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WIREs Clim Change
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Implications of climate change for shipping: Opening the Arctic seas

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This paper assesses the value and environmental feasibility of Arctic shipping by reviewing the relevant scientific and economic peer‐reviewed literature. From the physical perspective, this paper examines the impact of climate change on sea ice and marine weather and considers the resultant consequences for Arctic shipping accessibility. From an economic perspective, it reviews the major research investigating the economic feasibility of diverting ships from conventional shipping routes to Arctic routes, the attitudes of shipping stakeholders, and other major factors affecting the prospect of Arctic shipping. This review also identifies important research gaps. Ultimately, we find that the complex environmental and economic dynamics of the Arctic suggest that an appropriate understanding of Arctic shipping will require close collaboration between natural and social scientists.

This article is categorized under:

  • Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Evaluating Future Impacts of Climate Change
Projections and observations for September sea ice extent from 1900 to 2100, from Stroeve and Notz (). The black line represents observed data while the gray and colored data depict model results. The colored lines display multimodel means under different RCP scenarios. The figure provides an indication of the considerable range (and uncertainty) in sea ice projections
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Average summer (Aug–Sep) wind speed (“U10AVG”) and wave height (“SWHAVG”) for 1996–2015 from satellite altimetry data within Liu et al. (2016)
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Ice thickness estimates for March and November 2013 based on satellite altimetry, from Ricker, Hendricks, Helm, Skourup, and Davidson () The black line indicates the estimated multiyear ice zone
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The average length of the ice season (period with ice concentration > 15%) for 1979 and 2013 in the northern hemisphere, from Parkinson (). Note the black circles represent the area unobserved by polar orbiting satellites that contained the passive microwave sensors used to detect sea ice. From 1979 to 1987 the observable limit was 84.6°N, while since 1988 the limit has been 87.6°N
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Sea ice age in the central Arctic Ocean during March 1990 and March 2016, from Tschudi et al. ()
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The 1981–2010 average maximum (March) and minimum (September) sea ice extent. Three northern shipping “routes” (or regions) have been added—the Northwest Passage (NWP—orange), the Northern Sea Route (NSR—light blue), and the Trans‐Polar Sea Route (TSR—dark blue). (Reprinted with permission from National Snow and Ice Data Center (). Copyright 2016 National Snow and Ice Data Center)
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The geographic distribution of the final year with ice coverage exceeding 182 days as estimated by the Community Ice Systems Model—Large Ensemble when forced with RCP 8.5 within Barnhart et al. (2016). The “hatched” region depicts the region with year‐round ice during the “pre‐industrial” era, according to model simulations
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Estimates for the first year that Arctic waters are more than 94% ice‐free (<15%) during the “summer” (June–October), based on projections from the CMIP5 model ensemble within Laliberté et al. (2016). The white line in the box plot indicates the multi‐model median, the box range indicates the two inner‐quartiles, and the “whiskers” indicate the 95% model spread
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The fastest available trans‐Arctic routes for the month of September according to estimates from a transport model run using sea ice projections within Melia et al. (2016). Blue lines depict results for Open Water (OW) vessels while pink lines depict results for Polar Class 6 (PC6) vessels. Results for two different forcing scenarios (RCP 2.6 and RCP 8.5) and three different time periods (2015–2013, 2045–2060, and 2075–2090) are shown. The percentages written on Greenland show the accessibility of the Trans‐Arctic routes for the two vessel classes
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The 10‐model average density of “least‐cost” navigation routes for open water vessels travelling from Halifax or Rotterdam to the Bering Strait for (a) 2011–2035 and (b) 2036–2060, according to projections from 10 CMIP5 models forced with RCP 4.6 within Stephenson and Smith (2015)
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Part of the damaged rail tracks that connect Churchill with southern Canada. Photo taken by Authors about 66 miles south of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, October 8, 2017
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