Arctic shipping routes are the nautical passages that allow the ships to navigate through the entirety of the Arctic. The Northeast Passage, the Northwest Passage, and one barely used Transpolar Sea Route are the three main routes that are used to navigate between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
The Northern Passage covers the routes of Canadian and Alaskan Coasts whereas the Northwest Passage courses through Russian and Norwegian Coasts. The Transpolar Sea Route, which is mostly unused, passes the Arctic through the North Pole.
The Arctic Bridge and the Northern Sea Route are the two additional significant passages that exist. The former is an internally curated Arctic sea route that connects Russia to Canada whereas the latter traces the Russian Coast from the Beijing Strait towards East and to the Kara Sea towards West.
Why are the Arctic Shipping Routes important?
Some years ago, these routes were only accessible by the ice-breaking ships as there would be a thick layer of ice throughout the routes. When the phenomenon of global warming started to course through the globe, it was observed that the concentration of ice had fallen by 30%. Although it proved harmful for the environment yet this served as a boon for the ships which couldn’t pass through these routes before.
It was on 27th September 2013 when the first non-ice-breaking cargo ship passed through the Arctic route. This route helped them save four days’ worth of travel time and fuel which was estimated to cost around $200,000. This not only shortened the route but also paved a way for the ships to carry the bulky loads as there is much more depth above Canadian water which allows the vessel to rest as lower as possible.
The combination of the shorter travel time, less fuel consumption, and carrying of bulky loads, significantly benefitted the ships which accessed the Arctic routes. This boosted the shipping efficiency and lowered the emissions as well.
Are the Arctic Shipping Routes posing any threats?
Although the melting of ice aided the ships to travel in lesser time using lesser fuel, it seriously affected the environment. Now with the easy access to the Arctic routes, the number of vessels has also increased. An individual ship may produce less black carbon emissions, due to lesser usage of fuel but with the enhancement in the number of ships that travel through that passage, the overall percentage of carbon emissions has increased. This has led to further melting of the glaciers.
Along with that, the underwater natural habitat suffers a great deal. The fish, the corals, in fact, the whole marine habitat get disturbed due to the increased usage of these routes. Also, there is a lingering threat of oil spilling which could severely affect the habitat along with the natural water bodies.
Global warming is no joke and it has been affecting us severely. Thus, if it is continued in the same manner, it would disrupt many life processes and prove problematic for all.