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US Navy prepares for climate change -

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US Navy prepares for climate change

Michael Vincent reported this story on Friday, November 20, 2009 12:14:00

SHANE MCLEOD: The implications of climate change are being taken seriously by the US military. The
US Navy has just issued its Arctic roadmap. It outlines the potential for competition and conflict
in the waters of the icy north. It also goes as far as saying the Arctic is expecting nearly ice
free summers in just over 20 years time.

Scientists have welcomed the Navy's strategic document saying all levels of government should be
considering what climate change will mean for the way they do business.

Michael Vincent reports.

US NEWS PRESENTER: Here is perhaps the most bizarre story we've heard about in a while. Staking
claim to the North Pole - Russia is making a very bold move planting it's flag on the Arctic sea
floor. It's a decision that's...

MICHAEL VINCENT: In August 2007 it was the Russian Navy's flag planting exercise on the North Pole
that really focussed the world's military minds on the Arctic's future.

SECOND US NEWS PRESENTER: A normally subdued Canadian Government has reacted with anger to the
Russians. Their Foreign Minister is saying this isn't the 15th century, you just can't run around
the world planting flags and claiming territory belongs to you.

And a US State Department spokesman said whether it was a Russian flag, or a rubber flag or a bed
sheet, it doesn't matter it doesn't have legal standing on Arctic resources.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Stunt or not, scientific consensus is future Arctic summers will have less and
less sea ice and that has massive implications for the surrounding nations.

Lead scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Dr Ted Scambos.

TED SCAMBOS: What's been surprising is how far the sea ice has retreated over the northern coast of
Siberia on the opposite side of the Arctic and off the north coast of Alaska, north of the north
slope. Now what we're seeing in late summer are huge areas of open water. The Arctic Ocean is truly
becoming an open ocean.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Faced with an entirely new marine environment on its northern border, the US Navy
has issued its response. The 33-page Arctic roadmap created by its Task Force Climate Change will
cover all naval operations, including coast guard and marine corps.

US Navy spokesman Lieutenant Myers Vasquez.

MYERS VASQUEZ: The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. While significant
uncertainty exist in projections for Arctic ice extent, the current scientific consensus indicates
the Arctic may experience nearly ice free summers sometime in the 2030s.

MICHAEL VINCENT: With just a little over two decades to prepare for this new challenge, the US Navy
is looking at its forward presence, deterrence capabilities, the maritime security environment as
well as its ability to respond to disasters.

MYERS VASQUEZ: This opening of the Arctic may lead to increase resource development, research,
tourism and could reshape the global transportation system. These developments offer opportunities
for growth but also are potential sources of competition and conflict for accessing natural
resources.

MICHAEL VINCENT: And it's that access to natural resources that climate change has created that Dr
Scambos says makes him shakes his head.

TED SCAMBOS: In shallow water, oil rigs are already able to withstand the sea ice conditions just
north of the Alaskan coast. In deeper water I think it would present a real engineering challenge
but in fact there are tremendous resources in the Arctic for oil and natural gas.

It is, it makes me uneasy anyway to think that we're going to let a trend caused by global warming,
the melting of the ice, allow us to explore and exploit more fossil fuels which led to the warming
in the first place. That seems wrong-headed to me but nevertheless it's likely to happen and
there's already a debate about exactly who's got the rights to the minerals and the oil that's
there under the Alaskan, excuse me under the Arctic continental shelf and how to go about
exploiting it.

It's unfortunate from a broader view understanding the science of what the future holds, but I
think it's inevitable because oil and gas are going to be extremely valuable in the coming century
as those supplies dwindle.

SHANE MCLEOD: The lead scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Dr Ted Scambos,
ending that report from Michael Vincent.