The Northwest Passage Is Now Open For Business
The Northwest Passage has long been held as a wish or a dream for those enterprises that had to move massive amounts of goods between Asia and Europe.
The Northwest Passage is now open here on the Oblate Spheroid. No longer will the large container ships (too large to fit through the Panama Canal) have to travel the bredth of the fattest part of this Blue Orb (hence the name Oblate Spheroid). These ships will just turn right from Europe or turn left from Asia and shorten the trip.
Some might say that climate change has its benefits. Container companies may now consider not trying to remake the Panama Canal so that it can handle larger ships ... at least until the climate change pendulum swings back the other way.
This excerpted from the European Space Agency website -
Satellites witness lowest Arctic ice coverage in history
European Space Agency - 14 September 2007
The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to its lowest level this week since satellite measurements began nearly 30 years ago, opening up the Northwest Passage – a long-sought short cut between Europe and Asia that has been historically impassable.
Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre said: "We have seen the ice-covered area drop to just around 3 million sq km which is about 1 million sq km less than the previous minima of 2005 and 2006. There has been a reduction of the ice cover over the last 10 years of about 100 000 sq km per year on average, so a drop of 1 million sq km in just one year is extreme.
"The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved."
Arctic sea ice naturally extends its surface coverage each northern winter and recedes each northern summer, but the rate of overall loss since 1978 when satellite records began has accelerated.
The most direct route of the Northwest Passage across northern Canada is fully navigable, while the Northeast Passage along the Siberian coast remains only partially blocked. To date, the Northwest Passage has been predicted to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multi-year ice pack – sea ice that survives one or more summers. However, according to Pedersen, this year’s extreme event has shown the passage may well open sooner than expected.
Envisat ASAR image of the McClure Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, acquired on 31 August 2007. The McClure Strait is the most direct route of the Northwest Passage and has been fully open since early August 2007. In this image created from images by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument aboard ESA’s Envisat satellite, the dark gray colour represents the ice-free areas while the green represents areas with sea ice. Image Credit: ESA via ASAR
The previous record low was in 2005 when the Arctic area covered by sea ice was just 4 million sq km. Even then, the most direct Northwest Passage did not fully open.
Because sea ice has a bright surface, the majority of solar energy that hits it is reflected back into space. When sea ice melts, the dark-coloured ocean surface is exposed. Solar energy is then absorbed rather than reflected, so the oceans get warmer and temperatures rise, making it difficult for new ice to form.
The Arctic is one of Earth’s most inaccessible areas, so obtaining measurements of sea ice was difficult before the advent of satellites. For more than 20 years, ESA has been providing satellite data to the cryosphere communities. Currently, ESA is contributing to the International Polar Year (IPY) – a large worldwide science programme focused on the Arctic and Antarctic.
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