With new avenues into previously inaccessible arctic waterways (due to melting sea ice), there will be a shift in geopolitical concerns. A Colorado Springs (home of the U.S. Air Force Academy) newspaper wrote an article today noting that with the attention Russia has been getting due to actions in Ukraine, Syria and Chechnya, there is the assignment to the Spring’s Northern Command of what is noted as Alaska’s “fourth coast”. More melt means more navigation possibilities for trade, getting to enemies, and for oil and gas exploration (with eventual extraction/production). Satellite data out of Boulder’s (CO) National Snow and Ice Data Center demonstrates that there has been less sea ice in general with the trend expected to continue in that direction. Thus, with more open water there is the need for more air support from the Air Force.
Russia has the greatest share of Arctic shoreline, and it is in the Arctic where all but 5% of their national extraction of natural gas happens (and all but 25% of their crude oil). With the movement during Soviet times of vast amounts of population into Siberia for mining, metals as well as oil and gas extraction helped to a build up not only of infrastructure but also communities. Now with more shipping, oil spill response and search/rescue functions are being focused on as an area of activity up on the Northern coast. This will only increase a need for U.S. Coast Guard services as well as Air Force work in the area.
One particular support which Alaska’s Senators have worked on over the years is increased U.S. expenditures for ice breakers as Russia has a large fleet of over 3 dozen as well as plans for future for nuclear powered models. The U.S. has only a few and it has been difficult to get attention for the need of more to be in place….. off of America’s “fourth shore” .