Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hampshire scouts back from expedition to Peru

spitting image: Llama mother Peru with her newborn cria

HAMPSHIRE scouts have just returned from a six week adventure in Peru. Continuing the Scout’s reputation for expeditions, the team of 18 spent two weeks constructing an orphanage near Oropesa, using funds they had raised over two years. Having finished the build, complete with blue window frames and football nets, they set off on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu.
The group, led by Dave King from Southampton, included Doug Bennett, from Chandler’s Ford, Wil Farmer and Becky Rowe, both from Eastleigh. Becky, 18, said “Looking down on the ruins of a civilisation that lived a thousand years ago, will be something I’ll never forget - it almost beats the look on the face of the children at the orphanage when we fixed their football nets!”
They returned to the UK on Friday, September 10, having found time for a spot of white water rafting, and a dip in the local hot springs to recover from their exertions.
For more information on the trip and the team, visit

4,650 miles later, Andrew Skurka completes Alaska-Yukon Expedition

Andrew Skurka hikes in the Alaska Range in mid-April, overlooking the Straightaway Glacier, which flows off of 17,400-foot Mt. Foraker.

Before his latest trip, Andrew Skurka had hiked more than 23,000 miles and been to some of the most remote areas of the lower 48 states.
But on his Alaska-Yukon Expedition, which he completed on Sept. 5, Skurka experienced wilderness in a more powerful way than before.
"When I think of a true wilderness area, I think of an area where there's no regular, or sometimes no indication, that mankind exists on the planet," Skurka said. "And in Alaska and the northern Yukon, there are many places where you feel that."
"What's neat about that is that you stop feeling like an elevated species."
You tap into a primal feeling, he said, of "when the challenge of making it to tomorrow was a noble
Andrew Skurka
The 29-year-old sometime Boulder resident hiked, skied and paddled through roughly 4,650 miles of Alaska and Yukon backcountry over the course of about six months. The circuit he created connects the Alaska, Brooks and Chugach ranges; six U.S. national parks, from Gates of the Arctic to Wrangell-St. Elias; and follows wild rivers, such as the Copper, Peel and Yukon, via a one-person inflatable packraft.
That path occasionally follows a pre-existing route through the backcountry, such as the Iditarod Trail, but overall, Skurka thinks he only spent 33 miles on trail. The distance he hiked off-trail is approximately the same as the length of the Appalachian Trail.
"About a quarter of the miles were on skis, 50 percent on foot, 25 in packraft," Skurka said. "Occasionally I'd hit a road or ATV trail."
"I live for big trips," he added.
The expedition -- which Skurka completed solo -- was funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society.
From a young age, Skurka hasn't imagined the same adventures as the rest of us, said Jonathan Dorn, editor-in-chief of Backpacker Magazine, which named Skurka its Person of the Year in 2005.
"He was also crafting hiking adventures that were audacious in scope and solitude -- another difference from the plethora of knock-off mountaineering feats that only a handful of humans can aspire to," Dorn said. "So his adventures were brilliant in originality, but also approachable when you sat down to daydream."
This isn't Skurka's longest trip -- that was his 7,778-mile Sea-to-Sea Route, which linked several of North America's long trails. But the Alaska-Yukon Expedition was his toughest.
"On most other trips, I've been able to sort of force my will on nature, with a trail," Skurka said. "On this trip, I didn't have that fallback. It's bigger rivers, it's bigger open bays, it's bigger, more extreme mountains."
Without trails to follow, he had to rely upon all of the skills he's learned over the years on his other expeditions to navigate through white-outs, survive rushing rivers and avoid avalanches (and becoming bear food). But eventually, he said, you start to feel like "just another creature" in the wilderness.
"I had had that sense of being completely on my own and being frightened, my survival was hanging by a thread, which is not the way you normally feel," he said. "I was having that feeling, and when I hit the caribou trails, I was like, 'Oh, got it -- I'm just one of them.'"
Though he completed the expedition solo and went three weeks at a time without seeing another human, Skurka says he didn't get lonely.
"It's not because I'm a social introvert, but it's because I'm so engaged out there," he said. "I'm on the map all day long, I'm picking routes, I'm changing my plan, I'm focused on fording big rivers, or scaring away bears."
Dorn said Skurka's mental fortitude sets him apart.
"What he does requires so much more stamina, mental toughness, survival smarts," Dorn said. "He doesn't get to go home at the end of his workout to a masseuse, hot tub, Whole Foods and soft bed."
When asked what's next, Skurka replied with a laugh:
"I'm going to try to enjoy a life of mediocrity."
Will that last long?

