Ice Loss in the Arctic

Greenland’s ice loss nearly tripled in a decade

A formerly stable part of Greenland’s ice sheet in the northeast has been losing ice at an accelerating rate.

Scientists have known Greenland’s ice sheet has been thinning for decades, but for the first time, they’ve found that’s even occurring in its northeast region that had been stable for 25 years. Since 2003, the northeast’s ice loss has nearly tripled.

“We’re seeing an acceleration of ice loss,” says study co-author Michael Bevis, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University. “Now, there’s more ice leaving than snow arriving.” He says the rapid change in the northeast region “surprised everyone.”

The decline of Greenland’s ice sheet, which is second in size only to Antarctica’s and covers 80% of Greenland’s surface, has been a major contributor to global sea level rise over the past 20 years. The study, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says it’s accounted for nearly one-sixth of annual sea level rise.

Largely because of rising air temperatures, an outlet glacier in the northeast has retreated at a pace of 12.4 miles over the past decade. That’s much faster than the Jakobshavnglacier’s retreat in southwest Greenland — 21.7 miles over the past 150 years.

How do scientists track this? They look at ice thickness measurements from four satellites as well as data from the Greenland GPS Network or GNET, which has 50 coastal stations that weigh the ice sheet like a giant bathroom scale.

They found that the northeast Greenland ice sheet started losing stability in 2003. Several particularly warm summers triggered increasing melting and calving events including several last year when chunks of ice fell from glaciers into the water.

This northeast region lost about 10 billion tons of ice per year from April 2003 to April 2012, the study says. The result is more water flowing into the oceans.

What particularly worries scientists is the impact on the rest of Greenland, because the northeast’s ice stream stretches more than 370 miles into the continent’s center and connects to the heart of its ice reservoir.

“It has the potential of significantly changing the total mass balance of the ice sheet in the near future,” says study co-author Shfaqat Abbas Khan, senior researcher at the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark. He and Bevis were joined by nine scientists from three other U.S. universities, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.

Alaska vs. Government of the United States

Alaska Sues U.S. Over Its Rejection of Oil Exploration Plan (1)

March 14, 2014

Alaska sued the Obama administration over its rejection of an oil and gas exploration plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the state seeks to determine the extent of energy resources in the area.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said exploration for the coastal plain of the wildlife area was mandated by a federal Alaska land conservation act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to review the plan, citing a legal opinion by the Interior Department issued in 1987 claiming provisions of the law had expired, Parnell said in a complaint filed in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska.

“It is both disappointing and disturbing that the Obama administration, which claims that it is pursuing an ‘all of the above’ energy policy, is afraid to let the people of the United States learn more about ANWR’s oil and gas resources,” Parnell, a Republican, said in a statement. “The modern technology that we are seeking to use is responsibly utilized all across the North Slope with extremely limited environmental impact, and would dramatically improve our understanding of ANWR’s resources.”

The state is proposing to study a portion of the reserve known as Area 1002, which Alaska officials said covers 3,000 square miles (4,800 square kilometers) and is less than a tenth of the entire Arctic reserve. Estimates from 30 years ago put the median volume of oil in the refuge at 10.4 billion barrels, according to the state of Alaska.

Interior Secretary

Parnell sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in 2013 outlining a plan for a shared $150 million effort. He offered to seek $50 million from state lawmakers, according to the lawsuit. Alaska’s plan would use advanced three-dimensional seismic imaging to find the “extent and accessibility of the significant oil and gas resources” in the coastal plain of ANWR, Parnell said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director rejected the plan without evaluating its compliance with regulations, according to the lawsuit.

Parnell claims the U.S. has violated the federal Alaska Interest Lands Conservation Act and seeks a court order forcing the government to review the plan, blocking it from applying the expiration dates it has cited and declaring its refusal to do so as “arbitrary and capricious.”

The complaint names Jewell and the Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants. Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The case is Alaska v. Jewel, 14-cv-00048, U.S. District Court, District of Alaska.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in federal court in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Peter Blumberg, Andrew Dunn

Fishing in the Arctic

With ice melting, U.S. pushes for limits on fishing in Arctic Ocean

Arctic Ocean

U.S. officials are pushing for a moratorium on commercial fishing in the international waters of the Arctic Ocean. (Pew Charitable Trust International Arctic Program / February 22, 2014)

SEATTLE — U.S. officials are heading to Greenland for a three-day meeting to persuade other Arctic nations to place a moratorium on high-seas fishing in the Arctic Ocean, where climate change is melting the permanent ice cap and allowing trawlers in for the first time in human history.

