Ex­plor­ing car­tog­ra­phy

Map­ping the fu­ture of Arc­tic ship­ping

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - BY HARRY WIL­SON

There will be ships with Chi­nese flags sail­ing through this route in the fu­ture,” the Globe and Mail re­ported Liu Pengfei, a spokesper­son for China’s Mar­itime Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, say­ing in April. The route in ques­tion? The North­west Pas­sage. The oc­ca­sion of Liu’s com­ments? The pub­li­ca­tion of Arc­tic Nav­i­ga­tion Guide (North­west Pas­sage), a 365-page Chi­ne­se­lan­guage ship­ping guide­book for the famed — and in­creas­ingly more open — wa­ter­way. Ques­tions of sovereignty aside, the prospect of any con­tainer ships or su­per­tankers tran­sit­ing the route, which has seen a 166 per cent in­crease in ves­sel traf­fic since 2004, seems fraught with peril. That’s partly why the Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts, a U.s.-based pub­lic-pol­icy NGO, is call­ing for “a com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem of tiered ship­ping routes that will ben­e­fit Canada, the ship­ping in­dus­try, and north­ern com­mu­ni­ties” in its In­te­grated Arc­tic Cor­ri­dors Frame­work re­port, pub­lished two weeks be­fore China’s Arc­tic ship­ping guide. In ad­dress­ing what it calls Canada’s lack of “a clear, co­he­sive vi­sion for Arc­tic ship­ping pol­icy,” one that could “ac­count for the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial com­plex­ity of Canada’s Arc­tic Ocean,” the re­port sug­gests clas­si­fy­ing low-, medi­u­mand high-risk ship­ping cor­ri­dors. This map shows the cur­rent pro­posed pri­mary and sec­ondary trans­porta­tion cor­ri­dors iden­ti­fied by the Cana­dian Coast Guard and de­picts four key el­e­ments from the re­port that could help de­ter­mine the lo­ca­tion and size of new cor­ri­dors: Inuit-iden­ti­fied ar­eas of im­por­tance, eco­log­i­cally and bi­o­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant ar­eas, hy­dro­graphic sur­vey sta­tus and ice cover. The last two el­e­ments could pose se­ri­ous chal­lenges. “Although a cli­mate change-re­lated de­cline in sea ice is im­prov­ing ship ac­cess, it will also re­sult in in­creas­ingly haz­ardous mul­ti­year ice floes, ex­treme ocean con­di­tions, and more un­pre­dictable weather,” says the re­port, which later notes that only one per cent of Canada’s Arc­tic wa­ters are ad­e­quately sur­veyed and that 10 per cent of nau­ti­cal charts meet mod­ern stan­dards. All these are fac­tors that China — and the rest of the world — should con­sider be­fore travers­ing wa­ters that have long con­founded the most able nav­i­ga­tors.

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