Experts want to move the ice edge

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As Norway continues to allow more oil drilling in the Arctic to find new sources of both oil and gas, researchers want to expand the so-called “ice edge zone” that aims to protect sensitive Arctic areas. They want maximum inclusion of the areas where ice forms during the course of a year.

Areas that ice over like here around Svalbard are safely within the ice edge zone, but not other large areas farther south. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

The current ice edge that most recently defined areas protected from activity like oil exploration and production only covers parts of the area the scientists think is important. Their call for expansion comes after lengthy evaluation of Norway’s offshore areas considered “especially valuable” by more than 70 researchers from eight various institutions.

They include Norway’s own Havforskningsinstituttet (Institute of Marine Research). News bureau NTB reported this week that the experts’ goal is to study and protect underwater sea life south of the current ice edge, on the grounds it’s also an important grazing and breeding area for fish, seabirds, coral and ocean mammals that promote diversity and food sources.

These areas are also especially vulnerable to poor management and incidents such as oil spills or the disruption caused by oil drilling.

“The ice edge zone is the motor behind all life in the Arctic,” claimed Frode Pleym, the leader of Greenpeace Norge who wants Norwegian politicians and business executives to listen to the researchers and follow their advice.

Pleym noted how thousands of species are found in Arctic waters, from algae to whales. “Sea life is threatened when politicians allow oil drilling in the ice edge zone,” he told NTB. He claims the current government made “a big mistake” by defining the new ice edge as conveniently just north of areas now open to drilling rigs and, potentially, oil platforms. Pleym and other environmental and climate advocates were also furious when the government issued another round of exploration licenses this week to seven oil companies including Norway’s Equinor.

There currently are 29 areas within the Norwegian Arctic considered especially valuable for biological diversity at sea. Now the researchers propose setting up fewer but larger areas. They also want to set up four new areas including a central Barents Sea, Mid-Atlantic Ridge and deep-sea areas of the Norwegian Sea.

In addition to Norway’s portions of Arctic seas, debate continues to fly over the so-called LoVeSe area off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. Researchers propose merging and expanding these areas close to the coast. That’s good news to those trying to keep LoVeSe free of offshore oil activity.

“The new report (from Norway’s Institute of Marine Research) stresses that the seas off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja form the bridge that connects the entire Norwegian coastal area, and it’s much too important to be part of political deal-making,” Daniel Weiss of the group fighting for an oil-free LoVeSe told NTB. Those  waters off Norway’s scenic northern coast also often pit oil interests against fishing interests.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund