Global Warming Opens up Arctic Seas and Closes Arctic Roads

In an article that seems to have been written with the catchphrase “poor taste” in mind, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have shown that over the next 40 years, global warming will open up transport networks through the Arctic waterways but close down Arctic roadways, proclaiming coastal communities as “winners.”

“As sea ice continues to melt, accessibility by sea will increase, but the viability of an important network of roads that depend on freezing temperatures is threatened by a warming climate,” said Scott Stephenson, a UCLA graduate student in geography and the study’s lead author.

“Popular perception holds that climate warming will mean an opening up of the Arctic, but our study shows that this is only partly so,” said co-author Laurence C. Smith, a UCLA professor of geography. “Rising maritime access for ships will be severely countered by falling vehicular access on land.”

Stephenson and Smith, along with UCLA geographer John A. Agnew integrated accessibility models for the Arctic together with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research’s climate models for the coming century to create month-to-month Arctic accessibility rates for 2010 to 2014, and 2045 to 2059, and then compared the two scenarios.

What they found was that temporary arctic ice roads – like those seen in the popular History Channel TV series ‘Ice Road Truckers’ – will deteriorate, and minimise accessibility throughout all eight of the Arctic countries; Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Losses are expected to range from 11 percent to 82 percent, depending on the area.

For example, the Tibbitt–Contwoyto winter road from the ‘Ice Road Truckers’ will likely lose 17 percent of its eight to ten week operating season. Drops in accessibility via road will cause communities reliant upon these roads to start depending upon alternative modes of transportation to deliver their necessities, increasing the costs.

“Remote communities that rely on winter roads, especially those that are inland, may have to switch to air cargo services, which will dramatically increase the costs of supplies,” Stephenson said. “That would make life that much harder in these communities.”

However, in a callous show of business-first, the UCLA study notes that coastal communities will benefit, as will the shipping companies, who will now be able to use three of the four major shipping routes – one of which simply doesn’t even have a name yet – to deliver goods via vessels that are not equipped to break ice, and are therefore more predominant.

“This will be good news for global shipping interests, who stand to reap savings by moving cargo through these passages rather than through the Panama Canal, Suez Canal or the Strait of Malacca,” Stephenson said.

Bad news, as far as I can see, for the coastal communities who will have had to move inland away from their historical homes of rising sea levels, the animals of the Arctic who are now dealing with less ice to feed from and more human invasion to hide from, and the planet as a whole as the increased shipping through the Arctic continues to destroy the environment and, with it, the planets ability to reflect heat back into space.

So yeah! Good win for … who?

Source: University of California, Los Angeles
Image Source: farleyj

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