The Melting of Permafrost and their Carbon Releases in the Arctic May Lead to Harmful Consequences (N. Esak)

Evidence was announced on Tuesday by the journal Environmental Research Letters that ancient carbon has been released out into the atmosphere due to melting permafrost soils in the Northwest Territories (Mooney, 2018). These carbons were stored in plant bodies up to thousands of years ago and stored in arctic permafrost’s, and with the rapid increase in temperatures, these carbons are now expected to be released.

For thousands of years massive amounts of carbon have been stored in soils  as plants have died but were unable to decay fully due to the extreme cold temperatures in the Arctic (Mooney, 2018).  However, as temperatures in the arctic have been increasing, due to global climate change, these ancient carbons begin to become broken down to carbon dioxide and methane emissions (Mooney, 2018). Considering that carbon dioxide and methane contributes to even greater temperature increases, the melting of permafrost ends up becoming a positive feedback loop that keeps increasing the warming of the planet. Although, scientists are unsure of exactly how much of this carbon will be released and how fast the release is expected to occur.

“I would say if you’re looking at anything pushing several hundred years old to a thousand years old, then you have to start wondering whether that should be coming out of this kind of system” said Joshua Dean, this research’s lead author and professor at the University of Stirling in Britain and Vrije University in Amsterdam (Mooney, 2018).

However, other researchers have questioned if this increased release of ancient carbon is what is to be expected, such as Claudia Czmczik, professor at the University of California and conducted research for the Nature Climate Change study. She said, “It is currently unclear what constitutes a ‘steady state scenario’ for various Arctic ecosystems, specifically what a deviation from the expected carbon cycling in an undisturbed environment would look like” (Mooney, 2018).

Despite these other interpretations, it is clear that the Arctic has been affected by these increases in the release of carbon from melted permafrost and this issue definitely needs further research in order to prevent further harms to the Arctic.

Reference

Mooney, C. (2018, March 01). Ancient carbon is coming from arctic soil. It might be fine but it might be terrible. Retrived March 04, 2018, from https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2018/03/01/ancient-carbon-is-coming-from-arctic-soil-it-might-be-fine-but-it-might-be-terrible.html

 

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The Open Letter to Trudeau, from the More than 250 International Scientists on the Arctic (N. Esak)

This past week a signed open letter from more than 250 scientists from 22 countries was released and addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Nielsen, 2018). The issue addressed in the open letter was a warning on the international concern and importance of preserving the Canadian Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program (CCAR) (Nielsen, 2018). This program provides funding for many arctic focused projects from changes in land water to glacier movements, to sea ice. This $35 million-dollar project was to fund 7 projects for CCAR, however six of these projects are set to be defunded at the end of 2018 (Nielsen, 2018).

This is not the first time scientists voiced their fears on this issue, Canadian scientists already expressed their concerns last spring when it was released that the 2017 Federal Budget was not including funding for the CCAR program (Kassam, 2018). One of the researchers, Dan Weaver of Evidence For Democracy, the research group who sent the letter last week, stated his concerns ““The government has taken great effort to engage with policies around climate and climate education, green energy and a lot of these great things,” he said. “But somehow along the way, the support for the atmospheric science – the underlying science of the issue – has been overlooked.” (Kassam, 2018).  Moreover, scientists internationally have also stated that Canada plays a critical role in climate change monitoring and research based on its close proximity to the arctic circle (Kassam, 2018). The loss of these programs will also lead to the loss of significant research opportunities to determine the pace in which the climate is changing. The director of research for the Centre National de La Researche Scientifique in France, Dr Sophie Godin-Beekmann, also expressed this issue when she said, “Due to its location, Canada’s leadership in the study and monitoring of Arctic atmosphere has become even more important to our understanding of the rapidly evolving Arctic climate and environment’ (Kassam, 2018).

Kristy Duncan, the Minister of Science, defended Prime Minister Trudeau and saying that Canada is now doing more to improve climate change than any other government has before in the country (Nielsen, 2018). She addressed this by stating “As the Arctic matters now more than ever because of climate change, we are working to move forward on an Arctic Policy Framework in which science will play a key role. This will be a whole of government approach to the Arctic, one that includes Indigenous voices and the role of traditional knowledge” (Nielsen, 2018). So even though it looks like they may not be reinstating the six programs which the government ended funding for in the CCAR, this statement looks like they are looking into developing a new policy framework to address arctic concerns, however when this will be implemented is unknown for now.

