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June 4, 2023

First time in 12 years, Northern Sea Route remains closed

By Priti Naik

Weathernews Inc. Global Ice Center announced its analysis of Arctic Ocean Sea Ice conditions in 2021, stating that due to cool summer temperatures in July 2021, the sea ice did not melt considerably, and the minimum sea ice area for the year was the largest in the preceding seven years at 4.61 million sq.km. The Northern Sea Routes, Northeast (Russian side) and Northwest (Canadian side) Passages remained closed, according to the statement.

This is the first time in 12 years since 2009 that the Northeast Passage did not open. According to Weathernews’ definition, “open” is a state in which the entire route can be navigated without entering any areas affected by sea ice. For voyages between Asia and Europe, using the NSR reduces not only transportation costs but also CO2 emissions. The decline in sea ice area has been increasing in recent years due to increases in water temperature. 

With some pointing out the possibility that warming may be progressing in the Arctic region at a rate two to three times faster compared to other regions. During the preceding 2020 season the Northern Sea Route was open for the longest period ever, at 88 days, owing to the record-breaking high temperatures in the Arctic region, Weathernews Inc. Global Ice Center said.

On the other hand, the summer temperatures during 2021 trended colder than usual in July, which is the usual period of melting, resulting in less than the average amount of sea ice melting. As a result, sea ice remained in some areas of the Northern Sea Route even in September when the sea ice area should be the smallest, causing both the Northeast and the Northwest Passages to remain closed.

This is the first season in 12 years, since 2009, that the Northeast Passage did not open. For the Northwest Passage, this was the second consecutive year that it failed to open due to sea ice persisting along the Passage. The minimum Arctic Ocean sea ice area for the year was 4.61 million sq.km, the largest recorded in the past seven years.

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