Climate change will affect North Sea routes

There is a scenario in which global warming will favor new maritime trade routes

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Climate change will affect North Sea routes
© Sean Gallup / Staff Getty Images

Climate change is putting various parts of the globe in serious danger. The resulting global warming is melting the ice and hitting the poles, resulting in the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity.

And there is a scenario in which global warming will favor new maritime trade routes.

The study: Potential benefits of climate change on shipping in the Northern Sea Route by 2050, published on the Scientific reports, attempted to answer this hypothesis.

"Climate change has induced continued increases in temperatures in the Arctic region, consequently leading to escalating rates of Arctic ice depletion. These changes have profound implications for shipping along the Arctic Northern Sea Route (NSR). However, access to the NSR is constrained to specific time intervals when sea ice thickness reaches a threshold that allows safe passage of ships.

This research uses climate change model simulations and the Risk Indexing System framework for assessing Polar operational limits to study the feasibility of sailing different types of vessels along the NSR during the calendar years 2030, 2040 and 2050, in the scenarios SSP2-4.5 and SSP5-8.5.

In the context of these two scenarios different categories of vessels were analyzed The results indicate considerable variation in the seaworthiness of different categories of vessels in different scenarios and years. In general, polar vessels demonstrate greater sailing potential during much of the year, while recreational vessels are tied to specific periods.

These findings have significant implications for the future of navigation along the NSR. As Arctic ice continues to melt, the NSR is expected to become more accessible to ships, although navigation availability remains contingent on vessel category and seasonal considerations," explained the scientists.

North Sea
North Sea© Sean Gallup / Staff Getty Images

The North Sea

For the most part the sea lies on the European continental shelf. The only exception is a narrow northern area of the North Sea off Norway. The North Sea is bordered by Great Britain to the west, and continental central and northern Europe to both the east and south, including Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

In the south-west the North Sea becomes the English Channel across the Strait of Dover. To the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat. In the north it opens with a wide funnel towards the Norwegian Sea, which is located in the north-eastern region of the Atlantic Ocean.

Apart from the obvious borders formed by the coasts of the countries bordering it, the North Sea is generally considered to be delimited to the east by an imaginary line that connects Lindesnes in Norway with Hanstholm in Denmark running along the border with the Skagerrak. However for statistical purposes the Skagerrak and Kattegat are sometimes included as part of the North Sea. 

Traditionally an imaginary line connects the north of Scotland towards the Shetland Islands until it joins Alesund in Norway. According to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic of 1962, the limit is placed further west and further north, between 5° West longitude and 62° North latitude, at the latitude of Geirangerfjord in Norway, near the Stad peninsula.

The surface area of the North Sea is therefore approximately 575,000 square kilometers, with a volume of approximately 54,000 cubic kilometers of water. This places the North Sea in the 13th largest sea on the planet.