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

98,000 yuan (USD $14,650) for kids' trip to Pole

A HIGH school in Beijing organized a South Pole trip next January for some of its elite students - but the adventure will cost the parents of each child 98,000 yuan (US$14,650). 

The prestigious Beijing No. 4 High School plans to choose 20 students from dozens of applicants to sail from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina. 

The trip is being run by the China Association for Scientific Expedition) and the Beijing Teenager Science and Technology Club and is open to students, reported Beijing Times. 

"We offered our students the opportunity of a scientific expedition including field operations to stimulate their interest in natural sciences," said An Ying, assistant headmaster of the school.

The Beijing No. 4 High School has already sent more than 60 of its students to the Arctic. Students selected for the Antarctic expedition are required to meet certain standards in English and physical fitness.

The 20 teenagers selected will take a scientific ship from Ushuaia to the Antarctic. 

Onboard experts will deliver lectures about the history, geography and wildlife of the region during the 18-day voyage. 

They will also assess the students' research tasks, confirmed Liu Li, an executive with CASE. 

Liu said the 98,000 yuan price of the trip for each teenager was mainly spent on air tickets, accommodation, the scientific ship, hiring experts, insurance and a visa. 

Students would mainly stay onboard the ship during the expedition but there would be opportunities to set foot on the Antarctic or even camp there, if conditions permitted, Liu added, amid parents' concern over safety.

According to a tourism industry insider, Antarctic cruises are still rare in China and are usually sold at about 90,000 yuan for 20 days.

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Netizens question cost, safety of pricey Antarctic student trip

14:55, September 29, 2010 

A netizen, who claimed to be the parent of a student at Beijing No. 4 High School, recently published a post on the Internet saying that the school is planning an expedition to the Antarctic, and its students will have to pay nearly 100,000 yuan per person if they want to join.

The netizen asked, "Should my child join the expedition?" Some replied "yes," but others voiced concern over the high expenses, travel security and other factors.

The school said on Sept. 27 that the expedition is jointly organized by the Beijing Youth Science and Technology Club and China Association for Scientific Expedition. Students can apply to join the expedition voluntarily, but at last only 20 will be selected based on their English proficiency and physical condition. The expedition is set for late January 2011, and there have been over 30 applicants so far.

An Ying, assistant to the school principal, said that the main purpose of providing students with an opportunity to explore the Antarctic is to expose them to natural science research and the methods adopted in field research as well as to inspire their interests in scientific research.

Previously, more than 60 students at Beijing No. 4 High School participated in expeditions to the Arctic. An stressed that the activity is totally voluntary. Every member should think of a research subject, and experts will evaluate the feasibility of their subjects before setting off. The journey will broaden their horizons, and "may exert great positive influence on their lives," An added.

Liu Li, director of the International Cooperation Department of the China Association for Scientific Expedition, confirmed that the 20 students will fly to Argentina's Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, on Jan. 24, 2011 and then transfer to a research ship to the Antarctic.

The expedition will last for 18 days, and experts on the ship will explain to the students about the Antarctic's history, geographical features, wild animals and other topics. In addition, the students also have the opportunity to take yachts and set foot on Antarctica.

Is the expense too high?

