On Wednesday, 25th of April 2012, during the IPY Conference prof. Brigham gave a speech on key drivers and futures for Arctic Marine use.
He stressed globalization, climate change and geopolitics as key drivers of the profound change in the Arctic. For the Arctic Ocean and marine traffic, this change is driven primarily by Arctic natural resource development and marine tourism. This was one of the key findings of work done by the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) of the Arctic Council during 2005-09. The scenarios creation effort in AMSA indicated that the two most important (and uncertain) drivers, of many, were (A) the level of natural resource development and trade, and (B) governance (the degree of stability of rules and regulations for Arctic marine navigation).
Mr Brigham highlighted, that nowadays we see expanded Arctic marine transport systems evolving in offshore Russia, Norway, Greenland, and potentially in the U.S. maritime Arctic in summer 2012. Existing year-round marine transport to the world's largest nickel mine (Norilsk Nickel) in Northwest Russia, and seasonally to the world's largest zinc mine in northwest Alaska (Red Dog) are well established. Plans are being made to link a large, high grade iron ore mine on Baffin Island in Canada to European steel producers. All of these marine systems indicate much greater links of the Arctic to the global economy.
Recent experimental voyages across the Russian maritime Arctic by tankers and bulk carriers confirm plausible, summer marine routes eastbound from northern Norway and the Russian Arctic to markets in China. Cruise ship traffic by medium and large ships continues to increase in western Greenland. Importantly, continued Arctic sea ice retreat creates greater marine access throughout the Arctic Ocean for science and commercial marine operations; longer navigation seasons during the summer are a reality today.
One of the key factors that must be kept in mind is, despite the extraordinary changes in Arctic sea ice thickness, extent and character (moving to a future Arctic Ocean without multi-year ice), the Arctic Ocean will remain fully or partially ice-covered during the winter and much of the spring and autumn. Polar class ships will be required for future operations once a mandatory Polar Code of Navigation is promulgated by the International Maritime Organization.
Action is also being taken by the Arctic Council and the Arctic states to address future Arctic marine use: a new binding Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement gained approval in 2011, and a new Arctic Oil Spill Task Force is developing a second instrument to address this critical issue. There is little doubt globalization of the Arctic and regional climate change are closely coupled, and they will have immense influence over future marine use and the strategies developed to protect Arctic people and the marine environment.