New images acquired by NASA show that Arctic sea ice is melting at an astounding pace – particularly in the Parry Channel, which is part of the famous Northwest Passage. The recent photos have many scientists scrutinizing the environmental and geopolitical impacts of climate change in the polar region.
The images below were acquired via NASA’s Terra satellite. They show significant changes over a two week period. The top image shows Parry Channel on July 17, 2012 when ice filled the channel. The bottom image shows the same region on August 3, when some ice was still clinging to the shores of Victoria and Melville Islands. But open water otherwise dominated the region.
These photos show a large swath of open water in early August, though patches of ice linger south of Melville Island. Walt Meier is with the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He warns that while the Parry Channel appears mostly free of ice, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily open for navigational purposes. Sea ice is often thin enough to avoid detection via satellite – yet it’s still thick enough to get in the way of traveling ships. Regardless of whether ships can easily pass, recent studies have suggested that certain objects are now taking advantage of the open waters.
The Northwest Passage is a sea route that runs through the Arctic Ocean. It travels along the northern coast of North America via waterways near the Canadian Arctic Archipelago — and ultimately connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The passage opened in 2007. That was the year alarm bells rang around the world, due to a sudden and unprecedented thaw in Arctic sea ice.
The Northwest Passage is significant because it symbolizes historical attempts to find a shortcut between Europe and Asia. Ever since the late fifteenth century, explorers have been cutting across the Arctic to get between both continents. The passage was first successfully navigated by Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen between 1903 and 1906.