Thursday, September 1st 2011 - 05:29 UTC

Two major Arctic Ocean shipping routes open simultaneously as ice recedes

Two major Arctic Ocean shipping routes have opened simultaneously for only the second time since satellite observation began in the 1970s, researchers say.

From 3 million square miles in early 1980s the ice cap has fallen to 1.6 million sq miles in 2007

Satellites in 2008 saw the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic and the Northern Sea Route above Russia were open simultaneously for the first time since satellite measurements started, and researchers say it has happened again, the European Space Agency reported in a release from its Paris headquarters this week.

The ESA monitors arctic ice with its Envisat, CryoSat and SMOS satellites.

Satellites have recorded reductions in the minimum ice extent at the end of summer during the last 30 years, from around 3 million square miles in the early 1980s to the historic minimum of less than 1.6 million square miles in 2007.

The early opening of both sea passages this year suggests a possible record low in ice cover.

“Whether we reach an absolute minimum or not, this year again confirms that we are in a new regime with substantially less summer ice than before,” Leif Toudal Pedersen, a senior scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, said. ”The last five summers are the five minimum ice extent summers on record.

4 comments Feed

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1 DennisA (#) Sep 01st, 2011 - 05:46 pm Report abuse
The NW passage was navigated by Amundsen in 1906, the Northern sea route has been open many times. The start of the satellite period in 1979 followed an extreme period of cold in the sixties and ice had extended much further south. It is quite natural for the cycle to have changed, but means very little in terms of long term climate. Just imagine if we had had the current scale of hysterical media reporting in the 30's when it was warmer in the Arctic than today.
2 GeoffWard2 (#) Sep 04th, 2011 - 12:55 pm Report abuse
What it might do, is to re-route much of marine trade north of the continents rather than causing them to traverse the southern oceans to get back to the northern hemisphere.

I can imagine that this would cause some decline in southern hemisphere economies.
B.A. Montivideo, Santos, Cape Town, . . .

Nothing but supposition, but just a thought.
3 Amrynel (#) Sep 05th, 2011 - 11:51 pm Report abuse
Yes, the passage was navigated in 1906, and many times since then. However, there is a slight difference between (1) hardy explorers picking their way across ice-strewn seas in shallow-draft boats, and (2) pampered tourists aboard deep-draft cruise liners with barely an iceberg in sight. It will be “interesting times” if this persists.
4 GeoffWard2 (#) Sep 06th, 2011 - 02:24 pm Report abuse
The Northern seasonal ice-pack will be a problem for double-skinned oil and LNG tankers for some years until the positive feedbacks driving polar ice-melt clear the Arctic Ocean perifery/Barents Sea/etc sufficiently. This should not take too long as the process accelerates.

Personally, I wouldn't take a cruise ship beyond Svalbard - especially if I was there to see the Arctic's polar bears
- or N. Canada/Greenland/Bering Sea for our newly-warm-and-pink walrusses.
Cruise ships visiting the Arctic to see the narwal will continue to have ice-pack problems as they retire ever more northwards.

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