Publication Date August 23, 2016

This Is What the Ice-Free Northwest Passage Looks Like


An ice-free Northwest Passage was once the stuff of legend. But it’s now becoming the norm thanks to global warming, and commercial freighters to luxury cruise ships are racing to turn a profit off the newest frontier on earth.

A satellite image taken on Aug. 9 and published by NASA Earth Observatory shows a nearly ice-free path from the North Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. In comparison to 2013, which was a high ice year for the Arctic — at least by modern standards (it was still the sixth-lowest extent on record!) — it’s clear just how dramatic this year is.

It’s not the first time the Northwest Passage has opened up in recorded history — that would be 2007 — but it coincides with a particularly high profile voyage. The Crystal Serenity, a hulking 820-foot, 13 deck cruise ship, set out just last week from Anchorage on a 32-day voyage that will end in New York. It’s the largest ship to ever pass through the Northwest Passage...

The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world, dramatically reshaping the region. Since satellite records began in the late 1970s, Arctic sea ice has disappeared at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade. Older sea ice that’s more resilient to breakup is also on the decline. In 30 years, it’s gone from 20 percent of all Arctic ice pack to just 3 percent