Global Warming Will Open Arctic Shipping Routes
Who said the effects of global warming are all negative? According to new research conducted by UCLA, melting sea ice during the late summer will make Arctic shipping channels much more accessible.
The economy of the world depends on shipping as nearly all of a country's imports and exports are transported across the global by these large ships. Canals like the Suez and Panama have helped reduce the length of certain shipping routes, but nothing has been done in the Arctic region because of the unreliable weather and treacherous ice.
Currently, ships that traverse northern territories are forced through the Northern Sea Route along Russia's coast. However, a direct route over the North Pole will be 20% shorter than this shipping lane. Also, the Northwest Passage, along Canada's coastline, is also expected to become more viable for vessels that are strengthened against ice. However, this passage is really only navigable only one out of every seven years due to the ice.
Researchers predict that by mid-century, sea ice will melt will make these passages more accessible to ships. While the predictions do not forecast this shipping route to be a year round operation, shorter routes will save companies a lot of time and money.
"No matter which carbon emission scenario is considered, by mid-century we will have passed a crucial tipping point - sufficiently thin sea ice - enabling moderately capable icebreakers to go where they please," said Laurence Smith, professor of geography at UCLA. "The development is both exciting from an economic development point of view and worrisome in terms of safety, both for the Arctic environment and for the ships themselves."
"We're talking about a future in which open-water vessels will, at least during some years, be able to navigate unescorted through the Arctic, which at the moment is inconceivable," said co-author Scott R. Stephenson, a Ph.D. candidate in the UCLA Department of Geography.
UCLA Newsroom reports that while attractive to business, the lack of regulations poses safety, environmental and legal issues that have yet to be resolved, the researchers stress. The prospect of open-water ships entering the Arctic Ocean in late summer heightens the urgency for comprehensive international regulations that provide adequate environmental protections, vessel safety standards and search-and-rescue capability.
The findings can be found in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus.
Read more at UCLA Newsroom.
Shipping lanes image via UCLA Newsroom, Courtesy of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.