Not since 1527 when English Merchant Robert Thorne speculated that a northeast passage across the lower arctic might exist has it been possible for ships to actually traverse the route without the help of icebreakers.
The unprecedented speed of global warming has changed all that. According to Dr. Peter Wadhams of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, England, "waters in the Arctic, linking the Barents Sea with the Bering Strait and the Pacific are now passable by modern cargo ships." Recent voyages by scientists have resulted in the discovery that waters along the Russian and Siberian coasts are virtually free of ice across the summer months. This means that ice-strengthened freighters can now sail from Japan to Norway across this route, cutting weeks off the normal journey time. Dr. Wadhams said, "ships had previously only been able to sail part of the route, but had found key areas such as the Vilkitsky Straits off Siberia impassable." However, the rapid melting of polar sea ice in the past twenty years has made these areas ice-free in the summer months.
This means that billions of gallons of fresh water from the melting ice are flooding into the northern waters, affecting their salinity. This is the triggering condition that can lead to the movement of the North Atlantic Current onto a more southerly course, as discussed in Art Bell and Whitley Strieber's book Superstorm. Should the current move, major climactic instability will result. As scientists at the University of Norway reported last November that the surface parts of the current were indeed weakening, this latest development can be considered a warning that further dramatic climate change is now more likely than not.
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