photo: Nordic Bulk Carriers
With both the northwest and northeast passages open thanks to Arctic ice melting due to climate change, it was only a matter of time before this happened: For the first time a non-Russian flagged commercial bulk carrier will use the Northern Sea Route (the northeast passage), a Norwegian vessel shipping iron ore to China through Arctic and Russian waters.
In this image from Wikipedia, the Northern Sea Route is in blue; compare to the route through the Suez Canal in red.
Making the journey, carrying some 41,000 tons of cargo, will be Tschudi Shipping's MV Nordic Barents. Russia ice-breakers will accompany the ship.
Tschudi shipping estimates that the Northern Sea Route will be fully open for shipping for 2-4 months of the year upon through the early autumn, significantly shortening the journey between European ports and East Asia.
In a press release, Christian Bonfils, managing director of Tschudi subsidiary Nordic Bulk, notes the advantages of this route:
The Northern Sea Route shortens the distance to China by about one third. This results in a significant reduction in fuel consumption and transportation time, and it also means much lower CO2 emissions. The fuel savings alone add up to approximately $180,000.
Reports earlier this year note that China has been eyeing the reverse journey, hoping to realize the significant savings Bonfils talks about above. Using the Arctic route shortens the journey by some 4,000 miles.
Arctic sea ice concentration on September 15, 2010. Image: Sea Ice Monitor
There is some circular environmental irony in this: Ecological unsustainable fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions open up a sea route which will shorten the journey between Europe and Asia, reducing fuel consumption and emissions, but it's being touted as being a boon to the mining, oil and gas industry which hope to profit from easier access to Asian markets, in all likelihood increasing the very problem that opened up the route in the first place. And we're back to the beginning.
That said, on an exploration, gee-whiz, spirit of adventure level, it is pretty cool.
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More on Global Climate Change:
NASA Confirms Dramatic Thinning of Arctic Sea Ice - Multi-Year Ice Area the Size of Alaska Lost
China Plans For Ice-Free Arctic Shipping - Would Shorten Trip to European Ports by 4000 Miles
Northwest and Northeast Passages Are Open