‘historic’ agreement on polar research between Japan and Greenland

A delegation that included the head of Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR, 国立極地研究所) and the country’s ambassador to Denmark was last week in Nuuk to sign a ‘historic‘ agreement on increased cooperation on climate science research, expected to be followed by others in the future.

Besides participating in international initiatives such as the NEEM ice core drilling project in the island’s far north (77°N), Japanese research institutions have also launched their own. An ambitious five-year project on Arctic climate change was launched as part of the Kan administration’s green-focused growth strategy in 2010. Among its research topics are the influence of Arctic climate change on the weather and marine ecosystem in Japan (an issue highlighted by NIPR director Shiraishi in Greenland) as well as forecasting sea ice distribution along Arctic shipping routes. The just-launched Arctic Challenge for Sustainability Project (ArCS), whose scope also includes socio-economic effects of climate change, sounds particularly relevant to Greenland. One of the institutions involved is Hokkaido University, representatives of which were indeed part of last week visit.

Russian Arctic event kicks off today

The long-awaited patriotic Arctic event organised by a Russian NGO with strong state backing I wrote about recently (‘coming to a Pole near you‘) begins today with a ceremony in Moscow, but with a few changes. What was originally planned to be an expedition to the North Pole has been downscaled to a series of events in Svalbard, both in the Russian settlement of Barentsburg and in Longyearbyen.

The most visible aspect of the event, the unfurling of a 1000 m2 Russian flag and 250 m2 flags of Russian regions, towns and “socially responsible companies” will still take place, although in Svalbard and not at the Barneo polar station as previously announced. This, as well as the expected presence at the event of representatives of Norway and Russia-friendly countries like Cyprus and Serbia, somehow dilutes the patriotic overtones and moves the focus away from what had been described as an assertion of sovereignty.

The event is part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which Norway’s PM Erna Solberg, along with other Western leaders, will be boycotting over the Ukraine crisis. Ironically enough, not only will enormous flags of Crimea and Sebastopol be prominently displayed in Svalbard, but one of the organisators of the event is Sergey Mironov, a politician under Western (and Norwegian) sanctions, which he has said he’s “happy” to be under. Mr Mironov doesn’t seem to be flying to Svalbard, but he is supposed to be taking part in today’s ceremony on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow.

The organisators have photoshopped a gorgeous picture of what the enormous flags will look like when laid on the snow in Svalbard. The work is a bit short of perfect: the Russian flag in the picture looks the same size as the regional flags, while it’s supposed to be four times bigger; and all the flags lie in a perfectly horizontal plane, so that rather than lie on the terrain they seem to be floating above ground, like a band of over-starched flying carpets.

The expedition leaves Moscow tomorrow and the events in Svalbard will take place during the weekend.

For some background on the organisation behind the event and its patriotic overtones, check my previous post on the project.

Icelandic environmentalists against Jan Mayen oil

It’s not time for Iceland to “bet on oil”, as they seem to be doing after granting three oil licenses for the Drekasvæði (Icelandic Jan Mayen area), where “there are few indications” that production will be profitable, says Árni Finnsson of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (Náttúruverndarsamtök Íslands) to AFP. Árni’s and other local environmental organisations had shown their opposition to Jan Mayen exploration earlier, for example with a demonstration just after Chinese major CNOOC got the third of the licenses some six weeks ago.

Eykon Energy, CNOOC’s local partner in the Jan Mayen license, would surely differ with Árni’s assessment of the prospects for oil exploration in the area. They’ve been talking about reserves of up to 1bn barrels of oil equivalent, some twenty times what the Norwegian petroleum directorate estimates is to be found down there.