A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘arctic canada

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO profiles classic Toronto convenience store chain Becker’s.
  • Crooked Timber links to their index of posts on their recent symposium on the ethics of immigration.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that a simulation of the Gliese 581 system (assuming four planets) shows it’s stable over long periods.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper suggesting that the distribution of trans-Neptunian objects indicates the existence of two large distant planets.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the recent revolution in Abkhazia.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis notes that there is scarce evidence of environmental issues triggering Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.
  • Language Hat hosts a discussion on Elias Muhanna’s essay on the translation of Frozen.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair lists the long collection of words censored in China on the grounds of their relationship to Tiananmen Square.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a recent study suggesting rapidly declining fortunes among young Americans after 2000.
  • Savage Minds engages with the potentially colonial concept of the Arctic.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia is drawing multiple connections between Ukraine and Syria, and notes the huge contribution of Ukrainians to the defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War.

[LINK] On a promised economic boom in Inuvik

Via 3 Quarks Daily I came across Audrea Lim’s n+1 article “Seismic Lines”. In it, Lim describes how the Arctic town of Inuvik is perpetually poised on an economic boom, promised product of fossil fuel exploitation, that just hasn’t arrived for any number of reasons (environmental, political, economic).

Inuvik is a town of 3,600 in the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories (NWT), about 100 km south of the Beaufort Sea. It is roughly one-third Inuvialuit (Inuit), one-third First Nations, and one-third non-aboriginal. For a month of the year, the sun doesn’t rise, and for another, the sun doesn’t set. All utility pipes run above ground because of the permafrost, the mix of rock, soil, and ice that is permanently frozen just a few feet below ground. Although Amar is originally from the Sudan, he had been living in Canada for about ten years when his cousin, a cab driver making good money in Inuvik, invited him to visit. Amar visited and stayed. That was 2009. He doesn’t plan to remain, but for now the wages are good and he saves nearly all of them—there’s nothing to buy around here. But this could change: Inuvik is the largest town in Canada along the Arctic energy frontier. It is always on the verge of booming, even if the big boom that promises to change everything hasn’t shown up.

I arrived in summer on a road trip with a friend. We drove up the Dempster Highway, which begins in the tourist town of Dawson City and winds northward for 736 km to Inuvik, the only road in Canada that leads into the Arctic Circle all year round. Dawson is frozen in commemoration of its own birth, the Klondike Gold Rush that brought workers and investment in droves, but this nostalgic display quickly fades from view once we’re on the road, with forest giving way to mountains, and mountains flattening into rolling hills and eventually tundra. The gradual disappearance of trees marks a climate growing harsher; eventually, the anemic black spruces, leaning lazily in every direction thanks to the permafrost, disappear altogether. In every direction are undulating expanses of land, and for hours at a time, there are no signs of human life, no power lines or even guard railings to prevent the tired driver, hypnotized by the vastness of it all, from veering off the road.

A specter haunts Inuvik, and the Dempster was constructed in anticipation. That specter is oil and gas, and the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline that will transport it south. The Arctic is estimated to contain at least a quarter of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13 percent of its oil. A third of Canada’s remaining conventionally recoverable natural gas resources and a quarter of its light crude oil reserves are located in the NWT and Nunuvat.

The possibility of massive oil exploitation has periodically galvanized the region into a frenzy, prompting visions of a boom many times more drastic than the one currently overtaking western Pennsylvania and upstate New York; it is perhaps more on par with the development of the Alberta Tar Sands in the ’70s, which transformed Calgary from a farming town into a wealthy oil capital. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline was first proposed in 2004 by a consortium of oil giants, including Imperial Oil, ConocoPhilips, ExxonMobil, and Shell. One thousand one hundred and ninety-six kilometers long, the pipeline would connect Inuvik to northern Alberta, link up to existing Tar Sands infrastructure, and transport gas to markets across Canada and into the United States. The Pipeline is part of the Mackenzie Gas Project which, when completed, will be the largest pipeline system in Canada’s north, driving the development of other fields in the region, much as the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will drive further development of the Tar Sands by connecting it to foreign markets.