Liu said that the total expense for every student is 98,000 yuan, which includes air tickets, accommodation, expedition vessel costs, hiring experts, insurance and visas. The money will be deposited to the students' bank card and paid from the cards when needed. The China Association for Scientific Expedition will collect a little service charge. After interviewing many travel agencies in Beijing, reporters found that only a small number of travel agencies have an Antarctic tour project open. A staff member at a large travel agency said that they will have a tourist group for the Antarctic at the end of 2010 with a luxury cruise tour for 20 days priced at about 90,000 yuan.

A travel industry insider said that Antarctic tour groups have few customers and only a few travel agencies open the route due to its expensive price. The tour has multiple choices in terms of means of transportation, extra guidance and camping activities. In addition, the route and spending standards are uncertain. Therefore, it is hard to come up with a specific expense standard.

Can safety be guaranteed?

Parents are most concerned about students' food, lodging, transportation and safety issues in the Antarctic. Liu said that there is certainly a difference between the students' Antarctic expedition and an official scientific expedition. Students will stay in the expedition vessel most times to listen to lectures by experts about the Antarctic and carry out cultural exchanges.

Conditions permitting, they will have the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic continent and can even camp on the continent. The organizer will invite experts to train these students about polar safety knowledge before leaving and professional rescue personnel will also further train them on the expedition vessel. However, students must have subjective safety awareness and follow instructions of the team leader.

By People's Daily Online

Sailing ship SEDOV returns to Murmansk from northern expedition

Sailing ship Sedov

On Thursday, September 30, 2010, the world’s largest sailing ship, the Sedov, owned by Murmansk State Technical University since 1991, will return to its home port of Murmansk from the northern expedition that it began on July 10 in St. Petersburg, Tatyana Zhitnik, the spokesperson for Murmansk State Technical University, told RIA Novosti.

The Sedov left Murmansk on April 30, carrying cadets from the naval universities of Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Kaliningrad. In five and a half months, it covered about 10,000 nautical miles.

 “A ceremony will be held on board the ship on Thursday to mark the end of the northern expedition, during which the capsule containing soil from the Rybachy Peninsula will be handed over to the local history museum in Murmansk,” Zhitnik said.

During the expedition, the Sedov called at the ports of St. Petersburg, Klaipeda (Lithuania), Hamburg and Rostock (Germany), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Reykjavik (Iceland), Tromso (northern Norway) and Barentsburg and Longyearbyen (Svalbard).

In Klaipeda, the crew and cadets attended the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the Soviet air pilots who died in the POW camp at Silute. In Hamburg, they laid wreaths at the Bergedorf cemetery’s monument to the 652 Soviet POWs who died in the Neuengamme concentration camp.

“The awards ceremony for the winners of the competition entitled ‘The Sedov Barque – Our Pride’ will be held on board the Sedov in Murmansk,” the spokesperson said. “The competition involved cadets as well as students and teachers at Murmansk State Technical University. One of the best works will be presented to the ship’s museum.”

POLE POSITION - rowing to the North Pole's geomagnetic pole

Pole Position is the competition to find the sixth and final member of the Row to the Pole crew. You can also play our game for the chance to win a bottle of Old Pulteney Single Malt whisky.

A final crew member is being sought to complete a team planning a 450-mile rowing trip to the North Pole.
Dumfries adventurer Jock Wishart is leading the challenge - a world first - to highlight the affect of climate change on ice around the polar regions.
It follows his two previous North Pole trips and a row across the Atlantic.
The winner of a competition, which has just been launched, will be guaranteed a place on the Old Pulteney Pole Position Challenge in summer 2011.
In a specially designed "ice boat", Mr Wishart and his five crew will set off from Resolute Bay in Canada and row across the Arctic to the magnetic North Pole.
The estimated four to six-week voyage has never been undertaken before and is only possible now due to the increase in seasonal ice melt of the Arctic landscape.
Nevertheless, the team will face dramatic ice-bound coastlines and shifting sea-ice barriers.
Mr Wishart said: "It's the challenge of a lifetime for someone out there.
"But it's a very unusual person we're after.
"Ideally they would be used to rowing, have had experience in cold climates and be able to show a strong mental attitude and determination to succeed."
He said there would be plenty of "excitement, adventure and opportunities for the winner to test their mettle and physical stamina".
'Melting ice'
Shortlisted entrants will be invited to compete head-to-head in a Pole Position Challenge Day on 20 November.
The winner will then be personally trained by Mr Wishart, who captained the team that broke the London to Paris rowing record in 1999 and in 1992 was part of the first group to walk unsupported to the geomagnetic North Pole.
He said of the latest expedition: "It is only possible because of the melting ice in the polar regions.
"Whether this is cyclical, whether this is because we are pumping too much CO2 into the atmosphere, it is happening nonetheless.
"We want to demonstrate to people there's a problem up there."
The deadline for entries for the challenge is 1 November.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ships take to Arctic Ocean as sea ice melts

