Arctic | KUOW News and Information

Arctic

A massive iceberg the size of Delaware has broken free from Antarctica and is floating in the sea.

Earlier Wednesday, scientists announced that the 6,000-square-kilometer (about 2,300 square miles) iceberg had come loose, after satellites detected it had calved off the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The remotely operated underwater research vessel known as Boaty McBoatface is preparing for its first research mission — an expedition into "some of the deepest and coldest abyssal ocean waters on earth."

Boaty McBoatface, of course, was the moniker that emerged triumphant in an online poll meant to name the newest research ship in the U.K.'s Natural Environment Research Council fleet. But the council opted to overrule the will of the people, and named the ship the Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough instead.

The U.S.S. Bear, a cutter that was dispatched by President McKinley to rescue the Belvedere and other ice-bound whaling ships. The Bear wasn’t able to break through the ice to Point Barrow until July 28, 1898. Today, there is no ice.
U.S. Library of Congress

Audio Pending...

When the steamship Belvedere left San Francisco in the spring of 1897, its crew members couldn’t have known what a treacherous voyage awaited them.

The drilling rig Noble Discoverer is shown in Alaska's Dutch Harbor before it went to the Arctic.
KUCB photo/John Ryan

Shell's two Arctic oil rigs pulled into Unalaska's Dutch Harbor on Sunday, some 1,100 miles south of the company's drilling site in the Chukchi Sea.

While Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said the rigs' final destinations are still being determined, they will not be returning to Seattle.

A Coast Guard C-130 flies over the Arctic Ocean during an Office of Naval Research-sponsored study of the changing sea ice, ocean and atmosphere. Arctic ice is decreasing dramatically.
Flickr Photo/Office of Naval Research (CC BY 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1L2lhwW

Jeannie Yandel talks to Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, head of NOAA's office of coast survey, about why only 1 percent of the U.S. Arctic Ocean has been mapped with modern tools. 

The Polar Pioneer oil rig in Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle this summer.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

In the end one battle over Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling effort came down to the Websters New Collegiate Dictionary’s definition of “good.”

A Seattle hearing examiner gave the Port of Seattle, Foss Maritime and Shell a victory Wednesday by deciding that materials loaded onto Shell’s ships at Terminal 5 met that definition.

The drilling rig Noble Discoverer is shown in Alaska's Dutch Harbor before it went to the Arctic.
KUCB photo

After sinking eight years and more than $8 billion into the effort, Shell Oil is pulling out of the Arctic Ocean, the company says.

Shell announced Monday it will seal and abandon the test well it drilled in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, and end its offshore exploration in the Arctic for the foreseeable future.

The company cited high costs, challenging federal regulations and poor results from a test well.

Why It Costs So Much To Drill In The Arctic

Sep 28, 2015
The drilling rig Kulluk was grounded in 2013 after efforts by U.S. Coast Guard and tug vessel crews to move the vessel to a safe harbor during a winter storm during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Dept. of Defense (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1Fy3Kkv

Ross Reynolds talks to New York Times reporter Steven Myers about why we haven't seen the arctic oil boom everyone predicted.

Shell Oil's Polar Pioneer left the Port of Seattle for Alaska on the morning of June 15, 2015.
KUOW Photo/Brian Gregory

Ross Reynolds speaks with Seattle Times economics columnist Jon Talton about how Shell Oil's decision to stop off-shore arctic oil drilling might affect Western Washington. Also, they talk about how Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the Seattle area could affect the economy long-term.

Shell's Polar Pioneer was greeted by dozens of protesting kayakers when it arrived in Seattle this spring.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Environmentalist are celebrating Shell’s decision to stop oil exploration off Alaska’s northern coast indefinitely, but the immediate future of the company’s base at the Port of Seattle is unclear.

Citing a lack of enough oil to make the project worthwhile, Royal Dutch Shell Oil is halting its effort to drill for oil off Alaska's shore "for the foreseeable future." The company has spent some $7 billion on the exploration project.

A view of the sea near Kivalina, Alaska, in May 2014. Normally the ice would have been solid into June.
Suzanne Tennant

President Barack Obama becomes the first sitting president to set foot on U.S. soil north of the Arctic Circle on Wednesday. Marcie Sillman talks to Nadine Fabbi, managing director of the Canadian Studies Center at the University of Washington, about why the Arctic is increasingly important to U.S. foreign policy.

Obama's Alaska Trip Prompts Arctic Drilling Protest

Aug 31, 2015

People protesting oil drilling in the Arctic marched through downtown Portland Monday, and held a “die-in.” They're trying to send President Obama a message as he travels to Alaska this week.

Several dozen protesters carried placards, chanted and made their way to the federal building downtown, where some lay down for a “die-in.”

They said drilling in the Arctic will wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystem, and could bring the world closer to the 2 degree Celsius temperature increase scientists are warning about.

