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The Northwest Passage is a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This route is a collection of arctic waterways around the Canadian mainland, and it is along the coast of North America. This route was known but not used previously because it was covered by thick ice year-round. Now the islands of the archipelago have begun to separate, opening the shorter way to ship traffic.
The melting of the ice of Arctic Ocean introduces two opposite things. The first is the rise in sea level due to the melting of the glaciers and ice plates. The second is the introduction of new opportunities due to the Northwest Passage. Billions of dollars could be saved in the transportation costs, but this benefit seems very small compared to the losses of global warming.
The study of the Northwest Passage is based upon computer-aided climate models. These models are developed using satellite and other monitoring instruments. These models have confirmed the decline of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean- in both thickness and extent. The whole process opens a wide range of opportunities for many countries.
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The first transit of the Northwest Passage
The first transit of the Northwest Passage was done by a team of five members under the command of Roald Amundsen. They started their journey on 16th June 1903 in a boat called the Gjoa. They finished their journey in 1906.
This transit was also made by a US ship, the SS Manhattan. This ship discovered the route of the Northwest Passage.
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The route of shipping
Ships doing the route toward the west would enter the Northwest Passage though Baffin Bay. Then, they will travel through various parts, possibly varying on each trip, of the Arctic Archipelago, and finally they would reach the Pacific Ocean by way of the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea.
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Benefits of the Northwest Passage
The opening of the Northwest Passage is beneficial in various ways.
Decrement in the distance of the route
The use of the Northwest Passage as a route for ships will decrease the distance by approximately 4000 km or 2500 miles. This benefit is the significant potential benefit of this passage. This route will reduce the distance between New York and Tokyo by 3,200 km. China is the largest user of Panama Canal; they would get large distance reduction to the northeastern US and northwestern Europe.
Benefits in transportation
Earlier, it was very expensive to transport different resources from the Canadian North to rest of the world. The decrease in distance will make the transportation of vast mineral resources easier and more economical as well. This will also be beneficial for the transportation of goods coming from Asia. Billions of dollars in transportation cost would be saved because of this route. Time and energy resources use would also be saved due to this shorter route from east to west and back.
Extraction of valuable resources
The melting of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is slowly exposing its hidden resources. It contains 400 billion barrels of oils and natural gas, which is worth at least $90 billion. This quantity of resources is estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey. Therefore, countries have started claiming the area.
The route of Northwest Passage will play an important role in the process of extracting minerals from the Arctic. Due to this, the government of Canada is claiming this route. If their claim is maintained, then a big progress in the development of its northland should ensue. It would also accelerate the economic and military power of Canada.
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There are also some factors that may keep this route from becoming more valuable for shipping. The Panama Canal is expanding their lock capacity to handle large ships. Currently, it can handle only ships carrying a maximum of 4000 containers (the so-called "Panamax" ships). After some time, it will handle ships carrying 10,000 containers. This expansion in lock capacity will take 6 to 8 years to complete, and will reduce the requirement of any other alternative like the Northwest Passage.