The Melting Arctic

Some interesting commentary here (Science Progress, “The Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral Continues,” by Joe Romm).


Arctic sea ice volume by month in cubic kilometers (with simple quadratic trend lines projecting to zero volume, details here).  The bottom (red) line is September volume.

A couple of interesting statements included,

In November, Rear Admiral David Titley, the Oceanographer of the Navy, testified that “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower…in the last several thousand years.” Titley, who is also the Director of Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, said he has told the Chief of Naval Operations that “we expect to see four weeks of basically ice free conditions in the mid to late 2030s.”

Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School has “projected a (virtually) ice-free fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs).”

While I don’t think this means we won’t need new icebreakers, it may mean we will need Arctic Patrol Cutters sooner than we think.

Passages North

56 years ago, on 4 September 1954, the icebreakers USCGC Northwind and USS Burton Island completed the first transit of the Northwest passage through McClure Strait.

There has been a lot more activity in the North lately (more here and here), with the promise that if the melting continues, passages from Northern Europe to Asia may be cut by up to half (link includes a nice comparisons of the routes). The Russians expect to make some money on fees for passage and the use of their icebreakers.

There is even talk that it may substantially hurt business at the Suez Canal and allow ships to avoid pirates off Somalia. Looks like that is still a few years off since the season is very limited and only ice strengthened vessels can use the route now.

Still other people are planning ahead. China is building their second polar icebreaker and positioning itself to exploit the Arctic. Maybe a little healthy competition is the wake up call we need.

Ten Steps to Raise Our Profile in the Polar Regions

The August edition of US Naval Institute Proceedings has a short article by retired Captain Lawson Brigham under in the “Nobody Asked Me But…” section that list of ten suggested steps “to ensure that our many polar maritime interests are given proper attention.”

He touches on the need for Arctic Patrol ships but this is not really about hardware justification. These proposals impact virtually every mission area. I think it’s worth a read.

Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship

We discussed our Arctic Patrol Cutter earlier. This announcement of a alliance between Canada’s Washington Marine Group and European defense contractor Thales, to compete for a contract to build Canada’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) sounds more like a company news release than real reporting, but it gives an idea what the Canadians are doing–six ice breaking patrol ships at an estimated cost of  $2B (presumably Canadian $).

The ships would have patrol duties in other waters when the Arctic is not accessible. Who will operate these ships is still an open question. The stated intention is that they will be Canadian Coast Guard, but many in Canada feel they should be operated by the Navy, because the Canadian Coast Guard is more that of a civilian agency than a military force.

Arctic Patrol Vessel

With all the talk of the Arctic opening up, I’d like to pick you brains about the sort of ships we need. How will we balance of numbers and capability?

Do we need a new design? An ice strengthened OPC? Can 225s do the job? A salt water Mackinaw? (Anybody know if the new Mackinaw is restricted to fresh water?)

Do we perhaps need a new type of vessel–maybe an icebreaking helo carrier with hanger space that can alternately be used for containers of different types from scientific or personnel support to mine warfare modules?

Should we reactivate the Glacier as an interim measure?

There is some background here.

What do you think?