The Northwest Passage Exists!
The Northwest Passage: It finally exists!
The famous Captain Cook spent a lifetime exploring the coastlines of the northern continents. He looked in vain for a Northwest passage which would facilitate commerce between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Cook Inlet leading to the modern city of Anchorage is named for him. Ironically, the furthermost inland bay was named by Cook in a way that exemplifies his failure to find a through passage. It is called to this day, “Turnagain Arm.” Ice and weather always stopped surface vessels for a season or two as they lay frozen in the ice. The Northeast Passage was finally navigated in 1879 by Nils A. E. Nordenskjöld. Roald Amundsen, who went through the Northwest Passage (1903-6), also went through the Northeast Passage (1918-20). In 1958, the US Atomic Submarine “Nautilus” successfully crossed the Arctic underwater, actually sailing over the North Pole! Later, the USS Skate actually surfaced at the Pole, breaking through the relatively thin ice!
In the summer of 1969 the SS Manhattan, a specially designed oil tanker with ice breaker and oceanographic research vessel features, successfully sailed from Philadelphia to Alaska by way of the Northwest Passage in the first attempt to bring commercial shipping into the region. In 1971 the Arctic Ice Dynamics Joint Experiment began an international effort to study over a period of years arctic pack ice and its effect on world climate. In 1986 a seasonal “hole” in the ozone layer above the Arctic was discovered, showing some similarities to a larger depletion of ozone over the southern polar region. The depletion of the ozone layer results in harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth from the sun. The attention of the global scientific community was drawn to the Arctic where the focus was on the continental shorelines and shelves, made accessible for exploration by summer ice free channels.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts that the Arctic Ocean will be relatively ‘ice free’ in as little as 30 years! They project that the summer ice pack will shrink from 1.8 million square miles down to 330,000 square miles, a decrease of almost 82 percent! NOAA has expressed concern that none of the countries with Arctic Ocean jurisdiction (US, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark) is prepared for a large increase in commercial traffic. Accurate navigational charts, aids to navigation (markers, buoys, etc.), and rescue capability, all parts of a basic safety net do not exist for this huge region. Additional urgent Arctic issues relate to increased exploration for oil, mineral, and gas deposits. Geological surveys estimate that 1/4 of the world’s reserves lie in the Arctic region.There should be strong guidelines for the management of the fish and game reserves while honoring the diverse cultures of the region. There are no international agreements in place and even the borders are in dispute. Marine safety seems a minor issue but will have to be addressed immediately.
US Coast Guard and Navel vessels have observed a lobster fishing boat and a tourist boat cruising in the NW Passage, as early as 2008. The Bering Strait, the gateway for passage from West to East, has over 100 ships per season passing through. Eight cruise ship companies planned tourist outings in the Bering Sea for 2009. How long will it be before an incident occurs causing loss of life due to inadequate safety regulations and navigational aids?
Are you ready to make the passage? Here is what your itinerary will look like. Start with a sturdy vessel which could withstand being frozen in all winter, a 50 percent chance. Cruise up the coast of Greenland, passing Sisimiut and Upernavik, cross the Arctic circle, sail west across Bafin Bay, then through narrow channels along the north coast of Canada passing Port Leopold and Gjoa Haven to Cambridge Bay, the halfway point. Rest up because you still have 3000 miles to go. Cross the Beaufort Sea, the,Chuckchi Sea, passing Tuktoyaktuk and Barrow, and finally cross the Bering Sea to complete your journey in Dutch Harbor, Alaska! Good luck! It seems the Northwest Passage has become more fact than fiction.
Should we be nervous about that 82 percent melt of the Arctic Ice pack in the next 30 years? The Polar Bears should be. One more lost species added to the long list of biodiversity loss in our lifetime. Will access to 1/4 of the world’s oil, gas, and ore reserves make it all worthwhile? Must we always be driven by greed and the short term need? What do historical geologists know that you dont? When and how did the last ice age get started? What marvelous mechanism caused the ice sheets to build to over one mile in depth? Where did all the moisture for that much snow come from? Where were the world’s coastlines before the most recent intersticial? During the our most recent age? After? If you are not nervous yet, read up on the Ice Age hypothesis. Perhaps you should be nervous for your grandchildren and their children.
Court and Nance are the developers of http://www.scooterscodegreen.com
Their goal is to provide education about the global warming dangers while providing options for consumer action which will reduce an individuals carbon footprint.