Arctic Alternative Futures (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 3)

10th Anniversary Edition


Table of contents


Arctic Alternative Futures[1]

By Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Lachance CD, BA, MDS

Reprint from The Canadian Air Force Journal Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring 2011

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

– Marcus Aurelius Antonius[2]


Projecting trends[3] into the future can be fraught with flaws, especially the longer the outlook. Inaccuracies in prediction often prove to be the result of forecasters’ inability to accurately predict human adaptation to change, and even more frequently, the failure to envision unpredictable events (the so-called wild card[4] events) and revolutionary breakthroughs. Projecting trends in a shorter outlook (10 years or less), however, is also fairly challenging because it is often hard to distinguish meaningful differences between a short-term future and the reality of today, and again, because of the possibility that unpredictable events can completely change the course of a future trend.

In the case of the Canadian Arctic, projecting trends in this dynamic environment is certainly not an easy task. One thing is certain, though, and that is if current future security trends in the Arctic continue to progress as forecasted, the next decade will be challenging to the Air Force, as we may find ourselves to be increasingly present in the Canadian high north. Military planners are currently busy setting the conditions for our future participation based on what we think the future will be, but what if the current predictions were wrong? What if the Arctic was to get far colder or warm up much faster than anticipated? Will we be ready to face these alternative futures?

This paper is intended to make the reader think about what might come to pass if the current future security trends in the Arctic are displaced by some unforeseen events. By conducting an alternative futures analysis on future Air Force Operations in the Arctic, this paper will point out the implications that a best-case and a worst-case scenario would have on the Air Force.

Alternative Futures

Examination of the future environment is an important practice for institutions that wish to remain relevant and capable over the long term. This practice is particularly important for the Air Force, as the lead time required to acquire capabilities can be lengthy. Examining future trends and imagining futures scenarios are often employed in order to assist in the identification of future capabilities.

But what is an alternative future? If one were to plot a trend on a timeline, based on what we know, the most likely future would fall in the realm of the Probable (the green zone of Figure 1). Note that the further out one peers into the future, the greater the Probable zone gets. This has to do with the inherent uncertainties that are present in the current trends, and the fact that no matter what, predicting the future is certainly not an exact science.

Alternative futures occur when events displace the trend line outside of the probable zone. If the events all collide to produce good effects, then the trend line is moved towards a Best-case Scenario (the blue zone of Figure 1). Conversely, events that are all producing negative effects would push the trend line towards a Worst-Case Scenario (the red zone of Figure 1). For the purpose of this paper, the imagined events and their resulting scenarios had to be deemed sufficiently plausible so that the ensuing alternative futures fell within the Possible zones (the blue and red zones of Figure 1) rather than the Unlikely zone (outside the blue and red zones of Figure 1). Consequently, examining alternative futures can be useful to military planners since, theoretically, the majority of all situations that we may reasonably expect to encounter in the near future should fall somewhere within those possible extremities.

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Figure 1 shows the trend line projection from 2010 (the present) on the left to 2020 and its alternative futures on the right. Because there are inherent uncertainties in the current trends, predicting the future is not an exact science. There are five alternative futures: a. a very positive scenario which is unlikely (above blue zone in the image); b. a best-case scenario which is possible (blue zone in the image); c. a probable future (green zone in the image); d. a worst case scenario which is possible (red zone in the image); and e. a very negative scenario which is unlikely (below red zone in image). End Figure 1.

Figure 1. Trend Line Projection to 2020 and Alternative Futures

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Key Factors[5]

Before each scenario is presented, key factors need to be identified. Key factors are thought to be the most important contributing features of the future security trend. There might very well be other factors at play, but in order to keep this exercise manageable, the scenarios will only play with the factors considered key to Arctic futures. To create the scenarios, the key factors were made to have extremely positive or negative effects (while remaining plausible), which created a best (utopian) and a worst-case (dystopian) scenario, or if you wish, the alternative futures. Undoubtedly, how these key factors develop over the next 10 years will shape the future of Air Force operations in the Arctic.[6]

When it comes to future Air Force involvement in the Arctic, it is thought that the following three factors will affect the framework of all possible scenarios. Consequently, the key factors are:

