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Changing Arctic requires global action

Dr. Mike Sfraga spoke about challenges and the future at North West Community College

Climate change expert Dr. Mike Sfraga is warning that changes in the Arctic could have profound effects on port cities, such as Prince Rupert.

Sfraga, director of the Polar Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center, co-director of Arctic’s Institute for Arctic Policy and chairman of the Institute of the North, said during a presentation at the Northwest Community College that the interest in and the changing Arctic landscape has immense geopolitical overtones.

All countries are allowed to claim a 322-kilometre territorial boundary (Extended Economic Zone,) where off-shore drilling is possible, stretching from the coast into open waters. With arctic ice receding, new open waters are becoming available.

“If you can prove that parts of the Arctic Ocean floor are physically part of your extended economic zone, and physically part of your nation’s geography then you have claim through the UN courts,” he said, adding that once it’s proven the Arctic Ocean floor is part of the nation making the claim, they may explore oil and gas deposits.

Sfraga, an Alaskan, discussed his experiences in dealing with a changing north.

“It’s real, it’s rapid and it’s palpable,” he said, adding that plastics have made their way to the Arctic Ocean.

“There are plastics showing up where they never were before.

“This is a global issue. It needs global attention.”

Melting permafrost (ground/soil/rock that is at or below the freezing point for two or more years,), he said, is hurting the environment in more than one way.

“Permafrost is melting at a rate that is frankly scary,” he said. Sfraga added that the release of methane from the permafrost increases the rates of arctic ice melting, which causes a further chain reaction.

“As the Arctic Ocean ice retreats, the darker the ocean gets and no longer reflects the sunlight, which causes the ocean to warm up and melt more ice,” he said.

Sfraga said the current focus on renewable energy sources was a positive step in the right direction. “Just a decade ago people were saying that solar would never be economically feasible,” he said. “It’s getting there. Even in my home state, there are solar panels in northern Alaska.”

He also cited hydro, geothermal and natural gas as positive steps toward better environmental stewardship.

Another positive he mentioned was the millennial awareness about climate change, saying that he felt working towards cleaner technology would be this generation’s Sputnik, the Russian satellite that spurred the space race.

Release of methane trapped in arctic ice is a serious threat. (Submitted)

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