The United States is proposing an agreement “that would close the international waters of the Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing until there is a good scientific foundation on which to base management of any potential fishing,” said David Benton, a member of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, who will be part of the negotiations in Nuuk, Greenland.

The first step toward protecting the Arctic Ocean and its fish population, which has never been studied, is for the five nations bordering the body of water to reach an agreement on a moratorium. To date, the United States, Canada and Greenland are on board, but Russia and Norway have not joined in.

All coastal countries control the fisheries within 200 miles of their own coastlines. The high seas beyond that zone do not belong to any nation, are not covered by any regulations and can only be protected by international agreement.

Once the five Arctic nations are in accord on a fishing moratorium, Benton said, they would then reach out to other countries with major commercial fishing fleets, such as China, Japan and Korea, to negotiate full protection for the central Arctic Ocean.

Benton, who advises the U.S. negotiating team, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the Arctic nations would reach agreement during the three-day meeting, which begins Monday.

“The Arctic is experiencing a fairly rapid rate of change,” said Benton, as the permanent ice melts. “That’s potentially causing large changes in the ecosystem, but we don’t understand what’s going on up there. If we want to do things right, this is the approach we should be taking.”

In 2009, the United States adopted its own Arctic Fishery Management Plan, closing American waters north of Alaska to commercial fishing until scientific research proves that the fishery is sustainable.

“What the United States did in its waters was a precautionary action that takes into account how Arctic warming is changing the ecosystem faster than science can keep up with it,” said Scott Highleyman, director of the international Arctic program for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“There are no stock surveys or scientific assessments for fish there,” Highleyman said. “You don’t want to fish a place where you don’t know the fish population dynamics. Any time we’ve done that, it led to catastrophic overfishing.”

One example, Highleyman said, is the New England Atlantic cod fishery, which was shut down in the 1980s due to overfishing, costing 50,000 jobs.

There is much at stake in the central Arctic Ocean, of which about 1.1 million square miles are largely unregulated international waters. An open letter to the Arctic governments, signed by 2,000 scientists from around the world, notes the mysterious and fragile nature of the region.

If it is overfished, the scientists say, that will affect seals, whales and polar bears as well as the people who make the harsh region their home and rely on such creatures to feed their families.

“Until recently, the region has been covered with sea ice throughout the year, creating a physical barrier to the fisheries,” the scientists wrote. “In recent summers, however, the loss of permanent sea ice has left open water in as much as 40% of these international waters .… A commercial fishery in the central Arctic Ocean is now possible and feasible.”

What’s Russia up to ?

Russia Seeks Several Military Bases Abroad – Defense Minister

Russia Seeks Several Military Bases Abroad – Defense MinisterRussia Seeks Several Military Bases Abroad – Defense Minister

MOSCOW, February 26 (RIA Novosti) – Russia is planning to expand its permanent military presence outside its borders by placing military bases in a number of foreign countries, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday.

Shoigu said the list includes Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries.

“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu told reporters in Moscow.

The minister added that the negotiations cover not only military bases but also visits to ports in such countries on favorable conditions as well as the opening of refueling sites for Russian strategic bombers on patrol.

Moscow currently has only one naval base outside the former Soviet Union – in Tartus, Syria, but the fate of this naval facility is uncertain because of the ongoing civil war in that country.

Post-Soviet Russia closed a large naval base in Vietnam and a radar base in Cuba in 2002 due to financial constraints.

However, Russia has started reviving its navy and strategic aviation since mid-2000s, seeing them as a tool to project the Russian image abroad and to protect its national interests around the globe.

Now, Moscow needs to place such military assets in strategically important regions of the world to make them work effectively toward the goal of expanding Russia’s global influence.

Freedom for 9 Greenpeace Activists….

 

Greenpeace Arctic case: Russia bails nine foreigners

Greenpeace activist Camila Speziale from Argentina in court in St Petersburg, 19 Nov 13 Camila Speziale from Argentina was among those bailed

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A court in the Russian city of St Petersburg has granted bail to nine foreign nationals who were among 30 people arrested during an Arctic protest by Greenpeace.

