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Scientists Shocked as Arctic Polar Route Revealed 568

Paladin144 writes "A route unencumbered by perennial sea ice leading directly to the North Pole has been revealed by recent satellite pictures. European scientists indicated their shock as they noted a ship could sail from Europe's northern-most outpost directly to the pole, something that hasn't been possible during most of recorded human history. The rapid thawing of the perennial sea ice has political implications as the U.S., Canada, Russia and the EU jockey for control of the newly opened passages."
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Scientists Shocked as Arctic Polar Route Revealed

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  • by phatvw ( 996438 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:44AM (#16152046)
    I did a Google search for other articles on this topic, and nobody has the actual satellite images, just a bunch of lame pictures of *small* icebergs from 2003? I can just see all the Al Gore propaganda jokes tomorrow...

    But seriously if you're going to write an article at least post the images. Even Discovery Channel didn't have a good image and they are usually all about the pictures!
  • by De_Boswachter ( 905895 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:51AM (#16152067) Homepage
    An ice breaker fount its way to the North Pole in 2000. There was no ice on the spot at that time. []
  • Re:trade with russia (Score:3, Informative)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:52AM (#16152072)
    You said: "this article about Pat Broe,"

    In the article:

    "territory is determined by how far a nation's continental shelf extends into the sea. Under the treaty, countries have limited time after ratifying it to map the sea floor and make claims."

    Is that why the Danes and Canadians were facing off in the Arctic?

    Things make more sense now, with regards to that bit of insanity.

  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:56AM (#16152085) Homepage
    "something that hasn't been possible during most of recorded human history."

    This is not quite correct. There is an object in the Arctic ocean which is known as the "Great Siberian Polynya". It is a wide space of open water which is usually open even in mid-winter and starts somewhere in the middle of the icefields above the east end of the Barents sea and goes east-north-east from there. Its actual position and size varies year on year. While it has never been all the way to the north pole its north-eastern edge in some years has been only a few hundred kilometers away from it. Enough for a conventional icebreaker or even a reinforced ship to try to make a break for it. Similarly its south-western edge in some years has been very close to the open waters of the Barents (though not as far west as Spitzbergen).

    By the way, Russians have considered using this phenomenon for shipping in the soviet times and even did a few trial runs of convoys lead by Arctica class icebreakers through it (you still have to get to the Polynya and back from it across the ice fields). They abandoned it at the end. While it proved possible to run shipping in the ocean even in midwinter the shipments could not be moved further inland due to the lack of powerfull enough river icebreakers. The project was postponed till the first nuclear river icebreakers come on line. These were complete at about the time when the Soviet union fell apart and at that point nobody cared about centrally operated and organised super-shipping so they are sitting in Murmansk collecting rust.

  • One of the strangest anomalys of Global warming is that Europe's warm 'Mediterranean' climate is a result of the Gulf Stream, and the position of the Gulf Stream is a side effect of fresh water flows off of the arctic ice cap. If the arctic ice cap continues to shrink, the Gulf Stream could disapper, and so...
    Global Warming could cause Europe to freeze over.

    Say goodbye to warm Riviera Summers.

  • Re:Pictures? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grevling ( 698129 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @05:01AM (#16152097)
    Your pictures []
  • by rosscoe ( 1000032 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @05:49AM (#16152203)
    Houses in the UK tend to be built very well. Virtually all housing is brick construction with all new builds for the past 30 years (at least) requiring lots of insulation and double glazing. 15C lower temp in the winter would be bitch though as where I live (the south east) we get so little snow and ice that we don't have the necessary skills or tools to deal with it in large ammounts.
  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @05:54AM (#16152219) Journal
    Models run by the Met. Office show that the expected weakening in thermohaline circulation will be more than offset by the increased global temperature, making northern Europe slightly warmer at least over the next hundred or so years.
  • by glesga_kiss ( 596639 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:02AM (#16152243)
    Wouldn't it make no difference if light were reflected back from the ocean's surface as the same net energy from sunlight is still going to be trapped within our sphere?

    No, much of the light goes back out into space. That is how you can see the ice caps from orbit! ;-)

    Even if the energy get absorbed in the atmosphere, it'll just be the air which doesn't heat up the water. It's the IR taken in by the water that causes it to heat up and melt more ice. It's a positive-feedback cycle; less ice == more heat.

