Melting the Northwest Passage

Global warming has finally opened up the Northwest Passage, a trade route explorers tried (and failed) to conquer for centuries
Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along the northern coast of Canada and America, the legendary Northwest Passage’s Arctic ice levels have melted to record lows, opening the way for a commercial sea route within the next few years.

Historically, the passage is a route few have managed to navigate. In 1903, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen spent three years leading the first successful expedition to travel the passage. In the early 1940s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch was the second vessel to manage the journey, and was recorded as the first ship to smash its way through the ice of the Northwest Passage in both directions. The first commercial ship to cross the sea route was the SS Manhattan in 1969.

Ice in the Arctic Ocean continues to thin. Scientists have discovered that between the summer of 2006 and 2007, the Arctic’s ice covering was reduced by a million square kilometres and now predict the Northwest Passage could be used commercially in the next five to ten years. This would provide a shorter, quicker and more efficient route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Vessels traveling between Europe and Asia via the Northwest Passage instead of the current route through the Panama Canal could cut thousands of kilometres off their trip and save weeks’ worth of time. The Northwest Passage potentially cuts the trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean by approximately one third. Fuel consumption and polluting emissions from ships making the journey would also be cut by the same amount. The Northwest Passage would also allow for the use of larger vessels that often cannot make it through the Panama Canal, and would therefore further cut down pollution by reducing total number of vessels.

The shipping industry is already examining the idea of building heavy duty ships that will survive the harsh arctic conditions and heavy ice that may be encountered.

Is opening the Northwest Passage as a commercial trade route a good idea? Could this be a possible advantage of global warming?

The floor is yours ...

10 comment(s)

Pat TOctober 17, 2007 07:56 EST

With eco-guilt being the new catholicism, I feel like even bringing this up is some kind of blasphemy.

But every black cloud has a silver lining right?

RickWOctober 20, 2007 11:02 EST

This article would seem to be at odds with a previous one in The Walrus:

If the emphasis is to be increasingly placed on "local", what is the point of "opening" the Northwest Passage?

Larry PowellOctober 21, 2007 16:23 EST

I frankly find reprehensible your suggestion that the opening of the Northwest passage is an advantage of global warming.
The notion that mankind can offer better solutions to the planet than nature is arrogant in the extreme.
The human race has already inflicted enormous harm on our planet, to the point where our future is uncertain. So how can you even put the fortunes of commerce ahead of the struggle to save our planet?

Kurtis McBrideOctober 23, 2007 05:39 EST

Personally, I find this article presents and interesting juxtaposition. It is true that mankind has cause enormous harm to the planet and is responsible for much of the environmental turmoil we see today; however, as the article points out, opening the NWP to shipping has the potential to significantly reduce the seaborne pollution that we dump into our oceans ever year. I certainly disagree that this article presents a reprehensible point of view - it is really just trying to present a way of looking at the glass half full while us humans try to figure a way out of the mess we have created.

Karl M.October 23, 2007 07:18 EST

I'm glad I've got a new sailboat and am going to take up sea-steading.

RickWNovember 08, 2007 16:54 EST

"...opening the NWP to shipping has the potential to significantly reduce the seaborne pollution that we dump into our oceans ever year."

Rather, the seaborne pollution would likely be transferred to the (still, and for quite a while to come) more fragile environment of the Arctic Islands and Ocean.......

Adam BNovember 12, 2007 07:54 EST

Opening the Northwest Passage will infringe on Canada's Arctic sovereignty. Not to mention the fact that the U.S., Russia and the E.U. do not respect Canada's claim to the sea route.

Does the Canadian government need to assert its control over the waterway? And how so?

RickWNovember 14, 2007 19:41 EST

"Does the Canadian government need to assert its control over the waterway? And how so?"

Well, first Harper promised to build 3 armed, military icebreakers, plus a deep sea port.....

Now, he promises to build eight patrol boats, a training base, and a deepsea port......

There will doubtless be other promises......

PCDecember 12, 2007 20:55 EST

The openning of the Northwest Passage will be an economic boon much sooner than expected as a result of things changing faster than conservative scientific prediction. It's unfortunate that these economics are viewed in isolation and not balanced with the real costs of millions of lives lost to sea level rise and rapid changes to general climatic conditions. Looks like deja vue...industrial revolution, all over again!

EmApril 27, 2008 19:36 EST

You can show your support for global warming by joining the Walrus sponsored cruise of the Artic - each passenger is guaranteed to contribute 5.6 tonnes of CO2 over the course of a 10 day cruise. Act quickly - this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Add a comment

I agree to’s comments policy.

Canada & its place in the world. Published by
the non-profit charitable Walrus Foundation
The Walrus SoapBox
The Walrus Laughs
Walrus TV