How much shipping can we get through a warming Arctic?

Image of a boat and dock surrounded by ice.

Enlarge / As the world continues to warm, scenes like this will occur for a smaller fraction of the year. (credit: Alexander Ryumin / Getty Images )

Traveling by boat through Canada’s Arctic waters is no easy feat. Beyond the ice and the cold, the particular region is one of typically the most complex geographies on Earth, containing some 36, 000 islands of varying size. But the nature associated with the Arctic is shifting thanks to climate change, and according to new research, the nautical pathways through the region are likely to become easier to traverse as the world warms and its ice becomes less common .

The new paper projects how navigable the Canadian Arctic will be in a progressively warmer world. The research began in 2017 and was performed in an effort to model climate change in a way that was digestible and useful for policymakers and people living in Arctic communities. “We need to think about indicators at a local scale, or the decision-making scale, ” said Jackie Dawson, one of the paper’s authors and a professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.

While the paper also looks into the policy and social implications of different warming scenarios, we would be better off if we kept the climate from warming. The likelihood regarding reaching some of the paper’s more dire scenarios “[depends] on what actions we take in the future, is what it boils down to, ” Lawrence Mudryk—a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada and one of the paper’s authors—told Ars .

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