You are here


April 26, 2012

Warm Ocean Currents Cause Antarctica Ice Loss

Reporting in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has established that warm ocean currents are the dominant cause of recent ice loss from Antarctica. For the first time, new techniques have been able to differentiate between the two known causes of melting ice shelves: warm ocean currents attacking the underside, and warm air melting them from above. This finding brings scientists a step closer to providing reliable projections of future sea-level rise.

Researchers used 4.5 million measurements made by a laser instrument mounted on NASA’s ICESat satellite to map the changing thickness of almost all the floating ice shelves around Antarctica, revealing the pattern of ice-shelf melt across the continent. Of the 54 ice shelves mapped, 20 are being melted by warm ocean currents, most of which are in West Antarctica.

In every case, the inland glaciers that flow down to the coast and feed into these thinning ice shelves have accelerated, draining more ice into the sea and contributing to sea level rise.

Lead author Dr Hamish Pritchard from British Antarctic Survey, which is part of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), said to see a pattern that in all the cases where ice shelves are being melted by the ocean, the inland glaciers are speeding up. It’s this glacier acceleration that’s responsible for most of the increase in ice loss from the continent and this is contributing to sea-level rise. Some ice shelves are thinning by a few metres a year and, in response, the glaciers drain billions of tons of ice into the sea. This supports the idea that ice shelves are important in slowing down the glaciers that feed them, controlling the loss of ice from the Antarctic ice sheet.

He adds the researchers think that it’s linked to changes in wind patterns. Studies have shown that Antarctic winds have changed because of changes in climate and that this has affected the strength and direction of ocean currents. As a result warm water is funnelled beneath the floating ice. These studies and our new results therefore suggest that Antarctica’s glaciers are responding rapidly to a changing climate.

A different picture is seen on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula (the long stretch of land pointing towards South America). Here, the ice-shelf thinning found by this study can be explained by warm summer winds directly melting the snow on the ice-shelf surfaces. Both patterns, of widespread ocean-driven melting and this summer melting on the Antarctic Peninsula, can therefore be attributed to Antarctica’s changing wind patterns.

This research is part of international efforts to improve understanding of the interactions between ice and climate in order to improve the reliability of sea-level rise projections. 

Original article found here.

March 28, 2012

Judgment on Bangladesh/Myanmar Maritime Boundary

At a public sitting held on 14th March 2012, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany, rendered its judgment in the dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar). The judgment was read by Judge José Luis Jesus, who is presiding over the tribunal in this case.

The dispute concerns the delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal with respect to the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. It is the first case of the tribunal relating to the delimitation of maritime boundaries. Proceedings in the case were instituted before the Tribunal on 14th December 2009. Further to the filing of written pleadings by the parties, the hearing took place in September 2011.

In its judgment, the tribunal had to address a number of issues raised by the parties. Those included: the claim made by Bangladesh that the delimitation of the territorial sea had already been agreed by the parties in 1974, and the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf within 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. In addition, the tribunal had to deal with the request of Bangladesh that the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles limit be delimited, a request which was opposed by Myanmar. The Tribunal then had to decide whether it could and should exercise its jurisdiction in respect of the delimitation of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.

The full text of the judgment and of the declarations and dissenting and separate opinions appended thereto is available on the website of the tribunal.

Original article can be found here.

March 5, 2012


Canada willing to work with Russia on Arctic borders

Gloria Galloway reported that Canada said it is open to collaborating with Russia to establish national boundary lines across the High Arctic, opening the door to joint exploration and mapping after years of tough talk from both sides about sovereignty and the ownership of untapped resources. On Friday, Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said "Canada's North is central to our government's vision for Canada's future. We're actively mapping the Arctic continental shelf. This is part of our plan to defend Canada's sovereignty. We welcome any cooperation." Mr. MacDougall was responding to a challenge by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who urged Canada to establish a joint scientific council with his country to investigate issues over Arctic sovereignty. Ms. Galloway noted that Canadian scientists have been mapping the Arctic for years, and since 2008, they have been collaborating with the United States and last year a joint expedition completed a survey of the continental shelf. (Globe and Mail, A12, 03 March 2012)