Journey times between Europe and China can be reduced by half

Image: Coast Guard Cutter Healy in 2006
Arctic sea ice — seen here providing some work for U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy near Barrow, Alaska, in July 2006 — has melted to the extent that the Arctic Ocean is becoming a new trade route.

The search for the Northwest Passage was once the preserve of explorers hoping to find a lucrative new trade route linking Europe with the Far East.
Now the decline in the amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean is turning their failed dream into a reality.
Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grímsson recently claimed that the route was becoming a "trans-Arctic Panama Canal," the paper said.
Der Spiegel reported that new ships are being designed to cope with icebergs on the journey.

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The MV Nordic Barents is due to arrive in the Chinese port of Lianyungang after a 3,500-mile journey through the Arctic Ocean from the Norwegian port of Kirkenes, the newspaper said. A Russian icebreaker sent to protect the ship, which was carrying iron ore concentrate, was not needed with broken ice floes only passing nearby twice.
"The nuclear icebreaker was more for decoration than anything else ... and we didn't have to stop once," Felix Tschudi, a spokesman for the shipping company which chartered the freighter, told Der Spiegel.
Tschudi said the MV Nordic Barents's journey time was half what it would have been. "That saved us 15 days at sea," Tschudi added.
The Russian tanker Baltika, carrying 70,000 tons of gas condensate, also traveled a few weeks ago from the Russian port of Murmansk to the Chinese city of Ningbo through the Arctic without incident, the newspaper added.
However, the danger of sea ice remains.
"Even during the summer months, you have to expect isolated ice floes," climate researcher Lawson Brigham, a former icebreaker captain who co-authored a comprehensive study of the new Arctic sea routes, told Der Spiegel.
Plans for two new nuclear icebreakers were announced at an Arctic conference in Moscow last week with an adjustable draft which enables them to operate in shallow waters, it reported.
The dangers of sea ice were illustrated in a crash between two tankers in July off the coast of the New Siberian Islands, Der Spiegel said. The tankers, both loaded with 13,300 tons of diesel, collided when the lead ship slowed down because of large amounts of ice.
The Murmansk Shipping Company, which owns the ships, said the accident caused only minor dents and was "no emergency," according to Der Spiegel.
Brigham warned against too much optimism about the potential for the route, because of the unpredictable nature of the sea ice. He does not foresee large numbers of vessels traveling between Europe and the Far East.

"What will really increase is the removal of huge amounts of raw materials from the Arctic," he told the newspaper.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kiwi beats Everest of sailing - solo through Northwest Passage

