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Arctic’s Legendary Northwest Passage is Ice-Free for the First Time in Recorded History

Arctic_northwest_passage_3 The North-West Passage, the sea route that runs along the Arctic coastline of North America, should be perilously clogged with thick ice this time of year. However, the passageway is now almost completely ice-free.

"Since August 21 the North-West Passage is open to navigation. This is the first time that it happens," Nalan Koc, head of the Norwegian Polar Institute's climate change program, told reporters in Longyearbyen, a town in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

"The Arctic ice sheet currently extends on 4.9m square kilometers. In September 2005 it measured 5.3m square kilometers."

Koc quoted research from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, where scientists monitor the surface of the Arctic ice sheet at regular intervals. Last week they noted "the imminent opening" of the North-West Passage.

"Analysts confirm that the passage is almost completely clear and that the region is more open than it has ever been since the advent of routine monitoring in 1972," they said in research conclusions published on the center's website.

The route was first navigated in the early 1900s by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who later beat Robert F Scott in the race to the South Pole in 1911. Amundsen and his crew took nearly two years to pick their way through a labyrinth of narrow lanes of open water and thick ice. But now it’s pretty much smooth sailing.

The news is another global warming milestone and somewhat expected. It has long been believed that Arctic sea routes, including the North-West Passage and its northeast counterpart along the coast of Siberia, will become more passable as the Earth's temperature climbs. Both are considered strategic cargo routes because they are shortcuts between the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In a few years the route could be completely accessible to commercial shipping.

As inaccessible areas of the planet become more accessible, we can expect nations to become increasingly territorial in claiming those areas as there own. Historically, much of the Arcmtic has been uninhabitable, and therefore the question of ownership wasn’t all that important. But over the past few decades things have started to heat up—both literally and figuratively.

Canada and Denmark, for example, are currently embroiled in a battle over sovereignty over Hans Island, a small, uninhabited barren knoll off of Greenland.

Already the Russian gas giant Gazprom is eyeing the exploitation of the world's largest gas offshore field, Shtokman, off the coast of northern Siberia. This month Russia caused international controversy when they planted a flag on the seabed under the north pole to symbolically claim the region. The act has more than just annoyed Canada, who claims the area belongs solely to them.

Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has pledged to spend billions defending Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic if necessary, and is planning a military deep-water port.

Last month, Harper announced that six to eight new patrol ships will be built to guard the Northwest Passage sea route in the Arctic, which the U.S. insists does not belong to Canada, or anyone else. U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins has criticized Harper's promise to defend the Arctic, calling the Northwest Passage "neutral waters."

However, Harper refuses to step down on the issue stating, "Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it."

Currently, several countries are competing to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed including Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark. According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Arctic has as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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This is not the first arctc warming in history, although it is very serious. Look at and read about previous arctic warming, in the 20th century.

Also, there is no point in discussing climatge if political, economical, you-name-it borders come in discussion. With climate it's either this or nothing. If we would pay attention to the oceans, maybe we would find answers to the climate-change related questions.

As has been thoroughly documented, the earth has gone through many cycles and the north has been ice free before. (News Flash example here )
As David Deutsch points out in your first most excellent post, we have to figure out what we are going to do. The problem existed before we were aware of it and no Kyoto is going to come close to what everyone seems to think needs to happen. This problem cannot be addressed by ruining ourselves in the vain attempt at cutting back emissions. It's too late for that. Global warming is going to happen. We will have to adapt. Oceans are going to rise? Guess we better move some cities. As I mentioned before, we have more serious problems than this coming down the pipeline.

On the issue of who has claim to the passage, being from the neighborhood I would seem to have some proprietary feelings about it all....I would like to say it belongs to Canada. It shall be interesting to see how it all pans out. I'm thinking I'll buy some more land though....prospecting as it were. As for Harper and his boats....I'm somewhat embarrassed by all that.


The following URL documents several times in the past 100 years when the Northwest Passage has been ice-free -- it is far from 'unprecedented.' There is no excuse for this sloppy reporting, but it is another example of the dishonesty of those who wish to scare us about global warming.

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these pics are great

excellent image of the Arctic. visit and view hundreds of Arctic and Antarctic images take some years ago.


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