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Arctic land grabs

Updated Tuesday, 7th October 2008

With the launch of the Argo buoy, Joe Smith blogs from his Arctic climate change expedition

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The Argo buoy is launched – might seem banal to scientists, but it really helps the rest of us to visualise science as a practice rather than a set of reported results. Think the winning entry for naming it was 'Disko(very) Bob', crafted by Jarvis Cocker.

Disko(very) Bob [image by Nathan Gallagher © copyright Nathan Gallagher] Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Nathan Gallagher

Disko(very) Bob.

Climate change is just one of the reasons why there is more oceanography and geology going on in the region. Sovereign states in the region are investing a good deal in trying to establish the best evidence to support resource claims. There has been a flurry of news stories over the last year or so about a scramble for Arctic resources by the countries of the region. The planting of a Russian flag by a mini-sub on the seabed at the North Pole was interpreted in reports around the world as a form of land grab.

In practical terms it was meaningless and there are due legal processes for working out sovereign rights over the seabed. The reporting was a little shrill (that was the point for Putin I guess, above all domestically). But there will be jockeying for position for the mineral resources that will become more easily accessible as higher temperatures melt the sea ice.

The Arctic offers a textbook example of how exploration, exploitation and sovereignty frequently lock together. Reading in advance of the trip, and for writing part of the Arctic materials for the new Open University environment course, delivered a few surprises.

The term British Empire was first coined in relation to a claim to the region drawn up by polymath John Dee for Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century. He rooted the claim in an argument that King Arthur had colonised the Arctic lands (he drew on references to an evidently less than authoritative monk – 11th C I recall).

The explorer (read pirate) Martin Frobisher made three voyages to Arctic Canada, and brought back huge quantities of what the alchemists had promised was gold ore. Despite the best efforts of the largest smelting plant in England it turned out to be no more interesting than heavy black rocks (basalt?). You can see them today – they were recycled into an Elizabethan manor house wall that still stands in Deptford.

Afternoon taken up with rehearsals for a whole group performance of Paradise Lost and a discussion on 'Creativity and Change'. In an hour we barely got going but did lay out some useful markers.

Stephen: in the context of the discussions about resources, climate change and the Arctic, people are asking what hope there is of Copenhagen 2009 UN FCCC meeting delivering a meaningful progress.

What's your reading? Will either US presidential candidate make enough of a difference to the process?

Now that we're at sea heading south we've all a little more time to ourselves and am missing home – and that's after a little more than a week. How did Nansen and friends cope for a year locked in the ice? How do the Polar scientists cope spending months in a hut in these very lonely places?





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