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Transportation Earth

Northern Sea Route Through Arctic Becomes a Reality 373

Posted by kdawson
from the admiral-peary-i-presume dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Andrew Revkin writes in the NY Times that since 1553, when Sir Hugh Willoughby led an expedition north in search of a sea passage over Russia to the Far East, mariners have dreamed of a Northern Sea Route through Russia's Arctic ocean that could cut thousands of miles compared with alternate routes. A voyage between Hamburg and Yokohama is only 6,600 nm. via the Northern Sea Route — less than 60% of the 11,400 nm. Suez route. Now in part because of warming and the retreat and thinning of Arctic sea ice in summer, this northern sea route is becoming a reality with the 12,700-ton 'Beluga Fraternity,' designed for a mix of ice and open seas, poised to make what appears to be the first such trip. The German ship picked up equipment in Ulsan, South Korea, on July 23 and arrived in Vladivostok on the 25th with a final destination at the docks in Novyy Port, a Siberian outpost. After that, if conditions permit, it will head to Antwerp or Rotterdam, marking what company officials say would be the first time a vessel has crossed from Asia to Europe through the Arctic on a commercial passage."
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Northern Sea Route Through Arctic Becomes a Reality

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  • Yeah right (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:15AM (#28864531)

    A wonderful, magical route that can turn kilometers into nanometers?

    • Re:Yeah right (Score:4, Informative)

      by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:18AM (#28864563) Journal
      nautical miles
      • Re:Yeah right (Score:4, Informative)

        by thesolo (131008) * <slap@fighttheriaa.org> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:23AM (#28865191) Homepage
        Obviously the confusion is stemming from the fact that the submitter used the wrong abbreviation.

        Lowercase "nm" is nanometer. NM, Nm or nmi are appropriate for nautical mile. Neither of which are to be confused with the newton-meter, which is N m. (N.B. there is a space between N and m for newton-meter.)
      • by Fred_A (10934)

        nautical miles

        The article says it "saves fuel" and you're saying it merely turns distance in yet another weird medieval unit. People who want floating ice and strange units could just move to Alaska. This makes no sense at all.

        I call shenanigans on the whole thing. Or there's yet another conspiracy at work. Obviously the Illuminati are running sea shipments.

        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          It is another conspiracy. I hear they referred to objects going at several "knots" of speed. Another weird unit. They were probably ciphered messages talking about UFOs...
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tuxgeek (872962)
          "People who want floating ice and strange units could just move to Alaska"
          What the fuck are you talking about? We use real money here.
          Why I just made a kayak load of moose nuggets selling walrus tusks and baby seal furs on Ebay
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Global Warming(TM) caused a wormhole to open.
  • As long as our global economy is stimulated, I don't see any issue with destroying our habitat...
    • by db32 (862117) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:31AM (#28864673) Journal

      Please, this news is worthless compared to other coming attractions. Just think about the vast amount of land that is working its way towards being tropical climate beach front property! All those rich people living in the current beach front property will lose their places and be forced to buy new places! You should buy up some land in those middle regions now while it is still cheap. I for one welcome our ice caps melting! Travel is expensive so bringing the ocean to me is a much more cost effective vacation solution.

      • OMG! WaterWorld is REAL!!1 o.O
      • A buddy of mine wants to buy some property in Georgia, preferably on top of a hill, so he can build a dock on it and wait for the water to come.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ajs (35943)

        All those rich people living in the current beach front property will lose their places and be forced to buy new places!

        There actually are a lot of very interesting transformations that a warming earth could bring us, many of which are arguably positive (making much more of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia accessible to large-scale habitation; increased access to existing tundra for growing; etc.) However, this isn't actually one of the likely outcomes. Unless the IPCCC's initial estimates for sea level rise are radically off, 10-50cm of sea level rise isn't going to be forcing any but the most absurdly exposed to move inland.

    • Yeah. There is an old Russian joke:

      A guy smuggling some radioactive element in his trousers is caught at the customs.
      The customs officer barks at him: Are you stupid? It is radioactive, you won't have any children after this.
      The guy answers nonchalantly: As long as my grandchildren won't starve I don't care.

    • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:38AM (#28865413) Homepage

      Not to burst your bubble, but "our habitat", of large mammals in general becomes actually much better (esp. much larger, but also easier to farm) at a higher global temperature. Lush forests in greenland house a hell of a lot more creatures, and humans, than ice valleys and gletsjers.

