COVID-19 in the Cryosphere

In the popular imagination, the Arctic is a frigid, barren expanse of silence and snow. However, the region is host to a bustling network of research, trade, industry, and tourism. The High North is subject to similar coronavirus containment measures as the non-polar world, though with some notable differences. COVID-19 is highlighting old challenges and creating new opportunities in the Arctic.

The Polarstern

The German research icebreaker Polarstern was moored in ice for a year-long study of global warming. The Polarstern was to be a ‘drifting observatory’, and represented a leap forward in Arctic climate study. COVID-19 disrupted the operation in April as a result of supply line cutoffs and crew exchange complications. After a three week pause in research, the ship will relocate to another ice floe to continue its mission.

Arctic Wind Farms

The first ever industrial-scale Arctic wind farm will continue development as planned, with no COVID delays. Enel Russia is constructing the plant near the port city of Murmansk, the largest city in the Arctic. The northern Kola region possesses high wind-energy potential, and the plant will connect to Russia’s national grid upon completion. 

Local Greenlandic Tourism

Greenland’s state-owned tourism agency is launching a new ‘staycation’ program in an attempt to support the country’s struggling travel industry. The domestic tourism push is geared toward connecting Greenlanders with their rich traditions and natural landscapes. Aside from essential supply trips, the island was totally shut down to defend against the coronavirus. With the tourism sector having grown 20% from 2015 to 2016, the total isolation policy threatens to derail future expansion. 

Travel within Greenland is difficult as the island lacks a highway or rail system. Most movement between towns and territories is conducted by air, sea or dogsled. However, a boost in domestic tourism would be a boon for the many Greenlandic businesses that fall outside of the territory’s hegemonic fishing industry.

The Arctic will adapt to a new future post-COVID

COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the Arctic, but long-term investment and development is mostly unaffected. The region is simply too valuable to be neglected or abandoned, and will likely fare well in the post-pandemic world economy.