While Maine is keen to consider itself an Arctic state, the Arctic Council decided to come to Portland this week not because of the state’s ties to the region, but as a way to promote greater public awareness of the global impacts of Arctic change.

“I’m really happy the Arctic Council is meeting here this week,” Ambassador David Balton told the Maine-Arctic Forum at the University of Southern Maine on Monday. “We are trying to persuade, educate our fellow American citizens that they should care about the Arctic.”

Balton is deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries with the U.S. State Department. He is among the senior officials from the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden who are meeting here this week to discuss a range of scientific and policy issues, but their meetings are closed to the public. The forum Monday was the best opportunity for the public to interact with the council this week.

But panelist after panelist, from scientists to government officials to lawyers to Balton himself, reeled off reasons why the changes occurring in the Arctic, from melting sea ice to the release of methane to energy exploration, affect everybody, not just the Arctic nations.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine kicked off the event with an introduction on climate change. Tucked into his presentation was a prediction from a Maine scientist that melting Greenland and Arctic ice sheets would drive up sea levels a foot in 15 years, and 6 feet by 2100.

“Pretty scary,” King said. “Imagine an extra foot of water in Scarborough Marsh.”


As the oceans change, because of rising temperatures and acidification and changing currents, the fish that Mainers rely on now for food and jobs will likely move to places like the east Siberian Sea, said researcher Paty Matrai of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay.

The panels focused on a range of Arctic challenges, including climate change, shipping safety, legal challenges and sustainable development, with presentations from experts in the fields, including many Mainers, reinforcing the state’s already existing Arctic connections.

Maine Maritime Academy is developing the first course in Arctic navigation, which will soon be required for the growing number of merchant mariners who sail through the Arctic as shipping lanes open up for longer periods of time in ice-free summers.

Maine lawyers are representing an increasing number of vessels that are sailing through the Arctic, as well as companies that want to increase trade to Arctic nations, which can require tricky negotiation of passage through dangerous, disputed waters.

Maine institutions like Bigelow and the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute are conducting study after study on the changing Arctic, ranging from the impacts of methane release as permafrost thaws to the study of mercury buildup in Arctic terns.

In addition to the educational panels, the Maine North Atlantic Development Office organized a showcase for Maine businesses and institutions to show off their ties, like the Peary-MacMillan Museum at Bowdoin College, which showcases the famed explorers, and Ocean Renewable Power Co., a tidal and river power company, of Portland.

“It was a good opportunity for us to let people know what we’re doing,” said Carey Friedman of Maine Maritime Academy, who is studying how carbon emission pollution migrates to the Arctic. “We all need to work together on these problems. That’s what this is all about.”


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