The government approved the Mackenzie Gas Project in 2010, but two years later, disaster—of a sort, anyway—struck: US natural gas production reached an all-time high and natural gas prices dipped to a ten-year low. Suddenly, the Mackenzie Valley reserves began to seem less attractive, and the project was placed on hiatus. Shell is trying to sell its share, while the remaining partners decided at the end of 2013 not to go ahead with the project in its originally proposed form.

“The oil men, they come and go,” said Gerry Kisoun, who was born along the banks of the Delta, grew up in Inuvik, and is now Deputy Commissioner of the NWT. “They come for a while, think they are going to make big money, and then all of a sudden, somebody says ‘there’s not going to be any pipeline.’ And away they go. They’re here for a couple of days, compared with the fifty-plus years I’ve been around here and part of the community.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 7, 2014 at 9:31 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Bag News Notes profiles a now-vanished New York Times photo essay, one detailing children residing as restaveks with Haitian families who are–or are not?–servants.
  • Centauri Dreams considers how the New Horizons probe might detect subsurface oceans on Pluto.
  • Daniel Drezner thinks that applying bad analogies to contemporary international relationships can unduly prejudice the contemporary world, and wonders if the impending construction of the world’s tallest building in China signals the end of the Chinese boom.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the continued political strike in Poland over in-vitro fertilization.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Pereltsvaig profiles the deportation of Soviet Koreans from their Pacific homeland to Central Asia in the late 1930s, and notes echoes of this deportation in the music of Soviet Korean singer-songwriters.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan profiles the cat family tree.
  • Language Hat links to a blog post demonstrating how Hittite was recognized as an Indo-European language.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley recommends against Canada’s purchase of F-35 fighters as unhelpful for Canada’s likely missions in the Arctic.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if secure property rights really are as essential to economic growth as some have suggested.

[LINK] “The Greening of the Arctic”

io9’s George Dvorsky wrote recently about the remarkable scope, and speed, of global warming.

[A] separate study published in Nature Climate Change is demonstrating the dramatic impact this is having on the north’s growing season. After analyzing satellite and ground-based data, the researchers found that temperature and vegetation growth at northern latitudes now resemble those typically found four to six degrees of latitude further south — a distance of about 250 to 430 miles (400 to 700 km).
The researchers, an international team consisting of university and NASA scientists, focused their attention on the region from about 45 degrees north latitude to the Arctic Ocean.

Their analysis showed that all the conditions for a greenhouse feedback loop are being met, including diminishing Arctic sea ice and less snow cover. At the same time, as the northern latitudes get warmer, the growing season is getting longer and plants are thriving over a wider geographical area. These changes are having a dramatic impact on the boreal areas, leading to significant disruptions in the various ecosystems.

And indeed, we’re talking about a considerably large area.

“It’s like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years,” said co-author Compton Tucker through a NASA statement. Vegetation now grows in areas that were ecologically off limits only a few decades ago — a region that covers a jaw-dropping 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers). For perspective, that’s an area equal to the continental United States.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm

[LINK] “Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada”

This sci.archeology post from 2009 contains more links to the Tanfield Valley site on Baffin Island that, as Heather Pringle’s National Geographic article documents, may be the second confirmed Viking site on the North American continent after the famous L’Anse-aux-Meadows. I’m impressed.

Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as “very difficult to interpret.” Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.

Since 2001 Sutherland’s team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.

Still, some Arctic researchers remained skeptical. Most of the radiocarbon dates obtained by earlier archaeologists had suggested that Tanfield Valley was inhabited long before Vikings arrived in the New World. But as Sutherland points out, the complex site shows evidence of several occupations, and one of the radiocarbon dates indicates that the valley was occupied in the 14th century, when Viking settlers were farming along the coast of nearby Greenland.

In search of other clues to help solve the mystery, Sutherland turned to the Geological Survey of Canada. Using a technique known as energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined the wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones from Tanfield Valley and other sites. Sutherland and her colleagues detected microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—clear evidence of European metallurgy, which she presented October 7 at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. John’s, Canada.

