A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker, designed for icy conditions, has become the first commercial ship to pass through the Arctic’s northern sea route during winter. The Teekay vessel set off from South Korea in December, bound for Sabetta in northern Russia, cutting through ice 1.8m thick. It completed the route last month, delivering its cargo to Montoir, France. Teekay are investing in a further six ships to serve this route. The northern sea route is favoured as it is shorter than through the Suez Canal, which is the conventional route used for trade between Europe and Asia.
Arctic sea ice has been getting increasingly thinner over the years, hitting a record low in January 2018. Now that the northern trade route is passable during winter, it is likely to lead to an increase in ships using this instead of more traditional trade routes to reduce journey time. As a result, it will put economic pressure on countries who rely heavily on the revenue generated through shipping, when vessels travel via the Suez Canal route.
More importantly, how is this increase in traffic likely to affect the Arctic, a region considered pivotal in the functioning of crucial earth systems?