Melting Polar Cap Allows More Shipping, Creates More Environmental Issues in Nome, Alaska

NOME, Alaska, Oct. 12 (UPI) — The shrinking polar ice cap is creating shipping and environmental protection issues in the formerly isolated town of Nome, Alaska, city officials said.

The Northwest Passage, which links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans north of Canada, had periods of ice-free ship travel in 2007 and 2008. Experts predict that by the end of the century, the passage will see 120 or more practically ice-free ship travel days per year, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

A record ice melt last year for the first time opened both the Northwest and the Northeast Passages north of Russia, for several weeks.

Due to the climate changes, Nome’s ship traffic has multiplied to eight times its 1990 volume. Nome has spent nearly $90 million expanding its port to allow in bigger ships.

The anticipated increase in shipping traffic has caused concerns about how to regulate maritime operations regulations for protecting a fragile and quickly changing natural environment.

There are currently no international laws on the types of ships that can operate in the Arctic. There are also no regulations for ships’ waste discharges or for cleaning oil spills under icy conditions.

The Obama administration will soon decide whether to allow offshore drilling in Alaska to tap into billions of barrels of oil and natural gas.

“What’s really driving marine activity in the Arctic is not climate change. It’s global economics,” said Lawson Brigham, a former Coast Guard commander and chair of the international Arctic Council’s marine shipping assessment.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Categorized | Natural Gas
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