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Melting the Northwest Passage

Global warming has finally opened up the Northwest Passage, a trade route explorers tried (and failed) to conquer for centuries

Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along the northern coast of Canada and America, the legendary Northwest Passage’s Arctic ice levels have melted to record lows, opening the way for a commercial sea route within the next few years.

Historically, the passage is a route few have managed to navigate. In 1903, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen spent three years leading the first successful expedition to travel the passage. In the early 1940s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch was the second vessel to manage the journey, and was recorded as the first ship to smash its way through the ice of the Northwest Passage in both directions. The first commercial ship to cross the sea route was the SS Manhattan in 1969.

Ice in the Arctic Ocean continues to thin. Scientists have discovered that between the summer of 2006 and 2007, the Arctic’s ice covering was reduced by a million square kilometres and now predict the Northwest Passage could be used commercially in the next five to ten years. This would provide a shorter, quicker and more efficient route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Vessels traveling between Europe and Asia via the Northwest Passage instead of the current route through the Panama Canal could cut thousands of kilometres off their trip and save weeks’ worth of time. The Northwest Passage potentially cuts the trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean by approximately one third. Fuel consumption and polluting emissions from ships making the journey would also be cut by the same amount. The Northwest Passage would also allow for the use of larger vessels that often cannot make it through the Panama Canal, and would therefore further cut down pollution by reducing total number of vessels.

The shipping industry is already examining the idea of building heavy duty ships that will survive the harsh arctic conditions and heavy ice that may be encountered.

Is opening the Northwest Passage as a commercial trade route a good idea? Could this be a possible advantage of global warming?

The floor is yours …