The condition for release is a bail sum of 2m roubles (£38,000; $61,000) each, to be paid within the next four days.

The released activists come from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Finland, Italy, New Zealand and Poland.

On Monday, the court granted bail to three Russians from the group of 30.

But Greenpeace expressed caution about what the terms of the bail would be.

“We still have no idea what conditions our friends will endure when they are released from jail, whether they will be held under house arrest or even allowed outside,” Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists were arrested after a protest at a Russian offshore oil rig in the Arctic two months ago.

Their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, was seized by armed security men.

The rest of the group are due to face similar hearings this week. Six Britons are among the 30.

A separate court has extended the pre-trial detention of an Australian activist, Colin Russell, for a further three months.

The 30 were originally charged with piracy, but Russian authorities dropped those charges and replaced them with hooliganism, which carries a lesser prison sentence.

The nine bailed on Tuesday were named as: Miguel Orsi (Argentina), Camila Speziale (Argentina), Ana Paula Maciel (Brazil), Paul Ruzycki (Canada), Sini Saarela (Finland), Francesco Pisanu (France), Cristian D’Alessandro (Italy), David Haussman (New Zealand) and Tomasz Dziemianczuk (Poland).

The Greenpeace Activists in Russia – update

Greenpeace International responds to allegations from Russian authorities

Feature story – October 28, 2013

On September 18th, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise was involved in a peaceful protest at Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform, which is expected to become the first to produce oil from ice filled Arctic seas.

Over a day later, the Russian Coast Guard boarded the ship and seized the crew at gunpoint. The ship was then towed to the port of Murmansk. The crew of the Arctic Sunrise were held without charge during this time.

28 Greenpeace International activists, as well as a freelance videographer and a freelance photographer, have now been charged with piracy and face up to 15 years in prison.

A full timeline of events is here.

A series of allegations have been made about Greenpeace International, its activists and the peaceful protest at the Prirazlomnaya platform. This blog contains Greenpeace’s response to these allegations as well as links to further information.

Hooliganism

Russia’s Investigative Committee has said it will charge all 30 individuals from the Arctic Sunrise with hooliganism. As of October 24th, this still needs to be officially processed and each of the Arctic 30 formally notified.

Under the Russian Criminal Code, hooliganism is a criminal offence it could result in up to 7 years in jail.

Hooliganism under Russian law is defined as: “A gross violation of the public order which expresses patent contempt for society, attended by violence against private persons or by the threat of its use, and likewise by the destruction or damage of other people’s property.” This is clear from Article 213.

Based on this definition, the charge of hooliganism does not apply to the peaceful protest conducted by Greenpeace International. The activists did not display contempt and only employed peaceful means to attempt to hang a banner on an oil platform. The charge is as ridiculous as the charge of piracy.

For the charge of hooliganism to apply, the alleged offence must occur on Russian territory. The Arctic Sunrise was in the Exclusive Economic Zone, which is not Russian territory. International law holds that countries have no right to seize each others’ ships or people in international waters based on hooliganism charges. This is therefore another violation by the Investigative Committee against the Arctic 30.

Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said:
“The Arctic 30 are no more hooligans than they were pirates. This is still a wildly disproportionate charge that carries up to seven years in jail. It represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless business. They should be with their families, not in a prison in Murmansk.”

Piracy

Russia’s Investigative Committee has charged all 30 individuals from the Arctic Sunrise with piracy committed by an organised group, a serious crime which carries a custodial sentence of up to 15 years in prison. A series of Russian and international law experts have strongly rejected the application of this charge to Greenpeace International’s peaceful protest. Their views can be read here.

Under the Russian Criminal Code, piracy can only be committed against a vessel, not an oil platform such as Prirazlomnaya, and applies only when seeking with violence or threats thereof to seize property – not to a peaceful protest. This is clear from Arcticle 227.

Similary, under international law piracy by definition can only apply to violent acts against ships or aircraft committed for private ends – not peaceful protests against oil platforms carried out to protect the environment. See Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The reference to piracy may be an effort to create a retroactive justification for the boarding of the vessel outside territorial waters. Piracy is one of the few grounds on which such a boarding is permitted.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said:

“Peaceful activism is crucial when governments around the world have failed to respond to dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere.

