Here’s a conundrum for you to ponder: climate change is accelerating at a rate much faster than previously thought and one of the noticeable byproducts of this accelerated change is a rapidly melting Arctic region. This, in turn, is exposing more unchartered open ocean to offshore oil and gas drilling, which, of course, is one of the main sources of climate change.
Get all that? If not, here’s something else for you to think about: over the next few years, the Arctic will become the focus of vast global economic development (including tourism) connecting developing Asia to the West via a more exposed Northwest Passage. As the Arctic ice begins to disappear, so does the lengthy voyage cargo ships much take to exchange goods. Many businesses, namely Royal Dutch Shell, are wide-eyed and giddy with the financial possibilities of a melting polar region.
Sadly, none of this so-called “development” takes into account the sorry state of a melting planet. Scientists are still trying to fully understand the ramification of a disappearing Arctic, but one of the things they do know is that it’s not good news for Earth. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, commented that, “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. It has huge implications for the global system. And one of the reasons people are legitimately concerned about melting of sea ice are the uncertainties associated with the consequences of that for the rest of the planet.”
Another thing to be concerned about is the lack of United States presence in this vastly unexplored and unchartered area. The U.S. has not yet signed the Law of the Sea treaty, or UNCLOS, which defines the rights and responsibilities of world nations when using and protecting the world’s oceans. In addition to environmental awareness, UNCLOS also provides a framework for resolving any potential territorial disputes in the Arctic. Whether or not the U.S. wants to become more involved in Arctic exploration and/or protection remains to be seen. However, given the rapidly expanding interest in the area, it’s doubtful the U.S. will sit on the sidelines for long.
Still, no matter how many nations are itching to get a piece of the Arctic, it remains the last untouched and unscathed region of the planet, a region full of rich oceanic and terrestrial life. The Arctic is particularly important in that it keeps the planet cool by reflecting sunlight back into space, but as ice melts, more sunlight is absorbed and sea levels rise, creating a ripple effect we have only just begun to witness. The melting Arctic, however, is merely one example of what’s to come with continued climate change and the ensuing military and industrial interest in this fragile part of the planet will be something to pay great attention to in the coming years.
Photo Credit: Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren, NOAA Corps (ret.)