UNEP: Pollution from shipping and oil exploration could accelerate Arctic ice thaw

By RTCC Staff

Pollution in the Arctic from increasing levels of shipping and fosssil fuel exploration could accelerate the thawing of the regions sea ice, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) officials have warned.

Soot from ships and oil rigs darkens the ice, soaking up more of the sun’s heat, and could speed up the ice melt. UNEP says that even the risks of small amounts of pollution on the Arctic Ocean, emitted near ice, have not been fully assessed.

Speaking to Reuters, Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for UNEP said: “A lot of concerns need urgent evaluation. There is a grim irony here that as the ice melts… humanity is going for more of the natural resources fuelling this meltdown.”

As new industries including shipping and oil and gas companies look to the Arctic, UNEP warns that black carbon pollution from such industries could help accelerate the thaw (Source: USGS/Creative Commons)

Summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean shrunk to its smallest amount since satellite records began, breaking the previous record low experienced in 2007.

Scientists warn that this melt is not a one-off phenomenon but is more likely to represent a long-term retreat of summer sea ice as a consequence of climate change.

The current loss of Arctic ice could double mankind’s contribution to global warming, according to a UK polar expert. Cambridge University’s Professor Peter Wadhams says the polar ice cap is “heading for oblivion”, and its disappearance could cause the region to heat rapidly.

Arctic opportunities

The melting ice has opened new shipping routes between Atlantic and Pacific ports, and UNEP say that along with oil spills and shipwrecks, soot from ships could be a significant threat to the region.

The International Maritime Organisation is current developing a draft international “Polar Code” of safety for ships operating in polar waters – including recommendations on pollution prevention.

Another concern is over companies looking to tap into the 90 billion barrels of expected oil reserves under the Arctic seas. This week Shell gave up their push to find oil this year, following concerns over ice and damage to safety equipment.

Companies including Shell, Exxon and Statoil all say they are using the cleanest available technologies, but last month Wadhams told RTCC that an oil spill in the region would be uncontrollable and would create an ‘oil sandwich‘ that would be virtually impossible to clean.

Campaigners, led by Greenpeace, aim to prevent this expansion into the Arctic and are calling for the High Arctic to be made a global sanctuary with a ban on offshore oil drilling and industrial fishing in the wider Arctic region.

This week, the group take their campaign to the UN General Assembly which is taking place in New York, where they hope countries will acknowledge that the region should be protected.

 Related Articles:

Arctic ice loss equivalent to 20 years of man-made CO2, says polar scientist

Arctic sea ice reaches record low, says NASA

Arctic spill would create inaccessible ‘oil sandwich’ in ice impossible to clean, says UK polar expert

Russian government tells Greenpeace it will “balance economy and ecology” in the Arctic

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