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Showing posts from September, 2007

Plain sailing in the Arctic

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The Northwest Passage is one of those names that conjure up romantic images of bearded explorers with a passion for cannibalism. The Victorian dream of taking a sailing ship through the Arctic to the North Pacific without all that tedious mucking about with South America took quite a few lives. Even with the construction of the Panama Canal, such a route would shave nearly 4000 kilometres off a trip between Europe to Asia. Yet at the end of summer, there’s traditionally been enough sea ice to keep shipping firms at bay. But this is all starting to change. Just this week the European Space Agency announced the first navigable route was open through the ice.
How unusual is this?
In 1906 the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, managed to negotiate his way through the icebergs, and lived to tell the tale - but it took him two years. Essentially, permanent sea ice cover has made such a trip impossible for routine shipping. Working out what the ice did in the past, however, is easier said than done. T…