The Polar Retrospective – Brought to the (Polar) Light | Polarjournal
Northern lights, also known as auroras, are one of the most spectacular polar phenomena of all. Last week, the dancing swathes of light appeared at the most unusual places, even in the Mediterranean region and in South Florida. Video: Youtube Channel CBS News

The Polar Retrospective looks at stories of the past week that are related to the Arctic and Antarctic and focuses on one or more aspects.
And last week, light was an important aspect of polar thopics, whether literally in the sky or figuratively in the halls of a parliament and a courtroom.

The phrase “brought to light” probably best describes three important events relating to the Arctic and Antarctic that caused a stir last week. However, only one of them was connected to light literally, but in a particularly beautiful and inspiring way: Northern lights.

This natural phenomenon, which is normally restricted to the (sub)Arctic and (sub)Antarctic, has always fascinated and inspired people, whether scientifically, artistically or culturally. But to experience how the mostly red and green swathes of light perform their magical dance in the dark sky, it is usually necessary to travel to the relevant areas. And even there, certain factors such as the degree of cloud cover in the sky and solar activity must fit in order to see the aurora.

Last week, aurora fans in many parts of Central Europe and the USA only had to look for a place with a low light source on their doorstep and turn their gaze to the night sky. Thanks to massive coronal mass ejections, auroras in the northern hemisphere were visible as far south as never before and visible to the naked eye. Whether from Switzerland, Germany or even the Mediterranean region and South Florida, people from everywhere posted their pictures on social media channels. Experts from various space agencies and research institutions attribute the light phenomena to huge eruptions on the surface of the sun. High-energy particles are hurled away, which then hit nitrogen and oxygen particles in different layers of our atmosphere, exciting them and causing them to emit light in different wavelengths, red or green. These then light up the night sky and fascinate observers and enthusiasts.

The Russian research vessel “Akademik Aleksander Karpinskiy” was at the center of a British commission of inquiry, before which several ministers had to appear and shed light on an Antarctic matter. It was brought to light by a South African newspaper. Photo: Nic Bothma, Daily Maverick

A hearing in the British Parliament last Wednesday shed more light on the subject, but hardly any enthusiasm. Several British ministers and a high-ranking representative for British polar affairs had to answer questions from a non-partisan commission on incidents and reports about Russian activities in the British Antarctic Territory and British involvement in the Antarctic in general. This was reported by the Daily Maverick in a follow-up report to the article we shared last week.

The inquiry was prompted by reports by investigative journalist Tiara Walters and the South African media portal Daily Maverick about “substantial oil and gas data collection in Antarctica” by Rosgeo, a state agency in Russia for the exploration and investigation of mineral resources. The focus was on several research trips by research vessels belonging to Rosgeo to the British-administered sector in the Weddell Sea. According to Daily Maverick, the ships are said to have collected extensive data on possible oil and gas deposits on six voyages since 2011. These activities are fueling fears that the ban on the extraction of mineral resources in Antarctic waters could be weakened by Russia (and other countries), as the Antarctic Treaty states had agreed on a ban which, however, is not set in stone.

The British ministers and the representative for Polar Affairs stated on the record that the Russian activities were all within the normal research framework and that there was no evidence of misconduct, writes Tiara Walters, who attended the live broadcast hearing. The respondents also stated that they would keep an eye on the activities in the future, but without providing details on how to proceed. In the end, the Commissioners were less than convinced and asked the respondents to shed light on the issue at the next Consultative Meeting of Antarctic Treaty Parties in Kochi, India, next week.

The waters around Nunavut are very rich and fishing rights are a matter of discussion between the Canadian government and Inuit organizations. A court ruling has now overturned a government action to sell licenses to non-Inuit companies. Image:

A ruling by the Federal Court of Canada has shed light on something else, namely the government’s decision to award a significant proportion of fishing licenses in Nunavut to non-Inuit companies. The court considered the government’s decision to be inappropriate, as the rights and interests of the Inuit communities in the region had not been sufficiently taken into account.

The case was brought up by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), who argued that the government’s decision violates the Nunavut Treaty, a treaty that establishes Inuit rights to land and resources. The agreement stipulates that the Inuit have priority access to the fishery resources in Nunavut’s waters.

The court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and found that the government’s decision-making process was flawed and that there had been insufficient consultation with Inuit organizations. It also emphasized the importance of upholding the principles of reconciliation and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples when making decisions on resource management.

The ruling has significant implications for the future of fisheries management in Nunavut. It emphasizes the importance of Inuit participation and decision-making in matters that directly affect their communities and livelihoods. It also sets a precedent for future cases involving the rights of indigenous peoples and the allocation of resources. The government has not yet announced whether it will appeal against the decision. However, the ruling is expected to have a significant impact on the fishing industry in Nunavut and could lead to a reassessment of the allocation of fishing licenses in the territory.

Dr. Michael Wenger, Polar Journal AG

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