The Arctic Frontier

By Lesley Stahl

Lesley Stahl goes to the top of the world where the next battle over oil and mineral resources is shaping up as the region becomes more accessible due to climate chang

The sea ice over the Arctic is melting and shrinking so fast we will see in our lifetime something that hasn't happened, it's believed, since the end of the last Ice Age: the opening of an ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and with that access to trade routes and trillions of dollars worth of oil and natural gas, almost as much as the entire U.S. economy. 

But, as we reported last fall, this isn't a story about climate change; this is a story about the competition for those riches. The Russians, for instance, have already amassed a major military presence in the region.

It's also about pioneers -- U.S. scientists and naval personnel -- learning to tough it out in the harshness of this still ice-covered frontier. We discovered just how harsh. On a trip to the Arctic.

The Arctic Ocean sits on top of the globe, encircled by Russia, which encompasses about half of its coastline: Norway, Greenland, Canada. 

Alaska to plan road network across isolated Arctic

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska budgeted $7.3 million to plan the construction of a network of roads extending hundreds of miles (kilometres) across the Arctic.

Alaska’s Energy Desk reported ( ) on Thursday that the Arctic Strategic Transportation and Resource Project is touted as a plan to connect isolated communities in the north as well as develop oil fields across the region.

While the full cost of this undertaking is not yet known, it would require major funding that the state hopes the federal government would support.

State Rep. Dean Westlake whose district includes the North Slope Borough says connecting the communities would help residents.

First measurements of iodine in the Arctic reveal questions about air pollution

by Kayla Zacharias

New measurements of molecular iodine in the Arctic show that even a tiny amount of the element can deplete ozone in the lower atmosphere.

This is surprising because iodine is so scarce in the Arctic snowpack compared to its close relatives and known -killers, chlorine and bromine. Less than one part per trillion of iodine is enough to have a significant effect on ozone concentration in the lower atmosphere, according to a study published Sept. 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Where we live, the air is relatively clean because of ozone. It's like a Pac-Man of the atmosphere – it helps to gobble up pollution," said Paul Shepson, a Purdue University professor of analytical and atmospheric chemistry who worked on the study. "But it's also toxic at high concentrations and regulated by the Clean Air Act. We need a Goldilocks amount of ozone in the atmosphere – not too much, not too little."

Arctic sea ice outlook at worst point in 125,000 years

Though temperatures were warmer during the last interglacial period, the greenhouse effect of atmospheric C02 is now melting more Arctic sea ice.

The prognosis for summer Arctic sea-ice loss over the next few decades is worse than it was 125,000 years ago during the last interglacial period, despite the fact temperatures were higher then.

That is the sobering conclusion reached by researchers at the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Germany. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

A team led by paleoclimatologist Rüdiger Stein combined sediment core data and climate models to estimate historical ice levels in the Arctic Ocean, in light of evidence-weighted predictions that such ice may disappear during the northern summer in the next 50 to 100 years.

Even though “the high latitudes were significantly warmer than today” during the interglacial period, the scientists state, “sea ice existed in the central Arctic Ocean during summer”.