Why Are We So Keen to Sail the Arctic

  • Published on July 21st, 2010

For the first time in over 50 years Arctic waters will be the subject of a mapping expedition. What I want to know is, why?

Arctic ice has been receding at a rapid and alarming rate over the past decade. We’ve seen the Northwest Passage open for the first time in recorded and memorable history, ice receding to its lowest point in centuries, and talk of using the once impassable Arctic Ocean as a means to cut shipping times.

And the first thing that people think of is not banning shipping, but rather how to best chart the waters to increase shipping.


Here are some of the comments coming from those involved or linked to the proposed expedition by the NOAA to chart the Arctic waters;

“We have seen a substantial increase in activity in the region and ships are operating with woefully outdated charts,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “I have introduced legislation that authorizes a significant increase in funding for mapping the Arctic, and I am pleased to see NOAA beginning the process. While this is a good start, we still need more resources to adequately map this region.”

“Commercial shippers aren’t the only ones needing assurances of safety in new trade routes,” notes Captain John Lowell, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The additional potential for passenger cruises, commercial fishing and other economic activities add to pressures for adequate response to navigational risks.”

The only person to even mention climate change, Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, only wants to stabilize the area for “oil and gas development and marine transportation” so that they are “done safely and responsibly.”

Granted, any comment that is easily accessible at the moment has been sourced by the NOAA itself and is therefore going to be complimentary to the aims of the mission. I hope that I am not the only one who believes that pushing for ease of access into the Arctic waters is a bad idea.

Not only will intrusion into already susceptible and fragile waters harm the environs and potentially cause or accelerate damage already done to the region, but there are untold numbers of ecosystems and life forms that have never had to deal with human made vessels trudging through their home.

The impact could be devastating beyond belief, and the seeming lack of concern is worrying, though not atypical. Given the opportunity to increase ones revenue stream, all manner of environmental concerns will be flung out the nearest window, water and baby and bath and all.

About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.


  • Why? for exploitation of natural resources in the same way that this continent was “discovered.” The entire west coast discovery, exploration and settlement was based on the pelts of the sea otter. When their numbers dropped after years of slaughter, the giant old growth trees were the next product.

    The artctic also has animals (fish & game) and minerals just waiting to be harvested and brought into the marketplace. The conquerer and capitalist mindset does not accept that creatures can exist just for themselves.

    A few trips will be for tourists who just want to look and we know what cruise ships do to the oceans.

  • I agree with most of what has been said; unfortunately there is a reason for being worried about the exploration & mapping: the opening constitutes a new road to get to Alaska's oil and save on shipping it. Let us not be naive and hope it is internationally agreed that the Arctic should not be open to commercial navigation.

  • Your blog raises some valid questions, and there are good answers. NOAA Coast Survey (and its predecessor organizations) has been charting U.S. waters since the early 1800s. The nautical charts don’t open up new areas for shipping, they help to make navigation safer by telling mariners where underwater dangers lie.

    As the Arctic ice recedes, we can all agree that we don’t need any maritime disasters. Maritime activities — whether it is shipping, energy (alternative or traditional), eco-tourism, or whatever — will undoubtedly increase, and the goal of hydrographic surveys for nautical charts is to provide information that will help to protect lives and ecosystems.

Comments are closed.