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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment 4 Potential Influences on Future Needs for Icebreakers CHANGES IN ARCTIC SEA ICE It is uncertain what changes in Arctic sea ice will have on the need for icebreakers. The winter Arctic sea ice extends southward through the Bering Strait and into the northern Bering Sea so that the entire Alaskan northern coast and a substantial portion of the Alaskan western coast is ice-covered in winter. In the summer months, the Arctic sea ice margin retreats northward which creates open waters around the entire Alaskan coastline for several weeks to several months. Model projections of Arctic sea ice extent over the next several decades show that the early spring and late summer (shoulder seasons) sea ice cover is likely to be reduced. Northward retreat of the ice margin in early spring will create more broken ice along the Alaskan coastline as the sea ice begins to melt. These conditions will remain late into the summer until the ice margin begins to advance toward the south in response to cooling seasonal temperatures. These models also show greater spatial and temporal variability in sea ice extent and thickness throughout the Arctic, which may influence the capability needed to break ice of differing thicknesses in certain regions of the Arctic. Ice conditions may require occasional heavy icebreaking capabilities. CHANGES IN HUMAN ACTIVITIES AND ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES As a result of a number of factors, including the dramatic ice margin retreat over recent years, economic activity appears to be moving northward. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Arctic fishing fleets have already begun to follow the fish stocks that migrate northward as the ice edge retreats. For indigenous populations in the Arctic, including the Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimo of Alaska and the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic, sea ice retreat disrupts and significantly restricts their subsistence hunting and food-sharing life styles as many key species become less accessible due to northward migrations, or in the worst-case scenario become extinct (ACIA, 2005). A workshop on marine transportation in the Arctic (Arctic Marine Transport Workshop, 2004) suggested that it is plausible to expect increased marine tourism as cruise ships venture further north following the retreat of the ice edge. There has also been an increase in oil and gas tanker traffic, particularly in the Siberian Arctic and Sub-Arctic (New York Times, 2005). It is also likely that resource exploration, recovery, and shipping activities will expand into previously inaccessible areas. Several companies have begun to explore the extensive oil and gas fields near
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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment the Sakhalin Islands (Mikko Niini, Aker Arctic Technology, Inc., personal communication). These companies have begun to charter the majority of the existing icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships for the foreseeable future, which could create a scarcity of these types of ships available on the world market. In addition, many orders for double-acting tankers, ships that can both break ice and transport cargo, have been placed and demand is expected to grow (Mikko Niini, Aker Arctic Technology, Inc., personal communication). Any increase in activity in the Arctic will almost assuredly create greater risks of environmental impact and the potential for human activities that push the limits of safety near the ice edge, especially in the shoulder seasons. These activities will increase the necessity to respond to accidents and create a greater need for law enforcement in ice margin areas, which will increase the need for ice-capable ships (ice-strengthened ships and icebreakers) in the Arctic. This increase in human activity in more northerly latitudes will most likely increase the demand on the U.S. Coast Guard to have a greater presence in and around the ice margin to perform its many safety, security, and law enforcement missions. U.N. CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), nations are claiming sovereignty over extended territories beyond the current 200 mile economic boundary. In the Arctic Ocean the possibility for conflict exists as boundaries of five nations—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States—that have coasts on the Arctic Ocean, converge giving rise to the potential for disputed claims. For example, Russia adopted the treaty in 1997, and a claim filed four years later included nearly half the Arctic Ocean. The claim was rejected by the UNCLOS commission’s technical panel, but a recent mapping expedition aboard the research vessel, AKADEMIK FEDOROV, to the North Pole may yield data that substantiates the Russian claim. If the United States ratifies this law, it will have ten years to make a claim to extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) borders as defined by the extent of the continental shelf off Alaska. One implication for science is that the Convention grants the coastal nation jurisdiction over marine scientific research conducted in its EEZ and its continental shelf and requires consent for conduct of such research. The implications for icebreaker capability are that adherence is likely to increase demands for a U.S. presence in an expanded EEZ. There are also requirements under the Convention for mapping in order to document claims. For the United States this would likely require use of the HEALY, which is currently the only U.S. icebreaker vessel with multibeam capability. PLANS FOR OTHER ICE-CAPABLE RESEARCH SHIPS Presentations to the Committee at the meeting on November 6, 2005, outlined that several plans for ice-capable research ships have been proposed in the U.S. and in other countries. These presentations underscored that there have been significant advances in icebreaking technologies since the polar icebreakers were built. The Antarctic Research Vessel Oversight Committee (ARVOC) serves in an advisory capacity to the National Science Foundation and for the past 3 years ARVOC has been engaged in an assessment and planning effort directed towards making recommendations to the NSF regarding future vessels and the possible construction of a new polar research icebreaker to replace the NATHANIEL B. PALMER. Such a new ship would
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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment be designed to work farther into the ice than the NATHANIEL B. PALMER and would be able to reliably support year-round science operations in most of the Southern Ocean. The Alaska Region Research Vessel is proposed to replace the 37-year old R/V Alpha Helix that is owned by the National Science Foundation. The ship is designed to operate in the coastal and open ocean waters of the Alaska region. Sufficient ice strengthening will allow it to work safely in moderate seasonal ice, operating over a longer period than formerly possible in the North Pacific Ocean; Gulf of Alaska; and the Bering; Chukchi; and Beaufort Seas. The design is based on science mission requirements developed by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System community. While the AURORA BOREALIS is still in the planning stages, it is to be a dedicated European research icebreaker with a deep drilling capability. It is to be built as a joint European research vessel that will be used in the Arctic. This new icebreaker would be conceived as an optimized science platform, which would facilitate long international and interdisciplinary expeditions into the central Arctic Ocean during all seasons of the year. U.S. participation in this project is considered feasible by the European Consortium, but the topic has yet to be addressed in the United States.
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