Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mining the Arctic

by Sarah Buckman, Pratik Patel, and Alex Li

The class today talked about the energy resource exploitation in the Arctic region. Professor Avango discussed the mining hardships in Arctic conditions. He also showed a lot of pictures of the mines, piers, transportation systems, as well and the workers’ houses.  Among these photos, the piers left the deepest impression. According to the picture, it is built on ice, which allows the ships to access the harbor in a more efficient manner; the extreme weather conditions pose problems since the foundation of ice moves back and forth all the time. It can rip the piers apart and makes it very difficult to maintain them. Due to the importance of these piers, there are groups of people who exclusively maintain the pier throughout the year. This specific example provides us with a greater understanding of the trials many workers had to endure to ensure the success of these mining companies.

The coal industry within Spitsbergen suffered dramatic consequences if there were unexpected annual climate variations. Strong winter wind currents, which filled in extraction tunnels, or stagnant ice accumulation in bays, were very common problems due to this wilderness location. Many times, mining became secondary to tedious shoveling or small foundation repairs. Bad luck or financial constraints endangered smaller companies that were on the cusp of bankruptcy, while others, which had the support of wealthy banks or governments, were able to survive certain unproductive years. Speaking of luck, certain founders of coal companies in Spitsbergen came into great wealth after stumbling on coal stratified mountains due to the presence of carbonized plant matter in the nearby streams or fjord banks. It didn’t necessarily take geological missions sponsored by states to find these rich deposits, for even a shipwrecked man was given the ability to start a successful coal industry after discovering specific remnants of coal off an ocean bank he was passing, while wandering this island. This unmistakably shows the powerful influence of resources the Arctic has on the rest of the world.

Thus, the Arctic is a new world that many countries are trying to exploit. The resources dwelling in the arctic are capable of sustaining countries for decades to come. However, everything must come at a price. The exploitation of these resources from the Arctic would inevitably destroy the delicate ecosystem that already exists. In addition to these costs, there are conflicts between countries to determine who is entitled to the riches of the Arctic. All of these problems are being discussed within the Arctic Council that will soon come to a decision on these grave concerns relating to the Arctic region.

Sarah Buckman is a senior in both Global Studies and Spanish with a concentration geared in environmental sustainability. She usually resides in the city of Chicago.

Pratik Patel is a senior studying Atmospheric Sciences with a concentration in Atmospheric Dynamics/Chemistry. He resides in the Northwest Suburbs near Chicago.

Alex Li is a sophomore studying Agricultural Engineering. He is an international student from China at the University of Illinois.


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