NBC NewsWire/AP

U.S. Less Able to Patrol Arctic

August 19, 2008 08:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Some experts say the U.S. is losing ground in the region as climate change and the energy crisis leads to a growth in shipping, oil and gas exploration.

Icebreakers Outmanned Despite Melting

As other countries expand their influence in the area, the U.S. has become less able to patrol Arctic waters, say military leaders, lawmakers and other experts.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and leaders in government have warned that the current fleet of icebreakers is inadequate, reports the International Herald Tribune. There are only two heavy icebreakers in the fleet, the Polar Sea and Polar Star, and a smaller ship called Healy. In recent years, Russia has expanded its fleet to 14, including the launch of a ship named 50 Years of Victory, the world’s largest icebreaker.

Admiral Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said that it would take about 8–10 years to build just one more icebreaker. “I think we’re at a crisis point on making a decision,” he told the Tribune.

Background: The Arctic meltdown

The Arctic is seeing competition for its natural resources heat up as the Arctic ice melts. The United States and Canada recently joined forces in an effort to curb Russia’s claims to the region. Icebreakers from both countries will conduct a seismic survey of the Beaufort seabed near the Yukon–Alaska border, reported the Financial Times.

The Arctic region has been rapidly losing ice and some scientists were even predicting earlier this year that the region may become ice-free this summer for the first time in history, though it now appears that prediction will not prove accurate.

In March, Foreign Affairs magazine warned that the melting of the polar ice caps due to global warming could have dramatic global security implications, as nations scramble to take advantage of new trade routes and resources available in the area. The resulting opening of the Northwest passage could lead to international disputes over shipping routes.

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