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Shipping is contributing to Arctic thaw, say UNEP

Follow @WDMEllaCopeland The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have raised concern about the impact of shipping and oil and gas industries on th...

Freddie Pierce
|Sep 19|magazine7 min read

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have raised concern about the impact of shipping and oil and gas industries on the Arctic thaw.

Shipping and exploration for oil and gas have increased in the Arctic following increased thawing in the region, which has hit an all time high this year. UNEP believe that this increased activity could be quickening the melt, claiming there is an urgent need to calculate the risks of local pollutants emitted by activity in the area.

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UNEP have raised concerns about local pollutants such as soot, or “black carbon”, which it is believed could make ice soak up more of the sun by making it darker.

Companies such as Shell, Exxon and Statoil, which have been exploring the area, claim they are using the cleanest available technologies, but UNEP have fears about the effects of small amounts of pollution, as no assessment has been made on the amounts of damage these can cause.

“A lot of the concerns need urgent evaluation,” said Nick Nuttall, spokesman of Naibori-based UNEP, referring to issues such as flaring of gas or fuels used by vessels in the Arctic.

“There is a grim irony here that as the ice melts...humanity is going for more of the natural resources fuelling this meltdown,” he said. Large amounts of soot in the Arctic come from more distant sources such as forest fires or industry.

The expanse of sea ice on the Arctic ocean has shrunk this summer to the smallest since records begin in the 1970’s, eclipsing a previous low in 2007.

“We're working to get a better documentation of the risks of black carbon in the Arctic,” said Lars-Otto Reiersen, head of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), part of the Arctic Council.

More than 400 oil and gas fields within the Arctic region were developed by 2007, according to AMAP, mostly in West Siberia in Russia and in Alaska. Most of the undiscovered oil and gas is now estimated to be offshore.