On the reindeer deaths in Yamal, Russia

An interesting short look into native politics in Russia.

Source: Siberian Times http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0738-huge-cull-of-250000-reindeer-by-christmas-in-yamelo-nenets-after-anthrax-outbreak/

I was looking back at an exchange I had with my fellow Polar Politics contributor Elle Bacon over this article I posted: https://qr.ae/pG7Vvg

And I realized I said I was going to look into it. So I did and it took a bit of digging because none of the Western sources has access to the local politics of the situation, especially of what happened this year but a similar 2016 event highlighted some interesting contexts. I started in the local Siberian news, in English, for the 2016 event and it showed a few aspects:

The massive increase in reindeer population seems, emphasis on seems, to be linked to a local policy whereby the reindeer population is culled to a sustainable level every year by the regional (?) government. And the Nenets herders get cash for every animal culled, the animals than are rendered as meat for sale. So the increase in the number of reindeer may be linked to the cash gained for every animal slaughtered and that is what the Russian government is leaning towards as the source of the problem.

There are also seeming motivation back in 2016 that the Russian government wanted to settle the natives in apartments instead of giving them cash as a way to reduce the herds. This falls in line with actions taken by other governments towards their nomadic Arctic native peoples to get them to be more like the settled majority.

In other sources they also highlighted concerns that these deaths, and the push towards increased culls of reindeer, is being done because of the increasing presence of LNG extractors in the region. This may be true, and I found a native rights page that states that is the case, but it also seems true that the Russian state run gas company Gazprom (of the early 2000’s gas disputes with Ukraine) is taking real measures to work with the locals. But the relationship with NOVATEK, who runs Yamal LNG, does not seem as developed and there is suspicion they are behind the increasing cull numbers.

We can also tack on Climate Change issues, thawed anthrax spores requiring state funded immunization for the herds, and quite a few other aspects but I really want to show exactly there is more than just climate change issue in play resulting in the starvation of large numbers of herded reindeer.

Some readings for you:

Start here for the local view and make sure you read the long comment by Professor Forbes in the comment section: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0738-huge-cull-of-250000-reindeer-by-christmas-in-yamelo-nenets-after-anthrax-outbreak/

The Native view: https://iwgia.org/en/russia/2441-russia-administration-orders-mass-reindeer-killing

More detail: https://isdp.se/new-gas-plant-threatens-indigenous-livelihoods-in-russias-far-north/

A more broad view: https://phys.org/news/2019-08-mass-starvation-reindeer-linked-climate.html

Russia Snarks the Suez

And tries to promote itself

If you didn’t notice, 2 days ago the 400 Meter container ship M/V Ever Given apparently lost power and got wedged in the Suez Canal: https://gcaptain.com/grounded-mega-ship-in-suez-canal-paralyzes-trade-for-second-day/

And could be costing the global economy $9.6 billion per day it stays stuck due to halting traffic through the canal. Traffic that represents 10% of the global flows of maritime traffic: https://gcaptain.com/the-9-6-billion-a-day-price-of-a-suez-stuck-ship/

So into this damnable mess the managing agency of the Northern Sea Route, Rostatom (of the large nuclear powered icebreakers and mobile nuclear power plants), first dropped this big winking hint:

And then followed it up with this snark today:

(pauses to let the chuckles subside)

Here’s the thing, Rostatom really would love shipping companies that move goods via containers to start operating in the NSR because the ice free season is now about 3 months long, versus 2 months, and getting longer. Additionally, if actual money and interest is there maybe the costs for some ice class container vessel hulls will become more approachable for smaller shippers and lure them up before one of the big ones steps in Because, at this time several of the upper tier container shippers have said no to moving goods through the Arctic, like CMA CGM, while Maersk and COSO have kept mum on the matter while saying they will keep watch for developments.

The reality is: For all that Rostatom would love to boost traffic in the region, especially through it and not mostly to destinations in the Russian Arctic, there are several issues in play. First and foremost, this is a route that is only open 3 months a year reliably to ice class vessels, though you can put non ice class vessels in there in those ice-free periods if you accept a degree of risk. Otherwise you need icebreaker escort or a specially constructed freighter that can self break ice up to certain thickness. This limits it’s year round utility as a real alternative to the Suez route. Furthermore, just-in-time logistics would need to bend a bit to accept the variability the region can impose on transit. Massive caveat: For now, since the Arctic Sea Ice is reducing.

