Northwest Passage, At Last?

I read recently that thanks to global warming, the northern ice cap may soon become seasonal, such that in the spring it will thaw completely and become open ocean until the next fall.

Assuming this is true, will this mean shipping will begin to use it, at least for part of the year?

Economically, it seems compelling. Some modern tankers and freighters are too large for the Panama Canal, so payloads bound from Europe to Asia often have to go all the way south around the tip of South America, then through most of the Pacific before reaching its destination (or the same thing in reverse for Asia-to-Europe traffic).

Look at any globe and you’ll see how big a difference the Northwest Passage would make, if it were possible.

In fact, it makes SUCH a huge difference that I’m a little surprised there aren’t already freighters with icebreaking hulls, making the trip that way despite the ice.

What say the Teeming Millions?

The arctic environment cannot handle oil spills the way that southern climes can. Any oil shipping will require far more rugged tankers than presently in use.

According to this source, global warming might not be such a boon for shipping.

They also point out the probability of, and current trend toward, increased iceberg hazards and pack ice accumulations. Icebergs and pack ice congestion are far more hazardous and difficult than simple sea ice.

I think the northwest passage is already in pretty regular use. Every summer icebreakers clear the way for shipping, following this route.

I don’t think you’d want oil tankers traversing the arctic. They rely on satellite imagery to find warm currents to sail in. This keeps the oil more viscous, which makes it easier to unload.