The Northwest Passage is thawing. Will US, Canada sail its waters together?

The Arctic is heating at twice the pace of other parts of the world, and scientists predict that in the next 20 years the waterways of the region will be completely ice-free.

This has led to new tensions about Russian militarization in the Arctic and a hungry China competing for its resources. There have also been increased competitions for maritime lanes. The Northwest Passage is also being contested, as it runs north through Arctic ice.

Why This

Was Written

With the melting Arctic creating new opportunities as well as stirring up old rivalries, Canada and the U.S. are trying to work together in tapping into the trade routes and thawing resource. Part 1 of 2.

The United States wants to strengthen its relationship with Arctic allies and expand its knowledge of what is happening there. A trip by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy along the Northwest Passage will help achieve this goal. The passengers include British, Canadian, and Danish military personnel who are participating in joint exercises. A plethora international scientists also participate in research that will help understand the impacts of climate change.

” We’re demonstrating that the U.S. can expand its reach in the Arctic,” Adm. Karl L. Schultz (commandant, U.S. Coast Guard) said. It’s expanding our knowledge of the region. It projects our interests. It is a signal to other countries that similar-minded partners collaborate and work in this crucial space .”

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

Steering the ship from her perch 93 feet above the Arctic waterline, U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Valerie Hines guides the vessel through ice cover laid out like a vast white puzzle starting to tear apart.

She nudges the 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy forward – ramming, then backing up and ramming again, the ice that is several feet thick. As cleaved pieces scrape against the hull, the noise can be deafening. The constant vibrations caused by the separation sheet below deck can be as strong as an earthquake.

But the task of bulldozing can also have its beauty moments: The ice pieces that are separating from the bow shine with an iridescent light, almost as though they were lit from beneath the water.

Why This

Was Written

With the melting Arctic creating new opportunities as well as stirring up old rivalries, Canada and the U.S. are trying to work together in tapping into the trade routes and thawing resource. Part 1 of 2.

The ship is on a unique transit through the Northwest Passage, which is helping to establish the U.S. Project influence in one of the most important geostrategic and rapidly changing places on Earth. With the melting polar ice caps and warming Arctic, the roof of the earth is now more accessible than ever before. This is creating new opportunities for commercial lanes, as well as the need to improve search and rescue skills, enhance environmental protection and cooperate with the local population at high latitudes. This has also sparked a worldwide race for resources and routes in this remote but vital region.

Chief Petty Officer Matt Masaschi/U.S. Coast Guard

Ensign Valerie Hines pilots the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy through the ice during its Northwest Passage transit, Sept. 2, 2021. “One thing I have learned about icebreaking is how patience it takes,” Ensign Hines says.

” They are crazy pieces of ice,” said Ensign Hines. Ensign Hines said that they would flip on their sides, and roll along the hull. It’s definitely a multisensory experience.”

But, first, Ensign Hines has to actually get the Healy through the entombed tundra. This is the third trip of the ship across the Northwest Passage. Piloting the Bull-nosed Boat through an icefield requires patience and problem solving. Sometimes, you have to weave and turn sharply in the multi-year ice fields. Sometimes, it is best to just keep going.

” One of the most important lessons I have learned about icebreaking is how patience it takes,” states Ensign Hines.

No ice to stand on

That knowledge is one of the main points of this voyage through the Northwest Passage, which was first traversed by a Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, in 1906. Since Mr. Amundsen’s first voyage, only 318 vessels, as of 2020, have successfully crossed it.

More than two-thirds of those crossings have happened in the past 15 years, amid changes the Healy has witnessed. When the ship took its maiden voyage through the Northwest Passage in 2000, the Arctic had about a quarter more ice cover. The trend lines have been clear over the years. It’s declining by 13% per decade. This decline is part and parcel of all conversations that take place in this area of Canada. Here in Resolute Bay, one of the most northerly communities in the world, where Inuit were forcefully relocated by the Canadian government beginning in 1953 to exert sovereignty in the High Arctic, unstable ice has upended everything from hunting patterns and the availability of food to hockey tournaments normally reached by snowmobile over frozen ice. The changes at sea are not felt only by scientists and ice pilots. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Master Chief Petty officer Mark Hulen was the Healy’s first voyager. He has made several Arctic trips since then. The crew’s latest expedition is their first attempt to “ice liberty”. They will watch for polar bears, then let them climb on top of an iceberg and allow the crew to stretch their legs. Usually it’s a mile. Some people will start a spontaneous football match. He says, “We struggled to find a piece of good-quality ice on which we could stand.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Janessa Warschkow/U.S. Coast Guard

Healy crew launch an unmanned underwater vehicle under the sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, Aug. 5, 2021.