Melting Ice In the Arctic Is Opening a New Energy Trade Route
A new trade route for energy supplies is opening up north of the Arctic Circle as some of the warmest temperatures on record shrink ice caps that used to lock ships out of the area.
This year is likely to rank among the top 10 for the amount of sea ice melting in the Arctic Ocean after heat waves across the northern hemisphere this summer. While that’s alarming to environmentalists concerned about global warming, ship owners carrying liquefied natural gas and other goods see it as an opportunity. Their cargoes have traversed the region for the first time this year without icebreakers, shaving days off shipping times and unlocking supplies from difficult-to-reach fields in Siberia.
While shorter shipping journeys reduce emissions, environmentalists are concerned that more traffic through the Arctic will add to the amount of black carbon—particles of pure carbon—settling in the snow from tanker smokestacks. When that soot darkens the surface of the ice, it speeds up the warming process by absorbing more of the Sun’s energy.
And with the shipping season through the Arctic starting earlier and ending later, tankers will spend more time in the area and spew more of their pollution onto the ice.
Turbulent weather in the area also churns the seas, making it almost impossible to clean up anything that’s spilled.