Russia is breaking records at the North Pole. America is being left in the cold.

Fasten your seat belts and, uh, put on your snow jackets. A new world speed record has been set.

That's because on Christmas Day 2015, the Russian icebreaker Vaygach completed a journey along the north coast of Siberia — a trip known as the Northern Sea Route — in just seven and a half days.

Which, for a boat that looks like this:


Image from Dudinka_Apu/Wikimedia Commons.

is like:

Vaygach left the Bering Strait, near Alaska, on Dec. 17, and covered over 2,200 nautical miles to get to the White Sea, just off the north coast of Finland, by Dec. 25. It ended up coming in about a half-day faster than previous trips.

One reason they went so fast might be that there wasn't as much ice.


"Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever," said President Obama in a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Commencement in May 2015. It's true. In fact, 2015's maximum ice was the lowest on record. (This winter's numbers aren't in yet because, well, winter's not over yet.)

"By the middle of this century," Obama continued, "Arctic summers could be essentially ice free. We’re witnessing the birth of a new ocean — new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below."

Less ice will likely mean more traffic throughout the Arctic.

Even if the ice is still pretty thick in places, more and more ships are making the trip along both the northern coast of Siberia and through the Northwest Passage that stretches from Alaska to Greenland.

Image from NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

"From the 1980s on, voyages through the Passage have become an annual event," said a report by Canada's Northwest Territories' Department of Environment and Natural Resources, "The number of transits increased from 4 per year in the 1980s to 20-30 per year in 2009-2013."

But if the U.S. wants to be able to patrol this new ocean, we're woefully unprepared.

Not every ship can plow through the arctic ice — you have to have specially designed icebreakers like the Russian Vaygach or the Coast Guard's USCGC Healy.

America currently has two fully functional icebreakers. Just two. Russia, on the other hand, has 40. And they're building more. China also is becoming increasingly involved in Arctic expeditions.

I bet they have no trouble at parties. GIF via Patrick Kelley/YouTube.

Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan said, "The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers. Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”

Obama has since called on the U.S. to build more icebreaker ships, but it's not set just yet.

U.S. military operations on Arctic land could face trouble for melting ice too.

A report from the Government Accountability Office found that coastal military sites are in danger from climate change. In Alaska, for example, coastal erosion from thawing permafrost and rising sea levels is putting Air Force radar and communications stations in danger. Roads, sea walls, and runways have also been damaged.

When permafrost thaws, anything built on top of it is just kind of out of luck. Image from USGS/Flickr.

Climate change will challenge the military's entire mission.

Increasingly unstable weather could mean more humanitarian missions both abroad and at home — think about all the work the Coast Guard had to do during Hurricane Sandy.

Plus, climate change could fuel more competition for scarce resources like food and water, which could lead to more global instability, more extremism, and more refugees. Some reports have pointed out that severe drought and crop failures helped fuel early unrest in Syria, for example.

This isn't partisan rhetoric — this is coming directly from the Department of Defense.

“The Department of Defense's primary responsibility is to protect national security interests around the world," said officials in a July 2015 release. "The department must consider the effects of climate change — such as sea level rise, shifting climate zones and more frequent and intense severe weather events — and how these effects could impact national security.”

So it's a little frustrating to hear Congress prevaricate about it. I mean, some senators are still treating climate change like some sort of conspiracy theory. If the military has already accepted it as fact, why can't the rest of the government?

Heroes
"Why is Dad So Mad"

Army veteran Seth Kastle had everything going for him when he came home from serving 16 years overseas. That's why it was so confusing to him when his life began to fall apart.

He had a job, a loving wife, family, and friends. He knew things would be different when he moved back to Kansas, but he didn't think they'd be that different. But he felt an extreme anger building up inside, a fire inside his chest that he couldn't explain or get rid of.

Kastle was unknowingly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event — like war.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
True
Verizon

If you're a Game of Thrones fan, then Gwendoline Christie aka Brienne of Tarth needs no introduction. While there was disappointment surrounding the finale, and the last season in general, Christie's character was one of the few to remain near and dear to the hearts of fans throughout it all.

Fans wept when they finally witnessed Ser Brienne of Tarth get knighted after six seasons of being one of the most honorable and integrity filled characters to grace the Game of Thrones screen.

Similarly, Brienne of Tarth's final tribute to Jaime Lannister left people both misty-eyed and eager to dedicate countless memes to the moment.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

When Lily Evans set out to walk her dog, she had no idea the story of that walk would later go viral on the internet.

When she took to Twitter to recount her experience, she opened with a simple question, one that many men have probably wondered for a long time — though women already know the answer.

(Before you click through to the thread itself, note that Lily's Twitter account is expressly for adults and may be NSFW.)

Keep Reading Show less
More
Youtube

Flowers are a great way to express your feelings for someone. Red roses say, "I love you," but a whole garden of pink flowers screams it. One husband took the romantic gesture of getting your wife flowers to the next level.

Mr. and Mrs. Kuroki got married in 1956, and Mrs. Kuroki joined her husband on his dairy farm in Shintomi, Japan, The Telegraph reports. The couple lived a full life and had two kids. After 30 years of marriage, the couple planned on retiring and traveling around Japan, but those plans were soon dashed.

When she was 52, Mrs. Kuroki lost her vision due to complications from diabetes. Her blindness hit her hard, and she began staying inside all day. Mr. Kuroki knew his wife was depressed and wanted to do something to cheer her up.

Mr. Kuroki noticed some people stopping to admire his small garden of pink shibazakura flowers (also known as moss phlox) and got an idea. He couldn't take his wife to see the world, so he had to make the world come to his wife.

Keep Reading Show less
Family