Climate change clearing Arctic shipping routes

  • Researchers at the University or California, Los Angeles, are predicting that new summer Arctic shipping routes will open within the next 50 years due to global warming, based on analysis of climate model projections for sea ice.
  • It is expected that eventually there will be no need for icebreakers to blaze a path through the ice, meaning that the Arctic will be navigable by ordinary vessels.
  • This development is likely to be economically beneficial, but may pose environmental and safety risks for ships travelling on new routes.
  • Ice cap thinning may mean that icebreakers could negative directly across the North Pole. This route would be 20% shorter than the unreliable Northwest Passage, which can currently only be navigated approximately one in every seven years.

Implications and next steps: New and more reliable Arctic shipping routes may provide economic opportunities for UK shipping industries but there are questions about the potential environmental impact (such as the possibility of oil leaks) and safety concerns when navigating this treacherous region. Governance of shipping activities in the Arctic may require international agreements and collaborations.

PNAS:; UCLA Newsroom:

About annaarathe

Research fellow, horizon scanning
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