Northwest Passage Could Open for Second TimeRapid summer ice melting caused the passage to open in 2007
On the left, ice fills Parry Channel on July 17. At right, on Aug. 3, the same region has dramatically less ice. (NASA Earth Observatory)
Rapid summer ice melting may lead to opening of the famous Northwest Passage this year. The Canadian Arctic waterway connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans has historically been locked by ice, but this year could be different. In late July, 79 percent of the passage is usually covered in ice, but this year ice covered only 33 percent. By early August, satellite images showed the Parry Channel (a part of the passage connecting Buffin Bay and the Beaufort Sea) nearly ice-free.
In 2007, ice in the Arctic hit a record low, and the Northwest Passage opened for the first time since recording began in 1978. Although the passage will likely open for the second time, it will not necessarily be navigable. Satellites may not be able to detect thin sea ice that could still prevent the safe passage of ships.
The ice is expected to return come early winter, and the sea route will be blocked anew. Experts say long-term opening of the passage, which would provide a navigable shipping and travel route, could happen sometime between 2030 and 2080.
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