SkyscraperCity Forum banner

Arctic Shipping Lanes Open as Polar Ice Retreats

48602 Views 87 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  hkskyline
Arctic shipping lanes to open as polar ice bids a retreat
Rapid arctic climate change is set to open the northern seas for a major expansion in oil transportation and exploration
24 May 2005
Lloyd's List

FOR ALL the controversy surrounding the science of global warming, the shipping industry can be sure of the fact that the retreat of the polar ice cap means commercial Arctic sea lanes will be a reality by 2050.

Centuries of romance surrounding the icy fate of explorers, such as Martin Frobisher, Wilhelm Barents or John Franklin, and their search for a northern passage over the next few decades will melt into reality.

Arctic climate researchers with extensive recent field work report that change from the later half of the 20th century has been unprecedented.

Experts from the US Arctic Research Commission in Alaska to organisations such as Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research agree there is no evidence this process is going to let up.

This July, the science will be published in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment following approval in November by international forum the Arctic Council in Reykjavik.

“The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth”, emphasises US Arctic Research Commission deputy executive director Dr Lawson Brigham. “Each of the five global climate models used offer a continuous decline in Arctic sea ice cover throughout the 21st century. The observed retreat of Arctic sea ice is a real phenomenon.”

The importance of these findings to the industry was in evidence recently at a Lloyd’s List Arctic conference that drew top figures from across shipping.

An Arctic marine strategic plan, lead by Iceland and Canada through the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group, has set down an initial map of the risks posed by shipping and the energy industry for the region’s environment and people.

The Reykjavik summit also established a full-scale Arctic marine shipping assessment, with Canada, Finland and the US at the helm, over the next three years.

Even the staunchest sports utility vehicle enthusiast can no longer dispute the steady decrease in polar ice cover, even if explanations how and why are hotly disputed.

The paradox for shipping is that this dramatic sea change — viewed by others as a global catastrophe — holds out huge business opportunities.

And the driving force for this will be oil and gas transportation through the Russian northern seas, and to a lesser extent through the North American Arctic, and demand for more of the very fossil fuels behind the ice’s steady retreat.

By the mid-century a wider expanse of open water in the Arctic during the summer will offer shipping seasonal trade lanes, as accumulated multi-layer ice in the central Arctic decreases and sea ice thins around the ocean.

An ice-free summer Arctic Ocean by 2050, with multi-year ice in the sea disappearing, is one likelihood, with remaining sea ice in summer by 2100 retreating further away from most Arctic coasts.

Other projections for the end of the century calculate a 25% probability of unimpeded access along the Northern Sea Route for almost 180 days of the year.

“There are many variables, but it is clear that warming in the Arctic is occurring”, adds US Arctic Research Commission chair George B Newton. “More and more of the Arctic will become ice free each year and will be that way for longer periods of time.

“Routine Arctic shipping will be possible in about three decades, limited to shorter voyages with intercontinental transit later.”

Effected areas include the Russian Littoral, the Canadian archipelago, the Lincoln Sea north of Greenland and off the Alaskan north slope, all of which are shallow water or continental shelf areas where first year ice forms.

The latest observational data suggests a 3% decrease per decade in sea ice, with perennial pack ice diminishing by 7% every ten years and ice thickness reductions reported between 14% to 32% over the time span.

“This has great significance for Arctic marine shipping since multi-year ice would essentially disappear, with all the next winter’s sea ice first-year”, adds Dr Brigham.

“Global climate models to the end of the century suggest increased marine access and an extended season of navigation in nearly all Arctic regional seas.”

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research meteorologist Dr Jan Lieser, who has participated in three Arctic expeditions on the German RV Polarstern, points out that there has been a steady retreat in sea ice cover since 1978, with a record ice loss in September 2002.

Scientific analysis of the Canadian Arctic Northwest Passage has not been clear-cut, with inter-annual variability of observed sea ice in the region.

However, observation of Russia’s northern sea route from the Kara Gate to the Bering Strait shows a lengthening season for shipping through the century. With ice remaining on the tip of Severnaya Zemlaya, ACIA research suggests there will be a reliance on a transit route through Vilkitskii Strait between the seas of Kara and Laptev, rather than further north in the open Arctic Ocean.

And, amid all the talk of a doomsday in the cryosphere, Arctic experts are also at pains to stress that research indicates that winter Arctic sea ice will undergo only a modest decrease in coming years.

“There will always be an ice covered Arctic Ocean in winter, although the ice may be thinner and contain less multi-year ice”, adds Dr Brigham.

