Ice-free through Northwest PassageJan 1, 2003
What proved an unexceptional voyage for a team of Canadian scientists and mariners through the Northwest Passage this past summer apparently has profound significance to the fate of the Arctic as we know it. The Canadian team, aboard the R/V St. Roch II(named for a vessel that made a 27-month passage in 1947, including being frozen in pack ice for two winters) was exploring the possibilities of a commercial steaming route between Rotterdam and Yokohama.
The Northwest Passage, first transited by Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen in the sloop Gjoa from 1903 to 1906, is infamous for being choked with ice for most of the year, but this latest expedition has rekindled a belief on the part of shippers that the route may be commercially viable now that the summer southern ice limit has receded significantly northward. In fact, the team reported that during the one-month voyage no pack ice blocked their path at any time. Such a route would cut more than 5,000 miles from the Europe-Asia trade passage.
Around the same time that the Northwest Passage journey was taking place, reports trickled south that the North Pole was itself open water this summer, a phenomenon apparently not seen by humans for something like the last 50 million years, according to the scientists' report to The New York Times. Another report in the Times quoted a Norwegian science team as predicting that the Pole will be totally ice-free in summer in as little as 50 years.
If the warming trend continues, our children might-30 to 50 years from now-cruise the mild Northwest Passage, Hudson Bay, and, perhaps, just for kicks, the mild waters of the North Pole.