The Future of Arctic Shipping



Malte Humpert, founder and executive director and Andreas Raspotnik, analyst, both at The Arctic Institute, Washington, DC, USA


Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly, and within the next decade the effects of global warming may transform the Polar region from an inaccessible frozen desert into a seasonally navigable ocean. The summer of 2011 saw a record 33 ships, carrying 850,000 tons of cargo navigate the Northern Sea Route (NSR) off Russia’s northern coast. This year’s shipping season may see up to 1.5 million tons of cargo, as Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute predicts the NSR to be ice-free and passable for ships by early summer.

The North West Passage (NWP), first ice-free in 2007, and the Transpolar Sea Route (TSR) may also open up to shipping traffic over the coming decades. An in-depth assessment of the viability of shipping along the TSR will be published in the upcoming Arctic Yearbook 2012, which will be available from the Northern Research Forum’s website from October 2012. The development of Arctic offshore hydrocarbon resources and related economic activities will also improve the integration of the Arctic economy in global trade patterns. Multi-year ice and the limited seasonal window for trans-Arctic voyages however, will for the foreseeable future remain formidable obstacles to the development of Arctic shipping and its economic viability. Trans-Arctic shipping routes will thus not serve as a substitute for existing shipping lanes, but will instead provide new and additional capacity for a growing transportation volume…

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