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Shipping Routes May Go Straight Over the North Pole by Mid-Century

Here, at Key Software Systems, we provide dispatch management and software solutions for all levels of businesses in the shipping industry.  Being heavily involved in logistics, this courier dispatch software provider keeps a close eye on relevant news across the globe. Read further to see how shipping routes may be reaching more remote places than ever, including the North Pole!


On the same day that we learn that 2012 saw the second-highest rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations in half a century—bringing that crucial stat to just about 395 ppm, by the way—there's some pretty amazing research coming out of UCLA showing that by mid-century summer Arctic sea ice will be so thin that ice-breaking vessels would be able to blaze a shipping route directly over the North Pole, and that even ordinary ships will sometimes be able to operate unescorted along Arctic shipping routes.

The route over the North Pole is 20% shorter than the Northern Sea Route (which hugs the coast of Russia and is the most-traveled Arctic sea route today), for a trip between the Netherlands and Japan. It's 40% shorter than going through the Suez canal.

Right now the Northwest Passage (the companion route to the Northern Sea Route, going across the top of Canada) is open on average once in seven years — though it seems in the past five years at least it's been open in pretty much every one of them. If the scenarios examined in this study bear out, by mid-century it would be open on average every other year.

That said, the research states that, in the studied time period (2040-2059), these routes would only be navigable through late summer. Under the climate scenarios they examined, the sea ice would be still too thick for passage during winter months.

 To determine the effect of climate change and melting Arctic sea ice on shipping, the researchers examined seven different models on the properties of sea ice, under two different emissions scenarios (one assuming a 25% increase in carbon emissions, the other a 35% increase), on the possibilities of both ordinary ships and ones moderately strenghtened against ice, during the peak shipping month of September, when sea ice generally reaches its lowest extent.

"No matter which carbon emissions scenario is considered, by mid-century we will have passed a crucial tipping point [of] sufficiently thin sea ice, enabling moderately capable icebreakers to go where they please," said Laurence Smith, the professor of geography who led the research.

Smith also notes that this 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."

The part left out of that quote is how this will just exacerbate the slowly simmering tensions over territorial rights in an ice-free Arctic. National boundaries, while established under law, weren't of critical importance when the Arctic was mostly ice. But now they matter a great deal more. In part that's because of shipping, but even more so because of exploration rights for oil and natural gas that, in the some great planetary irony, are now far more accessible.

To read the full article, click here.

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