      There are probably disasters that global warming causes, if it indeed happens in any significant way (ie. not like it's currently happening), but there are many good things too. The last "globally warmed" climate saw a rich civilization in Greenland, with huge orchards and wineries, lush forests, rich wildlife, etc. The same goes for a sizeable part of Siberia. With but a few degrees temperature gain, life there (and it's a fucking huge place) will become much, much easier.

      The same goes for quite a few spots on the southern hemisphere. There is also the little tidbit that global warming stops desertification, and makes e.g. the sahara [guardian.co.uk] lose ground. The advantages of that can hardly be overstated.

      But, of course, coastal cities might be in for a world of hurt (although given that holland has an average elevation of -2 meter, whereas the worst US coastal city has an average elevation of +3 meter, and something like New York has over 5, the absolute worst case sea level rise of 95 centimeters by 2100 [howstuffworks.com] should not be a problem for any US coastal city, or for Holland for that matter. A more problematic city is Venice, but whether or not the sea level rises, we will have to move Venice or give it to the sea in less than 150 years anyway).

      We are warmblooded mammals. The reason we beat the dinosaurs was the fact that dinosaurs don't do well at all in colder climates. Mammals on the other hand, can live in temperatures as low as -40 degrees celcius on average. At current global temperature, most reptiles are limited to tropical climates. The larger reptiles are even limited to warmer-than-their-surroundings rivers in very warm climates. Not that a 6 degree rise will allow crocodiles to live in Europe, but they might colonize the mediterranean coast and a few other rivers than the nile.

      • >>>"our habitat", of large mammals in general becomes actually much better (esp. much larger, but also easier to farm) at a higher global temperature. Lush forests in greenhouse a hell of a lot more creatures, and humans, than ice valleys and gletsjers.
        >>>>

        That's true. But actually a warm, tropical climate benefits reptiles and amphibians more than mammals. Perhaps crocodiles and lizards will start growing huge, and we'll see a modern-day variant of dinosaurs 10,000 years from now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bunratty (545641)
        Even a one meter rise is sea level will be devestating to many U.S. coastal cities. You can watch this video to see the effects of even a small rise in sea level [www.uctv.tv] and jump to 22 minutes into the lecture to see the simulations. And although the sea level is predicted to rise one meter in the next century, it isn't expected to suddenly stop rising after 100 years.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098)

        Sure Greenland and Siberia might become great agricultural centers. Go tell that to the midwest farmers. Furthermore, there ARE negative changes that will happen. Part of Siberia might become open for farming, but a good chunk of it will turn into a permanent bog. Diseases and vermin will reach parts that have been safe from them so far. West Nile is one, and the boring beetle is another.

        The point is not that global climate change is going to destroy us. The point is that it is change that will cost us an e

      • by sean.peters (568334) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @11:54AM (#28867563) Homepage

        But, of course, coastal cities might be in for a world of hurt (although given that holland has an average elevation of -2 meter, whereas the worst US coastal city has an average elevation of +3 meter, and something like New York has over 5, the absolute worst case sea level rise of 95 centimeters by 2100

        Right. They "average" significantly higher than the expected sea level. So only PARTS of our highly expensive coastal real estate will end up underwater. That shouldn't be any problem at all. Not mention the fact that much of the densely populated and very low-lying nation of Bangladesh, for example, will end up submerged. And this:

        Not to burst your bubble, but "our habitat", of large mammals in general becomes actually much better (esp. much larger, but also easier to farm) at a higher global temperature. Lush forests in greenland house a hell of a lot more creatures, and humans, than ice valleys and gletsjers.

        Except that the great plains, the breadbasket of the US, is predicted to become significantly drier... to the point where agriculture would become essentially impossible over large areas currently being farmed. But that's OK, Greenland is going to become very productive!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822)

        Not to burst your bubble, but "our habitat", of large mammals in general becomes actually much better (esp. much larger, but also easier to farm) at a higher global temperature. The last "globally warmed" climate saw a rich civilization in Greenland, with huge orchards and wineries, lush forests, rich wildlife, etc.

        Current global temperatures are, to the best available evidence, both higher and rising faster than they have ever been in the time in which there has been any human civilization. Certainly, dur

    • I also look forward to sinking oil tankers and garbage [blogger.com] swirls [blogspot.com].

