specifically timed to coincide with this migration (meaning you’ll be distracted all week, watching the live polar bear cam!).

Join Ocean Conservancy in celebrating Polar Bear Week. We can’t think of a better way to start the week off right than by brushing up on your polar bear knowledge with these four furry factoids below.

1. Polar bears are superbly adapted to their environment

Polar bears thrive in the Arctic’s harsh climate. A protective outer fur coat paired with a dense undercoat help the bears stay warm in winter temperatures that regularly plunge to below -30° F. They even have fur coating the bottom of their paws, which gives them better traction on the ice and protects them from cold. A dense layer of fat, which can be 2-4 inches thick, further insulates polar bears from the freezing Arctic waters while also helping them stay buoyant as they swim.

Although polar bear fur appears white, it’s actually transparent. The hollow hair shafts reflect light much like ice does, making polar bears appear white or yellow. Beneath their thick coats, polar bears have black skin that better absorbs the sun’s warmth.

2. Polar bears are amazing athletes 

Polar bears have swimming skills that would make any Olympic athlete jealous. Their large, slightly webbed paws allow them to swim at a pace of six miles per hour (for comparison, Michael Phelps clocks in around 3.92 miles per hour). Polar bears can also swim more than 60 miles without rest.

Although they spend about 50 percent of their time hunting for food, only 2 percent of their hunts are successful, and they often travel great distances searching for their next meal. One study tracked a female over a nonstop nine day, 426-mile swim – approximately equivalent to driving from Washington, D.C. to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

3. Polar bears are clever hunters 

Considered by biologists to be one of the smartest land animals in North America, bears exhibit intricate social structures and can perform complex tasks. Polar bears are incredibly smart and patient hunters, and can remain motionless for hours above a seal’s breathing hole in the ice, waiting for the seal to emerge. They also search for seal lairs, where they will crash through the icy roof and attack the seals inside.

But polar bears are not just crafty hunters; they are also quite playful, and have been observed wrestling with fellow bear “friends” and sliding repeatedly downhill on ice for fun. It’s not all fun and games though—play is an important part of cub development and helps them practice skills they will later use to hunt and protect themselves.

4. Polar bears are in trouble (but you can help!)

Global climate change is bad news for polar bears. Since 1979, sea ice cover in the Arctic has decreased by about 30 percent, meaning polar bears are being pushed ashore (and away from their prey) for longer periods of time. For example, in the Hudson Bay population, polar bears spend about 30 days longer on land than they did 30 years ago. Some polar bears have to walk almost 900 miles in search for smaller food items like berries and kelp that don’t fully meet their nutritional needs. This means less food and more strain on the bears, especially young cubs. Since 1987, the Hudson Bay population has declined by 22 percent. With their habitat melting away beneath their feet, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that two-thirds of all polar bears could be gone by 2050 if nothing changes.

As if climate change weren’t troublesome enough, the Arctic ecosystem is still not safe from risky offshore drilling. There are no proven methods to effectively clean up oil spilled in Arctic waters, meaning a spill could have devastating and long-lasting impacts on polar bears. Although Shell Oil recently announced that it is retreating from drilling offshore of Alaska for the foreseeable future, the Obama administration is deciding whether to include new Arctic lease sales in a future drilling program. Let’s not go down that road again. Will you help speak up for polar bears – this Polar Bear Week? Please take action by joining myself and Ocean Conservancy in protecting the Arctic from risky drilling.

Can’t get enough of polar bears? We’re spending the next seven days celebrating our favorite Arctic predator with facts, photos and more goodies on our social media sites, so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, check out Polar Bears International for more ways you can help the polar bears.

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Tell Secretary Kerry: Stand Up for Arctic Wildlife http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/14/tell-secretary-kerry-stand-up-for-arctic-wildlife/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/14/tell-secretary-kerry-stand-up-for-arctic-wildlife/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:09:55 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10079

Polar Bears, ringed seals and beluga whales are seeing their home disappear. Protecting the Arctic Ocean would give them and all the animals who call the Arctic home a fighting chance.

In just two weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry is taking part in an Arctic Council meeting of leaders from every country with territory in the Arctic. The U.S. will take over as Chair of the Arctic Council that week.

