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There’s more behind Arctic shipping than climate change – The Globe and Mail

Feb. 03 2014

There is a continuing debate about the possible emergence of an ‘Arctic shipping boom’ in Canada. Recent headlines outline both cargo shippers’ plans to increase voyages through the Northwest Passage and an interminable list of risks associated with this possibility, while other stories call for a reality check and for promoters of the so-called boom in Arctic shipping to curb their excitement.

In a recently published article in the journal Climate Change, a group of climate change researchers out of the University of Ottawa and Environment Canada analyzed the historic changes in Arctic ship patterns between 1990 and 2012, looking for relationships between reductions in sea ice extent and thickness and increases in ship traffic due to the reduced ice improving access to the region.

They found that in the summer shipping season there has been an increase in activity over the past 20 years, with more intense increases over the past decade. Analysis of a dataset obtained from the Canadian Coast Guard revealed that overall vessel counts increased by 40 per cent from 2006 to 2007 and by 20 per cent from 2007 to 2012. Accounting for annual variability, total vessel volume has actually increased by more than 75 per cent over the past ten years.

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