“Any charge of piracy against peaceful activists has no merit in international law. We will not be intimidated or silenced by these absurd accusations and demand the immediate release of our activists.”

Activists ‘posed a threat’ to oil platform and surrounding environment

Both Gazprom officials and Russian authorities have suggested that the Greenpeace International activists may have posed a threat to the safe operation of the rig, or even the Arctic environment itself in the course of the peaceful protest.

Our activists are fully trained to conduct this kind of protest entirely safely. Neither the climbers nor the inflatable boats posed any risk to the vast oil platform, which is designed to withstand being hit by large chunks of ice and even (according to Gazprom itself) a direct hit from a torpedo. The activists carried nothing more than banners and ropes, and yet were met with knives and guns.

A full Greenpeace response to Gazprom’s claims about the safety of the protest can be viewed here.

Greenpeace inflatables ‘rammed’ Russian coast guard

A recent statement from Russian authorities states that “investigators are now identifying the people who deliberately rammed the coast guard boats preventing the coast guards from doing their job. By these actions the accused made an attempt on lives and health of the representatives of the authority.”

Greenpeace International has a record of entirely peaceful protest at sea stretching over 40 years, and this action was carried out according to these strong principles. Video footage released by the Investigative Committee itself (viewable here) clearly shows that Greenpeace inflatables posed no danger to the Russian Coast Guard. At one point a Greenpeace boat touches the side of a Coast Guard vessel at a slow speed, before turning 180 degrees. To suggest that any of these encounters represented a risk to the safety or lives of the Russian Coast Guard is absurd. Greenpeace views this as an attempt to deflect attention from the growing campaign in Russia and around the world to release the Arctic 30.

Read the full response to ramming allegations here

‘Narcotics’

A recent statement from Russia’s Investigative committee states that “during the examination of the ship the investigators seized narcotics (presumably opium straw and morphine)”.

Greenpeace absolutely rejects any suggestion that illegal drugs were present on the Arctic Sunrise. The ship had on board a fully qualified doctor with over ten years’ experience in Russian hospitals. Certain medical supplies are kept in a safe that only the captain and the doctor have access to, supplies which must be carried under maritime law. We know that the safe was broken into by the Russian authorities during the searching of the ship. We can only assume these are the medical supplies that the Russian security services are referring to.

A press release on the subject of alleged narcotics can be seen here.

‘Divers in the water’

According to media reports, Gazprom officials have claimed that “There were people working underwater [at the time of the protest] and any accident could have led to a catastrophe,” The veracity of this statement is seriously undermined by the fact that shots were fired from the platform itself, by unknown persons. If divers were present, this would have posed a far greater threat to their safety than a peaceful protest above the water level. In addition, there were no support boats nearby, nor was there an y evidence of diving flags, which would have been expected during this process.

See this video for evidence of weapons being fired by Russian agents into the water.

The Arctic Sunrise was ‘not in international waters’

‘The FSB has rejected the environmental campaign group’s assertion that the ship was in international waters when it was seized.’ (EN)

At the time of the boarding, the Arctic Sunrise was circling Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform at the three nautical mile limit, inside international waters. Coordinates confirm that the ship was inside of Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – and not Russian territorial waters – making this an illegal boarding by the Russian Coast Guard.

Legally speaking, the EEZ is similar to the high seas. Foreign vessels have a right to freedom of navigation there – they can enter without permission and go anywhere they want.

The ship’s coordinates at the time of arrest were 69 19.86′N 057 16.56′E, showing that the vessel was clearly outside of Russia’s territorial waters. This is 34 nautical miles from the Russian coast. These coordinates were received from ship’s security alert system and here are the coordinates from the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS).

Infographic - Illegal boarding of the Arctic Sunrise

Greenpeace ‘safety pod’

“Russian authorities have also suggested that a structure the activists approached the oil platform resembled a bomb.” (EN; RU)

As part of this protest, Greenpeace International carried a ‘safety pod’ to the Gazprom platform to shield the activists from things like water cannons.

According to Russian media reports, Gazprom has described the pod as ‘resembling a bomb’. The pod is a big foam tube measuring 3 meters long by 2 meters wide (about the size of a Mini), is painted in bright colours, and was made following a public competition.

Non-violence has been enshrined at the core of Greenpeace for more than 40 years. We engage in peaceful protests to expose environmental crimes. We posed no safety threat.