  1. Climate. Not surprisingly, climate is the first key factor. The rate of climate change over the next 10 years is subject to significant debate. See the vignette about “Runaway Global Warming” to get a sense of an alternative future created by a wild card event. In any case, there is considerable scientific evidence that the Arctic climate will continue to follow a warming trend, but notwithstanding the above, it should be noted that there is also a growing body of academic opinion arguing that we are on the verge of a new cooling period. Lastly, there is also a noted correlation between the level of human activity and temperature. The greater the shift towards warmer temperatures, the more we can expect human activity to increase. Conversely, colder temperatures will temper human activity.
  2. Governance. Governing an extremely vast territory with limited fiscal resources, sparse population, and few developed assets can be an extremely daunting endeavour. With the deadlines for the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS)[7] fast approaching, Nordic states are staking their Arctic claims, many of which are overlapping. Some analysts are warning of potential confrontation while others are seeing signs of increased cooperation.
  3. Resources. The Arctic not only possesses significant reserves of fossil fuels, it is also rich with large coal deposits and strategic minerals. Extracting these resources can be very expensive and is directly related to the market price of these commodities, the harshness of the environment, and the level and quality of governance of the region.

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Wild Card Alternative Future: Runaway Global Warming

By 2019, following years of record high temperature in the Arctic, most scientists are now predicting that within five years, the current trends in global warming will lead to massive permafrost melting. Aside from considerable infrastructure damages, as most buildings, pipelines, roads, rails, and runways in the Arctic are built on permafrost, the melting of the permafrost will lead to substantial release of methane which is stored in the permafrost. In turn, this methane will cause abrupt and severe global warming as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which will lead to more permafrost melting and more methane release. In fact, there is enough methane stored in the Arctic permafrost that if only 10 per cent of the stored methane were to be released, it would have an effect equivalent to a factor of 10 increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Compounding the problem is the fact that methane is 20 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

By 2022, global efforts to sequester carbon are proving insufficient and mean global temperatures have increased by an astonishing 3.5º Celsius since 2010. As a consequence of melting Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic glaciers, sea levels around the globe have risen by an average of 7.5 centimetres in the last 10 years. By 2027, most of New Orleans is lost, joining suburbs of Bangkok and Dhaka which have already been submerged, while many other low-lying cities around the globe remain threatened by rising sea levels.[8]

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Best-Case Scenario – The Arctic Frozen Hinterland

Figure 2. The North Atlantic Ocean-Atmosphere System

General. Because it is predicted that the Canadian Forces (CF) and the Air Force are likely to continue having limited means to operate in the North, the best-case scenario (from an Air Force point of view) would be one where there are few reasons for the Air Force to increase its presence in the North. In such a scenario, the Arctic remains frozen in some sort of economic hinterland where even good governance is not enough to kick-start any sustainable economic development due principally to the harshness of the environment.

Let us now transport ourselves to the world of 2020 and imagine a future best-case scenario for Air Force operations in the Arctic by considering how the three key factors may have collided in order to produce this alternative future.

Climate. In 2020, global warming continues to be a highly debated topic. Most scientists now believe that climate changes are occurring unevenly around the globe. While the western shores of North America are warmer and drier than 20 years ago, its eastern shores are colder and much wetter. In fact, the Eastern Canada winters of 2017 and 2018 have both produced the largest snowfall seasons ever recorded. Many renowned academics are now theorizing that years of global warming have introduced a large amount of fresh water to the North Atlantic, which has disrupted the thermohaline circulation[9] of the North Atlantic Drift, also known as the Ocean Conveyor (see Figure 2[10]). In 2019, Britain recorded the coldest month of June since 1652. Consequently, many are now forecasting the return to a mini ice-age.[11]

 And so, after several years of warming trends, Canada’s Arctic mean temperature has stabilized and has actually started to cool down drastically since the record highs of 2012. The Northwest Passage never really became a practical maritime transport route due to the constant presence of icebergs and unpredictable ice floes. In fact, most commercial companies have preferred the relatively safer waters of Russia’s Northern Sea Route[12] (see Figure 3[13]).

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Figure 3 is a map of the northern hemisphere that presents three categories of information: shrinkage of the polar ice cap, sea routes and projected temperature changes. The map shows the observed ice extent of the polar ice cap in September 2002 as well as its projected (significant) reduction until 2090. The Northwest Passage (which runs between North America and the polar ice cap) and the Northern Sea Route (which runs between Eurasia and the polar ice cap) are marked on the map. Finally, the map illustrates the projected winter surface air temperature changes from the 1990s until the 2090s. The increases vary between 0 and 12 degrees Celsuis, with the higher increases occurring in the regions closest to the North Pole. End Figure 3.

