Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29, 2010 : Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The various islands of the archipelago are separated from one another and the Canadian mainland by a series of Arctic waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages. 

Sought by explorers for centuries as a possible trade route, it was first navigated by Roald Amundsen in 1903–1906. Until 2009, the Arctic pack ice prevented regular marine shipping throughout most of the year, but climate change has reduced the pack ice, and this Arctic shrinkage made the waterways more navigable. However, the contested sovereignty claims over the waters may complicate future shipping through the region: The Canadian government considers the Northwestern Passages part of Canadian Internal Waters, but various countries maintain they are an international strait or transit passage, allowing free and unencumbered passage.

There has been speculation that with the advent of global warming the passage may become clear enough of ice to again permit safe commercial shipping for at least part of the year. On August 21, 2007, the Northwest Passage became open to ships without the need of an icebreaker. According to Nalan Koc of the Norwegian Polar Institute this is the first time it has been clear since they began keeping records in 1972. The Northwest Passage opened again on August 25, 2008.

Thawing ocean or melting ice simultaneously opened up the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route (Northeast Passage), making it possible to sail around the Arctic ice cap. Compared to 1979, Daily Mail published "Blocked: The Arctic ice, showing as a pink mass in the 1979 picture, links up with northern Canada and Russia." Awaited by shipping companies, this 'historic event' will cut thousands of miles off their routes. Warning, however, that the NASA satellite images indicated the Arctic may have entered a "death spiral" caused by global warming, Professor Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), USA, said: "The passages are open. It's a historic event. We are going to see this more and more as the years go by." Due to Arctic shrinkage, the Beluga group of Bremen, Germany, announced plans to send the first ship through the Northern Sea Route in 2009, which may shorten the trip from Germany to Japan by 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km; 4,600 mi). However, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that "ships entering the North-West passage should first report to his government."

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