Arctic

Nadine Fabbi

Curiosity about what’s happening in some of the coldest places on Earth has prompted the University of Washington to launch its first Arctic Studies minor.

The program is the first of its kind offered by a university in the lower 48. 

Cecilia Bitz photo

Arctic sea ice is melting at record rates, and the loss of that ice could drive significant degradation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, according to a researcher at the University of Washington. The researcher, Cecilia Bitz, is part of an international team of scientists whose findings are published this week in the journal, Science

Gerard Van der Leun photo / Flickr via Compfight

The Arctic is getting hotter faster than any part of the globe. Experts predict the region will be free of sea ice during the summer within about 20 years. 

That’s creating a gold-rush mentality among many shipping and energy companies eager to capitalize on new trade routes or tap new sources of oil and gas.

Arctic sea ice has melted dramatically this summer, smashing the previous record. The Arctic has warmed dramatically compared with the rest of the planet, and scientists say that's what's driving this loss of ice.

To be sure, ice on the Arctic Ocean always melts in the summer. Historically, about half of it is gone by mid-September. But this year, three-fourths of the ice has melted away, setting a dramatic new benchmark.

The Associated Press

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says Royal Dutch Shell will be allowed to begin preparation work at exploratory drilling sites in the Chukchi.

Salazar says the company has been authorized to dig what are called mud-line cellars in the ocean floor to protect blowout preventers that would be installed later below the sea floor level.

The company also will be allowed to drill small pilot holes down to about 1,400 feet.

Lindsay Lowe / KPLU

Seattle’s Elliott Bay is the epicenter of a global energy fight.

The Shell Oil Company has two rigs docked here, the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer. Also in Elliott Bay is the Greenpeace vessel, Esperanza.

As soon as the ice clears, Shell’s rigs will head out for the Arctic. They’ll be the first to conduct exploratory drilling there in more than two decades. Greenpeace plans to shadow them, using submarines.