Sutherland speculates that parties of Viking seafarers travelled to the Canadian Arctic to search for valuable resources. In northern Europe at the time, medieval nobles prized walrus ivory, soft Arctic furs, and other northern luxuries—and Dorset hunters and trappers could readily stockpile such products. Helluland’s waters teemed with walruses, and its coasts abounded in Arctic foxes and other small fur-bearing animals. To barter for such goods, Viking traders likely offered bits of iron and pieces of wood that could be carved into figurines and other goods, Sutherland says.

If Sutherland is correct, the lines of evidence she has uncovered may point to a previously unknown chapter in New World history in which Viking seafarers and Native American hunters were partners together in a transatlantic trade network. “I think things were a lot more complex in this part of the world than most people assumed,” Sutherland said. James Tuck agreed. “It’s pretty convincing that there was a much larger Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic than any of us thought.”

Written by Randy McDonald

October 20, 2012 at 12:59 am

[LINK] “Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada”

This sci.archeology post from 2009 contains more links to the Tanfield Valley site on Baffin Island that, as Heather Pringle’s National Geographic article documents, may be the second confirmed Viking site on the North American continent after the famous L’Anse-aux-Meadows. I’m impressed.

Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as “very difficult to interpret.” Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.

Since 2001 Sutherland’s team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.

Still, some Arctic researchers remained skeptical. Most of the radiocarbon dates obtained by earlier archaeologists had suggested that Tanfield Valley was inhabited long before Vikings arrived in the New World. But as Sutherland points out, the complex site shows evidence of several occupations, and one of the radiocarbon dates indicates that the valley was occupied in the 14th century, when Viking settlers were farming along the coast of nearby Greenland.

In search of other clues to help solve the mystery, Sutherland turned to the Geological Survey of Canada. Using a technique known as energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined the wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones from Tanfield Valley and other sites. Sutherland and her colleagues detected microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—clear evidence of European metallurgy, which she presented October 7 at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. John’s, Canada.

Sutherland speculates that parties of Viking seafarers travelled to the Canadian Arctic to search for valuable resources. In northern Europe at the time, medieval nobles prized walrus ivory, soft Arctic furs, and other northern luxuries—and Dorset hunters and trappers could readily stockpile such products. Helluland’s waters teemed with walruses, and its coasts abounded in Arctic foxes and other small fur-bearing animals. To barter for such goods, Viking traders likely offered bits of iron and pieces of wood that could be carved into figurines and other goods, Sutherland says.

If Sutherland is correct, the lines of evidence she has uncovered may point to a previously unknown chapter in New World history in which Viking seafarers and Native American hunters were partners together in a transatlantic trade network. “I think things were a lot more complex in this part of the world than most people assumed,” Sutherland said. James Tuck agreed. “It’s pretty convincing that there was a much larger Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic than any of us thought.”

Written by Randy McDonald

October 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

[LINK] “F-35 a ‘serious strategic mismatch’ for Canada’s North, retired colonel says”

Jeff Davis, writing in the National Post, reports on a new angle on the controversy over the purchase of F35 jets for the air force. I’d noted earlier that the estimates for cost were underestimated by ten billion dollars. Now, a former air force fleet manager suggests that the F35 isn’t suited for missions in the Arctic, and that we may as well wait for the first generation of combat-ready drones.

Thoughts?

Retired colonel Paul Maillet, an aerospace engineer and former CF-18 fleet manager, said the F-35 does not meet the needs of the government’s Canada First Defence Strategy, a key pillar of which is Arctic sovereignty.

“How do you get a single engine, low-range, low-payload, low-manoeuvrability aircraft that is being optimized for close air support … to operate effectively in the North?” he asked.

Maillet called the F-35 a “serious strategic mismatch” to Canada’s military needs, and suggested the Royal Canadian Air Force would be better off purchasing a fleet of F-18 E/F fighters.

Maillet, who twice ran as a federal Green party candidate, said the billions the government is planning to spend on F-35s would be better used on schools and health care.