Read more about the safety pod here.

http://pod.greenpeace.org.uk/

Illegal scientific research activities

According to some reports, Russian authorities suspect that Greenpeace International was engaged in unauthorised marine scientific research near the Prirazlomnaya.

Greenpeace has a long tradition of facilitating research from its vessels, but that was not the case this time. Last year Greenpeace International conducted scientific work with a two-person submarine in the Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic, operating from the Esperanza. Here, we discovered abundant corals in the Arctic waters right where Shell was planning to drill for oil. Last year, the Arctic Sunrise facilitated research on the melting Arctic Sea ice that hit a record low in 2012.

The Arctic Sunrise is currently in the Russian Arctic to expose and protest against the reckless oil rush unfolding there. No scientific research was conducted. In any event, suspicion of unauthorised scientific research is not recognised as a valid ground to board a foreign vessel in the EEZ.

Activists are ‘guests’, not arrested

‘Greenpeace activists were rescued and are not arrested’ (RU)

Greenpeace International activists Sini & Marco were taken into custody by Coast Guard agents during the peaceful protest at the Prirazlomnaya platform. They were then held for more than 24 hours against their will on board a Coast Guard ship. Whilst on board this vessel, crew from the Arctic Sunrise had to supply Sini and Marco with food and clothing, hardly a standard procedure for people apparently staying as “guests.”

$ value means nothing to them….

EPA fines Shell $1.1M for Arctic air violations

 

 

By DAN JOLING

 

Associated Press

 

— Affiliates of Royal Dutch Shell PLC have agreed to pay $1.1 million for violations of air permits by two drill ships operating last year in Arctic waters, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

The settlement calls for Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. and Shell Offshore, Inc. to pay a $710,000 penalty for violations of the Noble Discoverer in the Chukchi Sea and a $390,000 penalty for violations by the Kulluk in the Beaufort Sea.

Inspections and Shell’s own excess emission reports documented numerous air permit violations, the agency said.

The vessels operated for nearly two months in the Arctic Ocean’s short open water season, drilling top holes and performing other preliminary work for exploratory drilling. The vessels were not allowed to drill into petroleum-bearing zones because a key piece of oil spill response equipment was not on hand.

The fines are the latest in a series of setbacks for Shell, which included the grounding of the Kulluk in December near Kodiak Island as it was being towed across the Gulf of Alaska for repairs. The vessel was refloated but significantly damaged and was transported to Singapore for repairs. The Noble Discoverer after the drilling season was investigated for 16 safety violations.

Shell chose not to drill in Arctic offshore waters in 2013.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said by email that the company accepted stringent emission limits in 2012 that were based on assumptions and modeling.

“Following a season of operations, we now better understand how emissions control equipment actually functions in Arctic conditions,” he said.

Alaska villages in the same region as drilling operations were not affected by the violations, he said.

“Despite reported overages in 2012, the EPA did not allege any negative impact from Shell’s emissions to local populations, nor did Shell exceed its overall allowable annual emissions for the operating season,” he said.

Colin O’Brien, an Earthjustice attorney in Anchorage who unsuccessfully tried to keep Shell from obtaining Clear Air Act permits, said the fines are emblematic of the fiasco that was Shell’s 2012 operating season.

“Shell’s numerous violations came even after EPA issued special waivers allowing Shell to operate under more lenient requirements than its initial permits,” he said by email. “The fines for these violations are a reminder that Shell was unprepared to drill in the Arctic last summer and underscore that the Administration must take a new, hard look at whether Shell is prepared to drill in the Arctic safely and in compliance with environmental safeguards.”

Environmental groups bitterly oppose Arctic drilling in a region that supports endangered whales, polar bears, ice seals and walrus. They contend not enough is known about drilling’s effects on an ecosystem affected by climate change, with summer sea ice continuing to be lost at a record pace. The groups also say oil companies have not demonstrated the ability to clean up a petroleum spill in ice-choked waters.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist below Arctic waters. The reservoirs could be linked to shore by underwater pipelines and then overland to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Shell spent $2.1 billion on petroleum leases in the Chukchi Sea in 2008 and estimates that it has spent $5 billion on Arctic drilling. The company contends that it can drill safely.

