• ITVI.USA
    12,371.230
    1,536.990
    14.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    15.950
    0.050
    0.3%
  • OTVI.USA
    12,358.510
    1,529.980
    14.1%
  • TLT.USA
    2.650
    -0.050
    -1.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.630
    0.110
    4.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    1.910
    0.050
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.250
    -0.060
    -4.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    2.390
    0.130
    5.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.330
    0.070
    5.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    2.750
    0.020
    0.7%
  • WAIT.USA
    103.000
    -17.000
    -14.2%
  • ITVI.USA
    12,371.230
    1,536.990
    14.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    15.950
    0.050
    0.3%
  • OTVI.USA
    12,358.510
    1,529.980
    14.1%
  • TLT.USA
    2.650
    -0.050
    -1.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.630
    0.110
    4.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    1.910
    0.050
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.250
    -0.060
    -4.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    2.390
    0.130
    5.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.330
    0.070
    5.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    2.750
    0.020
    0.7%
  • WAIT.USA
    103.000
    -17.000
    -14.2%
American ShipperShippingTrade and Compliance

Arctic passage presents unique opportunities, environmental risks

The Northern Sea Route, which can cut 12 to 15 days off voyage times between Asia and North Europe compared to the traditional Suez Canal routing, is currently only usable during the summer season, but could be open year-round by 2020.

   The Northern Sea Route, currently only usable during the summer season from July to November, could be open year-round by 2020, according to industry and environmental experts.
   The Arctic Sea shipping passage is around 8,100 nautical miles, 2,400 nautical miles shorter than travelling through the Suez Canal for ships sailing from Shanghai to Rotterdam, according to the Northern Sea Route Information Office. Use of the route can cut 12 to 15 days off voyage times between Asia and North Europe compared to the traditional Suez Canal routing, saving carriers money on fuel and crew staffing, as well as canal tolls.
   Media sources last November reported that ocean carrier COSCO was considering increasing the number of ships sailing between Asia and Europe through the Northern Sea Route, and possibly even deploying a regular string on the route. Those reports followed the successful round trip voyage of the 19,000-dwt Chinese general cargo vessel Yong Sheng from China to Europe and back via the Arctic Sea.
   While it might be welcome news for ocean carriers looking to cut costs any way they can in the current market of depressed demand and plummeting freight rates, it’s hardly good news for the environment, according to Peter Wadhams, an Arctic research scientist and author of the book A Farewell to Ice.
   In an interview with The Guardian, Wadhams said he expects Arctic summer sea-ice cover to reach record lows this year, which could cause an acceleration of global warming trends. By summer of 2017, he said ships may be able to cross the North Pole unimpeded.
   “People tend to think of an ice-free Arctic in summer in terms of it merely being a symbol of global change,” said Wadhams. “Things happen, they say. In fact, the impact will be profound and will effect the whole planet and its population.
   “One key effect will be albedo feedback. Sea ice reflects about 50 percent of the solar radiation it receives back into space. By contrast, water reflects less than 10 percent. So if you replace ice with water, which is darker, much more solar heat will be absorbed by the ocean and the planet will heat up even more rapidly than it is doing at present.”
   Wadhams added that without sea ice, which acts like a global air-conditioning system, winds blowing over the Arctic to places like Siberia and Greenland will no longer be cooled, causing these areas to be heated even more quickly. He estimates these effects could add 50 percent to the impact of global warming produced by rising carbon emissions.
   The accelerating increase in temperatures will cause more polar ice to melt, causing sea levels to rise even faster than they are now, according to Wadhams. He noted a recent prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that sea levels will rise 60 to 90 centimeters this century, adding that he thinks a rise of one to two meters is far more likely.
   “That may not sound a lot but it is really very serious,” said Wadhams. “It will increase enormously the frequency of storm surges all over the world. We may be able to raise the Thames barrier in Britain but in Bangladesh, it just means more and more people will be drowned.”
   In addition, increased shipping in the Arctic Sea will have direct consequences in the form of increased carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions from the use of heavy fuel oil by commercial vessels. Many of the major global ports and trade lanes have instituted Emission Control Areas, where vessels are only allowed to burn low sulfur content fuel, but no such restrictions exist in the Arctic.
   Further use of the Northern Sea Route would also increase the risk of illegal discharge of waste products and oil spills in the region.
   A recent blog post from the International Council on Clean Transportation called the environmental risks associated with increased vessel activity in the Arctic “undeniable.” The article focused on the voyage of the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity, the largest vessel ever to transit the treacherous Northwest Passage, but noted this “may be the beginning of a boom in Arctic vessel activity.”
   The real risks, according to the authors of the blog, aren’t posed by negligence or misbehavior, but by the “harsh, violent sea environment” of the Arctic itself. They noted that most commercial ships will likely continue to use heavy fuel oil because it is inexpensive and widely available, and because they are allowed to do so.
   “The Arctic Council has recently identified HFO as ‘the most significant threat from ships to the Arctic marine environment,’” wrote Bryan Comer and Naya Olmer. “Due to its viscosity and chemical properties, HFO is inherently difficult to clean up, not to mention highly toxic. A release of HFO in the Arctic could have devastating effects on this profoundly important and fragile ecosystem.
   “Arctic shipping poses significant threats to the climate and to the Arctic environment—not unique to the Arctic, but uniquely serious there,” they added.

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