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Abstract

For more than two centuries, the imagination of mariners has been captured by visions of a trade route across the Arctic Sea allowing vessels to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Known as the Northwest Passage, this fabled route is a time- and money-saving sea lane running from the Atlantic Ocean Arctic Circle to the Pacific Ocean Arctic Circle. Now, the thinning of the ice in the Arctic may transform what was once only a dream into a reality. New shipping lanes linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are likely to open between 2040 and 2059. If loss in ice extent continues, it is predicted that by 2050, “the Northwest Passage will be sufficiently navigable to make the trip from the North American east coast to the Bering Strait in 15 days.” What makes the new shipping lanes so attractive is that they may be navigated not only by Polar Class 6 ice-breaking ships, but by “normal ocean-going vessels” without requiring an escort of an ice-breaker. In addition, by mid-century, shipping may be the only real viable method of transportation in the Arctic. The Arctic is a land of vast distances where “the landscape is boggy and wet and covered with lakes.