The melting of northern ice continues to open long-pursued arctic sea routes to practical navigation, according to a new Arctic Institute Center for Circumpolar Security Studies (CCSS) report.
By the middle of November 2012, when ice closes the Northern Sea Route (along Eurasia’s north shore from the Bering Strait to Murmansk), shipping volume will have soared more than 75% above 2011 tonnage—to about 1.5 million tons, up from 850,000 tons.
Since the Arctic Ocean ice cap seems to be retreating towards Greenland and Canada’s Nunavut Territory, the Northern Sea Route is the first of the three principal arctic sea lanes to become navigable.
…CCSS analysts Malte Humpert and Andreas Raspotnik note that some northern connections between European and Asian ports can be as much as 40 percent shorter than courses carrying ships through the Suez Canal. This saves fuel and salaries on each trip, of course. It also allows ship-owners to make more trips per year or, alternatively, make super-slow trips—attractive because dropping a ship’s speed by 40% can double its fuel efficiency, cutting both costs and emissions.
…As the authors point out, “Global shipping operations depend on three key factors: predictability, punctuality, and economy-of-scale,” all still problematic along Arctic routes. But the ice cap’s steady retreat suggests that these important supports will evolve.