American Elephants

The International Icebreaking Competition by The Elephant's Child


The more you read about the case of the climate scientist’s Antarctic publicity stunt, the more interesting it gets. The Seattle-based U.S.Coast Guard Polar Star is intended for servicing the National Science Foundation’s research stations at McMurdo Sound. It is a 339 foot powerhouse whose engines can deliver 75,000 horsepower. Its recently completed three-year overhaul cost about $90 million. With its specially designed hull, it can continuously break 6 feet of ice while moving at three knots, and break through a two-story wall of ice by backing up and ramming. It left Sydney, Australia on Saturday morning, and is expected to reach the icebound ships — about 1,500 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania — about January 12. Senators from Alaska and Washington State have requested funding for four new heavy duty icebreakers, but funding is not yet forthcoming. Polar Star is currently the only one in service, its twin Polar Sea is currently out of service, waiting for funding for refurbishing. And Australia is planning a new icebreaker. The Russians are building the world’s largest universal nuclear-powered icebreaker capable of navigating in the Arctic and in the shallow waters of Siberian rivers. The unique vessel will further increase Russia’s dominance in the region. It will be finished in 2017 and will be the highest ice class — 9— meaning that it can crack ice fields 3 meters thick, in the Arctic all year around. Atomflot has announced a $2.5 billion tender for the construction of two similar class icebreakers to be delivered sometime between 2018 and 2020. Nuclear powered ships cannot operate in the Antarctic, by law. The Russian military abandoned the Subarctic along the Northern Sea Route on the collapse of the Soviet Union. In September Russia’s Defense Ministry officially announced return of Russia’s military to the region, with a task group of 10 warships and support vessels to the western coast of Kotelny Island in the Novosibirsk Archipelago. They left the port of Severomorsk and had already covered 2,000 nautical miles crossing the Barents, Kara and Laptev seas.

“We have come, or rather permanently returned, to where we belong, because it is originally Russian land,” said Army General Arkady Bakhin, Russia’s First Defense Minister.

The inactive military airfield on Kotelny Island is being reopened and modified, and the air connection will be regular, all-weather and year around. The Arctic seabed is believed to contain vast oil and gas resources. The five nations that border the Arctic Ocean — have bitterly disputed how to divide up the region. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an economic zone belonging to a state is limited to 200 miles from the coastline, but the area can be extended if a country provides evidence that the continental shelf is a geological extension of its territory. The Russians have organized several expeditions to prove that an underwater Arctic mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge is part of its own landmass, planting underwater flags by submarine. By 2020, Russia plans to deploy a combined-arms force — military, border and coastal guard units — to protect its economic and political interests in the Arctic.

Russia may lose its sovereignty in about 40 years if it fails to clearly set out its national interests in the Arctic, believes the country’s Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. … In his words, by the middle of 21st century the fight for resources between different states will turn completely “uncivilized.”

Vice Prime Minister Rogozin clearly believes that a warming climate will send everyone to the Arctic in a battle for resources. On the other hand, Russian scientists believe we may be in for another Little Ice Age, lasting one or two hundred years. ADDENDUM: The Xue Long and the Akademic Shokalskiy have notified the Australian authorities that the ice has opened up and they no longer need assistance. The Polar Star will proceed on to McMurdo, their original mission.

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