Battle stations for an ice-free Arctic

The summer seas around the North Pole could be ice-free in 15 years. Rear Admiral David Titley was given the task of working out what that meant for the US Navy. He talks with Elizabeth Finkel.

Article courtesy of COSMOS

Feature | Earth Sciences | June 2, 2014

In the unfolding Greek tragedy that is climate change, we’ve grown used to the voices of particular actors. There are the Cassandra scientists, the smug deniers and the vacillating politicians. One voice that’s not typically part of the cast is the United States Navy. But this February it spoke out loud and clear with the release of its “Arctic Roadmap”. 

The Earth’s climate is changing and nowhere more so than around the North Pole. In about 16 years, what was once a year-round expanse of white ice and snow will become an ice-free expanse of blue ocean each summer. And that doesn’t just affect polar bears. Climate change deniers may bury their heads in the sand or find succour in statistical noise, but the US Navy is getting ready to deal with the first new ocean that strategists have had to deal with since Magellan sailed into the Pacific.

The 2014 Arctic Roadmap lays out the new challenges involved in patrolling an isolated, infrastructure-lacking  and extremely harsh Arctic Ocean. The conclusion is that the Navy must now ready itself for everything from armed conflict to supporting mining, fishing and tourism.

This is not the first of the Navy’s Arctic Roadmaps. The inaugural plan was produced in 2009 by the now-retired Rear Admiral David Titley. After a career helping the Navy deal with the risks of climate, he is offering his services to the wider world as head of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. “I’m civilianising this,” he told me at the Chicago meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) earlier this year.

Arctic Ice

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