Northwest Passage Open for Business?
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 09.18.07 | 12:30 PM ET
When we picked the Northwest Passage as one of our Seven Wonders of the Shrinking Planet, we didn’t anticipate just how apt the “shrinking” moniker would be. The AP is reporting that the Arctic ice has reached its lowest-ever recorded level, meaning that a navigable passage could be open much sooner than previously predicted.
The passage is now ice-free, but is expected to freeze again with the arrival of winter. The question for international shipping purposes—and future travelers—is when it will begin to stay open year-round, or at least become a stable, predictable seasonal route. Previous estimates had ranged as late as 2080, but new satellite images of the melting ice have some scientists reassessing that. Mark Serreze, of the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, gave his best guess in a LiveScience story: “The notion of coming to an ice free Arctic Ocean even by 2030 is not totally unreasonable.”
Meanwhile, Canada, Russia, the United States and Denmark continue to jockey for position in the region. Russian scientists recently planted a flag on the ocean floor below the ice pack, and the Canadian government is moving ahead with plans to increase Canada’s military presence in the high Arctic, building a new deep-water port and acquiring a fleet of ice-breakers to patrol the passage.
At least one Canadian commentator opposes the military build-up, calling instead for the government to stake Canada’s claim by creating a string of “marine protected areas” through the region. “Our claim to the Arctic must go deeper than soldiers on the tundra and anemic icebreakers crunching what is left of our melting seascape,” Sabine Jessen wrote in the Globe and Mail. “It must be based on more than our greed over potential oil reserves. Our claim to the Arctic must also prove a ‘Canadianism’—a place we cherish and protect, defending that true north so it remains strong and free—and wild.”