Shell gets federal greenlight for exploratory Arctic drilling

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Shell gets OK for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Sea.

Conditional permits limit operations and set protections for marine mammals

Staff Report

FRISCO — Shell’s Arctic drill plans got a green light from federal regulators today, as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued a pair of conditions permits for limited exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska.

The permits limit Shell to drilling in the top sections of wells. The company won’t be allowed to probe deep in into the oil-bearing zones until well-capping equipment is on hand and deployable within 24 hours — which still leaves enough time for thousands of gallons of crude to leak into the sensitive and pristine Arctic Ocean. Continue reading

Climate: Not a lot of options for polar bears

 Eric Regehr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Polar bear photo courtesy Eric Regehr, USFWS.

New study shows food shortages will catch up to the Arctic predators

Staff Report

FRISCO — When it comes to finding food as Arctic sea ice melts, polar bears don’t exactly have a lot of options.

That’s one of the main reasons the Arctic predators are under the global warming gun, and a new study of how the bears respond metabolically during lean times underscores the existing science. Continue reading

Climate: Does solar activity drive North Atlantic currents?

A new study found that Greenland temperatures fell from the 1970s through the early 1990s while temperatures across much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere rose. This map shows the average difference in surface temperatures between 1920-1940 and 1975-1995. Grey areas indicate regions where not enough data was available to calculate long-term temperature changes. Credit: Takuro Kobashi

Greenland temperatures fell from the 1970s through the early 1990s while temperatures across much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere rose, and solar activity may be an important factor.
Credit: Takuro Kobashi

Low solar activity could speed Greenland Ice Sheet melting in coming years

Staff Report

FRISCO — Solar activity could be an important factor in determining how fast the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, scientists concluded in a new study after analyzing ice cores and historical temperature records.

Based on their analysis, the researchers found that High solar activity starting in the 1950s and continuing through the 1980s played a role in slowing down ocean circulation between the South Atlantic and the North Atlantic oceans. Continue reading

June’s Arctic sea ice extent was 3d-lowest on record

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The northern hemisphere June snow cover extent has been far below average for 11 straight years.

Late-season snow cover also shrinking dramatically in northern hemisphere

Staff Report

FRISCO — Warm June temperatures across much of the Arctic may have set the stage for a big sea ice meltdown during the next few weeks, federal ice trackers said as they released their latest monthly update last week.

The Arctic sea ice extent for June 2015 was the third lowest on record, and June snow cover was the second-lowest, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center report, which measured an average sea ice extent of about 4.24 million square miles for the month, which is 355,200 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average. Continue reading

Losing ground: Coastal erosion seen as big threat in Alaska

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A NASA Earth Observatory image shows part of Alaska’s coast.

New USGS study measures North Slope shoreline losses

Staff Report

FRISCO — In the eternal battle between land and sea, the sea appears to be winning in northern Alaska, where much of the coastline is retreating at a rate of more than three feet per year, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The region has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world, according to the research, which analyzed more than 50 years worth of measurements.

“Coastal erosion along the Arctic coast of Alaska is threatening Native Alaskan villages, sensitive ecosystems, energy and defense related infrastructure, and large tracts of Native Alaskan, State, and Federally managed land,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS. Continue reading

Feds release draft polar bear recovery plan

Polar bears catch a bit of break, as sampling in one area shows a drop in levels of toxic PCBs. PHOTO COURTESY USGS.

Polar bears will have a hard time surviving unless there are big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy USGS.

‘Polar bear conservation requires a global commitment to curb the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — The only thing that will save polar bears in the long run is a big cut in global greenhouse gas emissions, federal biologists said last week as the rolled out a draft recovery plan for the Arctic predators.

Polar bears were the first species to be listed as endangered because of the direct threat of global warming. As Arctic sea ice continues to shrink, bear populations will decline, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Continue reading

Wildfires burn record 1.8 million acres in Alaska

Nationally, fires have scorched more than 2.5 million acres

Spot fires show as small puffs of smoke ahead of the main fire front as the fire moves toward the New Town of the village of Nulato on June 22 Credit: Ben Pratt

Smoke from spot fires ahead of the main fire front as a fire in the Galena Zone moves toward New Town Nulato on June 22, Credit: Ben Pratt/Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Staff Report

FRISCO — U.S. Wildfire activity has surged above the 10-year average in the past few weeks, primarily because of what will be a record-breaking fire season in Alaska.

After months of mostly above-average temperatures, Alaska’s vast forests and brushlands were primed, and the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center is reporting that more  600 fires have burned across more than 1.8 million acres in the state.

Fires have caused evacuations, highway closures, and rail and flight disruptions. More than 350 structures have been damaged, including about 70 homes.

Above-average temperatures and a longstanding drought in the western U.S. are big factors in the wildfires burning in parts of Washington, Oregon and California.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are currently 26 major fires burning in Alaska. Nationally, the NIFC is reporting that about 26,000 fires have burned across more than 2.5 million acres for the year to-date, the highest number since 2011, when fires had already scorched more than 4.8 million acres by this time of year.

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