Traditionally when people talk about melting ice in the Arctic, it is a cause for great concern and considered another symptom of global warming. However, Scandinavian tanker companies believe that with the ice melting, new sea routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could be opened up, saving time, money and emissions.

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Supertankers, that transport oil, cars and other products, famously produce large quantities of CO2 (it is estimated that worldwide shipping currently accounts for more than 3 percent of all annual global emissions), but receding Arctic ice could change that. By travelling across the north of Russia, a medium sized tanker could save 580 tonnes of fuel and 18 days in a voyage from Norway to China. Normally, it would take 40 days.

The Arctic ice recession (which is at a near record low level) would mean shipping routes could shave off 4,000 nautical miles off the southern Suez route from the Atlantic to the Pacific – which is a lot of fuel. Speaking to The Guardian, Christian Bonfils, a director of Nordic Bulk Carriers in Oslo said: “We saved 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel – nearly 3,000 tonnes of CO2 – on one journey between Murmansk and north China.”

Of course the northern route won’t be open the entire year, but during the summer months by moving cargo through it for four to six months could save shipping companies €180,000-300,000 on each trip.

But what about the environmental impact? Environment groups believe that while the northern route could indeed reduce CO2 emissions and shipping costs, it could cause other problems; namely oil spills, maritime accidents and an increase in the production of “black carbon” – a sooty residue of partly burned fuel which is deposited on ice and is a powerful “forcer” of climate change.

“The prospect of the creeping industrialization of the high north is deeply worrying. More ships bring more chance of major accidents and will mean more climate pollutants on the back of more melting of the ice,” said Ben Ayliffe, Arctic campaigner with Greenpeace.

It sounds like quite the dilemma – a reduction in shipping emissions and costs each year, or a potential increase in the likelihood of shipping accidents and the creation of ‘black carbon’.

Via The Guardian

Images © Ralph Hockens and Polar Cruises