More Ships are Getting Stuck in Arctic Ice Thanks to Climate Change

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A new report indicates that ships traveling in the north Atlantic run a higher risk of getting stuck in ice thanks to an increasing number of icebergs calving off from glaciers and floating south from the Arctic. The situation is predicted to get worse in the future as well due to climate change speeding up the melting of the ice caps.

According to a study posted in the academic publication Geophysical Research, 2017 saw a major shift in the number of vessels that found themselves stuck in the ice off the coast of Newfoundland. This is due to the fact that the channels that connect the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic typically contain large chunks of ice that stay frozen in place, even during the summer months. This ice tends to serve as a barrier, preventing the ice trapped behind it from flowing south. Now however, that barrier is melting, and as a result more – and large – icebergs are heading south.

The research came about because last year an icebreaker called the Amundsen was suppose to leave a port in Quebec and spend its time conducting a research mission in the Hudson Bay area. But, it ended up having to rescue so many other vessels trapped in the ice that it never had the chance to get on with its intended mission. It could save them all however, as two fishing ships sank, others suffered serious damage, and one couldn’t move more than a few hundred meters before getting stuck again.

Most of the rescue operations took place in a section of the ocean located north of Newfoundland, which was getting choked with all of the ice that was floating into it. When the cause of the excess ice was investigated, it was discovered that the natural barriers that held it in place in the past had melted, sending large icebergs south to choke off shipping and commercial fishing lanes.

The research paper indicates that this could become an increasing trend in the years ahead as temperatures in the Arctic are only continuing to increase. How this will impact future traffic in the north Atlantic remains to be seen, but this summer Canadian officials are moving more icebreakers into the area and the Amundsen will finally get a chance to conduct its original research.

Kraig Becker