May 30, 2011

Warmer Arctic Means Less Trucking, More Shipping

Whatever one may think of global warming, a new study illustrates that the Arctic is staying warmer for longer. Just visit the roads that are built on the ice in the winter for proof, AFP is reporting.

"As sea ice continues to melt, accessibility by sea will increase, but the viability of an important network of roads that depend on freezing temperatures is threatened by a warming climate," said Scott Stephenson of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The new study is the first to detail mundane, but vital considerations to regional climate changes in the Arctic. Stephenson's team devised a computer model about accessibility to the Arctic and combined it with climate simulations used by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The simulations are based on expected temperature increases of 3.6-6.2 degrees Fahrenheit overall in the Arctic by 2050, with an even greater rise in winter of 7.2-10.8 F.

A huge loss will be temporary roads that are built on ice, for they will become unstable or swampy as the mercury rises. These routes play a vital part in providing access to remote areas in the eight countries -- Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States -- that have land within the Arctic Circle.

By mid-century, between 11 percent and 82 percent of areas that are currently accessible by roads in these countries will be out of reach, says the study.

A warming climate, especially in the extreme north will have a devastating effect on roads in the Arctic but open up routes for shipping, according to a study published on Sunday in the specialist journal Nature Climate Change.

Previous research has already pinpointed the Arctic as one of the world's most climate-sensitive areas. Four consecutive years of shrinking summer sea ice have fired talk of new, cost-saving ocean links between Europe and Asia and prospects of a scramble to exploit the region's wealth of oil, gas and precious minerals.

The loss of land routes will however be a boon for shipping. Commercial ships which have limited ice-breaking capability would be able to use three of the four major shipping routes from July to September.

Ships could sail from Rotterdam Europe directly to Alaska; from Amderma in northwestern Russia to the Russian Far East port of Provideniya; and from the Canadian port of Churchill to Murmansk in Russia.

"This will be good news for global shipping interests, who stand to reap savings by moving cargo through these passages rather than through the Panama Canal, Suez Canal or the Strait of Malacca," Stephenson was quoted in a UCLA press release as saying.

The Northwest Passage, however, would be an exception as it is not expected to become fully passable for the entire summer by that date.


Image 2: Arctic shipping routes. Credit: UCLA


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