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  September 19th, 2016 | Written by

Year-Long North Pole Shipping Could Become Reality By End Of Century

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  • Arctic shipping could save 10 days on a voyage from Europe to Asia.
  • Arctic shipping—climate change could provide economic opportunities.
  • Transarctic shipping could reduce costs and journey times.

Reductions in sea ice in the Arctic could lead to quicker and more regular shipping directly across the North Pole, according to new research from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Using the latest generation of climate model projections, climate scientists examined the likelihood of when shipping routes across the Arctic would become reliably open. During the twenty-first century the chance that non-specialized vessels could make the journey is expected to more than double, with more years than not being accessible along the northern sea route across the top of Siberia by mid-century, potentially saving 10 days on a voyage from Europe to Asia. Moderately strengthened vessels would likely be able to make transits for ten to twelve months by the end of the century.

“The reduction in summer sea ice, perhaps the most striking sign of climate change, may also provide economic opportunities,” said Nathanael Melia, a climate scientist at the University of Reading. “There is renewed interest in transarctic shipping because of potentially reduced costs and journey times between Asia and the Atlantic. So far only a few commercial vessels have utilized these routes as they are not currently reliably open.”

The length of time available for journeys during summer increases from around a few weeks to a few months in the Arctic, but with considerable variability from year to year. “Ice-strengthened ships will regularly be able to sail a direct route across the North Pole for most of the year by the end of the century,” Melia said, “assuming medium to high future greenhouse gas emissions.”

“These findings also suggest a potential increase in destination shipping in the Arctic,” said Ed Hawkins, associate professor of meteorology at the University of Reading and a co-author of the study. “However, there are a number of important economic and environmental factors which will determine whether the increased transit opportunities outweigh the risks involved.”