Melting Arctic Ice Could Have Geopolitical Implications for Shipping

Medscape Staff

June 24, 2022

Arctic ice is melting at such a rate that new shipping routes could be opened as areas once covered in ice and snow year-round become ice free for several months, according to climate scientists associated with Brown University, Providence, Rhode, Island, working with a legal scholar who works at the University of Maine School of Law, Portland.

What to Know:

  • Parts of the Arctic that had once been blanketed in snow and ice year-round are warming so fast that they will be ice free for several months in about 2 decades, which could open maritime trade networks that bypass the Russian-controlled route in the North Sea.

  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea gives Arctic coastal states authority on the primary shipping channels that are in their waters. Russia has used the law to control the northern passage because ice-free routes have been in Russian territory.

  • Many major shipping firms avoid the shorter North Sea route because of Russia’s demanding rules, which require vessels passing through their waters to provide advance notice of plans to sail via the route, pay tolls, and allow the ships to be piloted by the Russians.

  • By 2065, the navigability in the Arctic is estimated to yield new trade channels in international waters that are not Russian controlled. This would shorten transit times by about 14 to 20 days and lower the carbon footprint of the shipping industry by as much as 24%.

  • While the routes could mean savings of time and money for international trade, they also mean that the changing climate in the Arctic will endanger numerous species that live in subzero temperatures.

This is a summary of the article "Melting Arctic ice could transform international shipping routes, study finds," published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 6, 2022. The full article can be found on

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