Global warming could mean new Arctic shipping routes

Research has identified another likely consequence of global warming—the increasing availability of shipping routes around the North Pole and elsewhere due to the gradual melting of sea ice, reports the New York Times.

One of the scientists, Dr. Ed Hawkins with the University of Reading, told the BBC, "If we experience a 2-degree increase in global temperatures, we will get close to an Arctic that is effectively ice-free for part of the year; that's less than a million sq km of ice cover."

He added, "So, even if future emissions are consistent with the Paris agreement, it will, of course, mean shipping routes will be more open. Not every year, but more regularly than they are now."

Sea ice currently prevents most ships from crossing through the Arctic, which would in many cases be the shortest way to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

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The team found, based on models, that emissions under the Paris accord could reduce a 30-day journey to 22 or 23 days while higher emissions could mean 17 to 20-day-long trips, with durations shortening as times goes on.

As co-researcher Nathanael Melia wrote in a piece on the climate website Carbon Brief, "a passage through the Arctic would be around 40% shorter – potentially reducing journey times even further and saving fuel."

Despite the potential economic benefits, shippers' use of the newly opened routes could remain uncertain, as passage conditions would still be variable and other costs, like insurance, would likely go up.

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