Global warming is melting Arctic ice and opening up new navigable ocean in the extreme Arctic north. The day is soon coming when Arctic Ocean waters the size of the United States will be ice-free and navigable for most of the summer.
In anticipation of coming commercial traffic, the U.S. Coast Guard has opened two temporary stations on Alaska’s far north coast. The Coast Guard is preparing for oil tankers, fishing vessels and even cruise ships to venture into waters that have been the sole domain of indigenous hunters, seals and polar bears. “We have to prepare for the world coming to the Arctic,” said Rear Admiral Gene Brooks, commander of the Coast Guard’s Alaska district.
Each year global warming has melted an increasing amount of polar sea ice. The summer ice cap is now only half the size it was in the 1960s. Last year Arctic ice thawed to a record low. The receding ice makes ocean travel along Alaska’s inhospitable northern coast tempting; however, shifting ice can easily trap ships.
After several rescues last year, the Coast Guard opened temporary stations at Borrow and Prudhoe Bay to provide new refueling, reprovisioning and rescue services. However, the Guard is concerned that increased ship traffic will increase the risk of oil spills, wayward boaters and other problems in what is one of the world’s last remaining pristine wilderness areas.