Feeds

Arctic sea ice loosens grip on Northwest Passage

Sparks territorial rights row

Seven Steps to Software Security

The Northwest Passage, a much-sought shipping route, opened to sea traffic this summer, as arctic sea ice fell to the lowest levels observed since we started keeping track almost 30 years ago.

Pictures of the open sea were captured by European Space Agency satellites.

Satellite image showing the clear seas of the Northwest Passage. Credit: ESA

Satellite image showing the clear seas of the Northwest Passage. Credit: ESA

The passage has been traversed by armoured ice-breaking vessels, but until now has not been sufficiently clear of ice to permit commercial traffic.

The sea ice cover is naturally greater in the winter, falling back in the summer. Since 1978, when researchers stared monitoring the ebb and flow of the ice in the region, it has broken up more and more quickly each summer, although enough ice remained to leave the passage impassable.

The previous minimum was in 2005/2006, when the sea ice coverage dropped to four million square kilometres, although the Northwest Passage remained closed. This year, scientists say there was just three million square kms of ice through the summer months.

It is the suddenness of the drop – a million square kilometres in a year – that has sparked comment. "There has been a reduction of the ice cover over the last 10 years of about 100,000 square km per year on average, so a drop of one million square km in just one year is extreme," explains Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre.

The long-sought shortcut between the major land masses of the North, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has already sparked rows. Canada has claimed rights to the passage, but the US and the UK (unsurprisingly) say the route should be open to international shipping.

The image above is a mosaic of over 200 individual snaps taken by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument aboard ESA's Envisat satellite. The dark grey represents clear water, while sea ice is colour-coded green. ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Beancounters tell NASA it's too poor to fly planned mega-rocket
Space Launch System would need another $400m and a lot of time
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Vote now for LOHAN's stirring mission patch motto
Does the shed actually know no bounds, or what?
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.