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CHIPS Articles: Naval War College Aims to Forecast Changing Arctic

Naval War College Aims to Forecast Changing Arctic
By Daniel L. Kuester, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs - November 4, 2014
NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) — Responding to the opening of the Arctic region to increased human activity, the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) is exploring the geopolitical future of the area.

A course at NWC, Arctic Security in an Age of Climate Change, is part of the Arctic area of study elective track and explores the future and how the Navy and other global stakeholders will likely participate as climate change continues to alter the region.

Walter Berbrick, associate professor of war gaming and the course instructor, says that leading the class is exciting as the group studies an area of the world not well understood.

"How often does a new ocean open up? Not very often," said Berbrick. "So we are looking at current trends as the region evolves, gets warmer, ice melts, and opens up new areas to activities such as shipping, fishing, resource exploration and even tourism."

The course has been part of the curriculum for just a year and is in response to the increased attention the Arctic region is getting as it becomes more accessible. According to Berbrick, that will lead to more potential issues.

"As human activity increases, so does the likelihood of some kind of event that will require a U.S. response," he said.

And activity likely will increase.

In the recent document "U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014 - 2030" published by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, the traditional maritime routes in the Arctic region will be available to traffic more days each year.

For example, the Arctic Sea route known as the Transpolar Route (roughly 4,170 nautical miles from the Bering Strait, across the Arctic Ocean, to the North Atlantic Ocean) currently is clogged by ice, having greater than 40 percent sea ice coverage year round.

According to the roadmap, in 2025 there will be two weeks each year of open water. Open water is defined at less than 10 percent sea ice.

In 2030, there is predicted to be fully six weeks of open water each year. There will also be an additional 10 weeks each year of shoulder season, where 10 to 40 percent sea ice is predicted.

"We are looking at real-world problems," said Berbrick of the course.

Student papers written for the 10-week course focus on topics that will help defense leaders to better understand the future of the region. The papers will also inform policy makers as they develop Arctic and Navy strategy for the region.

"We are looking down the road at what the Navy and the U.S. government need to deter or respond to a crisis in the region," Berbrick added.

Because of the low level of human activity, the region has been somewhat peaceful, according to Berbrick.

"Prevention of war is the real key here," he said. "In an area and a region that doesn't have much activity and has a low likelihood of conflict, keeping along that peaceful trend line is the preferred solution."

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