News / Europe

    As North Pole Ice Melts, More Ships Take Arctic Shortcut

    As North Pole Ice Melts, More Ships Take Arctic Shortcuti
    X
    October 04, 2013 8:11 PM
    While many people are concerned about the negative effects of global warming, it's also creating benefits in some cases. By the end of September, the ice at the North Pole had melted to a level well below the average for the last 25 years. VOA's James Brooke reports from the Russian Arctic that as the ice retreats, ships have begun to fill the gap.
    James Brooke
    For centuries, polar bears have enjoyed Arctic waters in isolation. But now, they are getting company in the summer.

    Last summer, China sent its first icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, over the top of Russia, from Shanghai to Iceland.

    This summer, the Yong Sheng, a freighter operated by China's COSCO shipping company, became the first Chinese merchant vessel to take the shortcut. It sailed from Shanghai to Rotterdam, cutting two weeks off the usual route, through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

    Satellite photos by the U.S. space agency, NASA, show that the white Arctic ice around the North Pole shrinks every summer. It is replaced by more and more open water, which appears black in the photos.

    Even Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees with the American scientists.

    "It is absolutely clear now that the climate is changing. Everyone is talking about this,” he told an Arctic Forum held here recently. “It is clear now that the northern latitudes can be open for shipping for 100 days or perhaps 150 days, and that new regions are opening up for economic activity."

    • Salekhard, population 45,000, is the world's only city that straddles the Arctic Circle. This roadside monument marks this line that crossses the tundra. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • Modern Salekhard has been built by Russia’ state gas giant Gazprom as a center for one of the richest oil and gas regions in the world. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • Bright colors seek to cheer up residents in a city where snow falls in September and there are only two hours of daylight each day during December. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • There as many as half a million reindeer in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, the world center for raising reindeer. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • Nenets people cherish their traditions, which have survived 70 years of Soviet communism and two decades of Russian consumerism. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • Nenets carve souvenirs from walrus tusks. Tourism is limited because Russian authorities now demand additional permits to visit the city, a three hour flight from Moscow. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • Cossacks founded the city in 1598 on the eastern bank of it the River Ob, which flows north to the Arctic. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • Brightly colored tower beckons are seen in Salekhard. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • The road to the airport is decorated with static displays of airplanes and helicopters that pioneered polar aviation in the 20th century. (V. Undritz for VOA)
    • An old locomotive is a reminder of the period, from the 1930s to 1950s, when Salekhard was a gulag town. Thousands of prisoners died constructing what later became known as “The Railroad of Death”. (V. Undritz for VOA)

    Trans-Arctic trade

    While Russia invests in more icebreakers, Arctic experts gathered at the forum say they see growing opportunities for trade.

    Felix Tschudi, chairman of a Norwegian shipping company, has shipped iron ore from northern Norway to China.

    “We believe that the potential of the Northern Sea Route is large,” said Tschudi, a promoter of the route. “It will not be like an explosion. In 2010, there were four ships using the transit route. In 2011, there were 34. And in 2012 there were 46. This year we expect around 50 ships.”

    Lawson Brigham was the captain of a United States Coast Guard icebreaker based in Alaska.

    "Really, we're looking at a seasonal supplement to the Suez Canal, carrying natural resources,” he said. “We're not going to retool the global container ship traffic.”

    Environmental concerns

    Indigenous leaders and environmentalists worry about the potential for an oil spill in the fragile environment of the high north.

    Aqqaluk Lynge, from Greenland, is chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

    “You cannot use the Arctic as a laboratory. It's not a laboratory.  The Arctic Ocean is not the last frontier. It's our home. People have to remember that people live there,” he said at the conference. “We are very concerned about the tourist liners' travel routes up to east Greenland and other parts of Greenland because there's simply no rescue possibility in those areas.”

    But his neighbor Olafur Grimsson, the president of Iceland, welcomes Chinese ships.

    He told forum attendees: "Next month the CEO of COSCO, the largest shipping company in China, will explain at the new Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik how China is preparing for a new era in global shipping when the melting of the Arctic sea-ice will connect Asia in a new way to America and Europe.”

    What may be bad for polar bears, may be good for shipping between China and Europe.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Nakame, TKO
    October 05, 2013 8:16 PM
    Those ships going to Arctic waters should be well designed against brittle fracture, because the steels of ships become brittle in a low tempreture.
    The ships may be break without significant force, when brittle fracture happend.

    As you know, the cost of steel become higher and the cost of building ships higher. Only steel makers can get benefit from Arctic ocean going ships project.

    by: riano baggy from: indonesia
    October 05, 2013 6:34 AM
    maybe few years ago we not use icebreaker vessel to cross arctic, it good for commercial vessels BUT DANGEROUS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL and their HABITAT Now depend ourselves for economic for a few moment or for long time for our next generations.

    by: Jim Thompson from: Oregon
    October 05, 2013 1:34 AM
    Didn't you guys get the notification about the ships stuck in the ice? http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/arctic-ice-cap-growing-at-tremendous-rate/ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2415191/And-global-COOLING-Return-Arctic-ice-cap-grows-29-year.html

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora