Fasten your seat belts and, uh, put on your snow jackets. A new world speed record has been set.
That’s because on Christmas Day 2015, the Russian icebreaker Vaygach completed a journey along the north coast of Siberia a trip known as the Northern Sea Route in just seven and a half days.
Which, for a boat that looks like this:
Vaygach left the Bering Strait, near Alaska, on Dec. 17, and covered over 2,200 nautical miles to get to the White Sea, just off the north coast of Finland, by Dec. 25. It ended up coming in about a half-day faster than previous trips.
One reason they went so fast might be that there wasn’t as much ice.
“Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever,” said President Obama in a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Commencement in May 2015. It’s true. In fact, 2015’s maximum ice was the lowest on record. (This winter’s numbers aren’t in yet because, well, winter’s not over yet.)
“By the middle of this century,” Obama continued, “Arctic summers could be essentially ice free. Were witnessing the birth of a new ocean new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below.”
Less ice will likely mean more traffic throughout the Arctic.
Even if the ice is still pretty thick in places, more and more ships are making the trip along both the northern coast of Siberia and through the Northwest Passage that stretches from Alaska to Greenland.
Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan said, “The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers. Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.
Obama has since called on the U.S. to build more icebreaker ships, but it’s not set just yet.
U.S. military operations on Arctic land could face trouble for melting ice too.
A report from the Government Accountability Office found that coastal military sites are in danger from climate change. In Alaska, for example, coastal erosion from thawing permafrost and rising sea levels is putting Air Force radar and communications stations in danger. Roads, sea walls, and runways have also been damaged.