First of all, thanks to the committee for inviting me to present here.
I am an old Arctic hand, I guess you would call it. I started my research career in the Arctic in 1981 so I am now in my fourth decade of doing research in the Arctic. I've seen a lot of changes over that time and I'd like to talk with you about some of those changes.
I get involved with a variety of research in the Arctic. All of it has to do with sea ice and how climate change is affecting sea ice in the Arctic. I've been very interested and engaged with various sovereignty-related issues in the north as well. I work with very large, integrated programs in the north. We work quite closely with circum-Arctic nations through the Arctic Council. We operate a lot of our research work from icebreakers. We also have field camps pretty much all over the Arctic as well.
Basically over the course of my career I've seen some very dramatic changes happen in the north. In the first decade of my research career there was really not much in the way of change going on in the Arctic. We had thought at the time we would see the first and strongest signs or evidence of a warming global climate system on the Arctic, but in those first 10 years of my career I was a skeptic about whether climate change was really happening in the north and what it was doing.
The next 10 years of my career we started to see some very distinct signals that were showing a change in the Arctic, so that next 10 years saw quite a lot of change. The next 10 years were very dramatic. That was through the period of the late nineties into the 2000s and there were very rapid changes in both extent of sea ice and thickness of sea ice. Then in this most recent decade that trend has been speeding up and it's been increasing quite dramatically and really causing a lot of changes both inside the Arctic and also outside the Arctic, through things that we refer to as teleconnections.
A lot of the changes that are going on today are not just staying in the Arctic, but rather they're spilling over, if you will, into more southern latitudes of the planet. A lot of them are very counterintuitive. We have had many experiences over the last couple of decades where we have been surprised as to what has been happening with Arctic sea ice and the accessibility of the Arctic Ocean to people who are interested in seeing development occur there, so I think there is lots to talk about in terms of sovereignty.
I have also been around the system long enough that I know it's very challenging, as a country, to manage something like the Arctic, with the longest coastline in the Arctic being under the proud ownership of Canada. It's very difficult to manage that kind of change not only in the Arctic but, as I said before, with teleconnections to lower latitudes of the planet.
I think there are a lot of both challenges and opportunities in the sense of climate change in the Arctic. The challenges come in the form of how we, as a nation, respond to what's actually going on in the north. We have a lot of problems with icebreakers. Our icebreaking fleet is aging. It spends a lot of its time being repaired nowadays. You can imagine if you were driving a car that was 40 years old, what that car would be like. We're driving icebreakers that are over 40 years old and they spend most of their time in the garage getting fixed. This is an ongoing problem.
There are also a lot of opportunities with changing climate in the north. Here in Manitoba we've just had the sale of the rail line and the port. This is the only rail-linked deepwater port we have in the Arctic, and not just us but also the Americans, so it's the only one in North America. Russia has eight rail-linked ports and they are using all of them to develop their economy with a northern focus.
When I'm talking to the public I quite often use the fact that Russia gets about 23% of its GDP from the Arctic and we get a fraction of 1% of our GDP from our Arctic. It's the same Arctic and it has the same minerals and resources and fisheries potential, but we are not organized around how to develop it. We don't have the infrastructure to support Arctic development the way Russia has been able to.
There are lots of concerns there, I think, about how we move forward, as a nation, with both these challenges and opportunities.
I am here mostly to answer questions as opposed to giving you more of a statement, so I think I'll just stop my brief introduction at this point. I look forward to getting into a dialogue with what some of your interests and concerns are regarding the Arctic and climate change.