Climate Change Daily Environment Repost

Ice-free Arctic: Trade routes will open up

The world is not static, and change is a reality. Arctic temperatures are increasing much faster than average global temperatures, and melting Arctic ice impacts the future of many global businesses. Global trade is high on that list of affected businesses. So, the famed northwest passage may become a reality along with some other lucrative trade routes as an ice-free Arctic emerges. Extractive hydrocarbon businesses are also keeping tabs on the state of the ice.

The approximate date for this bold new world of shipping is as early as 2040. Over the past 30 years, the minimum annual cover of Arctic ice fell by 50 percent, but the minimum volume of summer ice decreased by 75 percent. Even if we could meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals and limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the summer ice will still probably disappear. However, world governments are not on track to meet the Agreement goals, so an ice-free Arctic summertime is firmly on the future horizon.

Travel time

Geography favors shorter travel times across an open-water ice-free Arctic. Storms in the Arctic ocean are more severe than other routes, so these storms will pose some problems. But, on balance, Arctic travel routes are 40 percent shorter when traveling from Europe to Asia. Lower fuel costs and shorter delivery times ultimately win out over some inclement weather.

It is not only about the Europe-Asia connection. Sea routes starting from the east coast of North America will provide access to Pacific Asian markets by traveling across the top of Canada, thus eliminating the Panama Canal from the journey. However, the benefit is not as great for America as for Europe, and the journey is only 15% shorter than the current trade route. Still, a 15 percent savings is good news for shipping companies. If competition is healthy, the opening of Arctic trade routes could prove beneficial for consumers worldwide.

Natural resources

In a twist of irony, estimated fossil fuel resources in the Arctic account for about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of the undiscovered natural gas. So, fossil fuel emissions that ushered in global warming also provide the pathway for easier access to more fossil fuel reserves. The absence of ice, at least during part of the year, simplifies the task of drilling exploration wells. Also, thinner ice in the winters will probably help with the logistics of establishing production platforms.

These observations are neither positive nor negative; they are just facts. How governments regulate and control hydrocarbon activities in the Arctic is the critical issue for debate. The Arctic circle only accounts for about 6 percent of the earth’s surface area. However, it has an oversized impact on the rest of the globe. Commercial pressure will be intense to develop the resources there. Geopolitical conflicts will spark up as countries seek extensions of their national borders based on what lies below the ice. Weather patterns will change across the northern hemisphere, and major oceanic circulation patterns will be disrupted.

Change in the Arctic affects us all. The more we learn about the natural systems of the Arctic, then the better prepared we are to accommodate the changes that are coming.


Arctic Warming (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:

Regional temperatures: Location, location, location (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:

Permafrost: A ticking carbon bomb (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:

Arctic carbon transport via groundwater (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:


This chart shows new trade routes that could open up the Arctic (By Nicolas LePan; World Economic Forum) – Also:

The Arctic is now expected to be ice-free by 2040 (By Keith Breene; World Economic Forum) – Also:

Feature Image: Icebergs in the High Arctic  (By Brocken Inaglory) (Modified) –  – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. –

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.