Figure 3. The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route

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Governance. In this scenario, most surveillance of the Arctic is accomplished by space and near-space assets. Aside from routine fishery patrols and the occasional sovereignty patrols, the Air Force has little requirement to deploy in the Arctic. This is fortunate because the Air Force is facing serious budgetary constraints and had to significantly reduce the yearly flying rate (YFR) of several aircraft fleets. Although the government cancelled its plans to develop the port of Nanisivik in 2013, there are still requirements for the Air Force to support the logistical resupply of Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert and the newly opened Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre (CFATC) at Resolute Bay.

Due to the resurgence of particularly harsh winters, the Northwest Passage has been essentially impassable since 2016. Consequently, there have been very few challenges to our sovereignty, although there have been rumours of undersea patrols by United States (US), Russian, and Chinese nuclear submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

But in the end, the Government of Canada has had few reasons to deploy its Air Force north. Cooperation by Arctic states has increased significantly in recent years as they realized that there was much more to gain by cooperating instead of competing when it came to filing their respective UNCLOS claims (See Figure 4[14]).

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Figure 4 illustrates the timeline for the Arctic nations to file their United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea claims. The United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea came into force in 1994. Norway ratified the agreement in 1996 and submitted their Arctic claim in 2006. Russia ratified the agreement in 1997 and submitted their Arctic claim in 2007. It was rejected and then resubmitted. Canada ratified the agreement in 2003 and had until 2013 to submit their Arctic claim. Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) ratified the agreement in 2004 and had until 2014 to submit their Arctic claim. The United Stated signed, but did not ratify, the agreement in 2007. When this figure was created, the United States Senate had not yet voted. The earliest that the United States would ratify the agreement would be 2009. If ratified in 2009, their Arctic claim would be due by 2019. The timeline projects that it is likely that all of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea Arctic claims will be resolved by 2035. End Figure 4.

Figure 4. Arctic UNCLOS Timelines. Note that Canada is the next Nation due to submit its claim (2013). Note also that the US has yet to ratify this Agreement.

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Lastly, the region as a whole has declined as a priority for the last few federal governments and has gone back to being almost ignored by an Ottawa that has been preoccupied by more urgent matters. The Great Recession of 2008 has left the federal finances in dire straits. In this scenario, pressed to balance budgets, the government has invested little to improve the Canadian Forces and Air Force capabilities to operate in the North. To save money, the government has progressively come to rely on space assets as well as long endurance, near-space unmanned systems for surveillance of the Arctic instead of boots on the ground and new aircraft.

Resources. Although the price of commodities has steadily increased since the end of the Great Recession, the costs to extract those resources in the Arctic have continued to make them economically unviable. Aside from diamond, gold, and uranium mines (all located near Yellowknife), there has been little commercial appetite to explore and open new mines much farther away. Despite desperate attempts by provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to promote the region for business, the return of extremely harsh weather conditions has hampered any potential development. Even oil, which recently touched $200 per barrel, is still considered too cheap to warrant the staggering costs and environmental difficulties of extracting it from the Arctic.

Summary. And so, the Arctic remains frozen in some sort of economic hinterland. The Northwest Passage does not become a practical transport route and very few challenges to Canadian sovereignty have occurred. Most Arctic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is accomplished by space and near-space assets. And while interest in Northern commodities such as oil and gas is still prevalent, the costs to extract them from a frozen Arctic have made doing so economically unfeasible. Good governance and cooperation prevail, and accordingly, the government has few reasons to deploy the Air Force in the North. This is a good thing because in this scenario, due to budget constraints, the Air Force has limited means to operate in the high north.

But what if the key factors had arranged themselves in such a way that the Air Force was required to constantly deploy in the North? Let us now turn our attention to this worst-case scenario.

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Worst-case Scenario – Arctic Gold Rush

General. The worst-case scenario from an Air Force point of view is one in which the Air Force is ill prepared to operate in the Arctic. In this alternative future, global warming is making the region more accessible, and a plethora of human activities, including tourism, mining, and criminal activities, put enormous strain on the infrastructure and to the governance of the region. Furthermore, Arctic states are not cooperating, and various overlapping claims are creating tensions in this gold rush to extract Arctic resources. Let us again imagine the world of 2020 and how the three key factors may have collided in order to produce this alternative future.

