Arctic Sea Route Ice Shrinks to New Low
By JAMEY KEATEN, AP Posted: 2007-09-15 17:47:23
PARIS (Sept. 15) – Arctic ice coverage has receded this week to record lows, the European Space Agency said, raising the prospect of greater maritime traffic through a long-sought waterway known as the Northwest Passage.
Until now, the passage has been expected to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multiyear ice pack – sea ice that remains through one or more summers, ESA said.
Satellite images this week showed Arctic ice cover fell to the lowest level since scientists started collecting such information in 1978, according to a statement on Paris-based ESA’s Web site Saturday.
Many experts believe that global warming is to blame for melting the passage. The waters are exposing unexplored resources, and vessels could trim thousands of miles from Europe to Asia compared with the current routes through the Panama Canal.
Ice has retreated to about 1 million square miles, Leif Toudal Pedersen, of the Danish National Space Center, said in the statement. ESA said the previous low was 1.5 million square miles, back in 2005.
Ice levels in the Arctic ebb and flow with the seasons, allowing for intermittent traffic between Europe and Asia across northern Canada – a route explorers and traders have long dreamt could open fully.
Environmentalists fear increased maritime traffic and efforts to tap natural resources in the area could one day lead to oil spills and harm regional wildlife.
Pedersen said the extreme retreat this year suggested the passage could fully open sooner than expected – but ESA did not say when that might be. Efforts to contact ESA officials in Paris and Noordwik, the Netherlands, were unsuccessful.
With ice levels shrinking, some countries – including the United States and Canada – have jockeyed for claims over the passage, also a potentially oil-region region under the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.
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