February 29, 2012 

Old Harry put on hold by CNLOPB

Ashley Fitzpatrick reported that the CNLOPB has put the brakes on plans for drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, at least until it can complete a strategic environmental assessment for the region. Ms. Fitzpatrick noted that Corridor Resources had proposed a single well be drilled for exploration of its licence area 1105, also known as the Old Harry project. The proposal launched a project-specific environmental review and the establishment of an independent review office in New Brunswick to facilitate public consultations. All of that was halted as the CNLOPB moved forward with a regional environmental review. Late Tuesday afternoon, the CNLOPB issued a news release saying: "The board has also decided that the Western Newfoundland Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Update should be completed before proceeding with public consultations associated with the environmental assessment for a drilling program on exploration licence 1105.” Meanwhile, the board has stated details on public consultations for its regional environmental review will be announced at a later date. That review "will be completed in early 2013," the board stated. (St. John’s Telegram, D2, 29 February 2012)

February 23, 2012
Gas flow prevents end to well blowout
Dan Joling reported that environmental groups say a blowout at an exploratory well near the coast of the Beaufort Sea underscores the threat to the Arctic Ocean environment if offshore drilling is allowed by the U.S. government. No oil spilled onto the tundra and no workers were injured in the incident, but an estimated 42,000 gallons of drilling mud was spit out of the well, and the blowout also expelled natural gas that could have ignited. Pamela Miller of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said "What it shows is that there can be blowouts with exploratory wells hitting pockets of gas." Lois Epstein, of The Wilderness Society, said "What this shows, and this is not the first time, is that drilling is a dirty and complicated business and that accidents happen, even to the best of companies, even with the best of oversight. What that tells me as someone who is working to find the right balance between drilling and protection is that you've got to recognize that certain areas, if you're going to allow drilling, there are going to be problems, and therefore the most sensitive areas need to be protected from drilling." (Whitehorse Star, p.8, 20 February 2012). 

February 21, 2012
Old Harry has gulf whipped into a tempest

Nicolas Van Praet drew attention to the Old Harry oil and gas play in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, noting that it may be the biggest untapped resource in Eastern Canada, with an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil and as much as 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Mr. Van Praet added, "It is also the epicenter of a monster battle for the future of the fish-rich waterway." Mr. Van Praet noted that Quebec and Newfoundland are engaged in a boundary dispute in the area, while fishermen and environmentalists are squaring off against energy promoters and those who argue development can be done safely. Mr. Van Praet noted that Old Harry became so contentious that the CNLOPB asked the federal government to decide whether to open the gulf to drilling, but that request was turned down by Environment Minister Peter Kent, who instructed CNLOPB CEO Max Ruelokke instead to update an environmental assessment of the western Newfoundland offshore area with thorough public consultations and also to continue and complete a separate screening of Corridor Resource's drilling proposal. Mr. Van Praet said "looming over the project" is the blowout and aftermath of BP PLC's well in the Gulf of Mexico, adding that concern is "palpable" in Atlantic Canada that a similar accident can happen there (National Post, FP8, 17 February 2012: Saskatoon Star Phoenix, C8; Regina Leader-Post, D3; Ottawa Citizen, E6; Montreal Gazette, B5)

February 14 

Russia and Canada new neighbours?

Randy Boswell reported that two Canadian legal scholars have published a study showing how the push by northern nations for extended seabed territory in the Arctic Ocean could soon find Canada negotiating a maritime boundary with Russia. Mr. Boswell said a recently revealed oddity arising from a Beaufort Sea boundary dispute between Canada and the U.S. - along with the advent of a UN treaty allowing countries to claim ownership over extended continental shelves lying beyond the limit - has highlighted how Canada and Russia could be on a "cartographic intercept course somewhere north of 80 degrees latitude." In examining how the Canada-U.S. boundary dispute might be resolved, UBC's Michael Byers and James Baker envisioned one outcome under which the Canada-U.S. boundary would be set in such a way Canadian and Russian territorial claims would intersect in waters about 1,000 kilometres northwest of the Yukon coast. The authors wrote: "One final curiosity remains about the effects of any maritime delimitation between Canada and the U.S.: the potential for overlapping claims between Canada and Russia." (Vancouver Sun, B3, 14 February 2012; Windsor Star, B5; Ottawa Citizen, A3; Montreal Gazette, A11; Edmonton Journal, A8).