Climate. In 2020, the continuous melting of sea ice that started several decades ago is not showing any signs of reversal (see Figure 3[15]). In fact, in September 2019, the extent of the summer Arctic ice cap was at a near-record low, only 6 per cent greater than the record low of 2017, and 47.6 per cent below the average extent of sea ice from 1980 to 2000. As a consequence of melting Greenland and Arctic glaciers, sea levels around the globe have risen by an average of 3.5 centimetres in the last 15 years, significantly affecting weather patterns in unprecedented ways. The most active hurricane season ever recorded was in 2018, with 32 tropical cyclones formed, of which a record 19 became hurricanes (including the massive category 1 Hurricanes Erika and Michael that both devastated the Yucatan Peninsula only three months apart).

Governance. In this scenario, there is minimum (if any) cooperation amongst the Arctic nations and many territorial disputes[16] are taxing the International Court. In 2016, Russia ceased to participate in Arctic Council[17] affairs to protest against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) threats of retaliation after the Svalbard[18] Crisis earlier that year. In fact, military analysts are now referring to the current crisis between Russia and the West as “Cold War II.” North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) assets (and especially Canadian assets) are constantly being tested by Russian manned and unmanned vehicles. As well, numerous Russian submarines and nuclear powered icebreakers have been violating Canadian and American territorial waters. In 2017, a Canadian Arctic surveillance unmanned vehicle took pictures of an artificial iceberg just north of Inuvik with what appeared to be an encampment of Russian scientists. In the time it took NORAD to despatch several aircraft to investigate, the mysterious iceberg and its occupants had vanished.

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Planting flags: Are these early signs of confrontation? In 2002, Denmark erected its flag on Hans Island. In 2005, Canada did the same on the disputed Island. More recently, in 2007, Russia planted its flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, a move that angered many nations.

Virtually ice-free since the summer of 2016, the Northwest Passage is fast becoming a preferred shipping route between Asia and Europe. Even though the Canadian government has declared the Northwest Passage part of our territorial waters, with very little capability to enforce our sovereignty, it is not uncommon to find American, Asian, and European vessels operating within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The worst-case scenario from an Air Force point of view is one in which the Air Force is ill prepared to operate in the Arctic, and this became quite clear when a Polish tanker hit a small iceberg in the summer of 2016 and spilled millions of litres of crude oil into Baffin Bay. Most of the oil spill washed out onto the western shores of Greenland, and Ottawa was severely criticized by the international press (and especially by Danish politicians) for its inability to respond to the emergency. In 2018, a German tourist died as a result of an accident near Cambridge Bay on board a small cruise ship. Again, the government was embarrassed as search and rescue (SAR) assets took well over 30 hours to respond to the emergency.[19]

Arctic Tourism on the rise: In November 2007 this small (Canadian owned) cruise ship (pictured below) hit a chunk of ice and sank off the coast of Antarctica. All passengers and crew were rescued by a nearby ship, but what if this had happened in our high Arctic? Would we have been able to respond in time?

The Russian mafia is also widely rumoured to be trafficking Canadian diamonds using mini-unmanned submarines and aircraft. Organized crime may also be involved in the illegal traffic of oil by tapping into pipelines onshore and offshore in the Beaufort Sea. In 2015, the American government formally called on the Canadian government to do more to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and Russian criminals into Alaska, but again, with very limited means, there were few options available to a cash-strapped government.[20]

Resources. Warmer climates are highly favourable to human activity, and by 2020 the Arctic is booming with activities ranging from exploration and tourism to fishing and mining. Accelerated by the impact of global warming and unprecedented high commodity prices, we are witnessing a “no-holds-barred” rush among nations for oil, fish, diamonds, and access to shipping routes.[21] As peak oil[22] occurred earlier than expected, in 2012, oil companies are now furiously engaged in active competition to secure rights to lucrative petroleum and natural gas reserves below the sea floor (see Figure 5[23]). Unfortunately, in their rush to extract the oil, many have shown a complete disregard for Canadian laws and environmental concerns. Due to its limited capabilities, Canada has been unable to enforce meaningful sanctions. Many fish stocks are also showing grave signs of stress due to overfishing and resource mismanagement. By 2016, stocks of arctic char have been depleted so much that it is doubtful that the species will be able to support commercial fishing activities again.