Secondly, the depth may not be there for large container vessels like the stuck M/V Ever Given. Some of the straights that traffic has to move through right now can get as shallow as 8 meters (~25ft) in depth1. This has to do with the entire route is over the continental shelf of Eurasia and when you are near the islands, especially in the Eastern part or the NSR, sedimentation and geology can rapidly reduce depth. For reference, some maps.

Note: The Over the Pole Route does not exist yet. https://arcticportal.org/ap-library/news/344-northeast-passage

As a note of how this shallowness applies, back in 2018 Maersk did a test run of a container ship through the NSR, the M/V Venta Maersk a 3,596 TEU ice-class container vessel traveling from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg.* But to safely navigate the NSR it had to reduce capacity to 600 containers to ensure the 11 meter draft Venta Maersk could ride high through these shallow points2. For reference the massive M/V Ever Given is 20,124 TEU and 14.5 Meters(?) of draft, variable3. This puts real limits on how many containers can be moved through the NSR even on a seasonal basis. Which is why many companies seem to be waiting for the Over the Pole AKA Trans Polar route to open in the next few decades.**

Finally there is the concern of Russian regulatory measures. Back in 2017 Russia banned all foreign hydrocarbon traffic on the NSR4. This means all traffic must be moved on Russian flagged vessels and Russia does not seem to be a flag of convenience state, and it seems this was meant to bolster Russian ship building and shipping firms. However, there are many exceptions to this rule so one has to wonder if it really is meant to filter out undesirable operators based on country of origin. But there is a possibility of this happening again, but it’s far from certain.

Oh and let’s not forget the potential mess of cleaning up a fuel spill in the High Arctic.

While the M/V Ever Given continues to be stuck and impact global trade and Rostatom continues to snark it and hope this lures some operators to at least consider their alternative route the reality is Climate Change continues and there are people, companies, and countries betting on the opportunities that this will open up in formerly hard to operate in regions like the High Arctic.


*Note: TEU stands for Twenty-foot Equivalent unit and is a measurement of volume based on the 20 ft intermodal container. You can see how this is a number that has variation and you can increase the size of containers to reduce the number of them and still stay inside that capacity number.

** Which puts many statements of opposition to Arctic shipping by shipping concerns in context.


1. http://www.arctis-search.com/The+Northeast+Passage+and+Northern+Sea+Route+2

2. https://www.cargo-partner.com/trendletter/issue-13/northern-sea-route-shortcut/

3. https://www.shipmentlink.com/tvi1/jsp/TVI1_VesselParticulars.jsp

4. https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2017/12/russian-legislators-ban-foreign-shipments-oil-natural-gas-and-coal-along-northern-sea

OK, is the citizenship question dead now?

Last week Attorney General William Barr stated:

“…the federal government is abandoning its efforts to inquire about citizenship status on the census due to logistics, not legality. “


With this the question on citizenship in the US census is put to rest for the 2020 census. Until something else happens to try to shoehorn it in.

Now on to the fairly significant technical hurdles and cost issues that need to be resolved: https://www.gao.gov/mobile/key_issues/2020_census/issue_summary

Citizenship Question Pulled

The US Census is back to normal. The controversial and frankly unecessary citizenship questions was removed for the 2020 census and printing has gone forward without it. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling against its addition.


The issue with this question and a degree of constant question adjustment means there may be issues with the implementation of the 2020 census. Most focus on technology integration, keeping costs down, and cybersecurity concerns.


But for the first time, most US citizen can take the census online.

We shall wait and see.

What is spatial

In geography we talk about the spatial quite often.

We discuss spatial analytics.

We describe spatial references.

We examine spatial relationships.

