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Below-average sea ice levels are expanding Arctic shipping options
was written by , 2019-09-11 10:33:30
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Marine vessels of all sizes are transiting through the Arctic Ocean this season, some starting from Nome. And they have a couple of options for ice-free routes.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC, Arctic sea ice loss will likely continue for several weeks.
The center says as of Aug. 31, sea ice extent dropped to the third-lowest amount on satellite record for that day: 1.78 million square miles. Around that same time, sea ice concentrations within the Northwest Passage were tracking below the average recorded between 1981-2010.
Mark Serreze, the director of NSIDC, said at least part of the passage seems to be quite navigable.
“When you think about the Northwest Passage, it’s not just one passage. It’s actually a number of ways you can get through those islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and if you were a real deep-draft ship, you’d want to go through this northern passage, kind of north of Banks Island, but that still has a lot of ice in it,” he said. “It looks very unlikely that that’s going to open up this year. The southern route through the Northwest Passage looks to be pretty much clear sailing.”
For the northern route through the passage, NSIDC said ice coverage is slightly below the previous, 30-year average, while the southern route — the path Roald Amundsen took through the Northwest Passage — is well below the average ice extent and is expected to be completely clear in the coming weeks.
This would allow polar adventurers Børge Ousland and Mike Horn, who were in Nome recently aboard the sailboat Pangaea, to travel further into the Arctic Ocean before hitting ice.
According to Horn, their journey will include skiing and walking across the frozen Arctic Ocean directly to the North Pole, then end near the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, which could take months to complete.
“Our time in Nome was spent fixing the boat, getting the equipment for the Arctic crossing ready, and meeting up with friends,” he said. “The friends I have in Nome went out of their way to help us as much as they could. Really without them, an expedition like this couldn’t happen, because they make things happen.”
Horn has had some equipment issues thus far on his trip, and he reportedly made unplanned stops in Teller and Wales to pick up new water pumps last week.
Going parallel across the opposite side of the Arctic, in a little more luxurious fashion, is the European cruise ship the Silver Explorer. The Silver Explorer started from Nome in early August and sailed through the Northeast Passage, also referred to as the Northern Sea Route, with an escort from a Russian icebreaker. According to Silversea Expeditions, the vessel arrived into Tromsø, Norway, more than three weeks after leaving Nome.
According to the Canadian Coast Guard, more than 15 international cruise ships will attempt at least part of the Northwest Passage this season, including the MV Roald Amundsen. Norwegian company Hurtigruten seeks to have the Amundsen be the first hybrid vessel to traverse the Arctic route later this month.
The Roald Amundsen is expected to end its journey in Nome on Sept. 11. Serreze cautions any vessel attempting to sail through the Northwest Passage right now to be vigilant.
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Glacier Bay National Park. Glacier Bay is found in southeast Alaska, approximately sixty air miles west of the state capitol of Juneau. The closest community is Gustavus, Alaska situated 11 miles away. Glacier Bay National Park now includes over 3 million acres, and is often identified as one of the Crown Jewels of the National Park system. The Park offers snow-capped mountain ranges ascending to in excess of 15,000 feet, coastal shorelines with shielded coves, deep fjords, tidewater glaciers, coastal and estuarine waters, and freshwater ponds. Along with dramatic scenery, there are plentiful wildlife watching possibilities with a wide variety of seabirds, sea and land mammals. Many visitors experience Glacier Bay National Park while on large cruise ships that visit the Park for the day, while others stay within the Park at the Glacier Bay Lodge. While there are no roads to Glacier Bay National Park, you will discover convenient air connections to Gustavus through Juneau, Skagway and Haines. Ferry service can also be offered by Juneau. Through Gustavus it is about 10 miles by road to Glacier Bay Lodge & Tours situated from Bartlett cove and is home to the visitor center and departure point for day boat tours to Glacier Bay National Park. Accommodations within Glacier Bay National Park are at the Glacier Bay Lodge. The hotel includes 56 rooms with dining, activities desk, gift shop, and the Park visitor center is located upstairs. All rooms have private bath and/or shower and can accommodate as many as four guests. Glacier Bay Lodge is open mid-May to mid-September every year.