Global warming: Geographers eye future Arctic shipping routes

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The fastest navigation routes for ships seeking to cross the Arctic Ocean by mid-century include the Northwest Passage (on the left) and over the North Pole (center), in addition to the Northern Sea Route (on the right).

New study looks at Arctic sea ice projections and also explores geopolitical issues

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new study helps quantify some of recent speculation about shipping routes through the Arctic, indicating that, in 40 years, normal seagoing vessels will be able to  navigate previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean without the help of icebreakers.

The Arctic ice sheet is expected to thin to the point that polar icebreakers will be able to navigate between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by making a straight shot over the North Pole, according to UCLA geographers Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson. Continue reading

Caution urged on Arctic shipping and development

Bowhead whales. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Impacts to marine mammals a big concern with more traffic in Bering Strait

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Conservation experts and indigenous people in the far north urged caution as trans-Arctic shipping increases in the formerly ice-choked waters of the Arctic ocean.

The rapid increase in commercial ship traffic poses a significant risk to the region’s marine mammals and the local communities that rely on them for food security and cultural identity, according to Alaska Native groups and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who convened at a recent workshop.

“The disappearance of summer sea ice from the region’s coastal areas is leading to major changes in this part of the world,” said Dr. Martin Robards, Director of the World Conservation Society’s Beringia Program and one of the event’s organizers. Continue reading

Arctic politics are heating up along with the climate

A National Snow & Ice Data Center view of Blue Marble image for January with country borders and labels; northern limit of forests (green line); International Date Line (dashed black line); and the North Pole referenced (red cross). Click on the image for more images.

Emerging powers eye access to Arctic resources

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Air temperatures aren’t the only thing heating up in the Arctic. With the potential for tapping new energy sources, tourism, shipping routes and other development, several countries are looking to gain political influence over future decisions in the region by seeking spots as permanent observers on the Arctic Council.

India, China and Brazil are all “knocking on the door” of the council, according to a report from the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, a public policy think tank that’s hosting the upcoming Arctic Security Conference. Continue reading

Global warming will spur commerce in Arctic

The NOAA ship Fairweather will start charting Arctic waters this year. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

NOAA ship to chart waters in anticipation of increased growth in shipping and commerce in Arctic

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Loss of Arctic sea ice has advanced to the point that shipping companies are seriously looking for new routes  that could speed commerce through the polar region. But navigational charts for the area are outdated, so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has sent a survey ship to map the area.

“Commercial shippers aren’t the only ones needing assurances of safety in new trade routes,” said Captain John Lowell, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The additional potential for passenger cruises, commercial fishing and other economic activities add to pressures for adequate response to navigational risks.” Continue reading

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