Arctic shipping is currently affected more than anything by melting ice.
The Northern Sea Route is one of the major arctic shipping lanes, and as the ice melts, cargo shipping in this area is rising: the opening of the Arctic means faster routes for shipments between Europe, Asia and even the northern tips of North America. The Arctic Institute measured in 2014 that a total of 71 ships carrying 1.35 million tons of goods passed through the Northern Sea Route, up from 46 vessels and 1.26 millions tons the year before.
Both the Northeast and Northwest Passage that lie close to the northern tips of both Russia and Canada respectively, are only traversable during a short space of time in late summer/early autumn, but due to climate change this season has increased.
Companies such as AMAP (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme) and WWF map data on the Arctic itself and the wildlife and ecosystems supported there. Publishing reports, these organizations, and others like them, ensure that shipping is controlled to limit any damage it may cause as well as providing information for shippers to ensure they are prepared for the hazardous Arctic conditions.
It has been shown that shipping containers and bulk carriers contribute to the spread of invasive species in ecosystems in oceans around the world; a giant 69% of species introductions in marine areas are caused by shipping. This invasion doesn’t necessarily have to be from a marine animal we would recognise either. Ships typically take in water in one location and dispel it in another, and as a result any type of microorganism can be effortlessly introduced. With Arctic shipping lanes opening up more and more and able to be used in increasing amounts, this can only increase.
The majority of the voyages on the Northern Sea Route are one-way shipments of oil. By sailing an Arctic route rather than via the Panama or Suez canal, voyage times can be reduced by up to two weeks, or even more. The route still holds risks however; the invariability of weather and ice conditions means that it cannot be accurately predicted just how long the routes would stay open each year. For global cargo that often requires transport booking months in advance, these routes simply aren’t feasible. Arctic shipping is definitely increasing, but not for the right reasons.