Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Slow boats to China

Slow boats to China Artis Rams
07 Nov
2015
Despite 2015 seeing the fourth smallest Arctic ice cap ever recorded, aspirations of easily navigable trade through the Northwest Passage are to be put on ice for several decades

For years, commentators have talked up the prospect of sending commercial vessels through the famous Northwest Passage, as melting Arctic ice opens a new trade route from the North American east coast to Asia. In 2014, a milestone was reached when the MV Nunavik, a strengthened cargo vessel, took 23,000 tons of nickel through the passage to Bayuquan, China, without an icebreaker accompaniment. Talk of the passage soon becoming a route to rival that of the Panama Canal went into overdrive.

‘In the public debate it sounds very promising and very realistic that soon there will be a lot of traffic,’ says Christian Haas, Canada Research Chair for Arctic Sea Ice Geophysics. ‘But experts doubt the reliability and feasibility of shipping through the Northwest Passage.’

Haas is lead author of a new study by York University, Toronto, where the thickness of winter Arctic ice was measured in 2011, and again in 2015. They concluded that even with summer Arctic ice shrinking, the ice thickness remains such that it could be an estimated 40 years before becoming a viable trade route.

However, ice thickness is only one issue. ‘The global shipping industry doesn’t work only on distance savings,’ says Malte Humpert, Executive Director of The Arctic Institute. ‘What it needs is schedule reliability, use of the largest ships to reduce costs, network economics, low insurance rates, steady speeds, et cetera. This isn’t possible in the Arctic. I’d be surprised if we saw more than 50 ships pass through it annually by 2025. In comparison Suez has 18,000 and Panama 15,000 annually.’

This article was published in the November 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

A ship that ran aground early in February has been…

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…

Polar

The world’s magnetic model is getting an early update, as…

Climate

Marco Magrini looks at the financial pressures spilling out into the…

Geophoto

Few sights are more dramatic than a star-filled sky at…

Polar

A region of Antarctica previously known for relative stability is…

Tectonics

Everything we thought we knew about eruptions could be wrong

Oceans

Sea levels are rising across the globe, but along the…

Polar

Seismometers buried in the Ross Ice Shelf have revealed that…

Wildlife

A tightening of restrictions on the insecticides known as neonicotinoids…

Wildlife

Bonnethead sharks, the second smallest member of the hammerhead family,…

Nature

There’s more than enough plastic in the world. That’s why,…

Wildlife

The recent discovery of more than 200 million termite mounds…