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logo - Symposium: Impact of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations

2nd Symposium:
Impact of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations
July 10-12, 2007

2007 Symposium Summary Report


The 100-year historical record from ships and settlements going back to 1900 shows a decline in Arctic ice extent starting about 1950 and falling below pre-1950 minima after about 1975 [Naval Operations in an Ice Free Arctic, 2001]. According to satellite records available since late 1978, an overall downward trend in the extent of Arctic sea ice is present. This trend seems to have been accelerating during the last decade. In addition to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment document (ACIA) published by the Arctic Council in 2004, numerous other reports and articles published since have documented significant recent sea ice extent reductions, both during summer and winter seasons. The percentage of multi-year ice in the winter has also been shown to be decreasing significantly.

The NASA QuikSCAT satellite is used by the National Ice Center to observe sea ice in the Arctic, shown here July 2005 - May 2007.

Thanks to the NOAA Environmental Visualization Program for creating this animation.

This symposium addresses the immediate and future impact of these rapid changes. It is a follow-up to the symposium on Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic, (PDF, 837 KB) sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), NIC, the Oceanographer of the Navy, and the USARC on April 2001. While the 2001 symposium focused mainly on naval operations and national strategic issues, the 2007 symposium expands the discussion to impacts on other maritime operations such as commercial transportation, oil and gas exploration and exploitation, fisheries, and oceanographic research. This symposium will serve to update results from the Arctic Marine Transportation Workshop sponsored by the Institute of the North, USARC, and International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) in 2004. It will also provide a forum for the review of the dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice conditions observed over the last several years and of recent adjustments to sea ice forecast model predictions.

Motivation and Objective

The 2001 symposium on Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic's goal was to evaluate potential U.S. naval operations, provide initial guidance in determining potential naval missions, and identify future naval requirements for operations in an ice-diminished Arctic. As a result, expert views on climate change and its effects on the Navy's operations in and around the Arctic Ocean in the mid to late 21st century were compiled. It is well accepted that the observed sea ice reduction in the Arctic Ocean is providing a longer navigation season and thus providing increase marine access to the Arctic for diverse number of uses ranging from national security to recreational activities. The ongoing Arctic Council's circumpolar Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) recognizes that improved access to the Arctic along with increased demand for natural resources will accelerate exploitation and shipping operations in the region. Increase access should also facilitate the collection of marine geology and geophysical data that may be needed to extend U.S. claims over the extended continental shelf in the Arctic. National security implications of an Arctic Ocean that is ice-diminished or ice-free, and thus more navigable, are also significant as increased accessibility may attract increased military forces with our without ice-strengthened or icebreaking capacity, nuclear or conventional into the region.

The State of the Arctic report released by NOAA in October 2006 provides a review of environmental conditions during the past five years relative to those in the latter part of the 20th century. This report updates some of the records from ACIA and reflects the consensus of an international group of twenty renowned scientists from the U.S., Canada France, Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Russia on the overall impact of climate change in the Arctic. The report supports the rapid reduction of Arctic sea ice in the last half decade along with the persistence of at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above average temperatures over the Arctic over the entire year. It also documents an increase in northward movement of warmer water through the Bering Strait in 2001-2004.

In response to the evident changes in the Arctic, the U.S. National Academies Ocean Studies Board, Polar Research Board and Board on Environmental Sciences and Toxicology are presently exploring the development of a proposal for studies that focuses on the importance of the decreasing ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean. A planning meeting on Changing Ice Conditions in the Arctic was conducted in November 2006 to gather key ideas to develop an understanding of the challenges and opportunities of changing ice conditions in the Arctic. Some of the issues under consideration include among others:

  • Pollution prevention and response capabilities: Management and Response Plans
  • Research needs to support the extension of claim over the continental shelf
  • Impact of changing Arctic on Maritime Domain Awareness
  • Future trends in shipping, northern movement of fisheries, marine mammals, ecosystems, oil and gas development: Regimes and Policies
  • Refinement of the 1994 U.S. policy statement for the Arctic to address both economics and security challenges and opportunities afforded by changing ice conditions
  • Assessing science priorities and filling gaps in our understanding of topics such as the sea ice mass balance, variability and distribution

Given these recent developments, the "Impact of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations" symposium will address these recent developments through a series of invited talks delivered by experts on Arctic observations, climate change, and marine operations. Invited talks, ensuing discussions and panel presentations are expected to provide an informed basis for the development of postures for operations in a rapidly changing Arctic environment.

Symposium talks cover three general topic areas 1) Latest research on observed and forecast changes of the Arctic sea ice environment; 2) Present and future impact of these changes on Arctic operations; and 3) Relevant national and international Arctic policy issues and potential need for policy changes. To set the tone, the symposium will be opened by high level remarks from Navy, NOAA, US Coast Guard, Canadian Coast Guard, OSTP and USARC. The symposium is open to the general public.


National Ice Center

National Ice Center logo

U.S. Arctic Research Commission

US Arctic Research Commission logo

Participating organizations:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Arctic Program

NOAA logo

U.S. Coast Guard

US Coast Guard logo

U.S. Navy
Chief of Naval Operations

US Navy, Office of Naval Operations logo

U.S. Office of Naval Research

US Navy Science and Technology logo

National Science Foundation
Office of Polar Programs

NSF logo

Minerals Management Service
U.S. Dept. of the Interior

MMS logo

U.S. Geological Survey

U.S. Geological Survey

Cryospheric Sciences Program

NASA logo

White House
Office of Science and Technology Policy

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy logo

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