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Figure 5 is a map of the northern hemisphere that presents the Arctic’s mining sites as well as current and prospective oil and gas locations. With the exception of Greenland (which does not have any), the mining sites are equally spread throughout the northern regions of North America and Eurasia. The current oil and gas locations are clustered in Canada’s Queen Elizabeth Islands, in Alberta, along the North Alaskan coast, in Western Siberia, in mainland Russia, in Russia’s Timan-Pechora Basin and, to a lesser extent, off Norway’s eastern coast. The known reserves and prospective locations for oil and gas account for approximately 30 per cent of the area and encircle the polar ice cap. End Figure 5.

Figure 5. Main Areas of Hydrocarbon Reserves in the Arctic

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In this scenario, UNCLOS has reached an impasse as almost every single Arctic nation filed overlapping and conflicting claims. Note that claims in the Arctic already overlap and many countries have yet to establish their official position on claimed areas (see Figure 6[24]). Furthermore, Canada, Denmark, and Russia have all used the outer edge of ice formations in drawing their Arctic baselines. As ice recedes, revealing new coastal geography, questions over the legitimacy of existing baselines will add further complexity to claims over seaward jurisdiction.[25]

Figure 6 is a map of the northern hemisphere that presents the internal waters, territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and potential continental shelves of the Arctic nations. A number of the claims overlap, with the mediated regions closest to the North Pole. The Svalbard Treaty area is also indicated. There is a very small region that is either unclaimed or unclaimable continental shelf. End Figure 6.

Figure 6. Claims of Ownership Map

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By 2020, most nations have filed appeals with the International Court and it will be many years before any rulings are expected. Meanwhile, the Russian Navy and the US Navy have deployed large naval task forces in the contested zone in the Beaufort Sea near the Lomonosov Ridge[26] even though the contested zone straddles mostly Canadian waters.

Summary. In the worst-case scenario, the Air Force is ill prepared for northern operations while the Arctic becomes an area of increased activities. Increased global warming leads to increased human activities ranging from mineral and oil exploration to fishing and tourism as well as illegal activities. In this scenario, the Canadian government has limited capabilities to enforce its sovereignty and environmental laws. There is little, if any, cooperation between Arctic nations and there are increased tensions between Russia and the West over Arctic claims.

Take Away – Air Force Operations in the Arctic

And so, our voyage into the future alternative worlds of 2020 is nearing its end. While these two scenarios are purely fictional, they are based on the current trends and scientific evidence. While the scenarios were taken to the far end of the plausible, they were developed as a think piece in order to assist military planners. Below is a list of “take aways” that are derived from studying both scenarios.

Climate change. On the one hand, climate change will dictate Air Force involvement in the Arctic, as a warmer climate will translate into increased activities in the North. On the other hand, a harsher climate may reduce human activities, but it will increase the difficulties to operate in that region should the Air Force be required to deploy into the Arctic.

Arctic surveillance. Upwards of 50 per cent of the world’s undiscovered resources are estimated to lie in the Arctic. Should the Arctic experience an economic boom as a result of resource exploration and extraction, then governance, policing, and surveillance will be challenging given the sheer size of the region. As costly as this task will be, it will remain essential for the Air Force to consider the best possible options from high altitude airships (HAA), to tethered aerostats, unmanned vehicles, and satellites. Note that, should a threat be detected, securing our remote Arctic border will be a monumental task.

SAR requirement. The Air Force will need to develop a more agile and robust response to SAR incidents in the Arctic. At the moment, SAR response time and capabilities in northern regions remain problematic. Clearly, increased permanent presence, tourism, and economic activities in the Arctic as well as expanding trans-polar air routes will ultimately require greater SAR resources in the North and greater Arctic-hardened air mobility support. A permanent SAR capability may even become a future requirement.

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Increased requirement for Arctic operations. The government’s proposed CFATC in Resolute Bay is expected to house approximately 100 full-time personnel. It is logical to assume that the level of Air Force effort to sustain and support the new CFATC will be more or less on par with that of CFS Alert.[27] Likewise, the deepwater seaport at Nanisivik will require some level of airlift to sustain operations at the new base, albeit at a lesser level.

