Impact Of An Ice-Diminished Arctic On Naval And Maritime Operations

     Thank you for inviting me to speak at the symposium today. I believe
this meeting is the first time that we have convened such a broad group of
experts both from within and outside of the government to discuss the
implications of an accessible Arctic Ocean. I am honored to be here today to
speak to you today about such an important topic.
     “Naval Operations in an Ice Free Arctic” was the name of a
symposium held here in Washington D.C. in April of 2001. At that time the
symposium was solely focused on the national and strategic issues
associated with Naval missions and capabilities of an ice-diminished Arctic.
I believe this year’s symposium has rightly been expanded to include
broader discussions of maritime transportation and the implications of loss
of sea ice on this activity as well.
     An ice-diminished Arctic is important to the United States and
particularly important to the State of Alaska. The United States has been an
Arctic nation, with crucial interests in the Arctic, since the purchase of
Alaska from Russia in 1867. Today there is increased attention on the
Arctic, chiefly as a result of the dramatic changes that are occurring within
this region.
     Alaska is America’s Arctic which includes over 1000 miles of
coastline along the Arctic Ocean. While the Arctic Ocean covers only 3% of
the earth’s surface, it accounts for over 25% of the world’s continental shelf.
So when we are talking about the Arctic, the people of Alaska have a very
strong interest.
     There is more to the Arctic, however, then just the flora, fauna and
climate. The ”Arctic Human Development Report”, initiated by the the
Arctic Council and completed in 2004, is an important source of information
that should serve to remind us that as change is sweeping through the Arctic,
there is a diverse group of Arctic residents and their needs must be
considered in our discussions of Arctic issues.
      This is a crucial issue in Alaska because of the Inupiat people that
have lived off the land in this region for thousands of years. For the most
part these people have continued to practice a subsistence lifestyle, while
also integrating modern technology and convenience into their lives. And the
changes that are occurring in the Arctic are being felt and expressed by the
residents of the region. When I am visiting the villages in the northern part
of the state, speaking with elders, I ask them about their experiences. They
don’t speak about Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or attempt to debunk the now
infamous hockey stick theory. They tell me what they have personally
observed over the years. Native whaling captains tell me that the ice pack is
less stable, and that there is more open water requiring them to travel greater
distances to hunt. The snow pack is coming later and melting earlier than in
years past. Salmon are showing up in subsistence nets further north and in
greater numbers across the Arctic. Their experiences and observations
validate much of what the scientific studies have been indicating.
     The heightened focus on the Arctic is primarily due to the impacts of
climate change and the fact that these changes are occurring at an
unprecedented rate in this region. This makes the Arctic the most vital place
to be studying how global climate change can affect the entire planet. There
is also increased attention that the International Polar Year is bringing to the
region. The International Polar Year, 2007-2008, is an intense scientific
campaign to explore new frontiers in polar science, improve our
understanding of the critical role these regions play in global
context, form national and international partnerships between scientists and
their governments and educate the public about the Polar Regions.
IPY is an multinational project, involving scientists from over 60
countries which was coordinated in the United States by the National
Science Foundation. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the United
States scientific community to foster international cooperation, engage in
cutting edge research, gain new knowledge about the Arctic environment
and initiate a sustained effort to assess the changes that are occurring in the
Polar Regions. Of the 225 IPY projects, the United States plays a leadership
role in 52 and is participating in 80% of the projects. One quarter of the
projects involve Alaska and the Arctic.
     The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment found that temperatures in the
Arctic are rising faster then anywhere else on earth. The ACIA report also
stated that the Arctic sea cover is undergoing an unprecedented
transformation-sea ice thinning, a reduction in extent, and a reduction in the
area of multi-year sea ice in the central Arctic Ocean. The ACIA sea ice
simulations show increasing ice free areas in the Arctic coastal seas, which
suggest an increase in Arctic marine access. One of their key findings was
that the continuing reduction of sea ice is very likely to lengthen the
navigation season and increase the marine access to the Arctic’s natural
resources. They also found that seasonal opening of the Northern Sea Route
is likely to make trans-arctic shipping during summer feasible within several
      The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
assessment showed that Arctic sea ice has shrunk approximately 20% since
1953 and concluded that the Arctic could be seasonally free of sea ice
sometime between 2050 and the end of the century.
     A recent study by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center
and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, using satellite and other
observations, show the Arctic ice cover is retreating more rapidly than
estimated by any of the computer models the IPCC used in preparing their
assessment. These newly available data sets, which combine early aircraft
and ship reports with more recent satellite measurements, show that the
September ice, traditionally when it is at its minimum, has actually declined
at a much faster rate. This recent report estimates that the loss of
summertime sea ice could occur decades earlier then the IPCC assessment
     If this projected loss of sea ice occurs, it will open up the Northern
Sea Route for transportation by non ice-strengthened vessels for an
increasing number of days in the summer. We have been anticipating the
effects of trade on the Northeast and Northwest Passage since explorers
began their search for them almost 500 years ago. Routes through the Arctic
will dramatically shorten shipping distances between existing commercial
regions and trade centers and will be of primary interest for shipping
between Europe and Asia. Via the Northern Sea Route, the distance
between Yokohama and Hamburg, for example, is only 6900 miles,
compared with 11, 500 miles via the Suez Canal.
     In 2004, the Arctic Council requested the Protection of the Arctic
Marine Environment working group to conduct a comprehensive Arctic
marine shipping assessment. I know you will be getting an update on this
assessment during the symposium and I know we all eagerly await the final
report due out in 2009.
