Last week’s confirmation of climate change by the White House has only further raised the stakes for the Arctic. As detailed in former posts, one of the significant effects of our changing climate is the thinning of the ice pack in the Arctic, and the subsequent opening of the Northwest Passage. As the Northwest Passage opens, so too will we see an upsurge in the demand for shipping and the rush to access oil, gas, and mineral resources. [More…]
Significantly for observers, commercial fleets are beginning to view the Northwest Passage as a viable option for getting from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
“The ice is more favourable than in past decades,” said Capt. Georges Tousignant of Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping, “It’s navigable, it’s not that high-risk.”
And it’s not just Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping that is interested in navigating the Northwest Passage, the Canadian Coast Guard has seen an increase in the number of ships that entered the Northwest Passage. The longer that good shipping conditions continue, the more companies that will view the Passage as a viable transit route.
Unfortunately for the polar bears and infrastructure built reliant on permanent ice in the north, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that ice melt rates have increased. In May of 2009, ice melted at a rate of about 54,000 square kilometers per day throughout the Arctic. Average May ice melt has traditionally been closer to 47,000 kilometers per day.
The implications of all this ice melt is that similar to the long-term melting of permafrost, there will be less of the dangerous multi-year ice that impedes shipping every year. And therefore every year there will be increased shipping, and increasing attention to the viability of the Northwest Passage.
With increasing attention being paid to the Northwest Passage, watch for its status under international law to become a point of contention along with other northern concerns such sovereignty and related territorial claims.
Image: ashatsea (Creative Commons)