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

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...

MORE DOSSIERS

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...

Energy

Soaring sales of air conditioning units over the next thirty…

Climate

Well-meaning promises and actions don't always have the best outcomes.…

Geophoto

With the days at their longest and more light in…

Oceans

Tourism might be an economic pillar for many countries surrounding…

Wildlife

Brain sizes directly shown to correlate to survival rates among…

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…

Oceans

Ocean conservation group urges world governments to step up action…

Climate

As climate conditions at the 100th meridian, the traditional United…

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…