photo by wikimedia
Climate change is making the impassable passable. The legendary and treacherous Northwest Passage, once believed to be unnavigable by larger ships, has been successfully traversed by a commercial cargo ship. Satellite photos had shown the passage to be open as early as 2007, but it wasn't until a few days ago that the navigability of the route was empirically proven. Arctic Pack Ice Not a Problem
On November 28, 2008, the commercial ship, the MV Camilla Desgagnés, safely transported goods from Montreal to the western Nunavut communities. This marks the first time in history that a cargo ship has navigated the passage from east to west. Until recently, attempts at crossing the legendary Arctic waterway were confounded and deterred by thick pack ice. The crew of the MV Camilla Desgagnés faced no such problem. One crew member even claimed that he saw "no ice whatsoever."
Taking Advantage of Arctic Shrinkage
Although the Northwest Passage is only viable as a shipping route during certain times of the year, cargo companies may find the path an attractive one. Desgagnés Transarctik Incorporated, the company behind the historic feat, has planned to resume east-to-west shipping in the Fall of 2009. Icebound communities along the passage that are normally serviced by tugboats and other small, sturdy ships have begun comparison shopping, deciding between the price of west-to-east shipping and the cost of the new east-to-west route. And in ten to twenty years, if climate change trends continue, the Northwest Passage may even be a viable alternative to the Panama Canal.