Northwest Passage could become shipping lane due to melting ice

(September 17, 2007) The Northwest Passage, sought for hundreds of years by explorers, could become an open shipping lane due to melting Artic ice, according to the Associated Press.

The European Space Agency said that nearly 200 satellite photos taken in September showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland. The images also show ice retreating to its lowest level since these images were first taken in 1978.

Vessels could theoretically trim thousands of miles from Europe to Asia by traveling the Northwest Passage and bypassing the Panama Canal.

However, researcher Claes Ragner of Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute, which works on Arctic political and environmental issues, said right now the opening of the Northwest Passage has only a symbolic meaning for sea transport.

Routes between Scandinavia and Japan, for example, could be almost halved, and a stable and reliable route could be meaningful for certain regions, Ragner said.

However, even if the passage is opening up and polar ice continues to melt, it will take years for such route to be regular. The route would not be ice-free year round and therefore would not be stable, he said.

Ragner also said that although a shorter route would mean less pollution from shipping products, the fact that the polar ice is melting is not good for the world in terms of the loss of the arctic ecosystem.

By Professional Mariner Staff