[. . .]

The trend lines in aerial combat, Maillet said, point to manned aircraft becoming a thing of the past. Unmanned drone technology is progressing at a staggering pace, he said, and they will soon be capable of air-to-air dogfights.

Given the pace of drone development, Maillet said, the F-35 could be the last major manned fighter project. With new drone fighters not too far off, he said, Canada could hold off on a major purchase — and extend the life of the aging CF-18s — until these come to market.

“We could do the skip-a-generation thing,” he said.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 25, 2012 at 9:09 pm

[LINK] “F-35 a ‘serious strategic mismatch’ for Canada’s North, retired colonel says”

Jeff Davis, writing in the National Post, reports on a new angle on the controversy over the purchase of F35 jets for the air force. I’d noted earlier that the estimates for cost were underestimated by ten billion dollars. Now, a former air force fleet manager suggests that the F35 isn’t suited for missions in the Arctic, and that we may as well wait for the first generation of combat-ready drones.

Thoughts?

Retired colonel Paul Maillet, an aerospace engineer and former CF-18 fleet manager, said the F-35 does not meet the needs of the government’s Canada First Defence Strategy, a key pillar of which is Arctic sovereignty.

“How do you get a single engine, low-range, low-payload, low-manoeuvrability aircraft that is being optimized for close air support … to operate effectively in the North?” he asked.

Maillet called the F-35 a “serious strategic mismatch” to Canada’s military needs, and suggested the Royal Canadian Air Force would be better off purchasing a fleet of F-18 E/F fighters.

Maillet, who twice ran as a federal Green party candidate, said the billions the government is planning to spend on F-35s would be better used on schools and health care.

[. . .]

The trend lines in aerial combat, Maillet said, point to manned aircraft becoming a thing of the past. Unmanned drone technology is progressing at a staggering pace, he said, and they will soon be capable of air-to-air dogfights.

Given the pace of drone development, Maillet said, the F-35 could be the last major manned fighter project. With new drone fighters not too far off, he said, Canada could hold off on a major purchase — and extend the life of the aging CF-18s — until these come to market.

“We could do the skip-a-generation thing,” he said.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Notes on possible pre-Columbian migration to Viking Iceland

The headline of Traci Watson’s National Geographic News article sensationalizes the news a bit–it would have been a one-time migration to Iceland, on medieval Europe’s extreme western periphery, and the effects are limited to Iceland–but it’s still fascinating to think that there might have been pre-Columbian migration between the two hemispheres of the world with lasting effects.

Five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged to Europe with Vikings, according to a provocative new DNA study.

Analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans.

This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, the study authors theorize.

Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so.

The idea that a Native American woman sailed from North America to Iceland during that period of settlement and exploration provides the best explanation for the Icelanders’ variant, the research team says.

“We know that Vikings sailed to the Americas,” said Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and the University of Iceland, who co-wrote the study with his student Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and colleagues. “So all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them.

[. . .]

Through genealogical research, the study team concluded that the Icelanders who carry the Native American variation are all from four specific lineages, descended from four women born in the early 1700s.

Those four lineages, in turn, likely descended from a single woman with Native American DNA who must have been born no later than 1700, according to study co-author Ebenesersdóttir.

The genealogical records for the four lineages are incomplete before about 1700, but history and genetics suggest the Native American DNA arrived on the European island centuries before then, study co-author Helgason said.

The DNA in question doesn’t have precise parallels with any existing First Nations population, although many similar mutations do exist.

The whole story is remarkable inasmuch as the historical consensus is that relations between the Vikings and the First Nations of the Arctic and Newfoundland, the so-called Skræling, were profoundly hostile.

Complicating matters, the historical record contains no evidence that Icelandic Vikings might have taken a Native American woman back home to their European island, scholars say.

“It makes no sense to me,” said archaeologist and historian Hans Gulløv of the Greenland Research Centre in Copenhagen.

