Historic Voyage in the Arctic - Başak Bozoğlu


For the first time in February, a historic voyage took place on the Northern Sea Route. A commercial tanker that carries liquified natural gas (LNG) traveled from Russia to China through the Arctic Ocean.

Countries with coasts to the Northern Ice Sea, such as Russia, the USA, Canada, Greenland, and Norway, could not use the Arctic Ocean for trade in the winter due to extreme freezing. Northern Sea Route (NSR) is known as a shipping route to connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean through Arctic Seas; the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. NSR allows many countries to travel Europe from the shortest distance without following Suez Canal Route. NSR also creates considerable opportunities in terms of political, economic, and energy consumption.

However, NSR could only be used in the summer period when the Northern Ice Sea melted. During winter circumstances, the Arctic Ocean turned into a tick ice sea and became impossible for passing through. For the first-time, this winter enormous tick ice layers melted due to climate change and made it possible to use NSR in February. Russia completed the trip to China in 11 days with their Christophe de Margerie. It creates an alternative and shortest route for Russia and other countries for shipping.

Source: Bloomberg


Northern Sea Route creates advantages for both companies and governments. It allows unlimited opportunities in transportation in terms of time and money for companies. For instance, Yokohama (Japan) to Rotterdam (Netherlands) through the Indian Ocean is 7.500 miles and takes 33 days, but it takes 4.500 miles and 20 days through the Northern Sea Route. Therefore, it has not an impact on not only countries with coasts to the Northern Ice Sea, but it also has an impact on world trade. The situation increases the speed of trade and brings profit to companies.

Furthermore, the Arctic Sea has a wealthy area and has 13% of the world's unexplored conventional oil resources and 30% of unexplored natural-gas resources that could not be obtained. The Arctic region has a strategic value for many countries in terms of resources. Before the impact of climate change, it was impossible to have these resources because it could not access resources and drill the gas and oil. With the melting of the glaciers, interest in the region started to increase in terms of research and access to natural resources. International oil companies have invested in exploiting the oil and aim to drilling in the Arctic Sea. It is significant to having the region's political power and accessing natural sources.

Russia is the most interested country to use the Northern Sea Route for their transportation because Russia's economic growth depends on 60 % energy exports that include 1/3 of Russian gross domestic product. Therefore, Russia has a strategic plan for the Arctic as a Foundation of Russian Federation Policy until 2020 and beyond 2021. Russians has been transporting 18 million tons of liquified natural gas and 33 million cargo during 2020. With the use of NSR in the winter months, Russia aims to increase 80 million tons in total per year by the end of 2024. Russia also has a military plan for the Arctic for the security of trade and potential dangers in the region, and soldiers from childhood are raised to serve in this region.

Using the Northern Sea Route has various benefits, but it has also a danger in terms of climate change. The melting of the Northern Ice Sea enough to provide transportation during the winter months is actually one of the most significant consequences of global climate change. Using NSR is significant, but it also creates problems that can impacts the whole world. In the region, warming becomes faster than in the rest of the world. The reason is that when the Arctic Ocean's ice layers has been melting, the ocean absorbs the heat faster than twice because of losing reflecting the sun lights. It affects the diversity and life conditions in the ocean. The significant issue is that transportation facilities and their continuity in the winter can destroy the Arctic habitat. Drilling is a challenging condition, especially in extreme weather conditions. It takes too much time comparing the rest of the world to remote control while facing any problem. Working on extracting natural sources have a lack of infrastructure for oil spills, and oil spilling can mix with ocean water. This situation treats the ocean life and causes the reducing diversity in the Northern Ocean Sea, such as the fish, whales, monk seal in the area. Moreover, other animals such as polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer and caribou are in danger of extinction as the ice-covered layer of the Arctic Ocean shrinks. During the Obama administration, offshore oil drilling was limited for two years in the Arctic because of a lack of protection in the area.

The Arctic has an enormous potential in terms of natural resources. It can affect world politics, economic and military conditions, but it is also crucial to note that the Arctic has a vital role in climate change and has a massive impact on the rest of the world. Therefore, this historical voyage is an exciting event to see what will happen in the future and what should be considered while transportation and drilling process to considering climate change.