References

Nielsen, K. (2018, January 22). 250 International Scientists Sign Warning Letter to Justin Trudeau on Climate Change. Retrived January 28, 2018, from https://globalnews.ca/news/3981188/scientists-sign-warning-letter-justin-trudeau/

Kassam, A. (2018, January 22). Canadian Climate Science Faces Crisis That May Be Felt Globally, Scientists Warn. Retrived January 28, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/22/canada-climate-science-faces-looming-crisis

 

How a First Nations Community is to Understand Left Diesel and Joined Hydro (A. Koundourakis)

Wataynikaneyap is a power company that powers 20 First Nations communities in North Western Ontario. Out of these 20 communities, 16 are powered by diesel. Wataynikaneyap means “line that brings light” in Anishiniiniimowin, and was named by the Elders who provided guidance to the company partners. It’s a little ironic that the line that brings light also creates a black plume of smoke due to the diesel energy used. To remove this, the Ontario government is investing $1.35 Billion towards the Transmission Project. This Transmission Project will finance the connection of the First Nations communities to Ontario’s hydro grid.

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The use of diesel power in remote communities does have its downfalls, obviously. There are reasons why we don’t use diesel power in cities: mostly because it’s dirty, unreliable and costly. According to local residents in North Spirit Lake First Nation, diesel power is unreliable as power goes out at least once a week. The amount of diesel used and stored is also a huge issue: 3,000 litres a day is used from one generator during a cold winter night (this adds up to 5,688 lbs of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere); the diesel is kept 3 kilometres from the community; and 800,000 litres of diesel are transported in tanks across the ice road in winter. Furthermore, some days the weather isn’t cold enough to be transported by truck so it has to be transported by air, thereby adding to the CO2 emissions. The 800,000 litres of fuel required to power the community of 400 costs about $1 million. This does not include the millions of dollars to operate and maintain the diesel generators. North Spirit Lake community pays $1.25 million a year for their power supply. That’s one of the 16 communities that use the diesel power, so picture that figure but about 16 times larger.

Ontario%20Power%20Authority%20Showing%20Where%20The%20First%20Nations%20Communities%20Will%20be%20Connected%20to%20The%20Grid

The plan is currently in Phase 2, to connect the communities north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake to the Ontario power grid. This includes construction of a 1,500 kilometre line connecting the two communities by 2020 and it will cost $1.15 billion. Wataynikaneyap Power is hoping to start construction on the project by 2018 once all approvals are secured. Once complete, the project will provide more than 10,000 people living in remote First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario with a more reliable, cheaper and cleaner supply of electricity. The project construction will create new business opportunities and skills development for the local communities. The project will also help alleviate load growth restrictions, where previously the amounts of homes were either fixed to a certain supply because the power supply couldn’t keep up with new homes.

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There are however some concerns about the construction of new power lines. Community meetings have expressed concerns about the power lines, arguing that they will disrupt migration patterns for birds and animals that people rely on for food. Off the top of my head, one concern I could think of is downed power lines. A few winters ago, there were some ice storms that caused some tree branches to break off and disconnect some cables. Northern Ontario is not known for having mild winters, so I’d expect downed lines to be a common occurrence. However, I’m not an expert in Northern cable lines.

The benefits environmentally and financially are numerous. Over 40 years the connection will save $1 billion for the 16 communities. Load growth restrictions will be removed and the community will finally be allowed to grow their businesses and residential zones. The project is expected to create over 680 jobs in Ontario during the construction period. The project will make a large infrastructure investment in hospitals, schools, roads, bridges and transit in Ontario and help promote a low carbon economy. Finally, the plan will help improve a more secure retirement for Northern residents.