Spatial can be defined as:

1 : relating to, occupying, or having the character of space
2 : of, relating to, or involved in the perception of relationships (as of objects) in space
Why is this?
Because the world is very spatial.  We have mountain range over here, due to the distance from a tectonic convergence zone where an ocean plate dives under a continental plate.  This produces hot spots along the length which result in vulcanism providing an additional orogenic (mountain building) factor which produces the mountain range in question.  The relative location near a ocean means the windward size of the range is fairly lush due to precipitation from orographic uplift of moist air masses yet the lee side of the range is perpetually in a rain shadow.  This results in a set of dry basins on the far side of the mountain range which rarely sees moisture. Along the length of the range the varying temperatures due to latitude produce a range of climates on the windward side.  From Mediterranean climate with a wet season defined by a seasonally wandering high pressure zone to temperate rain forests.
All of that is spatial because they vary, change, and are set by their relative locations on the face of the earth in relation to a set of geographic features.  That is normal, geography is not destiny but it is always there.
In addition to physical geography we have human geography.  We live in a spatial world where we relate to each other and the environment around us spatially and restructure space around us. Think how you use space.  Where do you live?  How does where you live adjust how you get to work?  To school? To church? To the beach? How are your routes to those various destinations changed by things along the way?  Nosy neighbors or construction can all adjust our paths.  And we can carry this forward to how you change the spaces around you. 
The fundamental thing is everything is spatial.  I remember someone disputing that idea to me on the grounds that meditation is not.  I disagreed.  In my experience meditation can be based on a set of shrines or temples or ashram that one goes to specifically to meditate in a certain spiritual place. Maybe even making a circuit of a set of them.  And even if one is less structured in their practice of meditation there are still places.  A place you prefer to do this over others, or even the quiet headspace you dwell in in those meditative moments.  By going there you build a space around you.
Or to extend to Islamic prayer practice: The setting of the prayer rug is the defining of space for the act about to commence.  And in a way it is a symbolic formation of a figurative mosque around you since there is a design that generally represents the Mihrab.  This would be a good example of actual creation of space combined with the connection to a great spiritual space.
And let us not forget the national and political spaces we create.  As we here in the US move towards another presidential election take time to note the phrases Red State and Blue State.  And Swing State, Purple State, and states vs counties among a pile of references I’m sure I missed.  Then there are the national spaces where a line on a map can be aspirational or a very firm reality. And yes, everything in between.

In the end space is everything about our world.  But if you disagree that is OK though feel free to leave a comment and I will happily accept the challenge.  Or, tell me your favorite example of how space is structured.

Either way.

Geography is More Than Maps


Maps as figurative representation and not just literal ones.

Found on this answer: Brian Collins’s answer to Are there too many automakers in the world?

No idea what magazine this was scanned from, nor the date, but I like it as an example of symbolic mapping. Obviously, there is no train one can take from Fiat, transfer to Ford, and get off at Jaguar (Or maybe there is but it doesn’t look like this). But this is good way to show these connections and the stops that are the various properties of the parent companies.

As some of you may be aware, maps are not always literal interpretations of what they depict. At the bare minimum the map-territory relation can be reduced to “the map is not the territory”, and I go into a bit of depth on that specific concept here. But we can go another direction with that idea and use maps as symbols of systems, ideas, and connections while not actually showing the entireity of those. We can call this symbolic or representational mapping.

Another way to see this, that most of you may have seen, is the state as a given item. Such as state food.

50 State Foods

Now you may look at Illinois and go: “Yeah deep dish is kinda big but a Chicago style hot dog is much more representative.” And that’s the thing about symbols, they are very open to interpretation in many ways. Except when they are not. And even then, they kinda are. Of course, there is more to Alaska than Salmon candy but these distinctive features stick out to us and make connections in our minds.

Think of how you visualize major cities in your country? Are there key features that stick out, significant events that stand out, and other items or factors you assign to those places? Let’s do an example right here: New York. What comes to your mind when you see that pair of words?








OK here’s mine: Pizza, 9/11, canyons of glass and steel, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, towers fronting water. I’m sure out lists are all different in some way but there are probably some commonalities. You can then take those commonalities and build something like a tourist map.

