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The North Pole Could Be Open to Shipping Very, Very Soon

The North Pole Could Be Open to Shipping Very, Very Soon

By the middle of this century, the North Pole could be open for routine shipping traffic. It’s yet another sign of how global warming is changing the world.

The melting of the sea ice in the arctic at a faster rate than forecast has meant that people have already been developing routes through Canada’s Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route above the coast of Russia. Such routes would significantly lessen the amount of time and fuel — as much as 18 days and 580 tons of bunker fuel — currently needed to transport goods between Asia and both Europe and North America. Shipowners could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Emphasizing how much the thickness and extent of late summer has shrunk in just the past seven years, UCLA geographers Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson predict (via computer modeling) that, by 2050, ordinary vessels and some that are only moderately ice-strengthened — equipped to break through the ice — should be able to pass over the North Pole and most likely in September, when the sea ice is at its smallest extent.

Last year, 46 ships went through the trans-Arctic passage. To do so, they had to be accompanied by ice-strengthened ships from Russia at a considerable cost. The moderately ice-strengthened ships are known as Polar Class 6 or PC6 vessels. As John Timmer explains on Ars Technica, PC6 vessels are specifically built to “withstand transit through first-year ice (ice that froze during the previous winter).”

Under current climate prediction models, the sea ice will have melted so much that, by mid-century, PC6 vessels can use the Northern Sea Route in any year. Ships will be able to go directly over the pole from Europe to Asia annually, on a route that is shorter from those going through the Suez or Panama canals.

Increase in Shipping Over the North Pole Puts the Arctic At Risk

As Wired UK points out, this is a fabulous develop for commercial shipping and for companies wanting to explore and harness the yet-untapped natural resources — oil — of the Arctic.

But there’s no question that all this could spell simple disaster for the unique ecosystems of the Arctic and the rich wildlife, animal and plant, that lives there. Earlier studies have already shown that an increase in arctic shipping poses a risk to marine mammals and would also affect the local communities who rely on these animals for food security and cultural identity.

In addition, Smith and Stephenson note that the opening of the Arctic for shipping could spell geopolitical conflict among Russia, Canada, the U.S. and other countries, reopening disputes about boundaries and territory.

The scientists emphasize that we need to start now to develop “comprehensive international regulations that provide adequate environmental protections, vessel safety standards and search-and-rescue capability.” Rampant development of industries using fossil fuels has already warmed up our planet by degrees never imagined. Knowing how human activity has destroyed and is damaging wildlife and the environment, we need to start now to create responsible regulations to preserve the resources, beauty and life of the Arctic, which is, as Smith says, “a fragile and dangerous place.”

Related Care2 Coverage

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119 comments

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1:11PM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

Thank you for the post to help expose this dreadful news. Please include petitions to sign with these posts. (p, t)

6:15AM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

Please don't pollute them

7:54AM PDT on Apr 20, 2013

thanks for sharing

8:41PM PDT on Mar 24, 2013

Why am I not the least surprised?!!!

12:18AM PDT on Mar 18, 2013

noted

1:55PM PDT on Mar 17, 2013

And when the ice all melts from Greenland, Antarctica, etc. all the ships will be able to sail into submerged New York and Miami, what an advantage that would be. Btw I wouldn't mind if all those ships who take advantage of global destruction are sunk for their greed.

7:11PM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Breaking! Santa Claus replace by drone robot. Advantage: He kills!

6:01PM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

thanks

2:54PM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

Well, for goodness sake let's applaud shipowners being able to SAVE MONEY.....!! and to heck with wildlife and the people who have depended on it....

1:51PM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

i hope they come to their senses and don't do this

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