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Near Record Arctic Ice Melt Opens Up Shipping Lanes

August 4, 2011

irishweatheronline

Russian icebreaker '50 Years of Victory' reaches the North Pole on 01 July. Photo - T. Alekseeva

Russian icebreaker ’50 Years of Victory’ reaches the North Pole on 01 July. Photo – T. Alekseeva

Icebreaker-free shipping through the Northern Sea Route can now proceed following a near-record rate of Arctic ice melt, Russia’s environmental agency announced on Wednesday.

The Federal Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring Service said that an expansive area of the Northern Sea Route has allowed for the opening of shipping lanes fit for cargo traffic between Europe and Asia.

A Belgium-owned tanker ship has already successfully transported oil condensate through the Bering Strait to a port in China.

The Northern Sea Route, sometimes referred to as the Northeast Passage,  is a shipping lane officially defined by Russian legislation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from Murmansk on the Barents Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait and Far East. The entire route lies in Arctic waters and parts are free of ice for only two months per year.

However, a 56% decline in ice extent in many areas has now left enabled marine shipping to continue through to the middle of autumn.

Bloomberg reported last month that Russia plans to revive a Soviet-era Arctic sea passage to service energy projects and provide a shorter supply route to Asia. Opening the northern sea route may allow state-owned company Sovcomflot to speed natural-gas deliveries to China and secure new cargos between Europe and Asia by offering a quicker alternative to the Suez Canal.

CNN feature on Russia’s Arctic icebreakers at work (April 2011).

A graphical comparison between the North East Passage (blue) and an alternative route through Suez Canal (red). CREDIT:  Kazakhstan_(orthographic_projection)

A graphical comparison between the North East Passage (blue) and an alternative route through Suez Canal (red). CREDIT: Kazakhstan_(orthographic_projection)
Sea Ice Concentration 2007 and 2011. Image by The University of Illinois

Sea Ice Concentration 2007 and 2011. Image by The University of Illinois
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