For one thing, experts say, nothing in excavations or the Icelandic sagas—thought to be rooted in fact but not entirely reliable—suggests a personal alliance of the kind reported in the new study, published online November 10 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The Saga of Erik the Red does tell of four Skraeling boys—the Norse term for the American Indians—who were captured by an Icelandic expedition and taken back to Greenland, said Birgitta Wallace, an emeritus archaeologist for Parks Canada who has written extensively about the Norse.

But Icelanders spent little time in North America, and their relations with the people they found living there seem to have been mostly hostile, she said. The stories “talk in not very flattering terms about [Native Americans'] looks,” Wallace said.

One saga, she added, tells of explorers “who found some sleeping natives—and they just killed them.”

“What we have is a big mystery,” study co-author Helgason admitted.

But still, the DNA evidence suggests that all it took was a single woman’s child. Spike on Facebook, who linked to the article, theorized that the woman likely belonged to either to the Dorset in the Arctic or the Beothuk culture in Newfoundland, both areas contacted by the Vikings in the medieval period. I’d be inclined to bet on the woman coming from the Dorset culture, since the Viking pattern of occasional trade with the inhabitants of the Arctic would support migration better than the violently failed settlement in Newfoundland.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Notes on possible pre-Columbian migration to Viking Iceland

The headline of Traci Watson’s National Geographic News article sensationalizes the news a bit–it would have been a one-time migration to Iceland, on medieval Europe’s extreme western periphery, and the effects are limited to Iceland–but it’s still fascinating to think that there might have been pre-Columbian migration between the two hemispheres of the world with lasting effects.

Five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged to Europe with Vikings, according to a provocative new DNA study.

Analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans.

This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, the study authors theorize.

Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so.

The idea that a Native American woman sailed from North America to Iceland during that period of settlement and exploration provides the best explanation for the Icelanders’ variant, the research team says.

“We know that Vikings sailed to the Americas,” said Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and the University of Iceland, who co-wrote the study with his student Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and colleagues. “So all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them.

[. . .]

Through genealogical research, the study team concluded that the Icelanders who carry the Native American variation are all from four specific lineages, descended from four women born in the early 1700s.

Those four lineages, in turn, likely descended from a single woman with Native American DNA who must have been born no later than 1700, according to study co-author Ebenesersdóttir.

The genealogical records for the four lineages are incomplete before about 1700, but history and genetics suggest the Native American DNA arrived on the European island centuries before then, study co-author Helgason said.

The DNA in question doesn’t have precise parallels with any existing First Nations population, although many similar mutations do exist.

The whole story is remarkable inasmuch as the historical consensus is that relations between the Vikings and the First Nations of the Arctic and Newfoundland, the so-called Skræling, were profoundly hostile.

Complicating matters, the historical record contains no evidence that Icelandic Vikings might have taken a Native American woman back home to their European island, scholars say.

“It makes no sense to me,” said archaeologist and historian Hans Gulløv of the Greenland Research Centre in Copenhagen.

For one thing, experts say, nothing in excavations or the Icelandic sagas—thought to be rooted in fact but not entirely reliable—suggests a personal alliance of the kind reported in the new study, published online November 10 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The Saga of Erik the Red does tell of four Skraeling boys—the Norse term for the American Indians—who were captured by an Icelandic expedition and taken back to Greenland, said Birgitta Wallace, an emeritus archaeologist for Parks Canada who has written extensively about the Norse.

But Icelanders spent little time in North America, and their relations with the people they found living there seem to have been mostly hostile, she said. The stories “talk in not very flattering terms about [Native Americans'] looks,” Wallace said.

One saga, she added, tells of explorers “who found some sleeping natives—and they just killed them.”

“What we have is a big mystery,” study co-author Helgason admitted.

But still, the DNA evidence suggests that all it took was a single woman’s child. Spike on Facebook, who linked to the article, theorized that the woman likely belonged to either to the Dorset in the Arctic or the Beothuk culture in Newfoundland, both areas contacted by the Vikings in the medieval period. I’d be inclined to bet on the woman coming from the Dorset culture, since the Viking pattern of occasional trade with the inhabitants of the Arctic would support migration better than the violently failed settlement in Newfoundland.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm

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