Geographers Compute Arctic Shipping Routes

Some ships could cut across the pole by midcentury

3 min read
Geographers Compute Arctic Shipping Routes
Pathbreaker: Icebreakers like this one will be able to plough straight across the North Pole in decades to come.
Photo: Vadim Balakin/Getty Images

By the middle of this century, ships should be able to ferry cargo between Europe and Asia by cutting straight across the North Pole, cutting their travel times in half. Geographers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have combined sea-ice coverage predictions with geographical and transportation models to compute this and other Arctic sea routes for the first time.

By midcentury, as the warming climate decreases Arctic ice levels, ice over the North Pole will be so thin that ice-breaking ships will be able to cut through it, but only in late summer, says Laurence C. Smith, a professor of geography at UCLA. However, other recently opened Arctic sea routes that are currently hard to navigate will become easily accessible for longer periods of time, even to ordinary ships.

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