Potential for conflicts. Mineral extraction and shipping will likely be a source of tension and dispute in the future. New shipping routes may also reshape the global transport system. While these developments offer opportunities for growth, they are also potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources. Currently, the CF has few capabilities to project hard power in our High Arctic. For the Air Force and the Navy, and to a lesser degree the Army, the High Arctic may become a permanent theatre of deployment located at strategic range.

 Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel J. L. Lachance is a pilot with over 3,800 hours flying helicopters as a SAR pilot and a qualified flying instructor. Lieutenant-Colonel Lachance is in charge of Concept Development at the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre. He was also the project director for the recently published report Projecting Power: Canada’s Air Force 2035, as well as the discussion papers entitled Trends Shaping Canada’s Air Force in the Year 2019 and Alternative Futures for Canada’s Air Force in 2020. All documents are available at

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List of Abbreviations

CF―Canadian Forces
CFATC―Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre
CFAWC―Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre
CFS―Canadian Forces Station
DND―Department of National Defence
NORAD―North American Aerospace Defence Command
SAR―search and rescue
UNCLOS―United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea
US―United States


[1]. An alternative future is a possible future that occurs when certain events or other influences cause a deviation from the general direction in which a trend is moving. Alternative futures can also be caused by revolutionary breakthroughs or by a strategic shock (a sudden and/or unexpected and often powerful event or driver [an event or human activity that provides impetus or motivation to fuel or sustain a trend] that causes the trajectory of a trend to significantly deviate from its existing course) or a wild card event.  (return)

[2]. Marcus Aurelius Antonius (Roman Emperor A.D. 161-180), Meditations (written in 200 A.D.), (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[3]. A trend is a tendency or movement towards something or in a particular direction. (return)

[4]. A wild card (sometimes also called a black swan) event is a high-impact, low-probability event that would have dramatic consequences if it actually occurred. Wild cards are rare events, beyond the realm of normal expectations, which makes them almost impossible to predict. 9-11 (using commercial aircraft as missiles) is often cited as being a wild card event because of the impact it had on all our lives. (return)

[5]. Key factors are thought to be the most important contributing features of a future security trend. The key factors are used to create the scenarios. They are made to have either extremely positive or negative effects (while remaining plausible), which create a best (utopian) and a worst-case (dystopian) scenario—the alternative futures. (return)

[6]. Note that the best- and worst-case scenarios presented in this paper are from the perspective of future Air Force involvement in the Arctic, and not necessarily from the point of view of the local population, the environment, world politics, etc. (return)

[7]. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is an international agreement that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The Convention, which came into force in 1994, has important ramifications for Arctic states. It allows those states to claim the right to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of its continental shelf beyond the current 200 nautical miles economic zone. Note that once ratified, states have 10 years to file their claims for access and jurisdiction based on geological and other evidence. (return)

[8]. More than two-thirds of the world’s large cities are in areas vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, and millions of people are at risk of being affected by flooding and intense storms, according to a recent study published in the journal Environment and Urbanization. In all, 634 million people live in the threatened coastal areas worldwide. See “Cities at risk from rising sea levels, scientists say,” CBC News, (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[9]. The term thermohaline circulation refers to the part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. The adjective thermohaline derives from thermo referring to temperature and haline referring to salt content, factors which together determine the density of sea water. (return)

[10]. Richard F. Pittenger and Robert B. Gagosian, “Global Warming Could Have a Chilling Effect on the Military,” Defense Horizons, no. 33, October 2003. (return)

[11]. This is in reference to the climatological era known as the “Little Ice Age,” a period that began about 1350, in which average wintertime temperatures abruptly turned cooler in the North Atlantic region and persisted that way for roughly 500 years. (return)

[12]. Estimates indicate that the Arctic routes could reduce transportation costs by an average of 40 per cent on key Asian-European routes and cut distances by two-thirds. The simple use of economic data indicates that such reductions imply that Arctic open water could attract up to 80 per cent of the global transportation market. (return)

[13]. ©1994, ACIA, map ©Clifford Grabhorn. (return)

[14]. Data attributed to United Kingdom, The DCDC Strategic Trends Programme, the Arctic out to 2040, 52. (return)

