Sunday, 14 April 2013 09:01

Who would sail across the Arctic?

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Melting glaciers creates new opportunities, which may well be interested shipowners. The enthusiasm of some contrasts with the skepticism of others.

Can the Arctic Ocean tomorrow become one of the main centers of marine transport routes on the planet? This becomes all the more relevant in the current era of global warming and the melting of the northern ice. Two geographers from the University of California at Los Angeles, joined forces to establish what conditions will exist for shipping in September (the best time of the year) in the middle of this century (between 2040 and 2059 year).

This study was recently published in the journal PNAS, and is based on the seven models of melting ice, which in turn are considered under two scenarios of climate warming. The first of these involves a moderate greenhouse effect, while the second involves much higher rates. According to scientists, during the simulation, in both instances the ice were similar. And it is very noticeable.

As follows from the model created in September, running along the Russian coast of the Northern Sea Route will be open to all courts. Ice would go so far as ships can move away to a considerable distance from land. It has both positive and negative sides. Plus the fact that the courts do not have to pay fees for passage through Russian waters. The downside is that this course greatly complicate rescue operations in the event of an accident.

At the same time, continue to scientists, the Northwest Passage, which skirts the coast of Canada and the U.S., will not open as widely. Be that as it may, to pass on it in September, there will be a lot easier than it is. "Technical probability", which, according to scientists, was 17% in the period from 1979 to 2005, will increase to 53% in the period from 2040 to 2059 in the case of moderate warming, and to 60% in case of significant warming.

Finally, swimming in the polar regions will be available for a wide variety of ships with reinforced hulls. We can talk about the ships down to ice-6, which are capable of independent movement "in the annual Arctic ice discharged by their thickness up to 1.1 m in the winter and spring to navigate and up to 1.3 m in summer and autumn." This means that the ice in the middle of the century will be fine, even where it would have to be thicker than most.

Opening routes in northern waters is of great interest for the transport sector as well as significantly reduce the distance between the three main centers of the world economy: Europe, North America and East Asia. For example, the distance between London and Yokohama is 15 700 km in the North-West Passage, 13 841 km on the Northern Sea Route, 21,200 miles as it moves through the Suez Canal and 23,300 miles through the Panama Canal.

Reducing this distance can bring considerable profits. After all, is it a short swim does not mean lower costs for fuel and crew, as well as increasing the number of flights per year?

These numbers have generated great expectations in Russia. Kremlin dreams that one day in its territorial waters will be many ships that will pay him a solid fee. So the last few years, he puts a lot of power to administrative simplification and modernization of the northern ports.

Other Nordic countries, Iceland, intends to become a staging post on the new Arctic sea routes. It has developed a project to create a terminal that would allow the transshipment of containers to the ordinary courts for special shuttles for subsequent delivery through the Arctic Ocean to the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific. There again containers loaded on ships simple.

However, the enthusiasm of some contrasts with the skepticism of others. Researcher at the University of Laval Quebec Frederick Lasserre (Frédéric Lasserre) in recent years, noting the publication of several articles pessimistic about the capacity of shipping in the Arctic. "Distance - this is not all - he said. - Otherwise, motorists drove to the back roads instead of highways. "

"Shipowners are interested prospect to save on fuel and crew, but the most valuable thing for them - it's always the ships, - explains the researcher. - A melting ice is not enough to make these paths safe. Climate warming in general, and the melting of glaciers in Greenland in particular will increase the number of floating ice, which can cause serious damage to the courts in the event of a collision. "

Another negative feature of the Arctic routes - is the lack of opportunities for trade. "No ship goes directly from Rotterdam to Shanghai - continues Frederic Lasserre. - To optimize the load and increase the profitability of navigation, cargo ships call for loading and unloading of goods in a port along the way. In the Arctic, as such opportunities do not exist. "

In addition, the melting of ice each year starts at different times, and therefore determine the exact schedule of the region will not be easy. The transportation of bulk cargoes can adapt to this. At the same time, the container transport plays an important role the exact date of delivery, and any mistakes are completely unacceptable.

Thus, the major development of the transit of shipping in the Arctic in the foreseeable future, we should not wait, says Frederic Lasserre. However, global warming will contribute to the movement of ships, whose task is to get to the Arctic ports to load produced in the region of hydrocarbons and ore.

Current indicators appear to confirm the correctness of the scientist. In 2012, only 12 out of 46 appeared on the Northern Sea Route were ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific (or the reverse). The purpose of the remainder were Arctic ports.

"There is little doubt that the volume of shipping will increase gradually, - concluded Frederic Lasserre. - By mid-century, they can reach the mark of 500 - 1000 vehicles per year. This is much more than now. But at the same time and much less than 75 000 ships that come to the Malacca Strait, or 15 000 - 20 000 ships in the Panama Canal. It will take a lot to the way the Arctic were among the major shipping lanes on the planet. "

Etienne Dubuis


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