Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Passage to change

  • Written by  Tom Hart
  • Published in Polar
Fednav's MV Nunavik transiting through the multi-year ice of the Prince of Wales Strait on 26 September last year Fednav's MV Nunavik transiting through the multi-year ice of the Prince of Wales Strait on 26 September last year Timothy Keane
15 Feb
2015
For years, explorers sought the Northwest Passage through Arctic waters. Last year, what had previously been a geographical impossibility was finally achieved

The MV Nunavik, a strengthened cargo vessel, sailed through the passage without an icebreaker escort, carrying 23,000 tons of nickel from a Canadian mine to Bayuquan in China, according to the Nunavik’s owner, Fednav.

Fednav believes the Northwest Passage route to be 40 per cent faster than the Panama Canal. Previous journeys through the passage needed an escort from Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers, but ice melt due to climate change has now reached the point where navigation can happen. As a result, the Canadian Coast Guard is having to change its patrol routes to prepare for new shipping lanes.

Shipping traffic in the passage also opens up sovereignty questions, with the US, Canada, Denmark and Russia all having a stake in the region. On top of that, Canada’s Inuit population has always hunted and travelled over the area.

During WWII, the Canadian government created the Canadian Rangers, a sort of Inuit Home Guard. Armed with old rifles and distinctive red hoodies, this volunteer organisation served the community with search-and-rescue operations. With the changes in the Northwest Passage, the Rangers now have a new role.

‘It has been said that if Canadian sovereignty had a brand it is the Ranger’s red hoody,’ says Whitney Lackenbauer, a researcher at St Jerome's University, Ontario who has lived and patrolled with Rangers as far as the North Magnetic Pole.

‘In the last ten years, they have been asked to take part in what are called sovereignty patrols,’ says Lackenbauer. ‘Canada already has sovereignty in the region so this doesn’t improve that, but it’s about going out and showing the flag. About demonstrating Canada’s ability to operate in the really remote parts of the Arctic archipelago.’

The Rangers operate snow machines in temperatures below minus 40 degrees and keep things working and moving, only stopping for frozen caribou and tea. ‘The first few times you see the elders running around chasing each other and kicking with their boots you think it’s silly, but you realise in that level of cold you need someone to take the initiative to keep the blood moving,’ Lackenbauer says.

Some Russians have pointed to the Rangers as being a militarisation of Arctic issues, but Lackenbauer feels this is a distortion of reality: ‘This is a success story where Canada and other communities have got it right. The Rangers allow these people to serve the state and community simultaneously.’

This story was published in the February 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Correction: The original version of this article in the February issue of Geographical incorrectly quoted Queen’s University researcher Mitchell Patterson instead of Whitney Lackenbauer. Our apologies for the confusion.

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…