Tourism, Trump & Arctic ice in a death spiral : 2016 Arctic Year in Review

President-elect Donald Trump speaks in Grand Rapids, Michigan on December 9, 2016. What will his presidency mean for the international Arctic community in 2017? (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The end of the year is a time to take stock.

Here at Eye on the Arctic, it’s also the time to check in with our bloggers, who’ve spent 2016 following and analysing Arctic news and events.

In this 2016 instalment of Eye on the Arctic’s annual Year in Review, we talk to our contributors about what got their attention, what took them by surprise, and what the media might have messed up along the way.

Up today is Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of The Arctic Yearbook.

Feature Interview with Heather Exner-Pirot
Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of Arctic Year book. (Courtesy Heather Exner-Pirot)
Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of Arctic Year book. (Courtesy Heather Exner-Pirot)

Eye on the Arctic: How would you sum up Arctic news this year in just one word?

Heather Exner-Pirot:  Shifting. The Trump election has thrown a wildcard into a lot of things. The ice seems to be going into a death spiral. Canadian Arctic foreign policy has been taking a noticeable shift with the joint declarations with the United States focusing more on the environment and climate change than its traditional focus on northerners.

What were the three most important Arctic stories of 2016?

  1. Voyage of the Crystal Serenity: They really had no problems. The same week they went through we found one of the wrecks from the Franklin expedition. There’s really that perfect juxtaposition there of very rich passengers enjoying their champagne and hors d’oeuvres and sailing through (the Northwest Passage) and on the the other hand, 150 years ago it was the most treacherous waters on the planet. My, how things have changed.
  2. Joint Trudeau-Obama statements on the Arctic: Obama and Trudeau jointly said they are going to ban oil drilling in Arctic waters. People are still talking about it. I think why it’s capturing my imagination is because Obama is a lame-duck president. Not a lot of people expect that in one month’s time American Arctic policy is going to be the same as it is now. So it will be very interesting to see what comes of that joint statement.
  3. Arctic sea ice is in a death spiral: It’s very alarming and maybe one of the biggest stories of the year, not just for the Arctic, but for the planet.

What was the one Arctic story or event of 2016 that you didn’t see coming? 

Donald Trump. No one saw him coming. The Americans are hosting on the Arctic Council now. They’ve been focusing on climate change, the environment.  What’s going to happen with all that? There are concerns. Are the values of the Arctic resilient enough to withstand a Trump-Putin-Tillerson collaboration in the region? We’ll have to see.

What will you be watching for in 2017?

  1. Finland taking over the Arctic Council.
  2. An agreement on scientific cooperation. This is probably going to be the crown jewel of the U.S. Arctic Council Chairmanship. It will make it easier for scientists from all countries to work and collaborate on Arctic science.
  3. A fishing agreement on the central Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Five states have already declared a moratorium that they will not fish in the central Arctic Ocean and they’re trying to get some of the other fishing nations to get involved. I expect in 2017 they’ll be able to come to a conclusion on that.

The above Q&A has been edited and abridged.

Listen to the full Eye on the Arctic interview with Heather Exner-Pirot:

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)



Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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