  • by Hamster Lover ( 558288 ) * on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:03AM (#16152247) Journal
    The North Atlantic Ocean can be a dangerous place, as anyone who can recall the fate of the Titanic will know, and the North Atlantic is thousands of miles from the pole. Just because the sea ice has broken up to the point that there are open stretches of water to the pole, does not mean that those waters are in any way navigable by your typical container or cargo vessels as icebergs and submerged ice litter the area. Perhaps in a few more decades the ice will have retreated enough to permit safe passage, but if anyone thinks Richard Branson could just whistle his yatch up the open waters to the pole needs a reality check.
  • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:10AM (#16152266) Homepage
    On the contrary; the melting of polar ice means more iceburgs end up detached from the rest.
  • by devonbowen ( 231626 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:10AM (#16152267) Homepage
    With fossils unearthed recently showing _tropical_ weather in Northern Canada, I think it's safe to say that the Arctic ice cap is a temporary feature.

    You do realize that continents move around, right? Plate techtonics and all that. Canada, for example, used to be on the equator.


  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:19AM (#16152282)
    "We can extract ice cores and easily date the layers."

    No, actually, we can't. You're thinking _ANTARCTIC_ ice layers, not Arctic. Arctic ice is _sea ice_ and as sea ice, it melts and refreezes and it _moves_ all over the damn place.

    Arctic sea ice oscillates twice a day.

    "Contrary to historical observations, sea ice in the high Arctic undergoes very small, back and forth movements twice a day, even in the dead of winter. It was once believed ice deformation at such a scale was almost non-existent." []

    And there are larger circulations at work, too. []

    And ice cores? The ice at the Arctic was 9 feet thick _at its thickest parts_ back in 1958. Just where are you going to get ice cores?


    "the rate of change is unprecedented"

    Prove it. You just pulled that statement _right out of your behind_.

    The rate is unprecedented, because _nobody has measured it before_. We've only been measuring since 1958. We don't know if this is a long term cycle or not. There's _not enough data_. Using your thought process, the "Little Ice Age" was "unprecedented"
      too, and were that happening today, you'd be screaming about how we're all going to die because we'll all freeze to death.

    I stand by my statements, as they're backed up by fact. Your post, however, certainly _is_ handwaving.

  • by OneSmartFellow ( 716217 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:19AM (#16152283)
    at least one of the farging photos - albeit a bit touched up - here it is MSR_2006_H.jpg []
    The non-red area near the pole (indicated by the black circle in the middle of the photo) is the concern, since it represents pack ice (and water) rather than solid ice
  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:28AM (#16152302)

    There won't be as many icebergs for ships to run into.

    Actually there will likely be more.

    Warmer water will weaken the edge of the polar icecap, causing it to splinter into icebergs more easily; at the same time, having open water nearer the pole means increased rainfall, which in turn means more ice formation. The circulation of water gets faster with more energy in the system; and iceberg formation is a part of that circulation, so it will intensify as well.

    And of course Atlantic storms will get worse too, the rising sealevel will drown out port towns, and the drying farmland means that sailors will starve to death before boarding the ships. Doom and gloom, man, doom and gloom.

  • by teridon ( 139550 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:35AM (#16152314) Homepage
    I did a Google search[...]
    Just goes to show you that Google is not a crutch for normal brain function. ;-) The article with pictures is linked right from ESA's main page [].
  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:39AM (#16152329)
    "You do realize that continents move around, right? Plate techtonics and all that. Canada, for example, used to be on the equator."

    Funny, not according to _these_ maps... []

    Have a nice day. Really.

  • by Kijori ( 897770 ) <> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:46AM (#16152351)
    Well, according to the Royal Mail [], he's in Reindeerland and can be reached using the postcode SAN TA1.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:51AM (#16152360)
    Well, the northernmost part of the bit that included N America is a lot higher than the tropics. Bummer for you that

    a) That includes Greenland
    b) That includes Alaska

    Where's canada? A wee bit further south.

    Depending on how you think the continent panned out (some of that is under water now: the continental shelf) you can make it to be tropical or sub-tropical (Sub tropical rainforest ring a bell?)

    And how do you know that's how the landmasses fell out? Was there a human there?!!?! Your skepticism seems to be very selective...
  • by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @07:01AM (#16152382) Homepage Journal
    You're thinking _ANTARCTIC_ ice layers, not Arctic. Arctic ice is _sea ice_ and as sea ice, it melts and refreezes and it _moves_ all over the damn place.

    You are right, I was thinking of Antarctic ice, sloppy of me. However, there are other ways. We can for instance find geological evidence from lake bed sediment cores [].

    And ice cores? The ice at the Arctic was 9 feet thick _at its thickest parts_ back in 1958. Just where are you going to get ice cores?

