A Future of Arctic Transit – Arctic Sea Ice Record Low Extent

*Click on the map above to see full extent*

Arctic Sea Ice

On Sept, 16, 2012, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, the Arctic sea ice extent broke through it’s previous record minimum from Sept, of 2007.  Satellites began to track the Arctic sea ice in the late 1970s, and have found the ‘six lowest seasonal minimum ice extents to have occurred within the last 6 years (2007 – 2012).’  (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2012)  The data used in the map above is from the previous year’s minimum ice extent (Sept, 11, 2011).  This can be compared with the median minimum ice extent calculated from 1979 through to 2000.

  • The Arctic sea ice extent typically reaches it’s yearly minimum in the month of September.

What a Melting Arctic Means for Transit

Under historical conditions, icebreakers would have been required to break Arctic Sea Ice ahead of most transit vessels.  Due to melting, unassisted transit is now possible through several of the summer months.  Major Arctic routes are present in the above map.  These have been color coded and are interpretable by means of the legend.

Read ArcticEcon’s, ‘The Northern Sea Route as a Viable Development – Russia’s Fleet of Atomic Icebreakers‘ for a comprehensive analysis of the development of the Northern Sea Route,

  • The Northern Sea Route (NRS), also known as the Northeast Passage, is the shipping lane that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It can thus be recognized as a potential expedited transit corridor for Europe and Asia.  Vessels transitting from ports in Europe to those in Asia via the Northern Sea Route en lieu of the Suez Canal Route are able to halve transit times, reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and finally reduce the risk of piracy through the avoidance of regions prone to piracy such as those about the Horn of Africa.  The Northern Sea Route is currently overseen by the Russian authorities through the Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA) under the Ministry of Transportation.
  • Northwest Passage – Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Northwest Passage stands to serve as a potential alternative to the Panama Canal Route.  The passage falls under the definition of an international strait by some countries.  Canada, on the other hand, views the route as internal.
  • Norwegian and Greenland Traffic Routes – Heavily used general transit routes.

More information and data to come shortly…


  • National Snow & Ice Data Center. Sea Ice Index. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/. [Last Accessed 21 Sept 2012]
  • Норильский Никель. Заполярный Филиал[ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nornik.ru/our_products/polar_divisions/. [Last Accessed 21 Sept 2012]

One Response to A Future of Arctic Transit – Arctic Sea Ice Record Low Extent

  1. Pingback: The Northern Sea Route as a Viable Development – Russia’s Fleet of Atomic Icebreakers « Arctic Economics

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