Earth’s Northern hemisphere, as we all know is famous for having most of the landmass on Earth. Surprisingly, it has the only ocean whose boundary solely lies in it: The Arctic.
Many of us don’t know much about the secrets of the Arctic, the treacherous water routes and the unbearable climate. The famous Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen was the first to fly over it. Yes, this is the same guy who was the first to reach the South pole. But, Wally Herbert was the first guy to step on North Pole.
The Arctic is significantly important to us. Or is it?
Believe it or not, the smallest ocean on Earth is one of the crucial passages for both airlines and the ship industry. There are 8 countries which border it. These are USA, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Russia. Each of them are very strict about their boundaries up North and have constant tensions with regards to the area under their cover.
Although one question might arise here that can’t these countries have mutual deals on the extent of their control over the water? Well this was a huge problem. A big “chunk” of it goes to the former USSR. The USSR bordered almost half of the Arctic ocean. But, it had its claims to control the full of it. Well, a full control over the Arctic sea by USSR would be a huge threat to USA. This would mean that the Soviet would be dangerously close to Alaska, which was a strategic location for many airlines of that time to save cost. USA even had a military base in Anchorage to monitor Soviet activities in the Bering Sea.
During the cold-war, any non-Soviet airline was restricted to fly over the territory of USSR. This was a major problem for connectivity between European and East Asian countries. These two regions now have 1/3rd of the total world population and have a combined GDP of around $40 trillion. Yet lying between them was USSR. Deviations from flight path would take up time and fuel costs would rise, which was extremely inefficient for the airlines to be in the business.
This was when Anchorage became so important. SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) was the first to start a polar route, which went further North of USSR and reached Anchorage to continue its onward journey to East-Asian countries. This reduced the flight time from a previous 36 hours to 17.5 hours. This was exactly like the Concorde, which reduced Trans-Atlantic travel time from 8 to 4 hours. SAS just had to do changes in its navigation to counter the problems of compass in the High North. Other Airlines quickly followed it. Anchorage, which had just 40,000 residents then, had now become a bustling town of over 350,000 people. It supported airlines like the British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Iberia, SAS, Air France and many more.
Eventually, the USSR fell down and became what in today’s time is Russia. Russia had to open its airspace and change its technological materials for ATC and pilot communications. They had to learn English, which was used to converse with the pilots and ground. Airlines quickly changed their routes. This meant Anchorage was no longer that cost-effective and the airport, which then received hundreds of flights now receive just one flight in a day. This saved the airlines a lot of money.
Russia used this as a political and economic means for maintaining diplomatic relations with other nations. Russia also put heavy charges to European and Asian airlines to use its airspace. This helped Russia to boost economically. Russia even treated countries like The Netherlands and USA to close their airspace, over some other issues. Russia even has used the policy of One Airline per country to use its airspace. This means that only one airline like Air France (airline based in Paris, France) could have flight rights to use the Russian airspace. This gave the established airlines a monopoly in the routes between Europe and East Asia, over the budget airlines.
Since the ancient times, maritime trade has put significant impact on the growth of a country’s GDP. But due to rising prices of goods around the world and competition for sales and not to forget inflation, has raised the cost of transportation. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the goods to be transported from Western Europe and Eastern US had to go either via the Panama Canal or through the Scotia Sea. This was un-economic for the export-oriented producers, which reduced their competitiveness in the international market.
But, on the advent of global warming, a new corridor has slowly opened up. You see, the ice in the Arctic is now slowly melting, which provides navigable water for ships and vessels. Canada’s Northwestern passages are now de-icing due to global warming. This helps massively, as a cargo ship can save up to $100,000 on fuel, 7000-8000 miles’ distance and can carry almost 25% more goods. This not only helps to build up competitiveness for the East Asian countries in American and European market but also builds up the competitiveness of European and American producers in the Asian market as well.
But, then there is the Canadian government who has the full control over it. Trade of goods would only depend on that country’s diplomatic relations with Canada. Many countries are now claiming the Northwestern passages to be International water but Canada is denying it. This is because that region comes under Canada’s water boundary of 200 miles off the coast, according to the UN treaty of “The Laws of the Sea.”
This has caused issues but the UN is yet to step in. It is expected that at the current rate of global warming, the Canadian Northwest frontier will be ice free by 2050. This would be beneficial for inter-continental trade as well as boosting the economies of those countries as well. Newer routes would prove competitiveness and faster connectivity among the nations. But, is it bad that global warming is creating a new opportunity for us to explore?
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