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Thursday, April 26, 2012
Warming may open key Arctic sea route to Europe
The Arctic could emerge as a key commercial shipping route between Japan and Europe because of a sharp decline in the ice cap caused by global warming, government officials and researchers say.
If a new shipping route opens, vessels could cut the distance between Japan and Europe to two-thirds of the current route via the Suez Canal and also avoid pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean, they said.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology plans to send a fact-finding team this summer to look into the current state of global warming in the Arctic and ocean waters.
The Ocean Policy Research Foundation, a Tokyo-based think tank dealing with Japan's maritime policies and ocean security affairs, plans to file a proposal soon with the government and call for sending the country's 11,600-ton icebreaker the Shirase to the Arctic Ocean to investigate possible routes.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its 2007 report the world's average temperature had risen by 0.74 degree over the past 100 years and the pace of rise in the Arctic was double the average.
The foundation said the Arctic ice cap had decreased to about 4.2 million sq. km in 2007 from some 7.0 million sq. km in the late 20th century. Some experts said the sea ice in the summer could disappear by late this century.
Currently, commercial vessels cover about 20,000 km on a route linking Japan with the Netherlands via the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal. The distance would be shortened to about 13,000 km if the ships passed through the Bering Sea and waters off Siberia.
The number of foreign commercial ships that passed through the Arctic Ocean increased to 34 in 2011 from four in 2010, Russian data show.
The ministry plans to launch a four-year research program this summer with a staff of about 300, mainly at the National Institute of Polar Research.
The researchers will board South Korean and Canadian ships this summer to look into the current state of the Arctic Ocean, such as ice coverage, ice movements and sea temperatures.
Hiroyuki Enomoto, who heads the institute's Arctic Environment Research Center, said a safe Arctic shipping route could be plotted if the research program can clarify the mechanisms of global warming and find the precise causes of the decrease and ice cap shrinkage.