Researchers from UCLA were surprised to find that the Arctic ice sheet is expected to thin to the point that polar icebreakers will be able to navigate between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by making a straight shot over the North Pole, according to predictions by the researchers. The route would be 20 percent shorter than today's most-trafficked Arctic shipping lane, the Northern Sea Route, which hugs the coast of Russia.
The new lanes would be navigable in the late summer months as a result of an unprecedented amount of melted sea ice. Whilst this would be beneficial from an economic perspective, the development is worrisome in terms of safety for the Arctic environment.
The study, which is the first thorough assessment of trans-Arctic shipping potential as global temperatures continue to rise, is based on independent climate forecasts for the years 2040 to 2059.
"We're talking about a future in which open-water vessels will, at least during some years, be able to navigate unescorted through the Arctic, which at the moment is inconceivable," said co-author Scott R. Stephenson, a Ph.D. candidate in the UCLA Department of Geography.
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