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:20AM (#28864593) Journal
    Can we use this as a clear proof of a unique ice sheet retractation or was the news really about the boat design ?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bunratty (545641)
      We've known that the Arctic ice [nsidc.org] has been melting for quite some time. Not only is the surface area of the ice decreasing, but the total volume [reuters.com] of Arctic ice is also decreasing. In a few decades, the Arctic might be completely ice free [agu.org] during the summer.
    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:14AM (#28865111)
      Nansen built a boat strong enough to be able to survive trapping in pack ice (the Fram) to prove that the Arctic ice actually drifts - which he did. The Soviet Union has had nuclear powered icebreakers for a long time, and if I was as rich as Warren Buffett that is one toy I would certainly buy myself. However, neither of these designs is an economic cargo carrying ship. The point here is that a vessel built to commercial standards can safely embark on the trip, therefore something has changed.

      Think of the Darien Gap. It has been navigated by vehicles, rather special purpose ones. If you read that it was now being served by a regular truck route, you might suspect things had changed a bit.

      • I'd suspect that the guys that built the I-10 causeway across western Louisiana had built a highway across it. A quick look at Wikipedia suggests that the Darien Gap's challenges are political and financial, not technical. If engineers can build a highway across the Atchafalya basin (all swamp) from New Orleans to Lafayette, they can build one across the Darien Gap.

      • by hcdejong (561314)

        The Soviet Union has had nuclear powered icebreakers for a long time, and if I was as rich as Warren Buffett that is one toy I would certainly buy myself.

        For the slightly less rich, some of those icebreakers are being used for tourist trips to the Arctic (Google 'nuclear icebreaker cruise' to find out more).

    • Hardly news... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mi (197448) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:21AM (#28865161) Homepage

      Soviet's have regularly sailed through the Northern Sea Route [wikipedia.org] in summer since, at least, the middle of the last century. There is some great prose [konetsky.spb.ru] written with such sailing as a backdrop, in fact (in Russian, not sure about translations).

      The sailing was not easy and the airplanes were occasionally required to investigate movement of ice-fields. At the beginning and the end of the season, the ships were organized in convoys, that were headed by icebreakers [wikipedia.org]. (USSR even had a few nuclear-powered ones, first one built in 1959). But in the middle of the summer a regular ship could make the trip on its own...

      Maybe, there is less ice there now, but it is not like the trip has only just become possible.

  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:20AM (#28864597) Homepage

    A voyage between Hamburg and Yokohama is only 6,600 nm. via the Northern Sea Route â" less than 60% of the 11,400 nm. Suez route.

    So it sounds like this new route will conserve fuel and cut out at least 40% of their CO2 emissions.

    Imagine the benefits to the environment if we could just figure out a way to melt the ice caps completely. Our greenhouse emissions would plummet!

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:30AM (#28864663) Journal
    So that they can put any polar bears stranded on isolated ice floes out of their misery.
  • Beluga Fraternity? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:34AM (#28864705)
    Beluga Fraternity? My Russian is so rusty I might just be typing the measurements of the playmate of the month, but wouldn't that portmanteau mean "White Brotherhood"? They've gotta mean something other that that, right?
    • Beluga is a kind of sturgeon.

      • by Tellarin (444097)

        Beluga is also a kind of whale. An arctic whale.

        It is also a class of Russian submarines if I'm not mistaken.

        • It depends. If it is a Russian ship name then Beluga is only a kind of sturgeon, the whale is called Belukha for about a century already. If it is a western ship then it is either the whale or the sturgeon because the word was borrowed from old Russian.

    • There are some photos of the ship available. [vesseltracker.com] She's mostly blue, and looks to be in need of a paint job.

      There are quite a few vessels [vesseltracker.com] in the Beluga Projects family. Seems more like the Marketing guys threw a dart at a dictionary ... Beluga Flirtation, Beluga Recommendation, Beluga Fiction ... yeah, I don't see anything underhanded here. Odd, yes.
    • Beluga Fraternity? My Russian is so rusty I might just be typing the measurements of the playmate of the month, but wouldn't that portmanteau mean "White Brotherhood"? They've gotta mean something other that that, right?

      Other than Beluga being an Arctic whale [wikipedia.org] and a type of sturgeon [wikipedia.org], both with obvious connections to Russia and the Arctic? Or referring to Belarus and the White Russians [wikipedia.org].