Graeme Kendall. Photo / Supplied

Fifty-seven years after Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Everest, Kiwi sailor Graeme Kendall has knocked another bastard off.
The 63-year-old Aucklander has become the first person to sail solo non-stop through the Northwest Passage, which is sealed by ice for more than 10 months of the year.
Sailors have dubbed the narrow stretch of water north of Canada and Alaska the "Everest of the sailing world" and it is said to be one of the final stretches to be conquered by a solo seaman.
Kendall, who spent eight years planning the journey, said he celebrated with a beer for breakfast.
Speaking by satellite phone 480km south of the tip of Alaska, the father of four said: "I have sailed all my life and for me the world is round and there to be explored. You wouldn't want to look back and say 'why didn't I sail round it'."
Kendall, who had to contend with temperatures well below freezing, sailed for 15 hours straight at one stage to negotiate the treacherous, ice-filled waters.
"I have a happy hour every night - I don't get written off but it gives me something to look forward to," he said.
"I talk to myself, discuss the day's events."
Kendall set off from the Greenland capital of Nuuk last month and completed the Northwest Passage in 12 days.
It is thought that his time could also be the fastest even against crewed vessels that have sailed the passage.
The route has only opened to regular shipping in the past year, after global warming melted away the Arctic pack ice.
Sailors use satellite technology to monitor the ice.
Kendall prepared meticulously for the voyage. He designed and helped to build the boat, the 12.5m Astral Express, and said his "boat, body and mind" mantra has kept him in high spirits.
"If you are experienced you know what to expect. If something happens that you don't expect, you haven't done your homework."
Kendall said the boat survived a collision with pack ice. He awoke one night when the boat struck ice and said it sounded like "it was ripping the boat to pieces".
"I panicked, I thought 'oh shit what's this'. And when I got out there was just a small mark. It's a strong boat."
As well as spotting whales, walruses and Arctic bird life, Kendall came across a Frenchman trying to row through the passage on a high-tech, seafaring canoe.
"He had a dog with him and he let him out into the water each night for a pee. He got the shotgun out in case any polar bears tried to eat the dog. He didn't make it through."
Kendall has now passed through the Bering Sea and is just over halfway through his trip from Greenland to Auckland. He is still encountering rough seas in the northern Pacific.
He wrote on his blog: "I'm a bit battered and bruised and nerves are a bit frayed but a couple more days like this and I'll be in great shape.
"I'm half way and have half water, half fuel and half rum so things are looking good."
He is due to arrive back in Auckland at the end of next month. Kendall's first attempt to sail the passage during a round-the-world voyage five years ago had to be abandoned after waters iced over.
Conquering the Northwest Passage:
* Between the end of the 15th century and the 20th century explorers searched for a possible route through the Arctic waters above Canada.
* In 1845, 129 men from two ships, the Erebus and Terror, disappeared..
* It was not conquered until 1906 by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
* Other ships disappeared or had been "crushed like a nut on the shoals and buried in the ice", said one 20th-century Canadian captain.
* On September 14, 2007, the European Space Agency stated that, based on satellite images, ice loss had opened up the passage "for the first time since records began in 1978".

