The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is translating into growing commercial maritime activity in its waters, whose routes are moving more and more to the north.
According to a new map of maritime traffic, the centre of transport activity moved 300 kilometres to the north and east, closer to the North Pole, for a period of 7 years.
The map determines unique visits to Arctic waters between September 1, 2009, and December 31, 2016. It has been created through a collaboration led by Paul Arthur Berkman, director of the Center for Scientific Diplomacy at Tufts University, and Greg Fiske, a geospatial expert analyst at the Woods Hole Research Center.
The team mapped and analyzed more than 120 million data points compiled by SpaceQuest, a company that designs microsatellites that can monitor signals from the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS).
Scientists were particularly surprised to find smaller boats, such as fishing boats, that ventured deeper into the Arctic waters. The team also compared ship routes reflected by the AIS system with sea ice evolution data and found that ships meet with ice more frequently and do so every year further north.
Russia, China, Canada, the United States and Iceland lead the group of nations that are preparing for greater shipping activity in the Arctic. The Northwest Passage through Canada and the North Sea Route, or the Northeast Passage, north of Russia and Siberia, are valuable because they could significantly shorten the transit times of ships between Asia, Europe and North America.
But scientists and environmentalists are concerned about pollution, oil spills and disturbances of marine life, among other possible impacts. the danger for the lives of sailors sailing on icy waters with deficient navigation maps is also contemplated.
Although ice-free Arctic water contributes to trade, it still represents bad news for the Arctic environment as we know it. “The Arctic ice sheet continues to decline, and this is related to the current warming of the Arctic,” says Claire Parkinson, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight centre. “It’s a two-way street: warming means that less ice will be formed and more ice will melt. But also, because there is less ice, less solar radiation is reflected on the Earth, and this contributes to warming, “he warns.
Source: ABC Natural