BEFORE OUR EYES, the Arctic is changing from an impenetrable wasteland into an oceanic crossroads. The polar ice cap has lost up to half its thickness near the North Pole in just the past six years and may have passed a tipping point; it is now shrinking at more than three times the rate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change only four years ago. At the current pace, the Arctic may well be ice-free in summer by 2013.
You'd think this story would crowd Miley Cyrus right off the front pages, but I'm afraid that in the judgment of modern American newsroom editors, her frosty smile prevails over the Arctic Ice Cap. Someone on the Atlantic Monthly seems to have enough courage to report this story. I used to subscribe to the Atlantic Monthly. Maybe I'll resubscribe.
A friend suggested that if the worldwide economic meltdown damps down economic activities enough to stem the polar meltdowns, then perhaps this bitter medicine will be good for us. Meanwhile, I think we kindergarten teachers are going to have to come up with a new story about where Santa Claus lives:
The fabled Northwest Passage opened this summer for the second time in history—and the second year in a row. The Northeast passage (also called the Northern Sea Route) over Eurasia first fully opened to shipping in 2005; shipping is already extensive within that region, particularly in the Barents Sea. Yet both routes, sought by ancient mariners, are likely to be used for only a few years. By 2025, if not before, most ships in the Arctic will likely sail straight over the pole avoiding coastal-state jurisdictions and shaving still more miles off their journeys. Much of the world's international shipping will reorient itself as a result.
Here's a link to the online version of the article: Sea Change. If you click over there, you'll be able to see a slide show related to this topic.