Effects on global shipping and trade - the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route
Global economic activity may benefit from cryospheric changes in the Arctic. The melting of the sea ice is opening up the Arctic Ocean to shipping for longer periods each summer, increasing opportunities for transpolar commercial shipping. New shipping routes could reduce energy use and global emissions of greenhouse gases, while also promoting trade. However local emissions will increase.
An increasing number of trans-Arctic summer voyages have taken place, mainly for science and tourism. Two merchant ships recently passed through the Northern Sea Route, which is 40% shorter than current shipping routes between Europe and the Pacific. The volume of transport along this route is predicted to increase by up to 12.8 million tonnes by 2020.
The development of transpolar commercial shipping is likely to be slow. It will probably be driven by economic factors such as the global demand for natural resources and the price of these resources. The ships using these routes will continue to face considerable hazards, such as challenging weather conditions and drifting sea ice and icebergs.