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    July 20, 2011 | 3:31 PM

    Will “rapid growth" in Arctic shipping mean rapid warming?

    Source: U.S. Geological Survey

    Egypt's Suez Canal was once the only available shortcut for ships sailing between Europe and Asia. Now, as the Arctic warms, sea ice melts and circumpolar sea routes open up, the Suez has a new rival. A new study shows that in some cases, shipping via the northern route through the Arctic Ocean basin will be more cost-effective. As a result, transit shipping in the Arctic is likely to experience "rapid growth" in the coming decades.

    So what's the problem? Ships spew black carbon (or soot), which we know significantly contributes to Arctic warming. Black carbon settles onto the ice, then, like a dark shirt on a hot day, it absorbs the sun's rays and melts the ice. With less ice serving as the Arctic's reflective sun shield, the region warms more rapidly. It's a troubling feedback loop: more ships, less ice, warmer temperatures, even less ice, even more ships.

    Through the Nuuk Declaration made earlier this spring, all eight Arctic States officially recognized the threats associated with increased shipping activity. They plan to execute black-carbon-reducing demonstration projects and call on the International Maritime Organization to develop mandatory polar ship codes. Without strong support for innovative initiatives like these, transporting goods through the Arctic could make it harder to solve the climate crisis.

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