Biologist Tracks Walruses Forced Ashore As Ice Melts

Wildlife biologist Tony Fischbach observes a tagged walrus near Point Lay, Alaska
Wildlife biologist Anthony Fischbach observes a tagged walrus near Point Lay, Alaska, earlier this month. Tens of thousands of walruses have come ashore in northwest Alaska because the sea ice they normally rest on has melted.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of walruses crowded onto a sandy stretch of beach on Alaska's northwest coast. The animals were forced to swim to shore after the Arctic Sea ice they usually live on disappeared from the Chukchi Sea.
It's a phenomenon that was unheard of five years ago. Anthony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is trying to get a handle on what the dramatic change in behavior could mean for the species long-term.
On a recent foggy evening, Fischbach — dressed in camouflage to blend into the greenish-brown landscape — creeps toward the animals to record them.
Several thousand walruses are on the beach, packed shoulder to shoulder. Fischbach calls it a "wall of walrus."
"I'm surprised by one thing," he says. "Essentially all the animals here are adult females." You'd expect to see about one in three with newborn yearling calves, he says.
The vast majority of walruses in the Chukchi each summer are females who fatten up on clams that populate the seafloor. They need a lot of protein to nurse their young. This time of year, they should be foraging from the sea ice floating over the productive waters of the continental shelf. Instead, they're stuck on land.
"I only see a small number of yearling calves," Fischbach says. "That makes me wonder what's happening with the calves."
'Walrus Diaries'
Fischbach suspects that walrus moms have a harder time keeping track of their pups once the sea ice disappears. Feeding the pups is also more difficult. From land, more animals have to compete for fewer resources that are farther away. Fischbach has been attaching satellite radio tags on the walruses to try to figure out how the animals are coping.
The tag, which he deploys with a crossbow, is a hockey puck-sized transmitter that embeds into the thick walrus skin. Back in his Anchorage office, Fischbach can download hourly updates on the animals, which he calls "walrus diaries."
"It's a simple diary: I rested; I got in the water; I fed. And then it all gets repeated in various combinations," he says.
But that basic information is key to helping biologists figure out how walruses are coping with the dramatic changes in the Arctic Ocean.
"The big thing we're trying to do is trying to understand what it costs the walrus to make a living when they're stuck onshore versus what it costs them to make a living when they're offshore on these small pans of ice or in the pack ice out in the middle of the Chukchi Sea," he says.
Protection Warranted?
The information is especially important as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides whether the species needs protection under the Endangered Species Act.
"I think it's a tough one because walruses are different than, say, polar bears, in that polar bears have a real tough time when they're onshore, but walruses are able to come to shore for periods of time and still make a living," says Chad Jay, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Although they could be stressed."
The question is whether that stress will be substantial enough to threaten the animals with extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to make a decision on whether to list the walrus in January.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Alaska Is In The Midst Of A Brand New Gold Rush

Alaska is one of the most prospective and yet most underexplored areas in the world. There are good reasons for the neglect, most notably the long, cold winters and the lack of infrastructure. Whether the latter is a result of, or a cause of, there being few people in the state is an open question.
One clear result, however, is a rather small economy: Alaska’s 2009 GDP was US$47.3 billion, comparable to that of the Dominican Republic or Bulgaria. The state is ranked 44th by GDP among its U.S. peers.
In terms of metals, Alaska produces gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Being well endowed with natural resources, Alaska’s mining history dates back to the early 1800s, when Russian explorers prospected the region, looking for placer gold. But not until after Russia sold Alaska to the United States did exploration activities start to develop rapidly, both on placer and hard rock deposits.
Alaska has undergone not one but a series of gold rushes, the most famous being the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, which actually centered on gold found just over the border in the Yukon Territory. That event drew many immigrants and spawned numerous settlements on the way to the Klondike, one of the principal routes having been through Alaska. Almost 13 million ounces of gold were produced by placer miners in the area. Since the end of the 19th century, mining has become an integral part of the state’s economy.
The following chart shows Alaska increased its gold production to 800,000 oz in 2008 (most recent data available), up 10% from 2007. That’s also about a 10% share of total U.S. gold production. Alaska is the second largest gold-producing state behind Nevada. It is remarkable to see production in Alaska rise while total U.S. production has been in decline for more than a decade.

Gold Production By State

Yet, most Alaskan gold comes from only a handful of mines – and that tells you something about the size of the deposits being worked. The two largest mines, Fort Knox and Pogo, account for more than 80% of 2008 total gold production, or 640,000 ounces. The Kensington project, which started producing gold just a month ago, is set to become the third largest. Perhaps. But these mines are small potatoes compared to some of the current projects being advanced toward production. Given that a million ounces of contained gold is considered a large gold mine, Alaska’s major deposits are genuine monsters: Pebble has 107.3 million ounces of gold, Donlin Creek has 42.3 million, and Livengood has 19.7 million. If these go into production, Alaska will rank as one of the world’s top gold producers.

Alaskan Moose vs. African Elephant
I like Alaska. I like the fact that many, if not most, Alaskans own guns – it’s one of the last remnants of American “rugged individualism” (though sometimes it seems that more Alaskans take pride in the rugged part than in the individualism part).

