A whole new ocean in the making

The British Antarctic Territory last month saw its first ever wedding. Polar field guides Julie Baum and Tom Sylvester got married in sub-zero temperatures in the Adelaide Island in a two-day celebration. The wedding guests included the couple’s 18 colleagues, who live and work at the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) largest research station during the winter months.

But even as the couple celebrated on the south pole, the first signs of an apocalyptic disaster were making an appearance across the globe. On the North pole, a trillion-tonne iceberg, one of the largest ever recorded, snapped off the West Antarctic ice shelf called Larsen C. With the calving, the Larsen C ice shelf lost more than 12 per cent of its total surface area.

The calving is said to have heightened the risk of the remaining ice shelf disintegrating. Icebergs calving from Antarctica are a regular occurrence, but given its enormous size, the latest berg is being closely watched. It has been closely monitored for years now by scientists and explorers. But since the breaking of Larsen C, it is even being looked forward to with great excitement by half the world — with laying of new rail lines and building of artificial islands, coral reefs and military bases.

In the Arctic, climate change is taking place at twice the global average speed. And the world is looking forward to the Arctic melt as a result, which will open for the coming generations a whole new ocean and newer trade routes in our geography.

This says something about our misplaced, or should we say, evolving priorities in highly commercialised times. No surprise then that an all new ‘great game’ has begun with new players staking claims to the Arctic to make sure they are not left behind.

The Arctic is now the new strategic hot spot at the centre of global interest. Big investment is taking place in oil and gas exploration in the region and other aligned industries. The high north embodies high stakes. American, Canadian, Japanese, South Korean, and British companies all intend to use the sea route to mine across the region, but no country, it is said, expects to gain more than China, which is likely to do what it is doing in the South China Sea right now.