THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE DOOMOLOGY

THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE DOOMOLOGY

graph of arctic sea ice extent
NWP-4
NWP-2
NWP-1
NWP-3

THIS POST IS A CRITICAL REVIEW OF ALARMING CLAIMS IN THE MEDIA THAT ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING IS MELTING ARCTIC SEA ICE AND OPENING UP A LONGER SPAN OF SUMMER MONTHS FOR COMMERCIAL SHIPPING THROUGH THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE. THE INCREASED SHIPPING TRAFFIC IS EXPECTED TO CAUSE FURTHER ECOLOGICAL HARM TO THE ARCTIC. 

PART-1 BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE (NWP)

  1. This information is provided by Dr. Hobart King at GEOLOGY.COM  [LINK] . Provided below is an edited version of Dr. King’s account of the NWP.
  2. The Northwest Passage is a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. In the past, the Northwest Passage has been virtually impassable because it was covered by thick, year-round sea ice. In recent years, climate change has been melting Arctic sea ice and opening up a longer window of summer months when commercial shipping can pass through the Arctic via this once-impossible sea-ice-covered route.
  3. The benefits of a clear Northwest Passage are significant. Ship routes from Europe to eastern Asia are 4,000 km shorter. Alaskan oil could move quickly by ship to ports in the eastern United States. The vast mineral resources of the Canadian North will be much easier and economical to develop and ship to market.
  4. Here Dr. King displays a time series graph of Arctic sea ice extent from 1979-2014 showing a decline of 3.2% per decade in sea ice extent using data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The chart shows that Arctic Sea Ice is Melting. There has been a progressive, year-by-year decline in the thickness and extent of Arctic sea ice. This is the data and the evidence that links changes in the NWP to anthropogenic global warming and climate change. Here is Dr. King’s chart.
  5.  NASA studies have shown that as the ice cover is removed, solar radiation penetrates the water and warms it, instead of being reflected from the white ice and therefore the decline in sea ice caused by anthropogenic global warming is  non-linear and accelerating in a positive feedback loop.
  6. Another factor that contributes to warming of the Arctic Ocean is the increase in discharge rates of rivers draining Europe and Asia. These freshwater rivers now receive increasing runoff from melting glaciers due to anthropogenic global warming. This runoff is much warmer than the Arctic Ocean water. The net result is a slight warming of the Arctic Ocean waters and a dilution of salinity.
  7. The maps at the top of this page shows possible routes through the Northwest Passage. Ships traveling west would enter the Passage through Baffin Bay, pass through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago by various routes, exit into the Beaufort Sea and then out into the Pacific Ocean through the Chukchi Sea and Bering Sea.During the past few years, satellite images taken near the end of the Arctic summer often show that large portions of the Passage are relatively ice-free. In September, satellite images show that the Arctic Ocean has been clear enough to sail straight through the Northwest Passage.
  8. The economic value of a short route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was appreciated early. The Spanish referred to this route as the „Straight of Anián,“ and Francisco de Ulloa started searching the Baja California peninsula area for it in 1539. English explorers, including Martin Frobisher, John Davis, and Henry Hudson searched for it from the Atlantic side in the late 1500s and early 1600s and these explorations continued through the 1600s and 1700s but without success.
  9. Then in 1849 Robert McClure passed through the Bering Strait with the intent of sailing through to the Atlantic. His ship was trapped in the ice not far from making it to Viscount Melville Sound and probable passage to the Atlantic. Finally, after spending three winters on the ice and some members dying of starvation, McClure and crew were rescued by a sledge party from one of Sir Edward Belcher’s ships and transported by sledge to the Sound. McClure and his crew became the first to survive a trip through the Northwest Passage.
  10. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his crew were the first to cross the Northwest Passage entirely by sea in 1906. Although the crossing was an important „first,“ it had little economic value because the journey took three years and used waters that were too shallow for commercial shipping. The first single-season trip through the passage was by Henry Larsen and crew in 1944. Again, the route taken was not deep enough for commercial shipping.
  11. In 1957, three United States Coast Guard Cutters – Storis, Bramble, and SPAR – became the first ships to cross the Northwest Passage along a deep draft route. They covered the 4,500 miles of semi-charted water in 64 days.
  12. The first ship capable of carrying significant cargo to traverse the Passage was the SS Manhattan, a specially reinforced supertanker, in 1969. It was accompanied by the John A. MacDonald, a Canadian icebreaker. This trip was taken to test the Northwest Passage as an alternative to building the Alaska Pipeline. At that time, it was determined that the Northwest Passage was not economical, and the Alaska Pipeline was built.
  13. The Canadian Waters sovereignty issue:  All routes through the Northwest Passage pass between the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and within Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada. Canada claims the the route is not in International Waters but in Canadian Waters. However, the United States military has sent ships and submarines through the Passage without notification to Canada based upon the philosophy that the Passage is an International Water. This matter remains unresolved.
  14. Commercial use of the Northwest Passage might be a form of climate action, says Dr King. Billions of dollars in transportation costs could be saved each year along with significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions from shipping if the passage remains open and reliable for a few months of the year. There will also be time and energy savings. Canada has the most to gain should the Northwest Passage become a viable shipping route. This will facilitate Canada’s development of northern lands and provide an important economic and military possession if their claim to control is upheld.  <END OF DR KING’S PAPER> published on Geology.com  [LINK]
  15. The gradual decline in September minimum sea ice extent and sea ice volume claimed by Dr. King is supported by the data as seen in his chart and in related posts on this site [LINK] , [LINK] , [LINK] . For September minimum sea ice extent we find no evidence that the observed decline is related to anthropogenic global warming at an annual time scale, as seen in the chart below.  DETCOR-CHARTDETCOR-TABLE
  16. A similar result is found when sea ice volume determined with the PIOMAS procedure is used. The correlation analysis is shown graphically below. SEAICE-GIFCORR-DETCORR
    1. Details of these analyses may be found in related posts [LINK] , [LINK] . That rising temperature has occurred during a period of falling September minimum sea ice does not establish that these changes are causally related an an annual time scale as seen in the many examples of spurious correlations in the Tyler Vigen site [LINK] . For that a detrended correlation must be shown at the appropriate time scale. Since these changes are measured on an annual basis, an annual time scale is used in this analysis. Proponents of causation in these cases may demand an alternate causation theory as part of the claim of the absence of evidence for causation but this demand commits a „shifting the burden of proof fallacy“. The burden of proof lies with the party that proposes the causation theory and not with those who demand empirical evidence for it.
    2. CONCLUSIONIn the absence of evidence to relate year to year Arctic sea ice dynamics to anthropogenic global warming, it cannot be claimed that the greater access to the Northwest Passage (NWP) since 2019 has been a creation of anthropogenic global warming. Therefore, regardless of the various arguments and analyses about the pros and cons of greater access to the NWP, no empirical evidence exists to relate these issues to anthropogenic global warming or to fossil fuel emissions.

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