The previously icebound waters of the Arctic are changing rapidly. The United States must act swiftly and decisively to ensure it is not left in a strategic lurch in the coming decades.
The retreat of sea ice from U.S. Arctic waters since 2000 has been precipitous.1 As a result, the number of ice-free days has climbed to a level where previously unreasonable or high-risk Arctic activities now are possible and increasingly common. This rapid environmental change is coupled with a widespread public misunderstanding of the actual conditions and risks of operating in the region, fueled by media reports that paint a picture of a vast new frontier to be explored while failing to adequately convey the risks and dangers of operating in high latitudes.
1. “State of the Cryosphere: Sea Ice,” National Snow and Ice Data Center, 26 January 2018.
2. U.S. Coast Guard, Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle (2008).
3. “Crude Prices Soar on Supply, Stockpile News,” Wall Street Journal, 27 June 2018, and “Trump Moves to Open Nearly All Offshore Waters to Drilling,” New York Times, 4 January 2018.
4. “Climate Change Forcing Fish Stocks North,” CBC, 11 October 2014.
5. “Nations Agree to Ban Fishing in Arctic Ocean for at Least 16 Years,” Science, 1 December 2017.
6. “Stuck in the Arctic,” Coast Guard Compass, 29 July 2014.
7. “Is Russia’s Planned ‘Combat Icebreaker’ a Serious Threat?” National Interest, 2 April 2018.
8. “Norway’s New Coast Guard Vessels for Arctic Waters,” Barents Observer, 25 June 2018.
9. “China Is Planning a Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker,” Popular Mechanics, 25 June 2018.