Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Melting the ice

I see that Benigno Sablan has been reappointed to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. I assume Marine Monument supporters wouldn't be pleased because members are nominated by the Governor, but I've liked Ben since he was my Congressman.

Really, I wouldn't even bring it up, except that the press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (This is the Saipan Tribune after all) states that "NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages the nation's coastal and marine resources." You might guess from my added emphasis that I consider that a boldface, um, overstatement. How about understanding and predicting the Arctic Icecap?

North by Northwest

The Northwest Passage is open for business. Dust off your history books and you'll recall that a passage to the Far East drove generations of early American exploration. Even Columbus was aiming for the "Indies".

So far, I've only run across an Australian who sailed West-to-East, but if it continues to open, and for a longer season, shippers are sure to follow. A beefed up oil tanker was tested before the decision was made to build the Alaska Pipeline.

The extent of sea-ice is approaching last year's record low. Global warming? Probably, maybe, but that's irrelevant in the near-term. The icecap has been shrinking for the 30 years we've had satellites to peep at it and for the last 10 years particularly.

We can argue about where the Highs and Lows park during summer and winds pushing the pack ice in the 'wrong' direction, even throw in global currents and post-ice-age isostatic recovery. We know that the 'new ice' from last year melts more easily and that open ocean absorbs more sunlight than ice, but we're ignorant puppies about events on this scale and our supercomputers will be happily humming for years. Climate change is about decades or centuries, not years.

Chill out

Why should I care way off in Saipan? Well aside from living near sea level and liking to think about ice when I'm sweltering in the dark, Russia has been pretty assertive lately.

There are bound to be disputes; Russia has tried to claim the North Pole and is building nuclear-powered icebreakers, Canada is still trying to assert control over their sea-lanes, and we're stumbling along with three aged icebreakers (one's for research and one's in the shop).

Yep, you got it: the icebreaker gap. It's not just military/political; ice-free doesn't mean, well, free of ice. Depending on who's defining, it means less than 15% ice. So ships can get stuck, they can get holed, they can sink. Big ships. Tankers. Enforcement and clean-up crews are going to have to function in that environment.

Also, submarine cousins from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are going to be increasingly likely to meet, and to invade each other's territory.

1 comment:

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Strange as it sounds being on a sub under the ice can feel a might claustrophobic. In open water, escape in the case of an emergency is at least possible (some of the time). Under the ice it's fish food time.