As travel through the Northern Sea Route wraps up for 2012, the Barents Observer reports increased activity. Although two Finish icebreakers remain in transit from Alaska to Denmark, it can be surmised that never before have so many vessels and so much cargo traveled between Europe and Asia through the Arctic shortcut.
According to the Barents Observer, 46 vessels used the route in 2012. In comparison, 34 sailed the route in 2011 and only four in 2010.
Those 46 vessels carried with them an estimated 1.3 million tons of cargo. That's a 53 percent increase from 2011 when 820,789 tons was shipped via the route. Of the cargo, petroleum products -- including diesel, gas condensate, jet fuel, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other petrol -- was the largest commodity followed by iron ore and coal.
The Northern Sea Route saw its first fully loaded LNG tanker, the Ob River, pass from Norway to Japan this year.
Tankers like Ob River typically have to travel down through the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean, across the Indian Ocean, and up to Asia. The standard trip takes tankers three weeks longer than the Northern Sea Route.