Maps Update #12001212: Sicily Tourist Map – 12 TopRated Tourist Attractions in Sicily (+68 Similar Maps) | JornalMaker.com

What our word lists and these tourist maps have in common is they present a very public specific detail oriented view of a place. For example in this map L’Etna (Mount Etna) is a very prominent volcano on the East coast but what is missing? Many things. The Sub cones on the western slope:

Or how it is part of a the northern mountain range on the island but also apart from it:

But that is unnecessary for a tourist map. You just need the detail to lure you in and then they can experience the rest themselves.

So to bring it back to the companies as train stops. Maps are just representations of systems. Some literal and physical, others conceptual and imaginary, and every shade in between. We may not be able to take a train to Ford from Toyota, think that the fish taco is the distinctive California cuisine, or that the Moorish buildings of Palermo is how the entire city looks but these ideas resonate and show some form of connection or representation of an idea.

Originally published here: https://www.quora.com/q/quwwtoslprwuiwwv/Maps-as-figurative-tools-and-not-just-literal-ones

Iceland and the Northwest Passage

Let’s start with a map:


Now from a glance at these routes, both current and possible in the near future, it seems more likely that the Northern Sea Route/Northeastern Passage and the Trans Arctic Route would use an Icelandic port since the routes take them close to or right past Iceland. By comparison, the Northwest passage seems to tap into the Greenlandic ports.

However, maritime routes are not straight lines since things like markets, islands, and safe channels shape the route. Which means when we look at a AIS track map we see something interesting:


Yes, that is maritime traffic coming out of the Northwest Passage corridor on the West Coast of Greenland and heading to Iceland. So I can confidently say:

Yes Iceland will be a stop, as for what that will be a stop for depend on the nature and details of the global economy when the Northwest Passage opens up.

But when will the Northwest passage be a viable shipping route? That is a harder question but one still able to be answered. As a dynamic system, like all natural systems, the exact date for this is uncertain but there is a range of possible dates.* As of now the Northwest passage will be completely ice free (no sheet ice, no pack ice, no bergy bits, nothing) around 2050–2060. This is of course within a range of dates that is +/- 10–15 years. As a sample of current research, done within the last 3 years:

The analysis presented in this study suggests that unescorted navigation in the high Arctic in summer may be possible as early as the 2030–2040s and is probable after the 2050s. The winter seasonal ice in the Arctic will be more fragmented than at present, and its mean thickness will be greatly reduced to about 1 m in the mid 21st century and to about 0.5 m in the second half of the century (Fig. 3d). Winter navigation in the high Arctic most likely will still require support from icebreakers due to highly variable sea ice and ocean conditions in this season.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X16000038

We thus recommend using as many independent coupled climate simulations as possible to best estimate the uncertainty in projections of sea ice-free waters at the regional scale and across individual calendar months. A September sea ice-free Arctic will most likely be realized between 2045 and 2070, with a median of 2050, but the range is extended to 2090 when considering August and October.https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/2015GL066855

We thus recommend using as many independent coupled climate simulations as possible to best estimate the uncertainty in projections of sea ice-free waters at the regional scale and across individual calendar months. A September sea ice-free Arctic will most likely be realized between 2045 and 2070, with a median of 2050, but the range is extended to 2090 when considering August and October.https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/2015GL066855

And the reason for that is because of the more closed in nature of the water there due to the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) will hold on to older and thicker ice than the rest of the Arctic. Or to put another way:

Moreover, numerous process studies that indicate thick multiyear ice from the Arctic Ocean will continue to flow into the northern route as long as multiyear ice remains present on the north facing coast of the CAA [e.g., Howell et al., 2009; Howell et al., 2013a; Haas and Howell, 2015], and climate models indicating the last remaining summer sea ice in the Arctic will remain on the north facing coast of the CAA [Wang and Overland, 2012; Laliberté et al., 2016]. Therefore, it seems unlikely the northern route of the Northwest Passage will be a viable shipping route for several decades to come. http://e.g., howell et al., 2009; howell et al., 2013a; haas and howell, 2015


Even in recent years, the CAA remains a source for locally grown MYI and a sink for Arctic Ocean MYI [Howell et al., 2015]; and therefore, shipping through the NWP should not be taken lightly. These conclusions also support results of Smith and Stephenson[2013] who suggested that the NWP will not become easily navigable for another 40 years or so. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2015GL065704

In my educated opinion, the Northwest passage will see increases in shipping due to tourism, fishing, resource extraction, and transiting cargo on a seasonal basis over the next several decades. However, the Northern Sea Route will see more in that same time frame due to potentially being completely ice free by the 2040’s or around there. Additionally, once the (CAA) is ice free, permitting year round shipping, the impact locally will be minimal since the Trans Arctic route should be open in about the same time which will draw the bulk of transiting shipping versus shipping originating or ending in the Arctic.

