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Melting Polar Ice Could Heat Up Arctic Economy

December 30, 2012

By Sean Cockerham, The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA

WASHINGTON- In a twist to the debate over global warming, melting Arctic sea ice is making it easier to transport the fossil fuels that produce the planet-warming gases, which appear to be causing it to thaw in the first place.

As a result, a record number of tankers have gained access to an emerging shipping route, creating a potential industrial boon in the remote Arctic.

The increasingly ice-free route runs from Europe to Asian markets through the Bering Strait, which divides Alaska and Russia. It can be 40 percent shorter than the southern alternative of shipping through the Suez Canal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to turn it into one of the world`s "key trade routes of international significance in scale," as Russia moves to export Arctic oil and gas to China and other hungry economies in the Far East.

The Russian leader predicted in 2011 that the route could rival the Suez Canal eventually.

Arctic sea ice melted to a record low in September, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, when ice covered just 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean, compared with at least twice that amount three decades ago.

Norway`s oil minister, Ola Borten Moe, said that if the melting trend continued, he could see a time when a range of cargo broader than the current petroleum products, iron ore and coal would be transported through the Arctic waters along the route.

"That will not only be important for energy production, but also for all kinds of transportation of goods," he said recently at the Brookings Institution, a research center in Washington. "This could change the dynamics between Europe and Asia."

(C) 2012 The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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