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Arctic Yearbook 2012
global audience the inescapable fact that most of the place we call ‘the Arctic’ is indeed an ocean.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, is
critical, international
(legal) framework from which new maps – and future hydrographic and navigation charts – will
emerge. All the current scientific mapping of the central Arctic Ocean will in the future delineate the
extended continental shelves (and sea beds) under coastal state jurisdiction around the basin.
During the research conducted for the Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (2005-
2009), or AMSA, we found compelling and key economic connections of the Arctic to the rest of the
globe. The development of the Arctic’s natural resource wealth was found to be a primary driver of
the need for safe and efficient marine transportation systems. With the world’s largest zinc and nickel
mines located in the Arctic, an emerging high grade iron ore mine to be located on Baffin Island in
the Canadian Arctic, and hydrocarbon exploration and development already underway in offshore
Russia, Norway, Greenland, and Alaska, we could visualize a new economic geography for the entire
circumpolar North. These new economic linkages also influenced the Arctic’s political geography as
evidenced by Greenland’s emergence as a possible future independent state. We also discussed in
AMSA other wildcards such as the plausibility of future transport of freshwater out of the Arctic to
global users, as well as the changing patterns for fishing vessels that might evolve with
transformations of the Arctic’s rich marine ecosystems. All of these economic possibilities are most
certainly influenced by the changing accessibility of the maritime Arctic with the retreat of Arctic sea
ice and the emergence of potential summer trade routes.
There is, perhaps surprisingly, an emerging aspect of human geography associated with indigenous
Arctic marine use. Why is this new? Because comprehensive mapping of year-round indigenous
marine use is essential for the application of multiple use management and mitigation strategies. I
submit that none of these worthy efforts and approaches to marine management (for example,
marine spatial planning) will have utility or meet with any chance of success without full knowledge
of the spatial and seasonal ocean uses of Arctic indigenous people. Also critical to any future
decision-making will be the geographic perspectives provided by the thousands of images of the
Arctic natural environment accessed each day by polar orbiting satellites with ever more powerful
sensors. Similar snapshot images are also available today for the location of all ships underway in the
Arctic – products of satellite and land-based receivers of information provided by shipboard
automatic information systems (AIS) that are required by the International Maritime Organization
(IMO). These comprehensive geographic or operational ‘pictures’ of Arctic marine traffic are