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Global meltdown may clear the Passage

It's been called "the Arctic Grail." For centuries, European explorers were obsessed with the quest for a route around North America to the Orient. Norway's Roald Amundsen finally conquered the Northwest Passage in 1906. But long Arctic winters meant the route couldn't be exploited commercially. Global warming could change all that by melting the ice and making the passage a key shipping route. But as this happens, the controversial question of sovereignty becomes increasingly important. Does the Northwest Passage belong to Canada or the world?

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"Is there any doubt at all that the ice is melting?" asks Shelagh Rogers in this 2002 radio clip. The answer, according to her three guests, is no. The Northwest Passage is becoming increasingly ice-free, thanks to global warming. This is making it easier to manoeuvre the waterway, which means the shipping season will likely lengthen, and more ships will want to use the passage for commercial reasons. But how will this impact the question of sovereignty? And how will it affect the Inuit, who live there year-round?
• According to a Canadian government website, "Scientists predict many parts of the Arctic could be ice-free in summers by 2050." However, it may happen much earlier in the Northwest Passage, "which could see summertime open waters within five to 10 years, if not sooner." (2006)
• A 2002 cnn.com article speculated about environmental and sociological effects: "The combination of declining ice and dramatically increased ship traffic could alter the feeding habits of fish, seals and polar bears, further threatening the traditional way of life of the Inuit communities."

• Using the Northwest Passage as a shipping route from Europe to Asia would represent a significant savings in distance compared with the Panama Canal. From London to Tokyo via the Canal, the distance is about 23,000 kilometres; the same trip through the Passage is only 16,000 kilometres. Even travelling the other way – east through the Suez Canal – is longer than the Northwest Passage at 21,000 kilometres.
Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: July 25, 2002
Guest(s): Rob Huebert, Jose Kusugak, Pierre Leblanc
Host: Mary Ambrose
Duration: 19:01

Last updated: July 19, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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