Melting Arctic opens new passages for invasive species

May 28, 2014, Smithsonian
Mosaic of images of the Arctic by MODIS. Credit: NASA

For the first time in roughly 2 million years, melting Arctic sea ice is connecting the north Pacific and north Atlantic oceans. The newly opened passages leave both coasts and Arctic waters vulnerable to a large wave of invasive species, biologists from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center assert in a commentary published May 28 in Nature Climate Change.

Two new shipping routes have opened in the Arctic: the Northwest Passage through Canada, and the Northern Sea Route, a 3000-mile stretch along the coasts of Russia and Norway connecting the Barents and Bering seas. While new opportunities for tapping Arctic natural resources and interoceanic trade are high, commercial ships often inadvertently carry invasive species. Organisms from previous ports can cling to the undersides of their hulls or be pumped in the enormous tanks of ballast water inside their hulls. Now that climate change has given ships a new, shorter way to cross between oceans, the risks of new invasions are escalating.

"Trans-Arctic shipping is a game changer that will play out on a global scale," said lead author Whitman Miller. "The economic draw of the Arctic is enormous. Whether it's greater access to the region's rich natural resource reserves or cheaper and faster inter-ocean commercial trade, Arctic shipping will reshape world markets. If unchecked, these activities will vastly alter the exchange of , especially across the Arctic, north Atlantic and north Pacific oceans."

The first commercial voyage through the Northwest Passage—a carrier from British Columbia loaded with coal bound for Finland—occurred in September 2013. Meanwhile, traffic through the Northern Sea Route has been rising rapidly since 2009. The scientists project that at the current rate, it could continue to rise 20 percent every year for the next quarter century, and this does not take into account ships sailing to the Arctic itself.

For the past 100-plus years, shipping between oceans passed through the Panama or Suez Canals. Both contain warm, tropical water, likely to kill or severely weaken potential invaders from colder regions. In the Panama Canal, species on the hulls of ships also had to cope with a sharp change in salinity, from marine to completely fresh water. The Arctic passages contain only cold, marine water. As long as species are able to endure cold temperatures, their odds of surviving an Arctic voyage are good. That, combined with the shorter length of the voyages, means many more species are likely to remain alive throughout the journey.

Though the routes pose major risks to the north Atlantic and north Pacific coasts, the Arctic is also becoming an attractive destination. Tourism is growing, and it contains vast stores of natural resources. The Arctic holds an estimated 13 percent of the world's untapped oil and 30 percent of its natural gas. Greenland's supply of rare earth metals is estimated to be able to fill 20 to 25 percent of global demand for the near future. Until now the Arctic has been largely isolated from intensive shipping, shoreline development and human-induced invasions, but the scientists said that is likely to change drastically in the decades to come.

"The good news is that the Arctic ecosystem is still relatively intact and has had low exposure to invasions until now," said coauthor Greg Ruiz. "This novel corridor is only just opening. Now is the time to advance effective management options that prevent a boom in invasions and minimize their ecological, economic and health impacts."

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2.1 / 5 (14) May 28, 2014
Oh please, the first time in 2 million years my ass! Any one that mentions climate and science in the same breath is a complete moron. Let's face it climate "science" is a branch of political science.
4.1 / 5 (13) May 28, 2014
Oh please, the first time in 2 million years my ass! Any one that mentions climate and science in the same breath is a complete moron. Let's face it climate "science" is a branch of political science.

You did it twice in your last post. So you're a double moron. Or possibly a moron squared.
1.7 / 5 (11) May 28, 2014
I will gladly admit to being a moron when the warmists here admit they are promoting a giant hoax.
4 / 5 (12) May 28, 2014
I will gladly admit to being a moron when the warmists here admit they are promoting a giant hoax.

You've already admitted it. With empirical proof.
1.8 / 5 (10) May 28, 2014
Rockwolf if an article like this does not insult your intelligence then then there is no intelligence there to insult.
4.2 / 5 (10) May 28, 2014
How would it insult my intelligence? Invasive species brought by shipping is not a theory. Zebra mussels and round goby's were brought to the Great Lakes by international shipping. Now they are making their way across the country in recreational boat live wells and attached to hulls.

Increased shipping traffic in the arctic will bring invasive species among a whole host of other problems. I know this because I'm intelligent and I read a lot, and I'm personally involved with conservation projects directly related to invasive species.

I also happen to know that the northwest passage was non-navigable until quite recently.

This article does nothing more than state the facts. That you choose to deny this, is evidence of your own lack of intelligence or deliberate ignorance in support of your world view and/or personal agenda.

Frankly, I'm more concerned about accidents with hazardous cargo which cannot be cleaned up due to arctic conditions. Arctic shipping should not be allowed.

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