     The prospect of increased shipping through the Arctic raises some
important implications for the regional and global economy, for the coastal
communities, and for marine resources.
     The Administration is currently undergoing an interagency review of
Arctic policy. I believe this is a opportune time to review the priorities and
objectives of the United States Arctic policy. One area in which the United
States has the capability to be a world leader is in the area of climate change
adaptation. In Alaska, we have the facilities and the scientific expertise to
carry on the research and lead this discussion.
      One of the key areas I believe the United States government should
invest is in replacing their aging Polar icebreaker fleet. Both the Polar Sea
and Polar Star are reaching the end of their service lives and without a plan
or funds for an extension of the program U.S. icebreaking capability is at
risk. We need to initiate a needs assessment and design study as the first
      Another area I believe we should be immediately investing in is an
Integrated Arctic Observing Network. The National Academies report from
2006 outlined the potential scope, composition and implementation strategy
for such a network. It is currently very difficult to thoroughly describe
current conditions in the Arctic or understand the changes that are underway.
Both the scientific community and residents of the Arctic would greatly
benefit from an international environmental observing network that would
be built on and enhance existing national and international efforts. Other
Arctic nations are in the developmental stage of their observing systems and
the United States needs to be a part of this global network.
      One of the key components of any U.S. policy must be to engage in
international political cooperation across the Arctic. The first forum we
must continue to be actively involved in is the Arctic Council. As the Arctic
Council celebrates its ten year anniversary this year, the U.S. must focus and
prioritize the cooperation with the eight countries that have territory in the
Arctic and continue to be an active participant in the environmental,
scientific, and political discussions and work that is ongoing.
     The working groups of the Arctic Council have been very active and
we are eagerly awaiting the release of there upcoming report, “The Oil and
Gas assessment,” in the near future. Norway has just taken over the
chairmanship of the Council and one of their priorities is a review of the
Arctic Council structure and discussion of whether the Arctic Council could
be a forum to develop a binding legal regime for the Arctic. It will be
crucial that the United States fully engage in this discussion about
governance of the Arctic.
     The other forum, in which I am a member, is the Standing Committee
of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, or Arctic Parliamentarians. This
parliamentary body was first established to support the establishment of the
Arctic Council and now works actively to promote the work of the Council.
The Arctic is a relative newcomer in international cooperation but we
have achieved much in a short time. I believe it has been the cooperation
between the indigenous peoples, the scientific community and the Arctic
political organizations which may be the most important achievement in the
Arctic cooperation and will be the key factor as we move forward. One of
the most important developments in this cooperation is the successful way
the indigenous people of the Arctic have worked collaboratively with the
scientific community and have found their voice in sharing with the rest of
the world their experiences in the Arctic and the impacts that these changes
are having on their lives.
     As we review and develop the nation’s Arctic policy, I must advocate
a priority of ratifying the Convention on the Law of the Sea Treaty.
There are still some who do not see the point in joining with the rest of the
world in ratifying the Treaty. They say that the U.S. already enjoys the
benefits of the Treaty even though we are not a member and that by not
becoming a party to the Treaty, we can pick and choose which sections we
abide by, while not subjecting our actions to international review. But I
believe it is very important for the United States to be a party to this Treaty
and be a player in the process, rather then an outsider hoping our interests
are not damaged. Accession to the Convention would give current and
future administrations both enhanced credibility and leverage in calling upon
other nations to meet Convention responsibilities.
     One of the major issues of potential impact on Alaska is in making a
claim for an Extended Continental Shelf. Russia submitted a claim in 2002
that would grant them 45% of the Arctic Ocean’s bottom resources. If the
United States were to become a party to the treaty, the U.S. stands to lay
claim to an area in the Arctic of about 45,000 square kilometers-or
approximately the size of California. But if we do not become party to the
Treaty, our opportunity to make this claim, and have the international
community respect it, diminishes considerably-as does our ability to prevent
claims like Russia’s from coming to fruition. That would be a negligent
forfeiture of valuable oil, gas, and mineral deposits that may be found in the
Arctic. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Arctic may hold
approximately 25% of the undiscovered petroleum resources and 13% of the
     This symposium brings an outstanding field of experts together to
discuss the potential impacts of an accessible Arctic Ocean. While I hope
the conference helps answer many of the questions that have arisen, I will
add to those some of my own and some of the questions that are crucial to
the residents of Alaska as we look ahead to an ice-diminished Arctic:
• will it make subsistence resources more or less vulnerable?
• Will it expand our fisheries?
• Will it make our natural resource wealth more economic and
competitive in the world market?
• How can we ensure maximum protection for the environment?
• What will we need for shipping safety, navigation and search
and rescue?
• What role will Alaska and America play in the new avenues of
shipping and global commerce and what can we do to prepare?
     A new Arctic Ocean will require enhanced environmental
protection and marine safety measures. Domestic and
international legislation and international guidelines may be
required but must balance freedom of navigation interests with
security, safety and environmental policies. We must find the
balance between to allow for commercial exploitation of the
natural resources and protection for the environment.
Maritime activities relating to the transportation of goods, oil
and gas, tourism and research will surely increase as the marine
access to the Arctic Ocean increases. This represents perhaps the
greatest challenge and need for international cooperation.
I look forward to the results of this symposium and I sincerely
hope that these next three days are productive and informative.
The Arctic is unquestionably unique and the projections of an icediminished
Arctic have profound implications for this region, its
ecology, environment and people. How we address and adapt to
these changes is truly the challenge and opportunity that lies
ahead. Thank you for the opportunity to address the symposium
and I wish you all the best.