Tag Archives: arctic

Arctic cruise goes from Bering Strait to New York for first time

The giant luxury liner was anchored just off Nome, too hulking to use the Bering Sea community’s docks on its inaugural Arctic cruise.

Instead, its more than 900 Arctic cruise passengers piled into small transport boats and motored to shore, where they snapped photos of wild musk oxen, lifted glasses in the town’s colorful bars and nibbled blueberry pie while admiring Alaska Native dancers at Nome’s summer celebration.

The Crystal Serenity’s visit to Alaska’s western coast is historic. At nearly three football fields long and 13 stories tall, the cruise ship is the largest ever to traverse the Northwest Passage, where its well-heeled guests glimpsed polar bears, kayaked along Canada’s north shore, landed on pristine beaches and hiked where few have stepped.

Some remote villages along the way are seeing dollar signs, while environmentalists are seeing doom. They say the voyage represents global warming and man’s destruction of the Earth.

The terrible irony with the Crystal Serenity’s voyage is that it’s taking place only because of climate change and the melting Arctic, said Michael Byers, a professor in the political science department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The Northwest Passage, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, has long been choked off by ice. But melting brought on by climate change is allowing passengers to cruise up the Bering Strait and then head east toward Greenland over the Arctic Ocean before docking next week in New York City.

“And yet, by actually taking advantage of climate change, it’s contributing to the problem because the ship has a very large carbon footprint of its own,”Byers said.

The Arctic cruise ship left Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, Aug. 16 with about 900 guests and 600 crew members on board. During its monthlong journey to New York, it will visit towns and villages in western and northern Alaska, Canada, Greenland and the eastern seaboard.

Smaller cruise ships, those that hold about 200 people, routinely make a port call in Nome and continue through the passage, but this ship is different.

“This is the game changer,”Nome Mayor Richard Beneville said. “This is the one that’s on everyone’s lips.’’

Nome spared nothing to make sure tourists off the high-end Arctic cruise liner — tickets cost more than $20,000 per person, with a penthouse starting at about six times that — felt at home.

The guests came to town in waves so they didn’t overwhelm the available services in Nome, population about 3,800.

They arrived at the small harbor dock and loaded into vans or school buses for their adventures, which included getting a gander at a herd of wild musk oxen that had taken up residence just outside town.

Other activities arranged for the Arctic cruise ship passengers were hiking and birding tours and helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft flights. Organizers even rescheduled the annual Blueberry Festival so visitors could enjoy a $5 piece of pie while watching traditional Eskimo dancers or browsing tables of seal skin gloves and wallets made by Alaska Native artists. The event took place a block from where the world’s most famous sled-dog race, the Iditarod, ends every March.

“Being at this festival here, the indigenous families that are here, I mean they are so proud of what they have, their handcrafts, their dancing, their music. They just love it, even with the hardships they have to endure, the prices they have to endure,”said Floridian Bob Lentz, who was traveling with his wife, Linda.

Charlie and Joan Davis of San Francisco signed up for the cruise within the first hour it was offered three years ago.

“We’ve been around the world many times, and this is someplace we’ve never been to, that’s somewhat unknown,”Charlie Davis said. “You know, just an adventure.’’

They weren’t alone in wanting to be part of the historic cruise.

“This is the longest single cruise we have ever made, and it is the most expensive cruise we’ve ever made because it’s many days, and it’s very expensive to operate up here,”said the ship’s captain, Birger Vorland. “And it’s the one that sold out the fastest; 48 hours, it was basically gone.’’

This cruise was three years in the making, and just about everything is unique to the trip, said John Stoll, a Crystal vice president who organized it.

The Serenity was fitted with special equipment to operate in the Arctic, including an ice navigation satellite system. Its operators even chartered cargo flights to northern communities to gather fresh perishables for the vessel’s five-star restaurants.

“The planning and the logistics that has gone into this ship has been nothing short of amazing,”Stoll said.

The cruise company is planning another Alaska-to-New York City voyage next August, catering to travelers like the Lentzes.

“We’re going off on a wildlife adventure right now, and that, to me, is what it’s all about in our twilight years — kind of experiencing things before crazy humans destroy it,”Bob Lentz said.

 

Refuting Ted Cruz’s disinformation about climate change

Ted Cruz is decidedly at odds with the scientific consensus that Earth is warming because of human activity.