The ACIA research has also led to the development of an ice atlas of the future, which will offer a strategic, long range view of the possible shape over coming decades of sea ice and marine access in the Arctic basin.

“Sea-going interests will look to the polar routes as a way to reduce costs”, observes Mr Newton. “Transit time and distance savings of nearly 40% can be anticipated using either Russian or Canadian routes.”

One major concern for shipping, apart from the economics of commercial Arctic exploitation, will be safety, with increased oil production and shipping raising the spectre of oil spillage.

“With easier access and increased shipping, and on and offshore exploitation of fuel resources, the concern for an oil spill in high latitude, ice-infested waters becomes very real”, warns Mr Newton.

“It is an event the world is ill prepared to face”.

With 982 spills of at least 10,000 gallons since 1960 off high traffic areas, such as the English Channel and Florida and Malacca Straits, Mr Newton argues that an accident at some point statistically is not unlikely.

“One must assume that a significant oil spill will occur some day in the Arctic Ocean sea ice”, he warns.

The environmental impact of increased oil shipments in the region is an important aspect of a three-year EC-backed research programme into the development of a marine transportation network in Russia’s northern sea routes. Arctic Operational Platform started in 2002 and has counted 22 participants from seven countries, including Russia, Finland, Norway, Germany and Great Britain.

ARCOP figures project a twelvefold growth of export volume by the end of the decade to 102.9m tonnes of crude from northern Russian ports from 8.1m tonnes in 2003, with a peak estimate of around 151.m tonnes.

Big projects include the Shtokman gas project in the Barents, and the inshore terminal at Varandey in the Pechora Sea, as well as the Prirazlomnoye offshore field.

Another Pechora Sea project at Indiga is set to yield 50m by 2010 for Transneft, and is an alternative to Lukoil’s proposed development of Varandey, which already pumps 400,000 tonnes of oil and could yield 20m at full pelt or 12m projected for 2010.

Lukoil’s joint development of Severodvinsk with Taftnet is expected to offer 10m tonnes by the end of the decade and 15m at its peak.

Tambeyneftegaz’s plans for Tambey potentially tripling from 10m tonnes at the end of the decade.

Rosneft has its hand in three projects, with exports in 2010 via the more easterly Dikson development up to 10m and via Arkhangelsk more than doubling to 4.2m with a potential for 7m tonnes. The offshore Prirazlomnoye field is inked for 5.9m tonnes by the end of the decade going to perhaps 7m tonnes.

“Russia is the biggest supplier of oil and gas to Europe and Europe is the biggest user of Russian oil and gas”, explains project co-ordinator Kimmo Juurmaa of Aker Finnyards.

“For the participating European and Russian industries, this project gives ideas of how to develop their products.”

The project focused on an oil transportation scenario from Varandey to Rotterdam, with the development of the south-east part of the Barents considered a realistic first step in the development of the region.

Taking a conservative hypothetical transport volume of 328,000 barrels per day or 16m tonnes per year, the project has also presumed $15 per tonne for the Varandey-Rotterdam route.

The shipping analysis focuses on six areas of concern ranging from ice and navigational information to legal and cross border issues.

The big stumbling block for many investors has been the legal status of the northern sea routes, with the confused state of ice classification rules and the cost of insurance.

For now shipping has to assess the economics and feasibility of an Arctic transportation system, with suitable tanker sizes and corresponding icebreaking alternative.

With shallow coastlines and approaches requiring offshore loading, specially-designed terminals and sub-sea pipelines, along with testing conditions for manpower and machinery, Arctic projects will be a huge operational challenge.

And it is these issues that the shipping industry will have to assess over the next decade if commercial sea lanes are to be a reality in 2050.
See less See more
61 - 69 of 88 Posts
What to Know Before Cruising the Canadian Arctic
Condé Nast Traveler Excerpt
July 8, 2022

For more than 300 years, explorers attempted to find a water route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean through the treacherous Arctic Ocean before they found Northwest Passage in 1905. Now, even knowing that route, the Canadian Arctic remains one of the most untouched and undeveloped domains on the planet—making it an alluring challenge for adventurous souls.

Most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago lies in the sparsely populated Canadian territory of Nunavut, where the unique topography is characterized by endless spans of treeless tundra, hugged by cold waters only accessible to those who dare to dock on their rocky shorelines. Small planes operated by Canadian North or Calm Air connect many remote fly-in communities to Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital city, and the rest of Canada. However, travel by sea allows a visitor to see more of this region in a single trip. These cruises typically travel between Greenland and Nunavut, traversing through the Northwest Passage. After the cruise, small charter flights return passengers to a larger airport, like Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), where passengers can plan their connecting flights home.

