Who doesn't love a shortcut? For centuries people in Russia looked for a northern route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The obvious way was to travel by sea along the northern coast of Russia. Unfortunately, this “climate-controlled” path lies in frigid Arctic waters and is frozen sold much of the year. It wasn't until 1878 that Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, a Finnish-Swedish explorer, made the first successful crossing through what is known as the Northeast Passage.
The passage is a shipping lane that runs from the North Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean to the North Atlantic Ocean and Europe. The route gave traders a shortcut between Europe and Asia. It shave thousands of miles off the usual route through the Suez Canal in Egypt. The trouble was that ships could never make it through the passage in winter. Even during the summer months, floating ice made trips too dangerous for regular travel.
Now, that’s beginning to change. Global warming is shrinking the ice in the Arctic, and this is opening new lanes in the Northeast Passage. Ships still can't sail during winter months without the help of icebreakers. During summer, though, routes near the shore are becoming increasingly ice-free and more ships are passing through. Commercial shippers save money on these shorter trips because they spend much less time and fuel.
- Icebreakers are used to open sea lanes in the Northeast Passage.
Why is Earth getting hotter? Many scientists think burning fossil fuels, such as gasoline and coal, are to blame. The fuels give off carbon dioxide which rises into the atmosphere. This traps the sun’s heat so it can’t escape back into the space. Global warming disrupts the climate and its weather patterns.