Ships should be able to sail directly over the north pole by the middle of this century, considerably reducing the costs of trade between Europe and China but posing new economic, strategic and environmental challenges for governments, according to scientists.
The dramatic reduction in the thickness and extent of late summer sea ice that has taken place in each of the last seven years has already made it possible for some ice-strengthened ships to travel across the north of Russia via the “northern sea route”. Last year a total of 46 ships made the trans-Arctic passage, mostly escorted at considerable cost by Russian icebreakers.
But by 2050, say Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson at the University of California in the journal PNAS on Monday, ordinary vessels should be able to travel easily along the northern sea route, and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to take the shortest possible route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, passing over the pole itself. The easiest time would be in September, when annual sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is at its lowest extent.