Home » Maritime » Near-record Arctic ice melt opens Europe-Asia shipping routes

An almost record-breaking rate of Arctic ice melt has opened shipping lanes for cargo traffic between Europe and Asia, Russia’s environmental agency has reported.

The Federal Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring Service said that, as of early August, the Arctic ice cover was melting at a record low and has opened an expansive area for largely icebreaker-free shipping in the Northern Sea Route.

The ice extent has decreased by 56 percent in many areas, leaving the sea open for easy sailing through September, the agency said. The ice retreat has opened the Northern Sea Route over Russia earlier than it ever did, for a less difficult navigation between Europe and the Bering Strait this time of year.

It is also facilitating shipping from Russian and other European countries to Asia. The Northern Sea Route is about one-third shorter than the Rotterdam-Yokohama voyage through the Suez Canal, leading to lower fuel costs and a shorter voyage.

The rapid ice melt started in July but slowed by the end of the month due to a series of low pressure systems and storms, stopping short of the record-breaking year of 2007. This is not a positive development, however, since the turnaround in weather likely pushed the ice apart into a thinner, but more extensive cover of ice, scientists said.

Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson has said the pace of global warming in the Arctic is three times faster than elsewhere, cutting journeys between Asia, Europe and America by as much as half.

The North Pole may be completely ice-free in summer within a few decades, rather than by 2080, a prediction that has been made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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