    Greenland [], for instance. I know they are not the same, but as an indicator of the climate of the area it is an indicator, right?

    We can't prove that cracks that these haven't happened before, I agree, but we can prove with some pretty good evidence that the north pole hasn't gone through this amount of change recently (within a couple of hundred thousand years). Even before this latest evidence came, many scientists were warning that the north pole could disappear completely during northern hemisphere summertime before the end of this century. And this is something that hasn't happened for along time. See for instance polar bears [] who need sea ice to hunt for seals. They evolved probably around 200 000 years ago.

    Even the Economist, who have been global warming deniers for years recently admitted that global warming was real and was going to have severe environemental and economic impact []. You don't find this alarming?
  • by CrackedButter ( 646746 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @07:14AM (#16152406) Homepage Journal
    The melting of the arctic ice doesn't effect sea levels, its the Antarctic that we should be worried about.
  • by ninewands ( 105734 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @07:35AM (#16152454)
    Quoth the poster:
    Oh yeah, in geological terms, human history is less than the blink of an eye.


    With fossils unearthed recently showing _tropical_ weather in Northern Canada, I think it's safe to say that the Arctic ice cap is a temporary feature.

    Regarding tropical weather in Northern Canada ... think plate tectonics and continental drift ... there used to be tropical weather in what is now northern Ellesmere Island because that patch of land was on the equator in Devonian times. :P

    It would be more accurate to say that ice-free poles are a very transient feature of earth. IIRC, earth's orbit is pretty far out in the sun's liquid water zone and ice ages are more common than warm stages in our climatic history.
  • by novus ordo ( 843883 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @07:41AM (#16152475) Journal
    Melting is an endothermic reaction, cooling the air as it melts. You can say that it's absorbing the extra energy that the planet is gaining and acting as a shock absorber. However, once that is gone and Antartica(who is going to claim it?) it is anyone's guess what will happen. Humans are pretty adapt at changing environment, but history shows [] that many species aren't.
  • North Pole embassies (Score:3, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @08:23AM (#16152599) Homepage Journal
    I think he has dual-citizenship as a Canadian (although that may remain to be seen with the whole Lebanon thing*) because his Postal Code is H0H 0H0.

    Or perhaps Santa Claus has a base of operations in every country, including one in Spencer County, Indiana, USA, close to the Holiday World theme park []. The H0H 0H0 code [] indicates that Santa's Canadian operations are out of Montreal.

  • by UglyTool ( 768385 ) <rstage&gmail,com> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @08:46AM (#16152675) Homepage
    In fact, we build our houses out of bricks, while Americans rebuild their wooden houses every year after the hurricane season!

    I guess you know something about brick that these [] people don't.

    Or these [] people.

    Hurricanes are one of the most destructive forces on the planet. If you think living in a brick house is gonna stop that power from destroying your house, make sure your insurance is up to date, and you have all of the flood riders on it. Of course, living in the UK lessens the chances that you'll be hit. You'd better hope that a hurricane never gets there with any power, because it's even money that the building codes there are not up to handling that type of hit.
  • by JohnWiney ( 656829 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @08:57AM (#16152724)
    You've obviously never watched snow melt on your front lawn, or stood on a melting glacier.

    First, the pack ice is full of cracks and crevices, so "rivers" would disappear into them. The ice melts preferentially on the north side of these cracks and ridges, the side facing the sun.

    Second, when ice melts in the sun, it tends to form "pinacles" of crunchy ice (presumably a result of variations in the surface resulting in shadows, surface dirt capturing more heat, etc.) Water melts at top, and runs down or falls down into the ice. The heat of the water, and to some degree the kinetic energy of the drops, melts some of the ice further down. If the layer is thick enough, the water forms small pools and re-feezes, thus forming the dense ice that "normally" lasts all year; if enough melts, a hole forms and the water disappears into the sea (or, on land, forms rivers that flow out from the bottom of the glacier.)

    Melting from the bottom also obviously has a significant effect, since much of the sea water is obviously warmer than the ice. There is "normally" a state of equilibrium, with water melting at about the same rate snow falls on top, averaged over a few years. Right now, more is melting than freezing.

  • Re:trade with russia (Score:5, Informative)

    by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @09:21AM (#16152842) Journal
    makes no difference to sea levels.

    EVERY time this comes up I have to debunk this stuff.

    Do you understand why things float in water? Because the mass of water they displace is equal to the mass of the thing floating.

