Global warming is opening a door for ships

Melting Arctic ice will allow new shipping lanes to open, particularly the Northwest Passage, creating shorter transport times.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 8, 2013 7:14AM

File photo of the Northwest Passage (© Eastcott Momatiuk/Photodisc/Getty Images)Could global climate change have a silver lining -- in the form of improved international trade? Perhaps, if the fabled Northwest Passage finally becomes a reality.

For centuries, navigators and traders have wondered if there was a viable way of getting shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the waters above current-day Canada and Alaska and through the Bering Strait. There is also the Northern Sea Route, which hugs the northern coast of Russia. Shipping on that route, however, is limited and requires vessels with specialized, heavy icebreaking equipment.

The Northwest Passage has historically been ice-bound for all but a small window of time during the brief Arctic summer. But researchers now say warming temperatures in the Arctic Circle are allowing more ships than ever to successfully pass through the region.

And a new study suggests there could be viable shipping Arctic shipping lanes by mid-century. UCLA geography professor Lawrence Smith says an open Northwest Passage, requiring only light icebreakers, would allow a ship to travel from the east coast of North America to the Bering Strait in 15 days -- compared to 23 days for the Northern Sea Route.

While an obvious environmental concern, the melting Arctic ice could be blessing for trade.

Currently, most shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific goes through two man-made shortcuts -- the Suez and Panama canals. According to PBS, nearly 70% of all cargo to and from the U.S. passed through the Panama Canal in 2005.

The canal handles about 14,000 vessels annually and is undergoing a $5.25 billion expansion project, expected to be completed in 2015. But it's still too narrow for many of today's modern freighters and oil tankers. And rising demand for use of the Panama Canal is creating traffic bottlenecks there.

It's gotten to the point where Maersk Link, a division of A.P. Moller-Maersk (AMKBF) and one of the world's largest shipping companies, says it will now use the Suez Canal over the Panama Canal -- even though the Suez is technically busier (about 19,000 pass through it annually) and the distance from China to the U.S. East Coast is about 5% longer than via the Panama Canal.

"One of the reasons for why this is happening now is that the cost for passing through the Panama Canal has gone up," Maersk CEO Soeren Skou said last month. "At the end of the day, it comes down to cost."

While there are also concerns about a new Northwest Passage creating new environmental problems, such as the unintentional importation of dangerous invasive species and accidental spills, "the temptation for many new ships to enter [the Arctic] will be huge," Laurence Smith told Scientific American.

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Apr 8, 2013 10:39AM

The fox news is the devil puppets are too dumb to realize we are still coming out of an ice age.


New York city was under a mile of ice as little as 10000 years ago.

Apr 8, 2013 10:11AM

There`s plenty of global warming.Everytime those idiots on Fox talk there`s lots of

hot air.

Apr 8, 2013 2:12PM

Whatever the case maybe we are not doing a very good job taking care of our home (Earth) and at some point it will bite us in the a$$. Lets try to do better for a change. Besides, is clean air, water, and land that bad? More control of your own energy production? Having less waste and being more self sustainable? High paying tech jobs? Doesn't sound to bad to me. All can be done with a little more foresight, ignoring the idiots in DC, and minimal changes to our lifestyle, just can't be so lazy.

I think its time

Apr 10, 2013 1:41PM

Not that this is news or even surprising, but to whomever that is interested, lookup...


Oil conglomerate 'secretly funds climate change deniers'


and then you'll find the link to the article that you can read.

Apr 8, 2013 12:30PM
Ok but if average Global temperatures haven't gone up in the last 30 years, then why is the Northwest Passage opening up for the first time to make it a viable alternative shipping route?  Are you saying that you don't believe the Northwest Passage is opening up?  Is it divine intervention that is opening it up? or maybe magic?
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