Arctic Shipping Routes are melting early. It's good for trade, but not the planet.

The Northern Sea Route along the Bering Route has typically been open for passage from July to November. The rest of the year, the Arctic ice is just too thick for any ships to pass. In 2020, a Russian tanker was able to make the trip from the Yamal peninsula down to Northern China as early as May:

The LNG carrier passed through the Bering Strait and entered the Pacific Ocean on May 31 and the ship is expected in the port of Tangshan in northern China on June 11 after a 25 day voyage, compared to 36 days through the Suez Canal. During summer time the voyage from Sabetta to China can be completed in under 20 days. 

One year later — for the first time ever — it was warm enough to break through the ice on February 19, making it the first winter voyage ever:

The LNG (liquefied natural gas) tanker set out from the Chinese port of Jiangsu on January 27 after delivering its cargo. It entered the Northern Sea Route, which traverses Russia's north coast, a few days later near Cape Dezhnev, where it was met by the Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory). Together they completed the 2,500-nautical-mile voyage through the ice in 11 days and 10 hours.

It is horribly, horribly ironic that it is has specifically been natural gas tankers making the journeys. The industry responsible for warming the planet enough to melt the ice caps this much is also the exact same industry that stands to benefit for faster shipping over once-frozen Arctic trade routes. That's a win-win for them … and more slowly-encroaching doom for the rest of us.

Russian tanker cuts a previously impossible path through the warming Arctic [Alexandra Odynova / CBS News]

A New Dawn for Arctic Shipping – Winter Transits on the Northern Sea Route [Malte Humpert / High North News]

Image: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi (Public Domain)