So, here’s my review on the scenario. This has to be cooperation between Federal and Provincial governments. Anyone who has taken POL250 should know that the Federal government’s jurisdiction is First Nations and reserves; the Provincial government’s jurisdiction is power generation. The first phase started sometime in 2015, when the Conservative government was in power (this isn’t really important to the blog, just a fun fact). So power generation had switched from the Federal government – who will be saving a majority of the cost since they were the ones who paid for the diesel and is a major funder of First Nation communities – will be transferred to the Provincial government. The benefits of improving the lives of First Nation communities because of this cooperation between the two levels of government are good for all of Canada. While I’m not sure how much of a contributor to our carbon emission the diesel generators were, I’m quite sure removing the generators will help us achieve our COP21 targets. Furthermore, the costs of the diesel that are now removed from the Federal government can be put somewhere else, hopefully towards our deficit. For Ontario, as I said above, power generation is our jurisdiction. The 10,000 extra users of energy will greatly benefit the 40% stake taxpayers have for Hydro One. Maybe I should buy Hydro One stock.

Canada’s Arctic: The Final Frontier (U. Khan)

With Southern Ontario being under extreme heat over the past week, I decided to write a blog about a topic that is much cooler. Earlier this week, the Canada Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent left Dartmouth on a voyage to the Arctic Ocean. The official mission of the 2016 Arctic Survey is to collect bathymetric and geophysical data to determine the outer extent of Canada’s Arctic boundary. The issue of Arctic sovereignty is one that has become increasingly important with time, and surveys like this one are very important in protecting Canada’s interests in the region.

 

UntitledMap of the Arctic region with various geographical structural features identified.

Source: Radio Canada

 

The data obtained from the expedition will be used to support Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) that was created under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLS). The convention gives each nation exclusive access to an area extending to 200nm (Nautical Miles) from their coast. This can be extended another 150 nm (or more) if a country can prove that its continental shelf extends further into the ocean. In the case of the Arctic, Canada claims that the Lomonosov and the Alpha-Mendeleyev Ridges are elevated extensions of our continental landmass. Thus allowing us to claim the area in the region of the North Pole. Canada has submitted a partial case with the CLCS and aims to submit a full report in 2018 with the analyzed data from this survey.

Why Now?

Chapter 10 of The Canadian Environment in Political Context talks about how the Arctic is changing. The fact that sea ice is melting in record numbers is not only worrying for the world, but it also puts into place issues about who owns the area that was previously inaccessible. Arctic sea ice has found to have reached its lowest level since NASA started keeping records in the 1970s. Scientists believe that it could be as early as 2050 when the Arctic Ocean will be ice free during the summer months. A consequence of the melting sea ice is increasing arctic tourism, increased fishing activity, and increased oil and gas explorations to name a few. All of these things requires new policies be created, and a resolution on the question of who governs what.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama had a meeting on Arctic issues and discussed various avenues of cooperation between the two countries. They released a joint statement that goes into detail about the proposed cooperation in the Arctic in the areas of Climate Change and the Environment. This is a great step forward for Arctic cooperation between our countries, but there are also disagreements that have not been sorted out. One example of which is the maritime border of the Beaufort Sea. The US has not ratified UNCOS, and thus Canada does not have the option of having a tribunal resolve the problem. Prime Minister Trudeau should try to persuade the United States to join the UNCOS and try to resolve the issue through their tribunal system, or work directly and try to reach an agreement. The issue should be resolved as soon as possible, before the dispute leads to a more serious confrontation.

No matter how the boundaries are drawn, Arctic nations will have to work together on issues such as navigation and climate change that affect all the countries. The current Arctic survey has Canadian scientists collaborating with Swedish and Danish scientists to better understand the Arctic. Since this area is one of the least understood places on the planet, cooperation is required to better understand it. Another example of cooperation was a recent round of Arctic Fisheries negotiations that happened in Canada. Ten Arctic nations gathered in Iqaluit to negotiate an agreement for sustainable fishing in the Arctic. The region has great potential for a fishing industry as it has gone untapped for centuries. These examples show that cooperation is possible and can be mutually beneficial. Therefore, the government needs to work with the other Arctic nations in making sure that economic activities are conducted in a balanced manner with environment conservation. The first priority however should be to make the most comprehensive submission possible to define our Extended Continental Shelf.