      Actually, a simple Google search reveals that it belongs to a shipping company named the Beluga Group [beluga-group.com], all of whose

  • So it's real, after all?

    • by sukotto (122876)
      Global warming is real. Earth has a long history of warming and cooling cycles. The point of contention right now is whether the current cycle is caused by humans or is just another natural one.
  • Just a century ago the very same thing would have hailed as yet another victory of mankind over mother nature. Industries would be falling each other claiming it happened because of human activity and it is a great thing too. Now apologists for the fossil fuel hawkers will be vigorously be denying it has anything to do with burning of fossil fuels. All that carbon assiduously sequestered by trillions of microscopic marine organisms and millions of tons of plants over million of years has been released in ju
  • by happy_place (632005) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:45AM (#28864815) Homepage
    If I lived in a country like Russia (or Canada, Norway, Finland, etc, for that matter), I'd be an enthusiastic supporter of anything that might even possibly tip the balance of the climate towards Global Warming for exactly these sorts of reasons. I mean, if you owned the largest frozen mass of land anywhere, why even care about such a cause?
    • Global warming doesn't just mean that things get a few degrees warmer. It also destabilizes weather patterns, potentially leading to very destructive storms and extended periods of extreme climate that could challenge our technology and ability to survive, even at our current state of development.

      Even ignoring those potential issues, I think it would generally be bad for everybody if a significant part of the world (ie. the equator and surrounding area) became uninhabitable.

      Slightly warmer MIGHT be okay, b

      • I'm just saying that if I were one of a million in Russia, where they already live in extreme weather conditions (cold), I would probably not care so much about such causes. Also, It's ironic that the countries that have the potential to contribute most to "carbon emissions" (India and China) both will be hammered by increased global warming.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ArcherB (796902)

        Slightly warmer MIGHT be okay, but it's a slippery slope and there's currently no end in sight to the warming. Not good.

        No, it's not. First, the earth has been warmer than even the most dire GW predictions. Next, the hockey stick model has been disproved repeatedly. Finally, the earth has seen GW several times before. Every time the earth has seen an ice age, it has ended due to GW. Never has any of the earth's warming cycles ended in a "slippery slope" scenario or caused some sort of runaway warming loop.

        The fact is that earth has heated and cooled all on its own for billions of years. For that matter, the earth is al

    • If I lived in a country like Russia (or Canada, Norway, Finland, etc, for that matter), I'd be an enthusiastic supporter of anything that might even possibly tip the balance of the climate towards Global Warming for exactly these sorts of reasons. I mean, if you owned the largest frozen mass of land anywhere, why even care about such a cause?

      A massive increase of malaria and other tropical diseases may be one reason to care.

  • Sorry, but this is not the famed Northwest Passage. If anything it is a NorthEAST passage.

  • The Arctic Ocean is now largely clear of ice, heralding vast new business opportunities [today.com], President Sarah Palin announced today.

    The famed North-West Passage is now permanently navigable, with huge shipping volumes between Arctic nations. "We're considering just building a highway straight across," said Mrs Palin, "though those long desert drives can be dangerous to health without air conditioning."

    Tourists have been flocking to Alaska and northern Canada to get away from the boiling oceans and sulphurous atmosphere around Hawaii. The Nunavut Tourist Bureau has shipped 60,000 swimming polar bear shirts this month alone. "It's also clear," said Palin, "that the bears have no business claiming to be endangered when there's so many jobs in tourism for them."

    Oil drilling in Alaska will also be much easier, and will of course further the conditions leading to this Arctic economic boom. "No it won't," said Palin. "What are you talking about?"

    "I'll say one thing for them evilutionist climate change conspirators," giggled Palin, "their hard work to take away the ice and make it look like they were right has done wonders for us good and decent folk."

  • Whoops (Score:5, Funny)

    by T.E.D. (34228) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @10:43AM (#28866303)

    To think of all that effort the US went through during the Cold War to deny Russia any good year-round ice-free ports.

    Now, thanks to our profligarate lifestyles, Russia is about to have hundreds of them. I hope they at least thank us...

  • "6,600 nm. via the Northern Sea Route -- less than 60% of the 11,400 nm"

    That is a difference of 4,400 nanometers only! :-)

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