Today, ships of all sizes cruise past some of the more than 36,000 islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada (and the fifth-largest island in the world), is home to Iqaluit, and the 2,300-square-mile Penny Ice Cap, a remnant of the last ice age. Thirteen different communities in the Canadian Arctic receive cruise passengers, departing from Iqaluit to Kinngait, known for its many sculptures and line drawing artists, and sailing through the Northwest Passage to Pond Inlet. Smaller ships, like those used by Adventure Canada or Quark Expeditions, can access more remote communities than large luxury liners that sometimes sail the region. Many ships also use zodiac expedition boats that allow passengers to visit uninhabited islands, enjoy guided hikes on the tundra, and get a closer look at glaciers and icebergs without risking damage to these natural wonders.

More : What to Know Before Cruising the Canadian Arctic
See less See more
How the melting Arctic could lead to huge riches—but also a world war
New York Post Excerpt
June 25, 2022

Santa’s getting company.

Fast-melting sea ice has opened a potential new Arctic shipping lane across the North Pole, which will give powerful nations easier access to the frozen zone’s vast riches — but has also sparked fears of war.

The Arctic Council predicts that, during the summers, sea ice will be gone by 2040 — allowing for a major new seasonal passageway. This Transpolar Sea Route (TSR) would be the fastest way to get around the region and could spur a spike in mining, drilling and trade over the next quarter-century.

Territorial stakes are yet to be sorted out. The US, Russia and six other countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway — are jockeying for claims to the surrounding area’s oil, gas and rare-earth minerals and metals: precious resources needed to power computers, phones, electric cars and satellites. China, meanwhile, is claiming “near Arctic” status so it, too, can benefit from the wealth of the region.

“Today is a pivotal moment that is going to reshape the energy market and the supply chain,” said Rebekah Koffler, an intelligence analyst and author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America.”

More : How the melting Arctic could lead to huge riches—but also a world war
See less See more
Arctic Shipping Routes: Russia’s Challenges and Uncertainties
The Barents Observer Excerpt
Aug 12, 2022

In March 2021 with global attention focused on the mega-container ship Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal, President Putin and his ministers were quick to proclaim that Russia’s Northern Sea Route (NSR) and the entire length of the Russian maritime Arctic were open for global shipping. Alternative marine routes to the Suez across the top of Russia would be shorter, safer and more efficient went the argument. Even the noted Finnish firm Aker Arctic released a new design for a small, icebreaking container ship specifically suited for NSR operations.

Now sixteen months later with an invasion of Ukraine and recent operational problems plaguing the NSR, the tables are turned on the Russian ‘grand vision’ for a new marine highway facilitating trade across the Arctic Ocean. From November of last year through early 2022 commercial ships were stuck in difficult sea ice along the eastern waters of the Russian maritime Arctic. A large rescue and escort operation ensued using Russia’s nuclear icebreakers to extract more than twenty ships on foreign and domestic trading voyages. Severe sea ice conditions early last autumn also delayed cargo ships for weeks in supplying northern communities. Observations made clear that reliable and safe trans-Arctic routes along the Northeast Passage, the historic name for Pacific to Atlantic marine routes across the top of Eurasia, were impassible.

The entire four-month saga sheds a dose of realism and doubt on the future of reliable Arctic marine navigation. Exposed in this serious marine incident are many of the environmental uncertainties, economic limitations, and practical navigation considerations that continue to constrain marine operations in this remote and hazardous ocean.

More : Arctic Shipping Routes: Russia’s Challenges and Uncertainties
See less See more
Chinese shippers shun Russian Arctic waters
The Barents Observer Excerpt
Aug 22, 2022

The far northern shipping route that stretches along Russia’s Arctic coast is almost ice-free and shipping in the area will soon reach this year’s peak.

Ice maps show open water across the lion’s share of the more than 5000 km long route that connects the Pacific with European Russia.

But the vanishing sea-ice notwithstanding, there will this year hardly be any foreign ships sailing the Northern Sea Route.

That includes the Chinese.

Judging from data from the Russian Northern Sea Route Administration, COSCO has not applied for sailing permission for a single of its vessels.

More : Chinese shippers shun Russian Arctic waters
See less See more
Biden to Name Arctic Ambassador as China Eyes Region
Voice of America Excerpt
Sept 1, 2022

The Biden administration plans to name an ambassador at large for the Arctic amid growing awareness of the potential strategic importance of the region, for which China is the latest major power to stake a claim.

