Nuclear Icebreaker Vaygach (Photo by Dudinka Apu, licence via Wiki Commons)The Russian icebreaker Vaygach recently completed a transit of the Northern Sea Route in just seven and a half days. Of greater significance, however,  is the fact that the Vaygach left from the Siberian side of the Bering Strait on December 17, reaching the White Sea on December 25, that is to say, more than a month after the shipping season usually ends in the Arctic.

As reported by the Maritime Executive, "The timing of the trip is seen as an indication of changing ice conditions in the Arctic, a phenomenon that extends beyond the Northern Sea Route. Captain David “Duke” Snider transited the Northwest Passage on board the ice breaker Fennica in late October and early November after sailing the Arctic virtually non-stop on various vessels from July. Snider is an ice navigator and master with around 30 years at sea, CEO of Martech Polar Consulting and author of the book Polar Ship Operations. “During this long summer at sea, I saw heavier ice than usual off the east coast of Baffin Island in July and August,” says Snider. “I saw huge open water expanses north of the Yukon/Alaska border in regions normally well encumbered by ice, but at the same time a polar pack ice edge further south that we have seen in the last few years north of Barrow and the Alaska North Slope.”

The Captain continues: “The bottom line is, global climate change is real, sea ice in general is indeed decreasing in extent, but it is still there, and it still moves about in many ways unpredictably,” says Snider. “Weather events MAY be getting more extreme, but that does not concern me as much as the variability in ice conditions. What was good yesterday is bad today, and that holds true weekly, monthly, annually and across decades. If you venture into the Arctic expecting a summer cruise with no issues you are sadly mistaken.”

Although more research is needed -- we have very little knowledge of how weather systems generate, evolve and dissipate in this region, the forecasting in general is rather hit and miss -- Polar shipping is increasing. “The new traffic tends to be less experienced operators and less capable ships, both of which in my mind underscore the great need for improvement,” says Snider. “The experienced hands and highly capable ice ships operating in the past could (pardon the pun) generally weather the storms.”

Read more here.


(Source: The Maritime Executive)

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