He has already agreed that the Arctic Council should focus on protecting the Arctic Ocean. We need Secretary Kerry to keep his commitment and use the Arctic Council meeting to ensure that Arctic nations come together to conserve the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic is at risk, and we need international cooperation to protect it. The vast Arctic region spans parts of Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe and Russia. Rising temperatures, loss of sea ice, increased shipping and ocean acidification threaten wildlife and people across the circumpolar Arctic. It’s not too late though. Protecting important habitats throughout the Arctic can ensure a clean and healthy Arctic for future generations.

Thousands of animals from polar bears to whales to sea birds depend on a safe and healthy Arctic. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth, and they can’t afford for us to wait. Please join us in asking Secretary Kerry to protect the Arctic.

Click here to tell Secretary Kerry to protect the Arctic.

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Rallying for the Arctic 26 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/26/rallying-for-the-arctic-26-years-after-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/26/rallying-for-the-arctic-26-years-after-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:41:41 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10021

In honor of the 26 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, dozens of Arctic lovers gathered in front of the White House to show their support for a clean and healthy Arctic Ocean. Individual ocean supporters, people from groups like Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Friends of the Earth US all stood together to tell the Obama Administration to protect the Arctic from risky oil drilling. I was fortunate enough to be able to join these Arctic advocates.

The Exxon Valdez disaster took place in Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska. Over the course of three days, nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, Alaska’s Arctic Ocean is threatened by risky oil drilling. Shell Oil has proposed drilling exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska as soon as this summer. That’s why people chanted, held signs and demonstrated outside of the White House.

A recent Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report found that there’s a 75 percent chance of a spill if companies, like Shell, are allowed to develop oil in the Arctic. Cleaning an oil spill in Arctic waters would be nearly impossible due to lack of infrastructure, extreme weather and rapidly forming sea ice.

Were you not able to attend the rally? Not to worry – there’s still a lot you can do to fight for the Arctic! Join us in telling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect marine mammals from risky Arctic drilling.

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Breaking Arctic News http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:00:26 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9767

Yesterday, President Obama issued permanent protections from future oil and gas drilling for some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas. The President’s action is an important and positive step to limit risky drilling, and will help protect the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, including vital walrus habitat at the Hanna Shoal.

At the same time, however, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a draft proposed program that calls for additional oil and gas lease sales in other areas of the Arctic, even though oil companies have not shown they are able to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic. Extreme conditions like changing sea ice, fog, and high winds make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. A disaster like the Deepwater Horizon in the Arctic would devastate marine wildlife and jeopardize food security in Alaska Native communities.

Join us in sending a message to BOEM: No Arctic Ocean drilling.

Stand against reckless drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Tell BOEM not to sell Arctic oil and gas leases in the 2017-2022 program.

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U.S. Announces Ambitious Program to Save the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/u-s-announces-ambitious-program-to-save-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/u-s-announces-ambitious-program-to-save-the-arctic/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 14:00:08 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9505

Photo: USFWS

At this month’s Arctic Council meeting in Yellowknife, Canada, the U.S. Department of State announced key initiatives that it plans on pursuing when it assumes the two year Chair of the eight-nation council in April 2015.

These initiatives, presented under the theme of “One Arctic:  Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities,” will focus largely on reducing the causes of and impacts from climate change and will include projects ranging from reducing emissions of short lived climate pollutants to developing a circumpolar Arctic network of Marine Protected Areas.

The U.S. announced their priority programs in three distinct thematic areas:

  1. Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change in the Arctic,
  2. Stewardship of the Arctic Ocean, and
  3. Improving Economic and Living Conditions in the Arctic.

As climate change is causing the remote Arctic ecosystems to change more rapidly than any other region on the planet, Ocean Conservancy applauds the ambitious and comprehensive nature of these initiatives.

Ocean Conservancy previously undertook an in-depth review of the current state of Arctic science and management. We recommended that the U.S. take this opportunity to begin the difficult but urgent process of marine spatial planning and conservation by developing a regional seas program for the Arctic Ocean, protecting important ecological areas, and addressing climate pollutants that are the underlying cause of wildlife and habitat declines in the globally unique Arctic marine environment.  We are proud to report that all of these components were prominent in the U.S. plans.

The U.S. priorities represent a significant move forward from the Economic Development focus of the conservative Canadian government – the current Chair – and were well received by the eight Arctic nations and six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations who sit at the table. While we cannot solve the multitude of issues confronting the Arctic during the two-year U.S. Chair, we can continue our progress in 2017 and beyond when the conservation-minded Finnish government assumes the Chair.

