By mid-century, open water vessels (blue) could navigate above both Russia and Canada, while reinforced vessels could go straight across the pole.


North Pole may be open enough for reinforced shipping by mid-century

Northwest Passage, Russian coastal routes will admit open water vessels.

by John Timmer – Mar 5 2013, 1:15pm EST

With Arctic sea ice reaching record lows, people have begun to explore routes through Canada’s Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route above the coast of Russia. These routes have the potential to significantly shorten transit times between Asia and both Europe and North America, reducing shipping costs and fostering international trade.

At the moment there is little guarantee that the routes will be open in any given year, which is enough to keep shippers from taking full advantage of the shrinking ice. Having a better grip on when the ice is likely to recede enough to allow shipping would greatly aid planning. So two geographers at UCLA took a series of climate models and ran the numbers for two emissions scenarios. Based on their estimates, lightly reinforced vessels could cross directly over the pole by mid-century, and regular vessels could traverse both the Russian and Canadian routes.

One of the problems here is that climate models have consistently underestimated how quickly the ice would be vanishing each summer. The authors therefore ran the full collection from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project and selected the five models that did the best with historic data. They then added in two additional models that have detailed, realistic representation of sea ice and the physics associated with it. This ensemble of models was then run using two different Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emissions scenarios, one on the low end of current trends and one on the high end.

Read more: North Pole may be open enough for reinforced shipping by mid-century | Ars Technica.

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