A Russian oil tanker crossed the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean for the first time in February, highlighting the potential huge commercial value of the North sea route, but also bringing new evidence for the accelerated warming and the worsening ecological crisis in the Arctic region.
Christophe de Margerie, an LNG tanker operated by Russian shipping giant sovcomflot, started from Jiangsu, China, crossed the Bering Strait, followed the nuclear powered icebreaker 50let pobedy along the northern coast of Russia, and arrived at the remote Arctic terminal sabetta on February 19.
Igor tonkovidov, chief executive of sovcomflot, said at a meeting with Russian officials that the voyage "confirmed that it is possible for the whole North sea route to achieve safe navigation throughout the year.".
Yury Trutnev, Russia's deputy prime minister, predicted that the annual traffic volume of the route could more than double by 2024. "I believe that the North sea route is competitive. Changes in ice conditions and advances in marine technology have created new conditions for its development," he said
Previously, due to the thick ice in the Arctic region, the route was impassable in the first few months of each year. However, after the partial melting of ice caused by climate change, the North sea route (NSR) has more and more potential in shipping, which can shorten the transportation time from East Asia to Europe by nearly half.
In Russia's plan, the North sea route has the ability to become the main trade artery between Europe and Asia. In 2020, the North sea route will transport 33 million tons of goods, an increase of 4.7% year on year. The Russian atomic energy company said the figure exceeded its target of 29 million tons. It is estimated that the freight volume through the North sea route will reach 92.6 million tons by 2024.
At the same time, sovcomflot will receive 18 ice breaking LNG carriers from 2023 to 2025 to serve the Arctic natural gas project with an annual output of 20 million tons.
But environmentalists believe that sailing in the Arctic by breaking the ice has exacerbated the damage to the local environment. In response, Russian media pointed out that icebreakers had been used in polar regions as early as the 11th century. The recent successful navigation is also due to the temperature rise, which leads to the fact that the oil tanker has not encountered the ice layer formed after many years, which can completely close the route.
Before the experiment, some monitoring agencies also warned about the speed of Arctic warming. According to the Arctic annual report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in December 2020, the year of sea ice is decreasing as the temperature rises. Thirty years ago, at the end of winter, ice at least four years old accounted for about a third of the ice accretion in the Arctic Ocean. Last year, old ice accounted for less than 5% of ice accretion.
Relatively speaking, thicker ancient ice is better able to resist warm sea water and gradually rising temperature. Younger ice is more brittle and more likely to break, which is the direct reason why oil tankers can cross the Arctic in February.
Long term studies have shown that the Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world. The Laptev Sea in northern Russia usually begins to freeze in September, but it didn't start to freeze until late October last year, and the sea ice is thinner than ever.
Arctic warming has brought more frequent extreme weather events to the northern hemisphere. Meteorologists believe that the recent cold wave in southern Texas of the United States is affected by the rising temperature of the Arctic, which makes it easier for cold air to escape southward.