Direct Sea Routes Over The North Pole Predicted For 2050

The ice has already melted to the point where heavily fortified ships can travel around the pole, but eventually even a moderately fortified ship will be able to just sail right on through, according to a new paper.

What's the Latest Development?

In a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, UCLA scientists Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson predict that by 2050, enough of the ice at the North Pole will have melted to allow a fairly easy trans-Arctic shipping route during some parts of the year. They came to this conclusion after performing simulations with typical shipping vessels and several different climate models. In every case, they saw that the sea ice would become thin enough to allow even ordinary vessels "to travel easily along the northern sea route...and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to take the shortest possible route...passing over the pole itself."

What's the Big Idea?

Forty-six ships took a trans-Arctic route last year, but they did it with the help of expensive Russian icebreakers. An even shorter route would save a considerable amount of money and time, making it irresistible to fleets of common open water ships. For this reason, Smith and Stephenson suggest the International Maritime Organization prioritize the creation of regulations that will "ensure adequate environmental protections, vessel safety standards, and search-and-rescue capability."

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