Arctic resource rush: US, Canada try cooperation over competition

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and some scientists warn that within the next two decades the vicinity’s waterways could be ice-free in summertime.

That has generated new tensions over Russian militarization of the Arctic, a hungry China vying for its resources, and increased competitions for sea lanes. already the Northwest Passage, which runs by the Arctic ice north of Canada, is contested.

Why We Wrote This

With the melting Arctic opening up new opportunities and stirring old rivalries, the U.S. and Canada are trying a cooperative approach to tapping the thawing resources and trade routes. Part one of two.

The United States is looking to shore up its partnership with its Arctic allies, in addition as expand its understanding of what’s happening in the vicinity, with a trip of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy by the Northwest Passage. Passengers include military counterparts from Canada, Denmark, and Britain carrying out joint exercises, while a plethora of scientists conduct international research crucial to understanding the implications of climate change.

“We’re demonstrating the U.S. ability to increase our reach in the Arctic,” says Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. “It’s building our organic knowledge in the area. It’s projecting our interests. It’s demonstrating to the other nations of the world that like-minded partners are collaborating and working in this important space.”

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

Steering the ship from her perch 93 feet above the Arctic waterline, U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Valerie Hines guides the canal by ice cover laid out like a great white question starting to tear apart.

She nudges the 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy forward – ramming, then backing up and ramming again, the ice that is several feet thick. The noise is deafening as cleaved chunks scrape the side of the hull. Below deck, the continued vibration caused by the severing sheet can feel like an earthquake.

however the bulldozing task here has its moments of beauty, too: Some of the ice chunks peeling away from the bow glow with an iridescent blue, as if being lit by a flashlight from underneath the sea.

Why We Wrote This

With the melting Arctic opening up new opportunities and stirring old rivalries, the U.S. and Canada are trying a cooperative approach to tapping the thawing resources and trade routes. Part one of two.

The ship’s journey is part of a scarce transit by the fabled Northwest Passage that is helping the U.S. project influence in what is one of the most geostrategic – and quickly changing – places on Earth.

With a warming Arctic and polar ice cap in retreat, the rooftop of the world is more navigable than at any time in modern history. And that is opening up the possible for new commercial lanes and the need for better search and rescue skill, enhanced environmental protection, and cooperation with local populations in the high latitudes. It has also set off a global race to lay claim to routes and resources in the austere but all-important vicinity.

Chief Petty Officer Matt Masaschi/U.S. Coast Guard

Ensign Valerie Hines pilots the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy by the ice during its Northwest Passage transit, Sept. 2, 2021. “One of the things I’ve learned is just how much patience icebreaking requires,” says Ensign Hines.

“They are pretty crazy pieces of ice,” says Ensign Hines. “They would roll down the side of the hull and you would see them flip over on their side, back behind us. It’s definitely a multisensory experience.”

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