[15]. Image taken from “What is Climate Change?” (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[16]. Canada is currently disputing sovereignty over Hans Island with Denmark, the ownership of the undersea Lomonosov Ridge with Russia and Denmark, as well as the location of its maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea with the US, and the status of the Northwest Passage with the international community. These disputes will not be easily resolved and are expected to continue over the next decade. See also note 22. (return)

[17]. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and people. The member states are: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the US. (return)

[18]. The Spitsbergen Treaty (which came into force in 1925) recognizes the full and absolute sovereignty of Norway over the Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen (now called Svalbard). There has been a long-running dispute, primarily between Norway and the Soviet Union (and now Russia) over fishing rights in the region. Note that Norway also claims that the archipelago is a part of mainland Norway’s continental shelf, a position that Russia is also disputing. (return)

[19]. SAR in the Arctic is a grave concern for the Air Force, as the region is lacking even the most basic infrastructure of road networks, airfields, staging/supply bases, or medical facilities. The potential for SAR in the High Arctic is far more likely now and in the future than at any time in the past. Because a sparse population creates a statistically low risk, it would be inefficient to locate SAR assets in the Arctic. It should be noted, however, that more than 100,000 people fly over the Canadian Arctic each day on high-latitude routes to Europe and Asia. In case of a major air disaster, it would take at least six hours for a Hercules aircraft based in Southern Canada to reach the Arctic, and much longer for helicopters (even if they were shipped by CC177, as some reassembly would be required). (return)

[20]. The former US ambassador to Canada, Paul Celluci, has warned that terrorists might use an ice-free Northwest Passage to traffic in weapons of mass destruction. See Michael Byers, “Wanted: Mid-sized Icebreakers, Long-range Choppers, Perspective,” Globe and Mail, 12 June 2009. (return)

[21]. Unexploited resources in the Arctic account for about 22 per cent of the undiscovered, technically recoverable resources in the world. It accounts for about 13 per cent of the undiscovered oil, 30 per cent of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20 per cent of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world. About 84 per cent of the estimated resources are expected to occur offshore. Continued warming of the Arctic implies that the accessibility and profitability of these resources will increase significantly. See US Department of the Interior, “90 Billion Barrels of Oil and 1,670 Trillion Cubic Feet of Natural Gas Assessed in the Arctic,” (United States Geological Survey, July 23, 2008), (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[22]. “Peak oil” refers to the point in time when oil production has peaked and only half of proven reserves remain. The significance in this lies in the fact that the remaining known quantity is finite and the laws of supply and demand indicate greater demands for dwindling supplies, which ultimately translates into higher prices. The date when the world reaches global peak oil production cannot be pegged exactly. The projected dates vary between the most pessimistic in 2010 and the most optimistic in 2035. (return)

[23]. Philippe Rekacewicz and Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/Grid-Arendal, (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[24]. Durham University, UK, “Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region,” International Boundaries Research Unit, (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[25]. United Kingdom, Ministry of Defence, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007–2036, (Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, December 2006), 51, (accessed February 17, 2011). (return)

[26]. The Lomonosov Ridge is an unusual underwater ridge of continental crust in the Arctic Ocean. It spans 1,800 km from the New Siberian Islands over the central part of the ocean to Ellesmere Island of the Canadian Arctic islands. As part of their respective UNCLOS submissions, Russia claims that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Eurasian continent. Canada asserts that the ridge is an extension of its continental shelf. Danish scientists also hope to prove that the ridge is an extension of Greenland, which would make Denmark another claimant to the area. See also note 13. (return)

[27]. CFS Alert is the most northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world. It is situated on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. In 2008, CFS Alert housed approximately 70 full-time personnel. Twice a year, the station receives major replenishments. Operation BOXTOP is the name given to the biannual resupply of CFS Alert. Using USAF Base Thule in Greenland as a staging point, for two to three weeks every spring and fall, the Air Force operates day and night to fly fuel and supplies to the station. In the past several years, a typical BOXTOP operation moved over 431,000 kilograms (950,000 pounds) of freight and more than 1,386,558 litres (305,000 imperial gallons) of fuel into CFS Alert. To accomplish this level of activity, four CC130s, one CC150, and one CC177 aircraft flew in total more than 500 hours and moved more than 130 chalks of freight. In addition, CC130 aircraft regularly fly into and out of CFS Alert (approximately every week) to transport perishable supplies. These flights originate from 8 Wing Trenton, and they contain food, medical supplies, and CF personnel rotating through CFS Alert. (return)

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