Ice in Arctic’s Northwest passage is still ‘too thick’ for shipping, says study

Research has found that channels in the Arctic’s Northwest Passage still contain thick multi-year ice that could be hazardous for shipping, even in warmer months of the year.

Even in the current climate, ice conditions in the passage north of Canada should still be considered severe and could present a hazard for ships, said the study, ‘Ice Thickness in the Northwest Passage’, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters on September 25.

Researchers conducted electromagnetic surveys of first-year and multi-year ice thickness in the Northwest Passage during April and May 2011 and 2015.

Thick ice more than 100 metres wide and more than 4 metres thick occurred often, authors Christian Haas, from York University, and Stephen EL Howell from Environment Canada wrote in the paper.

“Mean thicknesses over 3 metres and thick, deformed ice were observed over some multi-year ice regimes shown to originate from the Arctic Ocean,” the paper said.

Ice greater than three to four metres in thickness was found in the regions of Byam-Martin Channel, Viscount Melville Sound, Peel Sound, M’Clintock Channel, Victoria Strait and Queen Maud Gulf.

The Northwest Passage knocks 4,000 km off the transit distance for vessels between Europe and the Far East.

Vessels with ice class 1A or the less-common ice class 1A Super are able to transit ice with equivalent thickness of  0.8 metres and 1.0 metre respectively, without the assistance of an icebreaker vessel.

Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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