The Arctic’s declining sea ice has meant more opportunities for the shipping industry to expand its use of the region that in decades past was unnavigable for the vast majority of the year.
The Northwest Passage through Canada and the Northern Sea Route, or Northeast Passage, north of Russia and Siberia, are both valued because they could significantly shorten ship transit times between Asia, Europe, and North America.
To illustrate this increase in ship activity in the Arctic, a team of scientists has banded together to analyze and map more than 120 million data points in order to track where ships are most using the region.
To make the map, the team, led by Paul Arthur Berkman, director of the science diplomacy center at Tufts University, and Greg Fiske, a geospatial analyst at the Woods Hole Research Center, used data compiled by SpaceQuest, a company designs microsatellites that can monitor the track Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ships.
Once the data was plotted, there were some interesting observations to be made.
Looking at the data, Berkman, Fiske, and their colleagues found that the mean center of shipping activity moved 300 kilometers north and east—closer to the North Pole—over the 7-year span.
Notably, they were particularly surprised to find more small ships, such as fishing boats, wading farther into Arctic waters. The team also plotted the AIS ship tracks against sea ice data from NSIDC and found that ships are encountering ice more often and doing so farther north each year.
Despite the seemingly growing opportunities for shipping, the increasing number of ships in the region has given rise to serious concerns about pollution, oil spills, and disturbances to marine life, among other possible impacts.
Berkman is the coordinator and lead investigator of Pan-Arctic Options, which provides objective information that can guide the placement of infrastructure and the management of activities such as search and rescue and pollution response.
Now whether or not open Arctic waters will be long-term boon for shipping remains to be seen, but scientists agree that the melting trend does not bode well for the Arctic environment as we have known it.
“Arctic sea ice cover continues to be in a decreasing trend, and this is connected to the ongoing warming of the Arctic,” said Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s a two-way street: the warming means less ice is going to form, and more ice is going to melt. But also, because there is less ice, less of the Sun’s radiation is reflected off of Earth, and this contributes to the warming.”
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.