Arctic Sea Ice Could Melt Completely In 10 Years. And It Could Make The Inuit Very, Very Rich
A new report by the European Space Agency revealed that Arctic sea ice is melting at a much faster rate than previously estimated. The CryoSat-2 probe, a satellite launched in 2005 with the sole purpose of monitoring the Earth's sea ice, determined that 216 cubic miles of summer sea ice has melted in the past year. Global warming opponents often point out that this ice "comes back," but as the quantity of ice melt increases each year so, too, does the possibility of an ice-free arctic region.
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"Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that the rate of loss of sea ice volume in summer in the Arctic may be far larger than we had previously suspected," said Dr Seymour Laxon, of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London, told the Guardian. "Very soon we may experience the iconic moment when, one day in the summer, we look at satellite images and see no sea ice coverage in the Arctic, just open water."
Dr. Laxon failed to emphasize the poop-your-pants terrifying implications of an "open water" polar region. You know how the inside of a car gets really hot in the summertime? But some people use those reflective windshield screens that look like aluminum foil or giant sunglasses to block sunlight and keep the car cooler? That's a major role the ice caps play in keeping the planet cool. So, an "open water" polar region would result in a significant increase in the energy absorbed by dark ocean water, leading to more warming and more melting. In addition, the warming would unthaw large methane deposits trapped under the ice and the gas, a powerful greenhouse contributor, would evaporate into the atmosphere contributing to, you guessed it, more global warming. A rational person would hear these facts and feel a little uneasy about the state of a rapidly-warming planet and the implication for a fragile ecosystem and some 8 billion human residents. A rational person would not be welcome at Shell Oil, the company pushing hard for the rights to go after oil and gas deposits that were being cock-blocked by frigid ice-caps.
And this is where the Inuits could get very, very, very rich.
Turn your dial back to 1997. You're filling up your Honda Civic with $1.22/gallon gas on your way to see Titanic. You may have overlooked the news story about Canada going all-in on its legislative apology to the Inuits, granting them the totality of their ancestral homeland. 770,000 square miles of territory, or to put in "countries the U.S. loves to buy drugs from" terms, the size of Mexico. This would be like the U.S. giving Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee back to the Cherokee. The difference, of course, is that those states are developed centers of international commerce and culture and Nunavut was, at the time, seen as just a big chain of islands of frozen mud and ice.
"In the coming years, the Arctic will become a very important geo-political region," said Director of ESA's Earth Observation Programmes, Volker Liebig, on the agency's website. "15 to 20 per cent of the world's oil and gas reserves are expected there, and we will find shorter shipping routes as the ice melts."
Shorter shipping routes? Yeah, the Inuits could end up with ownership of the fabled Northwest passage. You know, the all-water route around the North American continent between the Atlantic and Pacific that every European power player in the 17th century was looking for but never found. The melting ice has opened it up and Canada, the E.U., the U.S. and Russia have claimed full or partial ownership of the passage. But much of land around the waters is owned by the Inuit tribe.
Underneath a lot of that land are those valuable oil and mineral deposits. This graphic from a July article in the Observer shows there are more than a dozen drilling and mining operations currently operating on Inuit lands.
Inuits were once said to have hundreds of words for snow. That proved to be false, but in the future, they may need to come up with hundreds of words for money.
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