 

Coronal Hole on our Sun ! Thank you SpaceWeather.com

CORONAL HOLE: Opening up like a zipper almost a million kilometers long, a vast coronal hole has appeared in the sun’s northern hemisphere. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture of the UV-dark chasm on July 18th:

Coronal holes are places in the sun’s upper atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. A broad stream of solar wind flowing from this particular coronal hole should reach Earth on July 19-20.

In addition, NOAA forecasters say a CME could hit Earth’s magnetic field late on July 18th. The combined impact of the CME and the incoming solar wind stream could cause some stormy space weather around Earth in the days ahead. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% – 65% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on July 18-20.

Energy “bombardments” …earth is okay …really…

June 4, 2013 – we are expecting some energy “bombardments”…kind of hard on the sensitive ears/sensitive empaths… Earth is strained but can handle things..expect intense ESP sensitivities previously not awakened. Earth’s inner body is hot & stressed so expecting some relief valves through volcanoes….also East Cost of USA…expect the unexpected..especially Maryland region.

Watch the “subtle” approach to Arctic by CHINA

China should have a say in future of Arctic – Iceland president

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson says nations beyond the polar region should be involved in determining future of the far north

 

China in Arctic :  Iceland flag on Tiananmen square during visit of  Johanna Sigurdardottir

A Chinese national flag (right) and Iceland national flag (left) are displayed on a street lamp at Tiananmen square in Beijing on April 15, 2013. Photograph: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Iceland‘s president has called for an expanded role for China and other Asian countries in the future of the Arctic, arguing that the rapid melting of the summer sea ice was having effects far beyond the region.

In a visit to Washington, for the launch of a new global forum, the Arctic Circle, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said countries beyond the polar region deserved a say in determining the future of the far north.

“It is a wrong scenario to think that this will only be of concern to those people living in the Arctic. It will be a concern to every nation,” Grimsson said in an interview. “There is no country that will escape the consequences, either through rising sea levels or extreme weather patterns.”

With that in mind, Grimsson argued that oil companies and countries as far away as China, India, Singapore and South Korea should have a voice in the future of the region. At present, only the eight countries of the Arctic Council have a say in setting policy in the region. “We realise that there are other nations in Asia and Europe that have legitimate concerns and enterprises in the Arctic and it’s important to involve them in a co-operative effort,” Grimsson said.

He made his visit to Washington as Chinese and Icelandic leaders signed a free trade agreement in Beijing that will give China a bigger foothold in the emerging region.

Grimsson said Arctic Circle would aim for a more inclusive debate about the future of the Arctic.

Decisions on the development and the environment of the region are now the preserve of the eight countries involved in the Arctic Council: America, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden in addition to Iceland.

But Grimsson said it was important to involve other countries in deciding the future of the region, as it undergoes a rapid transformation due to climate change.

Last year produced a record melting of summer sea ice. A study published last week by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Arctic waters could be nearly ice-free by as early as 2020.

The retreat of summer sea ice has seen a push by oil and mining companies to drill in Arctic waters, and by Asian countries hoping to cut shipping routes. Environment campaigners on Monday planted a flag on the seabed at the north pole and demanded the region be declared a global sanctuary.

The new forum launched this week will hold its first gathering in Reykjavik in October and will be open to government officials, scientists and members of non-government organisations.

Grimsson described it as an “open tent”.

“I see it as a part of my responsibility to encourage a dialogue between the people who live in the Arctic and those who want to use the Arctic – to put it bluntly,” he said during a speech on Monday.

Grimsson told an audience at the National Press Club that in every meeting with Asian leaders this year, from China, South Korea, Singapore and India, his counterparts had sought observer status on the Arctic Council.

China, South Korea, and Singapore are exploring new shipping routes across the pole. The polar route would cut about two weeks off the average shipment time between northern Europe and Asia.

China has sought permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, the group of eight northern countries that sets policy in the region.

Grimsson indicated support for the move, saying outside influence over the Arctic was inevitable. “With the accelerating melting of the Arctic Sea ice we will have an open ocean there that anyone with a vessel could get into according to international law,” he said.

China sent an ice breaker through the Arctic last year, and was already building Arctic-capable ships, he noted.

“The big question is whether we will catch up with our decision making and our dialogue and our form of co-operation before acceleration of melting sea ice created a completely new playing field.”