A look at some of the Republican presidential contender’s claims on the subject in New Hampshire this week and how they compare with the facts:

CRUZ: “The satellites that actually measure the temperature, that we’ve launched into the air to measure the temperature, they have recorded no significant warming whatsoever for the last 18 years.”

THE FACTS: Scientists, including those who work with the very satellite measuring system that Cruz refers to, say he’s misusing the satellite data. They do show warming, albeit relatively little over the period Cruz cites, says Carl Mears, senior scientist for Remote Sensing Systems, which produces the data that Cruz refers to.

But by starting his comparison period in 1997, Cruz has selected a time when temperatures spiked because of an El Niño weather pattern. Starting at an artificially high point minimizes the rate of increase since then, Mears said, adding, “If you start riding your bike at the top of a big hill, you always go downhill, at least for a while.”

More important is what’s measured at the Earth’s surface, where people live, Mears said. Those ground-based systems show a greater degree of warming.

The long-term trend that Mears’ satellites show is about 0.7-degree warming since 1979, when satellites started measuring temperature. Ground-based monitors show a warming of about 1 degree during the same period. And 1979 was not among the top five hottest or coldest years in the 36 years of records.

CRUZ: “John Kerry said in 2009 the polar ice caps will be entirely melted by 2013. … Has anyone noticed the polar ice caps are still there? In fact, there was an expedition that went down to Antarctica to prove that the polar ice caps were melting … (the ship) got stuck in the ice because in fact the polar ice caps have increased. They are larger than they were. So not only was Kerry incorrect, he was spectacularly absolutely opposite the facts.”

THE FACTS: Kerry was talking about the ice cap at the North Pole, and it’s true that it hasn’t melted as he predicted. But in pointing that out, Cruz distorts the facts by referring to a ship that got stuck in Antarctic ice a world away near the South Pole.

Scientists do say it’s only a matter of decades before the sea ice around the North Pole will be melted during the summer months, and some countries’ navies are already exploring the area for quicker sea routes. Scientific measurements in Antarctica — where thick ice sheets sit atop land, not floating on the ocean as in the Arctic — show the ice sheets are diminishing on one side while growing on the other. But the fact that a ship got stuck in ice in the Antarctica doesn’t tell us anything about the phenomenon.

CRUZ: “If you’re a big-government politician, if you want more power, climate change is the perfect pseudo-scientific theory … because it can never, ever, ever be disproven.”

THE FACTS: Far from being pseudo-science, climate change is the consensus view among real scientists.

“The climate is terribly complicated, but it is now remarkably well understood because so many people have made such great efforts at developing sensors and deploying sensors and making sense of what the sensors say,” says Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, and a former Democratic congressman. “It’s not just a few fanciful models on a computer, there are real data now. This is a highly developed science.”

CRUZ: “Thirty, 40 years ago a whole bunch of liberal politicians, a bunch of scientists, were advocating, they said we were facing global cooling. We’re going to have another ice age. And their solution to this was massive government control of the economy, the energy sector and every aspect of our lives. But then the facts and science stood in the way. It turned out the Earth wasn’t cooling.”

THE FACTS: Actually, global warming was more of a concern than cooling back in that time. From 1965 to 1979, 44 peer-reviewed scientific studies found the world was warming, 20 found no trend and only seven found cooling, according to a review of literature published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 2008.

 

Shell abandons Arctic exploration

Royal Dutch Shell is departing Alaska’s Arctic waters, abandoning “for the foreseeable future” its exploration for oil in the region.

“This is a victory for everyone who has stood up for the Arctic,” said Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard. “Whether they took to kayaks or to canoes, rappelled from bridges or spread the news in their own communities, millions of people from around the world have taken action against Arctic drilling.”

Shell spent about $7 billion on its Arctic effort, seeking to tap a new source of oil and revenue in the Chukchi Sea about 80 miles from Alaska’s northwest coast. U.S. experts have estimated the Chukchi and Beaufort seas contain about 26 billion barrels of oil.

“Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.,” read a statement from Marvin Odum, Shell’s director of operations in the Americas. “However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

Shell was the strongest bidder for leases in the Chukchi Sea in 2008, but not the only company with interests in the region. ConocoPhillips paid $506 million for 98 tracts, according to the AP. 

Greenpeace’s Leonard said President Barack Obama now has the opportunity to cancel future drilling and declare the U.S. Arctic off-limits to Big Oil. “There is no better time to keep fossil fuels like Artic oil in the ground,” she said.

