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SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: April 2, 2020

SNIP: Even 150 miles away from the Mary River iron mine, Peter Ivalu can’t seem to escape its presence.

He’s heard rumors of white foxes turning pink, and caribou, walrus and narwhal disappearing from traditional Inuit hunting grounds. Then last year, he noticed something bizarre at his family campground just south of Igloolik, a hamlet in the far northern Canadian province of Nunavut, where he lives.

It was iron dust from the Mary River mine, Ivalu said. “That dust is now everywhere.”

Operating since 2015, the mine produces up to 6 million metric tons of iron ore each year that then gets shipped from the frozen coasts of Canada’s Baffin Island, almost 1,400 miles north of Montreal, to parts of Europe and Asia.

For a decade, Ivalu and other Inuit community members in the region have fought the mine’s development, worried about what excavating and shipping millions of tons of iron ore each year might do to one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. Already, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, melting sea ice at alarming rates, causing mass die-offs of fish and birds and altering wildlife migration habits.

Now, Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, which owns the mine, wants to expand the operation by doubling its output to 12 million metric tons a year, and, starting in 2025, more than doubling that again to 30 million metric tons. That means two to four times as many ships carrying the ore through the icy waters, as well as the construction of a new rail line that would carry the ore about 62 miles north of the mine to a port in Milne Inlet. It also means more greenhouse gas emissions—and especially an increase in a climate-warming pollutant that scientists warn is particularly devastating for the Arctic: black carbon.

In 2017, there were 574 metric tons of black carbon documented in the Canadian Arctic, with shipping contributing 41.5 metric tons of that, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, a federal agency.

Baffinland estimates that once the Mary River mine is operating at peak production, the black carbon emissions from mining and shipping the ore will increase in the region by 65.3 metric tons per year, up 11 percent from 2017 levels. That estimate doesn’t include the black carbon emissions from railway transit.

Black carbon, or soot, comes from burning fossil fuels or biomass—like wood—and is gram for gram, 100 to 2,000 times more powerful in warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. And while it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere nearly as long as CO2 (weeks versus thousands of years), black carbon can do a lot of damage. The dark soot warms the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight, then covers snow and ice when it falls and speeds up melting.

Black carbon is particularly damaging to the Arctic because it also contributes to “positive feedback loops” that exponentially contribute to warming, said Mark Jacobson, an atmospheric scientist who researches air pollution and climate change at Stanford University. By warming the ground more than the atmosphere above it, it creates stagnant pockets of air which in turn lead to less wind to dilute pollution, he said, while also reducing the reflective property of ice and snow, known as the albedo effect.

[NOTE: Iron ore is a key ingredient in steel.]