    So now you have very dense saltwater, and much less dense freshwater ice (do you understand why ice is freshwater? It forces the salt out as the surface freezes, so the saltwater below it is even saltier and denser []) If you have 1kg of ice, it displaces 1kg of saltwater. Simple enough right? Now let's hit it with the math.

    Density of fresh water at 0C []: 999.9 kg/m^3
    Density of ice at 0C: 915.0 kg/m^3
    Density of Ocean []: We'll take 1020kg/m^3, the minimum on the site, even though at the pole due to the salt concentration noted in the first link the density of the saltwater will be way higher, but any density over 999.9kg/m^3 means that the water level shall rise as I show below:

    1 cubic meter of ice (915.0 kg) displaces 915.0kg of saltwater. 915.0kg of saltwater is 0.897m^3 (915kg/(1020kg/m^3)), which means that our 1m^3 of ice has .103m^3 above the surface of the water (so says the old sailor's adage of icebergs being 9/10ths below water).

    Now, let's say the ice were to suddenly vanish. There would be a "hole" in the ocean with 0.897m^3 of air in it. Water would of course rush into the "hole" and the water level would drop by 0.897m^3 spread out over the entire surface of the ocean.

    But let's say the ice were to melt. Our 915kg of ice would become 915kg of fresh water, which would occupy about 0.915m^3 (915kg/(999.9kg/m^3)). The hole the ice occupied previously was only 0.897m^3 large, which leaves us with .018m^3 more water than we began with. This .018m^3 would spread out over the surface of the ocean, raising the water level ever so slightly. (sorry, your "no difference" myth has just been busted.)

    Don't forget that this tiny amount will be joined by water running off of Greenland, Antartica and other polar landmasses with ice on them, 100% of which will raise the water level.
  • by mutube ( 981006 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @09:30AM (#16152885) Homepage
    The ice melts preferentially on the north side of these cracks and ridges, the side facing the sun.

    I assume you're in the Southern hemisphere, because 'oop North the Sun is most definately to the South.

  • Arctic melting (Score:4, Informative)

    by andyr ( 78903 ) <> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @09:40AM (#16152957) Homepage Journal
    Yes, you are right. []
  • by LucidBeast ( 601749 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @09:44AM (#16152982)
    I was just listening some guy studying artic being interviewed on radio about his studies. On the show the reporter I think from BBC and this scientist whose name escapes me visited an iceberg. They describe the top of the iceberg to have large "swimming pools", which contain fresh water. Seal hunters used to use them for fresh water in the olden days. For somebody living and studying artic such pools are propably intresting at first but then obvious and not worth reporting.
  • by f1055man ( 951955 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @09:51AM (#16153018)
    Wow this makes no sense:
    To illustrate these effects and their gross values I point people towards the Boxing Day (Dec 26,2004) Quake and tsunami. This event is supposed by the geophyical people to be the product of a subduction event. Had it been such an event, the uplift of the Sumantra area of the southern Asian region would have caused the corresponding drop in sea floor. The uplift is about equal to lifting the entire continental US by about 20 feet. The net world wide sea level drop would have been about 2 feet. It didn't happen.
    Wtf are you talking about? They found the fault line and upheaval that caused the Boxing Day tsunami. []

    Are you a D'Souza? (
  • by Analogy Man ( 601298 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:35AM (#16153914)
    And by this logic there is nothing under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico but sea water.

    So all those oil rigs out there are performing alchemy...water to black gold?

    Do you also suppose that the oil reserves under ANWR stop at the beach? The inhibitor of offshore drilling in the arctic is sea ice. This is the point of the parent post.

  • by Richy_T ( 111409 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:26PM (#16154878) Homepage
    UK houses usually have ceramic roof tiles (a USA'n might call them "Spanish tiles" I think), sometimes slate, occasionally thatch but, as far as I know, never the tarpaper shingles that pass for roofing in the US.

    Course, a standard US wood framed house would probably not be able to take the weight of a ceramic tile roof.

    My father told me that wooden houses were banned after the great fire of London but I don't know how much veracity to give that...

  • by Mad Marlin ( 96929 ) <> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:30PM (#16154918) Homepage
    I suspect it isn't a sign of anything human myself, or any of the "global warming" stuff. According to the Wikipedia article on the Northwest Passage [], this was probably an open passage back around AD 1,000 through AD 1,200. Vikings may have crossed it []. So all that is really happening is that we are finally fulling coming out of the Little Ice Age.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:44PM (#16155617)
    Greenery - Marijuana (legal and sold (in different grades, like at a tobacconist) in shops in Amsterdam)

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen