Shipping has always been an important part of transportation in Greenland, but climate change has decisively changed conditions for navigation by expanding the scope of areas with open water and extending the duration of ice-free periods in the waters that freeze during winter.
The MARPART project is an international research project on "maritime preparedness and international partnership" in the Arctic that examines consequences of climate change for societal security, because climate change also entails increased risks in connection with increased shipping, oil and gas exploration at sea and other forms of maritime activity. In addition to Greenland, the project also includes Iceland, the Arctic Norway and northwestern Russia. Employees at Ilisimatusarfik have been responsible for the Greenlandic part of the research project.
The point of departure for the project as a whole is that climate change will lead to an increased level of activity in Arctic waters, that this will result in an increased level of risk, and that this will create a need for increased emergency preparedness and international cooperation on preparedness, search and rescue operations (SAR), as the small ones Arctic countries themselves do not have sufficient capacity for dealing with major accidents.
For the Greenlandic part of the project, the purpose has been to investigate whether the general assessments and expectations also apply to Greenland. In concrete terms, by answering these questions:
Read more below ..
The maritime activity in Greenlandic waters has developed differently in different sectors. While the activity in passenger traffic, transport of goods, and fishery has been fairly stable for a number of years, there have been changes in oil exploration and tourist shipping activities in the last ten years.
So, expectations that the maritime activity would increase as a result of climate change are only partly true for Greenlandic waters.
There has been an increasing emergency rescue activity in Greenlandic waters, where the majority of the vessels involved have been small boats under 30 feet.
The reasons for this are the special conditions in the Arctic, the cold climate, the scattered settlement, the great distances, the limited infrastructure and the limited emergency preparedness and response capacities.
The emergency preparedness and response system in Greenland is handled by a combination of Danish authorities and Greenland authorities, which requires clear lines, good coordination and good cooperation between the parties involved. Most of the tasks are carried out by the Greenland Police and the Joint Arctic Command. The Danish Armed Forces in Greenland, thus, perform both military tasks and a number of civilian tasks, including emergency preparedness and response activities, which are of great importance for societal security.
Due to great distance and bad weather, it lasted five days before the closest vessel available for the Joint Arctic Command arrived. At that time, however, the suspected oil spill had disappeared.
As statistics show, capacity is sufficient for the everyday search and rescue tasks within the stated objectives. The problem, then, is mass accidents with larger cruise ships.
The MARPART project points out that the preconditions for success for search and rescue operations under such conditions are the establishment of a well-functioning regional or international cooperation.