To refer to the map at top, that route opening up will take you right past Iceland and it’s ports.

To put another way, there is a reason Maersk tested the first Arctic container ship for transiting the region in the Northern Sea Route and not the Northwest Passage.

Maersk Sending First Container Ship Through Arctic

*The uncertainly and crudeness of early models in detailing more specific outcomes had the passage being completely ice free in 2015 in some scenarios. These are obviously not the case.

Clash of Geographies?

Originally posted here: https://the-world-live.quora.com/Clash-of-Geographies

The World Economic Forum came out with this assessment stating we are entering a multipolar world. And they are correct but I disagree with how they specifically see that.

Please take the 5 minutes to read this article:

The collision of these 3 geographies is creating a new world order

I’m also going to poach the map:

I’m uncertain where the WEF writer thinks there is a clash going on between the geographies of Eurasia, Indo-Pacific, and the Arctic. Because the reality is these three regions are connected to each other and they are not clashing. Certainly there are clashes of ideas and ideals within these regions and across these regions in the form of economic sanctions, conflict, and simply deciding what is the next step to take based the influences around you. A recent example on this blog was the post on the interest in and opposition to Moldovan unification with Romania Moldovan protests for Romanian unification: The ties that kind of bind.

And this lack of connectivity between these regions is troubling because any geographer worth their salt would tell you: No region stands alone.

Let’s take the Arctic for example. While brevity brings inaccuracies, and this piece is brief, there is more going on here and things are described that are not occurring. One point the article raises is the Russians nationalized Arctic shipping, except that is overly broad. Simply put, hydrocarbon shipment in the Arctic was nationalized in December of 2017, but exceptions were carved out for foreign flagged vessels and these exceptions allow Novatek to operate with their fleet of foreign flagged vessels

“an exception was made to the bill stating that agreements for foreign-registered vessels signed before 1 February 2018 will be allowed to proceed. In addition, the new law defined the Northern Sea Route as the stretch of the Russian Arctic coast between the Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Strait but excluded Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, two major Arctic ports.” New Regulations For Shipping In Russia’s Arctic: The Case of Novatek | Frontera

Which means in turn, that while these restrictions exist they are for a specific area and specific class of shipping. May it increase and/or change in the future? Absolutely but we’re not seeing that at this time. For clarity here is a map describing the area:

The two green arrows define the the Russian vessels only zone (which includes the grandfathered vessels) and the pins are major Arctic ports. If we compare this crude map to the one above showing the belt and road concepts we see those oil and gas terminals in the Russian Far East are outside of the exclusion zone. Further, the Western ports will be reloading facilities where icebreaker tankers can deposit their loads and return to Yamal or LNG-2 and the conventional tankers of any flag can distribute to points West and South.

Also note this map:

Northern Sea Route Information Office

Note those red lines heading south from the Arctic coast in the Russian interior? They are ship and barge AIS tracks carrying raw materials to the coast. Now is this Arctic? Eurasian? Both?

Obviously it’s both. Just like the proposed economic corridor from Kashgar to Gwadar bridges from Eurasia to the Indo-Pacific.

So why delineate? Without knowing the author, I suppose they subscribe to a regional mindset but fail to realize regions are not hard lines on a map but shaded zones that blend into each other. And when dealing with movement across regions it’s hard to look at them in isolation. Which means while there are 3 “geographies” there really is one with 3 subsets. And when you focus on those subsets you always have to at least mention for the non experts in the audience what the connections are, because we humans love our categorizations and patterns to make sense of the world.

But the world is more complex than that and humans themselves can be massive chaotic factors that effect the shape and organization of the world. Sure, China seems to be pursuing a program of soft power expansion with more serious long term goals but we must actually understand how this is applied across space and how these subsets merge to make a whole.