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Northern Sea Route’s navigation extends by one month in warming climate

The extension may open new economic opportunities, experts say

ST. PETERSBURG, November 12. /TASS/. Higher temperatures in Russia’s Arctic regions extend navigation along the Northern Sea Route by one month, Professor Oleg Anisimov of the State Hydrology Institute said on Friday.

"Currently, the Northern Sea Route’s exploitation term is about two months, and forecasts based on climate models say the term may be extended by another month in the middle of the century, making it three months, which opens new economic opportunities," he said at a news conference, organized at the St. Petersburg TASS branch, which was devoted to a recent international seminar on development of Russia’s Arctic zone.

According to the professor, warming in the Russian Arctic continues very rapidly. "An annual growth is 0.4-0.8 degrees over ten years," he said. "This is much, since globally over 100 years the temperatures have grown by 0.8 degrees, while in the Russian Arctic this temperature growth was registered within only ten years."

Professor Nikolai Shiklomanov of the Gorge Washington University (the U.S.) joined the discussion by saying that according to most extreme forecasts, the Arctic ice would not disappear. Such a phenomenon may develop for a week maximum, he said. Scientists forecast it may happen between the 2030s and 2070s. "Thus, navigation in the Arctic would require icebreaker fleets, possibly not top mighty though," he said. "The Arctic navigation conditions will remain complicated, but the ice, naturally, will be thinner."

Another advantage of the global warming in the Arctic is that the heating season there may become shorter, the Russian professor said. Besides, he added, the river transport will be working for longer. Currently, about 40% of all cargos in the Arctic are transported by rivers. "The Arctic navigation on big rivers now is about four months and this period extends every ten years is by four-five days," he said.

Infrastructural risks

While speaking about a seasonal temperature growth, Oleg Anisimov stressed the process is not smooth and is registered mostly in autumns and springs, when rivers get rid of ice earlier than usually. At the same time, the river navigation periods become longer, and the quick process of ice thawing cuts periods of using frozen ice as transportation roads. "Yakutsk, with the population of 300,000, receives most cargos by river, the city does not have a bridge," he continued. "If the transporting companies have to fit into shorter periods, when heavy trucks with supplies for the city can move [along the frozen river], they will face problems."

Yakutia’s 73% of roads are frozen rivers or the roads, which depend on ice-covered river-crossings. The Yamalo-Nenets Region faces similar problems, he continued. "In Naryan-Mar the people, not connected with the mainland, said while formerly ice roads got frozen enough in November, last autumn [in 2017] the road opened in mid-January only. <…> Thus, such road may be used for a much shorter period, which affects greatly the social sphere there," Shiklomanov said.