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Fast melt in Canadian Arctic may open Northwest Passage this year

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
Photo by Kathryn Hansen/NASA

The New York Times is reporting that ice melting in a northern Canada waterway that normally remains ice-choked all summer, Parry Channel, may lead to an opening of the famous Northwest Passage this year.

By the first week of August, “some ice was still clinging to the shores of Victoria and Melville Islands but open water otherwise dominated the region,” according to the Times. Parry Channel, in the territory of Nunavuut, runs east to west, connecting Baffin Bay in the east to the Beaufort Sea in the west. 

By July 30, ice covered about a third of the channel – far below the median of 79 percent.

Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center told the New York Times, however, that while the Parry Channel appeared nearly free of ice, it was not necessarily open to navigational. Sea ice can be thin enough to avoid detection by satellite sensors but thick enough to stop ships.

Attempts to identify a shortcut between Europe and Asia across the Arctic began in the late 15th century, several years after Columbus journeyed to the Americas. Attempts to find the route were stymied by unfamiliar geography and unforgiving ice for hundreds of years. The Northwest Passage was first successfully navigated by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen between 1903 and 1906. He used what's known as the southern route through the Northwest Passage; Parry Channel is part of the northern route.