The sea ice over the Arctic is melting and shrinking so fast we will see in our lifetime something that hasn’t happened, it’s believed, since the end of the last Ice Age: the opening of an ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and with that access to trade routes and trillions of dollars worth of oil and natural gas, almost as much as the entire U.S. economy.
But, as we reported last fall, this isn’t a story about climate change; this is a story about the competition for those riches. The Russians, for instance, have already amassed a major military presence in the region.
It’s also about pioneers — U.S. scientists and naval personnel — learning to tough it out in the harshness of this still ice-covered frontier. We discovered just how harsh. On a trip to the Arctic.
The Arctic Ocean sits on top of the globe, encircled by Russia, which encompasses about half of its coastline: Norway, Greenland, Canada.
And the United States, thanks to Alaska. We flew — as guests of the Navy — from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 200 miles in the direction of the North Pole. Over fractured, thinning ice, to a spot where the ice was still thick enough to support this base camp.
It was a small, temporary village disrupting the peace and purity of the ice, white as far as the eye can see. The camp was built for a scientific and military exercise, called ICEX 2016.
[Lesley Stahl: Hi everyone. How do you do? Nice to meet you.]
For five weeks, this no man’s land of ice was home to an expeditionary team of sailors, scientists and engineers whose mission was to understand how to survive in maybe the most hostile conditions on Earth.
The Navy says those taking part in this exercise are the first humans ever to set foot on this part of the planet.
Lesley Stahl: It’s actually beautiful beyond belief isn’t it?
Chuck McGuire: It really is.
Chuck McGuire was one of the first to arrive. He’s an engineer with the University…