Now this is an Alaskan cabin! Image: Casey Research
But in my professional capacity as Doug Casey’s rock-kicker, it’s not Alaskan culture that I like the most. It’s the almost unique combination of being a huge, highly prospective mineral district in a stable, pro-mining jurisdiction. Many people argue that all the big deposits in safer jurisdictions have been found – but you don’t have to go to Africa and put up with corrupt, kleptocratic regimes to hunt big game.
Alaska is unquestionably elephant country (well, moose country, and moose are almost as big as elephants and much more foul-tempered) with work done this cycle identifying genuine monster deposits. And there is plenty of room in that great empty place to find more.
The Pebble Controversy
What about Pebble – doesn’t that cast doubt on Alaska as a mining jurisdiction?
The fight over Pebble does not stem from a groundswell of anti-mining sentiment among Alaskans, but from objections by specific interests to the potential mine’s proximity to salmon spawning grounds. Alaska’s economy has been dependent on resource extraction from the get-go, and remains so. Fish are an important resource, but mining has also long been a part of local culture and is no more horrifying to most Alaskans than guns are. In contrast to the views of the parasitical class that inhabits Washington DC, guns are simply necessary and useful things to most Alaskans. Similarly with mining.
Culture aside, the basic fact of life in Alaska is that the economy has always been driven by natural resources, and for Alaskans, this is not just an abstract theory. The State of Alaska cuts a check to each resident every year, paying them a dividend on the royalties the state has collected from the oil industry. Most of the money in the state Permanent Fund that pays these dividends came from the North Slope oil fields – and those are in decline. The Alaska Pipeline is operating at half capacity now, and if it drops below 30% or so, they’ll have to shut it down. That opens up some interesting conjectures about the future, but the point at the moment is that individual Alaskans get a substantial check in the mail every year ($1,305 in 2009) that reminds them of the importance of the resource industry.
I’m not worried about Alaska turning anti-mine; Pebble’s problems are specific to that project.
Real Obstacles
The main problems for resource industries in Alaska boil down to two things: it’s expensive, and much of the place is remote. Actually, the fact that everything costs more in Alaska also has a lot to do with how remote the whole place is from the rest of the U.S., adding substantial shipping costs for many goods. It’s also more expensive to deal with winter up there, due to various factors ranging from heavy snow removal costs to extra insulation costs, etc. For a mining project, a simple rule of thumb I’ve heard some old-timers use is that everything costs twice as much in Alaska.
Within Alaska, the remoteness itself is a major hurdle. The place is huge, twice as large as Texas, four times as large as California or Montana. The state capital of Juno has only about 30,000 inhabitants – and you need a boat or a plane to get there. Anchorage, the only larger city, has only about a quarter of a million (Fairbanks, the next largest city, has about the same size population as Juno). There are very few roads connecting this scarce and scattered population, with small aircraft being a common and critical part of the transportation and supply web that connects them.
NovaGold’s (T.NG) Donlin Creek project, huge as it is, faces serious logistical challenges, with neither roads nor power for literally hundreds of miles in any direction. Normally, you’d ship diesel fuel into a remote location and run generators. I haven’t done the math myself, but the amount of fuel needed is so great, I’ve heard that it’s physically impossible to barge it in. Maybe they could build an airstrip for some of those C-5 Galaxy cargo whales. What they are currently working on is a feasibility study to see if they can build a gas pipeline that would stretch over 300 miles from Anchorage – but for that to work, Anchorage needs to find a new gas supply itself.
This may be why we seldom hear of small deposits in Alaska; it’s not that there aren’t any but that a deposit is not worth bothering with unless it is rich enough to pay for whatever infrastructure needs building.
Real Opportunities
On the other hand, this very issue of remoteness is also an advantage – at least for speculators in this metals cycle. Because the place is so huge and so much of it so far from … well, from everything, there are vast stretches of land that have seen little exploration. The fact that everything costs more in Alaska has also kept a lot of exploration dollars away, in spite of how prospective the ground is – basically the same geology we love in BC and the Yukon. For well-funded and well-run companies, this is a true “land of opportunity.”

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