Kayakers protesting the arrival of Shell's Polar Pioneer rig in Port Angeles in April
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Environment groups have another opportunity to stop a Shell Oil rig from returning to Seattle.

They are appealing a Superior Court decision from earlier this summer that the Port of Seattle could host Shell's Arctic drilling fleet without conducting an environmental review.

Foss Maritime tugs pull the Polar Pioneer past downtown Seattle on the way to Terminal 5 on Thursday, May 14, 2015.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

A lawsuit challenging the Port of Seattle’s lease of a terminal as a homeport for Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil-drilling fleet was rejected Friday by a King County Superior Court judge.

The Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker, Fennica, has left Portland after undergoing repairs at a local dry dock, but it wasn't an easy task.

Officials spent the afternoon removing environmental activists with Greenpeace USA who were hanging from Portland's St. Johns Bridge. Greenpeace and other activist groups oppose Shell's ongoing drilling efforts for oil in the Arctic.

Police and rescue officials spoke at a press conference after the protesters were removed.

Protesters dangling for two days from Portland's St. Johns Bridge kept a Shell Oil icebreaker at bay for more than 36 hours before it passed through en route to the Arctic.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups involved claimed their temporary blockade a success: they sent Shell a message and drew worldwide attention to their campaign to stop Arctic oil drilling and to wean the world from fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

But what does it really mean in the context of plans for offshore drilling in the Arctic?

A Shell icebreaking vessel being protested in Portland by activist groups turned around Thursday morning to head back toward the dry dock after a showdown with protesters.

The U.S. Coast Guard was escorting the icebreaker on the Willamette River and warned the activists that they are breaking the law.

A Shell icebreaking vessel being protested by Greenpeace and other activist groups will not leave a Portland dock Wednesday, according to the Columbia River Bar Pilot dispatch.

Word of the cancellation came as 13 protesters dangled from the St. Johns Bridge about a mile downstream from the Shell vessel.

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard says the protesters dangling off the bridge have enough water and food to last for days.

Climate change activists in Portland are planning to take to the water in kayaks to engage in civil disobedience when an ice-breaking vessel working for the the Royal Dutch Shell oil company arrives at a local dry dock for repairs.

Melting ice in the Arctic is creating opportunities for access to oil and gas, and shipping lanes. But the area is still mostly frozen and navigating the inhospitable region on top of the world still requires an icebreaker, the heavy duty ships that are able to crash through massive layers of ice.

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for search-and-rescue missions, as well as protecting the environment and defending U.S. sovereignty. The U.S. is one of five countries with territorial claims to the land and waters of the Arctic (The others are Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark.).

U.S. Coast Guard

A new report from The National Transportation Safety Board says poor planning and risk assessment by Shell Oil led to the wreck of the Kulluk oil rig off the coast of Alaska in December 2012.

KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Protesters of Arctic drilling have run afoul of the ocean environment in their own small way.

In addition to assembling a flotilla of kayaks on Seattle's Elliott Bay last weekend, the activists brought in a construction barge. It's a solar-powered platform for protests against Shell Oil's plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. But the protesters anchored their solar barge over one of Seattle's most popular sites for scuba diving. 

Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

After nearly two hours of public testimony Tuesday, Seattle port commissioners upheld their decision to let Arctic oil-drilling rigs dock at the Port of Seattle.

They did vote 5-0 to make it harder for Shell Oil to use the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 beyond the two-year term of the lease the port approved in January.

The latest word from scientists studying the Arctic is that the polar region is warming twice as fast as the average rise on the rest of the planet. And researchers say the trend isn't letting up. That's the latest from the 2014 Arctic Report Card — a compilation of recent research from more than 60 scientists in 13 countries. The report was released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

U.S. Coast Guard

A US Coast Guard investigation blames Shell Oil's complacency and risk-taking for an oil rig running aground on a remote Alaskan Island on New Year's Eve 2012.

U.S. Coast Guard

Exactly a year ago, an oil rig being towed to Seattle ran aground on a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska. The New Year's Eve accident capped a year of trouble for Shell Oil in Alaska and in Puget Sound.

Shell is still seeking federal approval to drill in the Arctic, and a critical ship in Shell’s Arctic fleet is still sitting idle on the Bellingham, Wash., waterfront.

TJ Guiton

Shell Oil Co. had to postpone its Arctic drilling until 2014 after one of its oil rigs ran aground off the Alaska coast this winter, but Shell’s efforts to open a new frontier of oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean continue in Puget Sound.

The oil giant passed a key test with federal regulators in March in the waters off Anacortes, Wash., north of Seattle.

Maria Coryell-Martin

Two Seattle-based adventurers — one a scientist, the other an artist — are on an expedition to study and document narwhals in Arctic waters off the west coast of Greenland. 

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