There will still be a focus on improving living conditions and encouraging sustainable development in remote Arctic communities through programs such as renewable energy initiatives and protecting freshwater resources. The U.S. conservation priorities, however, will help the Council, which was founded in the 1990s as an outgrowth of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, get back to its roots and address the ecological changes in the rapidly melting Arctic.  This will occur with management and coordination through a regional seas agreement and program, and at site specific levels, including enacting protections for important ecological areas and habitat for Arctic wildlife.

The U.S. focus on climate change is particularly important now that other large emitters, including China, the European Union, and India, have been admitted to the Arctic Council as Observers.  This means that the Arctic Council will be another venue for collaborative work on reducing emissions of climate pollutants. With the recent announcement of a bilateral U.S. and China program to reduce emissions, Ocean Conservancy has high hopes that this work will continue and expand through focused dialogue at the Arctic Council.

Further signaling the U.S. commitment to using the two year Chair of the Arctic Council to achieve real progress in saving the Arctic was the announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry himself will act as the Chair of the Council and that the U.S. will undertake both public outreach and scientific initiatives to help us better understand the Arctic and the challenges that wildlife and communities are confronting with the impacts of climate change.

As one of only two conservation organizations accredited to work at the Arctic Council,  Ocean Conservancy looks forward to using our unique access to this high level intergovernmental forum to ensure that these ambitious initiatives to save the Arctic and its wildlife are achieved.

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This is How We Can Make Shipping Safer in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 21:30:33 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9289

The Bering Strait is the only marine connection between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean to the south. Just 55 miles wide, the Strait separates Alaska to the east and Russia to the west.

The Bering Strait is a biological hotspot. Millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals use the Strait as a migratory corridor, and the Bering and Chukchi Seas are one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world.

But we’ve also noted that vessel traffic through the Bering Strait is growing. Earlier this year, an American company revealed plans to sail a luxury cruise ship from Seward, Alaska to New York City in 2016, using the fabled Northwest Passage. More recently, a Canadian company announced its intent to ship a cargo of nickel concentrate from northern Canada to China, also via the Northwest Passage. In addition to increasing interest in using the Northwest Passage north of Canada, traffic on the Northern Sea Route north of Russia is growing.

As vessel traffic increases, so too does the potential for adverse environmental impacts to the Bering Strait region. These impacts could include more pollution, ship strikes on marine mammals, and oil spills, among others. Growth in vessel traffic could also have adverse effects on the indigenous peoples; ship traffic could swamp their small boats, displace the animals they hunt, or cause waves that disturb archeological sites and culturally important places.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can make shipping safer and reduce the chances of accidents and spills in the Bering Strait region. A new article in the journal Marine Policy outlines some of these solutions, including:

1. Establishment of shipping lanes: Shipping lanes or recommended routes serve to confine vessels to particular pathways in some portions of the ocean. Use of shipping lanes can help to create regular patterns of use and ensure that vessels steer clear of potential marine hazards.

2. Designation of “Areas to be Avoided”: As the name implies, “Areas to be Avoided” are used to help ensure that vessels stay away from areas of the ocean that may be especially dangerous or vulnerable to disturbance. “Precautionary Areas” can also be used to alert mariners to areas that require special caution.

3. Imposition of speed restrictions: In some situations, slowing down can reduce the risk of ship strikes and decrease noise that may adversely affect marine mammals, especially in constricted areas.

4. Bolstering communications and monitoring: Establishment of routine reporting requirements for vessels transiting the Bering Strait could help keep both local communities and search and rescue officials aware of activity in the region. Use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) could facilitate communication and monitoring, helping to prevent accidents and ensure compliance with regulations.

Other potential safety measures include improved charting for Arctic waters (many of which have not been charted to modern standards); more rigorous voyage planning; and pre-placement of equipment and rescue tugs that would enable quicker response to accidents.

These safety measures may be put in place in a variety of ways, ranging from voluntary adoption by industry, creation of regulations by U.S. agencies including the Coast Guard, or through international agreements between nations or under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization.

There is no “silver bullet” that can eliminate the threats posed by growing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait, but if sensible regulations and mitigation measures are put in place now, they will go a long way toward increasing shipping safety and reducing potential environmental impacts.

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