Greenpeace was at the forefront of protests in the Pacific Northwest, where demonstrators blocked Shell ships from departing to the Arctic.

The Sierra Club and 350.org also organized opposition the Arctic exploration.

“Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean has always been a misguided disaster,” said 350.org executive director May Boeve. “It would worsen climate change and almost certainly result in expensive and damaging spills.”

Environmentalists seize on latest Santa Barbara oil spill

The latest oil spill on the California coast at Santa Barbara is just a drop in the bucket compared with the area’s catastrophic blowout in 1969, but it has become a new rallying point for environmentalists in their battle against drilling and fossil fuels.

No one expects damage on the order of the 1969 disaster, which helped give rise to the modern environmental movement and led to passage of some of the nation’s most important environmental laws.

Nevertheless, the new spill from a ruptured underground pipe is being held up as another reason to oppose such things as fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas, the moving of crude by train, and drilling in far-flung places.

“What we see from this event is that the industry still poses enormous risks to an area we cannot afford to lose,” said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The timing of the leak — days after a federal agency approved Shell’s plan for drilling in the Arctic, and while the Obama administration considers opening the Atlantic to exploration — could work to the advantage of environmental groups.

Closer to home, it could galvanize opposition to plans for new drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, where Union Oil’s platform blew out 46 years ago, spewing an estimated 3 million gallons of crude along 30 miles of coast. Some 9,000 birds died.

The spill involved an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude; about 21,000 is believed to have made it to the sea and split into slicks that stretched 9 miles along the same stretch of coast fouled in 1969. A 23-mile by 7-mile area was closed to fishing.

There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup.

The 24-inch pipe, built in 1987, had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to its operator, Plains All American Pipeline. The pipe underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, though the results had not been analyzed yet.

Company officials said it can take weeks or months after excavation and inspection of the broken pipeline to determine the cause of the spill.

The 1969 spill was a watershed event in the area and also for the nation.

Artist Bud Bottoms remembers yelling, “We’ve got to get oil out!” thus coining what became a rallying cry and the name of the organization he founded, Get Oil Out, or GOO.

“We made so much noise about the oil spill in our pristine Santa Barbara coast that it was called the ‘environmental shot heard ‘round the world,’” Bottoms said.

The stench was terrible, and he remembers people crying at the sight of the beaches. Inmates were brought in to help spread bales of straw to sop up the mess.

His group helped gather 200,000 signatures to get the oil rigs removed from the coast. That never happened, but over the next few years significant legislation was passed to protect endangered species and the air and water. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

Sean Anderson, environmental professor at California State University, Channel Islands, said he doesn’t think this week’s spill will have any effect on policies or regulations, mostly because there are so many already in place.

“The 1969 spill created a panoply of federal, state and county level regulations and laws,” he said. “From that watershed event, a huge array of policy and procedural tools emerged.”

Tupper Hull, a spokesman with Western States Petroleum Association, said the industry expects a certain amount of blowback but not necessarily new regulation.

“It’s no secret that there are groups that have an agenda to curtail energy production in California,” Hull said. “They will no doubt reference this tragedy in their advocacy. We will respond with a measured, thoughtful response that will make full use of facts.”

Plains All American and its subsidiaries operate more than 6,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines in at least 20 states, according to company reports. Those companies handle more than 4 million barrels of crude and other liquid fuels daily.

Since 2006, the companies have reported 199 accidents and been subject to 22 enforcement actions by federal regulators. The accidents resulted in a combined 725,500 gallons of hazardous liquids spilled and damage topping $25 million.

Corrosion was determined to be the cause in more than 80 of those accidents. Failures in materials, welds and other equipment were cited more than 70 times.

Enforcement cases against the companies resulted in the collection of $154,000 in penalties, according to a federal database.

Patrick Hodgins, senior director of safety for Plains All American, said the company has spent more than $1.3 billion since 2007 on maintenance, repair and enhancement of its equipment.

“Safety is not just a priority; it’s actually a core value at Plains,” he said.

One local group that arose out of the 1969 disaster was the local Environmental Defense Center, which is now trying to block certain drilling projects.

“It doesn’t matter how many laws you have on the books or how many regulations you have and it doesn’t matter what advancements are made in technology,” said Linda Krop, the group’s chief counsel. “Oil development is risky business and will result in oil spills.”