It is not clear who the nominee will be, or when the nomination will be made, according to Politico. The nomination will be subject to Senate confirmation.

The geostrategic importance of the Arctic is growing as global warming makes the prospect of accessing the region's reserves of minerals and energy seem possible, and the development of new sea lanes likely.

Russia is expanding its military presence in the region, and China declared itself a "near-Arctic state" and its intent to establish a "Polar Silk Road" as part of it Belt and Road Initiative in a 2018 white paper.

With its "near-Arctic" status, the white paper says, China has the same rights as Arctic states, "including the right to conduct scientific research, navigate, perform flyovers, fish, lay submarine cables and pipelines, and even explore and exploit natural resources in the Arctic high seas."

More : Biden to Name Arctic Ambassador as China Eyes Region
See less See more
Inuit warn ‘rock concert-like’ noise from ships affecting Arctic wildlife
The Guardian Excerpt
Jan 25, 2023

For centuries, narwhals and ringed seals have provided food for Inuit communities on the ice floes of Mittimatalik, or Pond Inlet, on northern Canada’s Baffin Island. But now, the Inuit – who have hunted, trapped and fished in the region since long before the Hudson Bay Company opened its first Arctic trading camp here in 1921 – say they no longer find the narwhals where they should be. They say shipping noise is to blame.

Researchers have likened the passing of a single ice-breaker, increasingly present in the Arctic, to an underwater rock concert. Ship noise can be caused by everything from propellers to hull form to onboard machinery. It can disrupt activities that marine mammals need to survive, by shrinking their communication space, causing stress and displacing them from important habitats.

Underwater noise from increasing ship traffic has doubled in intensity in the Arctic over the past six years, and is expected to at least double again over the next decade, as the ice melts and new shipping routes open due to the climate crisis.

More : Inuit warn ‘rock concert-like’ noise from ships affecting Arctic wildlife
See less See more
As Arctic shipping traffic increases, Nome grapples with its future. 'It’s like a highway going right past us'
KYUK Excerpt
March 1, 2023

By 2050, ships traveling through the Arctic’s Northwest Passage may not need an icebreaker to escort them for the journey. In Nome, residents are wondering whether a new port will help or hinder efforts to address a myriad of chronic social problems. Some are also concerned that an onslaught of industrial marine traffic may impact Indigenous people, who have thrived along the coastline for generations.

One warm summer day, Austin Ahmasuk stood on Nome’s sand spit. A light breeze blew against his face as he looked over the thin slice of land that lies at the mouth of the Snake River and stretches out in front of the city’s port.

“When you look up 'sand spit, Nome,' and you look up historical photographs, you're going to see Alaska Native people living here, celebrating here, harvesting here,” Ahmasuk said.

More : As Arctic shipping traffic increases, Nome grapples with its future. 'It’s like a highway going right past us'
See less See more
Moscow is betting big on its Arctic shipping route as the costs of invading Ukraine continue to mount
ABC Excerpt
March 11, 2023

Russia is operating more icebreakers along its Arctic coast now than at any time in the country's three-decade, post-Soviet history.

Some are among the world's most-powerful nuclear vessels, and the country has plans to build even more, having committed to investing at least $US35 billion ($51.6 billion) into its frozen northern waters until 2035.

President Vladimir Putin is betting big on developing the world's next major shipping route, that will cut 4,000 nautical miles off the standard journey between Europe and Asia through Egypt's Suez Canal.

More : Vladimir Putin is betting big on developing a viable alternative to the Suez Canal
See less See more
With Arctic winter sea ice at annual low, urgent need to slash shipping emissions
American Journal of Transportation Excerpt
March 20, 2023

Responding to reports from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) that Arctic sea ice has reached its winter maximum, the fifth lowest in the 45-year satellite record, the Clean Arctic Alliance today called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to take immediate action to reduce fossil fuel emissions including black carbon from global shipping in order to rapidly reduce their impact on the Arctic.

The Alliance, consisting of 20 international non-for profit organisations also stressed the importance of the EU retaining reference to black carbon in a crucial review clause which would ensure that black carbon emissions from ships are considered at the first review of the bloc’s FuelEU shipping regulation.

“The devastating news that the Arctic sea ice maximum has reached one of the lowest extents recorded must drive an urgent and rapid slashing of emissions - particularly black carbon - from all sectors, including international shipping”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

More :
See less See more
61 - 69 of 88 Posts