The Week Ahead: Point of departure

Finland receives its long-awaited assessment of the feasibility of building a railway to the Barents Sea.

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The rail station in Rovaniemi, Finland. A report due this week on a proposed “Arctic Corridor” presents recommendations on how — and whether — to link Finland by rail to an Arctic port via Rovaniemi. (Krestia DeGeorge / Arctic Today file photo)

At a time when shipping is the big thing in discussions of Arctic development, it will be rail that attracts everyone’s attention this week. On Feb. 28, the Finnish transport minister will receive a report making the case for building a railway from Rovaniemi northward to the Barents Sea.

Officially known as a request for information, it will plot the best route, forecast demand and weigh in on whether it is worth building at all.

Even though the project is a railway, the point of the “Arctic Corridor” will be to link Finland to the Northern Sea Route, the emerging shipping lanes along Russia’s northern coast — which signals how much weight decision-makers place on shipping as an economic catalyst in the region.

Because Finland is landlocked to the north, any such a railway would need to a terminus in either Norway (with Kirkenes, Narvik and Skibotn being the most frequently named options) or Russia (which promotes Murmansk as the natural location for a rail-port transfer point).

A Norwegian route is looking most likely. It helped draw up the report, and a 2014 video (below) identifies Kirkenes as the port of choice, though newer material is diplomatically vague about this detail.

Those favoring Murmansk are not giving up without a good argument. Kirkenes and Skibotn, they point out, have no existing rail links. Narvik only one. Murmansk, on the other hand, is already tied into Russia’s Eurasian network.

As much as that jibes with the point of the project, it appears that it will not be enough to persuade Finland to change track.

When and where
February 28; Helsinki

For more information
Information request on the Arctic railway

Further reading
Finland commissions study on new Arctic railway

 

Operation Nunalivut
First held in 2007, Operation Nunalivut is an annual sovereignty operation in the Canadian Arctic. The mission, however, does more than give military a chance to fly the flag over the region.

Like all the training the Canadian military holds in the Arctic, including Norex 18, which concluded on February 18, Operation Nunalivut provides experience for the soldiers who may be called on to take part in live missions there.

As a military exercise, the most obvious point of the training is to sharpen soldier’s warfare skills. But with enemies few and the number of civilians increasing, Arctic training has increasingly come to include exercises that focus on saving lives, not taking them. The most recent Norex training, for example, involved locating a mock plane crash and keeping its survivors alive until they could be taken someplace safe. Other exercises have simulated responding to a cruise ship accident.

Simultaneously preparing for war and to prevent disaster is possible at least.

When and where
February 23–March 21; Cambridge Bay and Resolute Bay, Nunavut

For more information
Operation Nunalivut

Further reading
Canadian forces plan High Arctic sovereignty operation

 

International Polar Bear Day & WWF Polar Bear Week
If you are confused about when and how you should be celebrating polar bears, you aren’t alone.

International Polar Bear Day, founded by Polar Bears International, a conservancy, is celebrated on February 27. It also has a Polar Bear Week, but that is in November. The WWF, another big conservation group, celebrates a Polar Bear Week of its own, but has chosen to schedule it in the same week as Polar Bear Day.

The aim of all three is the same: raise awareness about the impact global warming is having on polar bears and their habitats.

Polar Bears International goes about this indirectly. Instead of asking people simply to help “save the polar bears,” it suggests ways to reduce their impact on the climate. In recent years, it has encouraged people to save energy by turning down the heat, offering them a literal and symbolic act.

WWF takes a more traditional approach, suggesting that members use the week as inspiration for participating in Arctic-related fundraisers, or organizing one of their own.

With the outlook for polar bears increasingly uncertain, the success for both groups, regardless of their tactic, may require making every day polar bear day.

When and where
International Polar Bear Day: February 27 / WWF Polar Bear Week: February 26-March 2; Worldwide

For more information

Polar Bears International
WWF Arctic Program

Further reading
Slowing Arctic warming called the only hope for polar bears in the long term 

 

Svalbard Seed Vault: 10th anniversary and summit
To mark the 10th anniversary of its opening, the Svalbard Seed Vault will be holding an open house of sorts. Representatives from 20 seed banks from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia will be on hand to deliver new deposits to a collection that the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN food agency, reckons may include 40 percent of the all the world’s seed varieties.

In addition to the ceremonial deposit, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which operates the vault, will hold a day-long summit about seed conservation.

Seeds aren’t the only thing the guests will leave behind: The Norwegian government announced last week it that it would foot the bill for a 100 million kroner ($12.7 million) upgrade to the facility. On the to-do list is a new entrance tunnel and technical installations that can prevent a repeat of the flooding seen last year and keep the world’s seeds frozen, not thawed.

When and where

February 26; Svalbard

For more information
Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Further reading
‘Doomsday’ seed vault entrance repaired after thaw of Arctic ice

 

Dead North Film Festival
To be considered for entry in the Dead North Film Festival, productions need to meet some specific requirements: They must fit in the horror/sci-fi/thriller/fantasy genre, they must be short and they must be produced specifically for the festival. Most importantly, they must come from north of the 60th parallel.

Those demands have not hindered the festival’s growth: In its first year, in 2013, just eight films were screened; this year, some 48 films, all offering “visions of terror, isolation, beauty and Arctic mayhem,” are on the program.

The competition is open to professional and amateur filmmakers, but its low-budget mentality gives the latter a distinct advantage.

When and where
February 28-March 4; Yellowknife, NWT

For more information
Dead North Film Festival

Further reading
Something Northern this way comes

 

Other events this week

Hudson Bay Summit
The Hudson Bay Summit will take up a variety of cross-cutting themes relevant to indigenous communities, with a focus on indigenous-first approaches towards environmental stewardship, sustainable development and community well-being.

When and where

February 27-March 1; Montreal, Quebec

For more information
Hudson Bay Summit

Further reading

Canada’s federal government seeks northern input on new Arctic policy

 

Arctic Pride
The theme of Finland’s northernmost Pride festival, celebrating lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and other forms of sexual identity, is “Together we are more.” The organizers of Arctic Pride say the aim of the event is to enrich the city’s cultural life and support the LGBT+ community.

When and where

March 1-4; Rovaniemi, Finland

For more information
Arctic Pride

Further reading

Northern pride

 

Folketing Greenland Committee meeting
The Danish national assembly’s Greenland Committee meets for a regular session. On the agenda: measures to make it easier for Greenlandic students to adjust to studying in Denmark.

When and where
March 1; Copenhagen

For more information

The Greenland Committee

Further reading
Away from home schooling

 

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
After the ceremonial start on Saturday in Anchorage, “the last great race,” as it is styled, gets underway in earnest on Sunday in the town of Willow, some 80 miles (130 kilometers) to the north. Currently 67 mushers, each being pulled by a team of 16 dogs, are due to start. The first of them will likely cross the cross the finish line in Nome, some 998 miles to the north-west, about 10 days later. Expect all mushers to be off the trail by March 18, the date of the mushers’ award ceremony.

When and where

Start: March 3; Anchorage, Alaska / Re-start: March 4; Willow / Finish: TBD, Nome

For more information
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Further reading
For one Arctic musher, the Iditarod is just another adventure in a life full of them

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].