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Executive Summary for September 16th

We review the latest Arctic news, including new predictions on Arctic sea routes and provide an update on the Russian Arctic river that turned red.

Published on Sep. 16, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Arctic Shipping Routes Will Open Up But Barriers Remain

By the end of the century, Arctic shipping routes will remain open for four to eight months a year, unless countries manage to dramatically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the Washington Post reported.

A new study looked at Arctic shipping routes under different future climate scenarios. The outcome, the researchers found, depends largely on our greenhouse gas emissions in this century.

Some trips could be cut nearly in half. Shipping to Yokohama, Japan, from Rotterdam along the Northern Sea Route could take 18 days (instead of 30) across 6,930 nautical miles (instead of 11,580).

Even if countries managed to control emissions and meet the Paris target of keeping the planet’s warming to well below 2C (3.6F), the study predicts routes are twice as likely to be open in late summer by mid-century. But in a high-emissions world, it could be possible for both open-water and ice-strengthened ships to take the Transpolar Sea Route across the Arctic Ocean, according to the article.

Others say the dream of shipping through the Arctic – to save money and time – remains distant. While the Arctic is warming, parts of its passages are shallow and remain covered or ice-choked for much of the year.

Passage along these routes remains riskier than traditional routes through the Panama and Suez canals, carries high insurance costs and lacks intermediate stops to pick up and drop off cargo, Bloomberg reports.

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Annual Low, Ties for Second Place

Arctic sea ice dwindled to the second-lowest level on record since satellite measurements began, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

The sea ice wavered for a couple of days earlier this week, before it began its winter growth spurt. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), its summer low point was 4.14 million sq km (1.6 sq mi) compared to the the 2012 record of 3.39 million sq km (1.31 million sq mi).

After a slow summer, due to cool and cloudy conditions, sea ice melt picked up in late August and September, allowing it to “catch up to 2007,” Walt Meier, a research scientist and sea ice specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told Arctic Deeply.

Mark Serreze, the NSIDC director, told the Associated Press that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Arctic was relatively ice-free by 2030.

Several scientists noted that the lowest 10 years of sea ice have all occurred in the past decade.

The long-term loss of sea ice is already affecting Arctic animals, including birds and mammals, and the people who live in the Arctic. A study of 35 years of satellite records has found that all 19 refuges near the North Pole that support polar bear populations showed a trend towards earlier retreat of sea ice in the spring and a later advance in the autumn, Nature reported.

NASA Satellite Images Show Russian Arctic River Has Been Red Before

Satellite images released by NASA on Thursday, show that waters running nearby an industrial pipeline near the Russian Arctic city of Norilsk have turned red several times since 2001, RT reported.

Earlier this week, BBC reported that Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel and palladium producer, had admitted to a spillage at one of its plants, after first denying that it was the source of the color change in the Daldykan River. It said that there was no risk to people or wildlife.

Environmental activists said it was too soon to know what the impact might be, according to the Guardian. The infrastructure’s location, and the company’s control over the region, makes it challenging to investigate the outcomes, a Greenpeace Russia official said.

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