How do you plot a safe course through a geographical area that changes rapidly, and dangerously? With S-AIS, of course. Maritime shipping routes through the Arctic have been a passionate discussion for centuries. Looking at a flat map of the world it’s easy to forget how close in proximity all northern countries are, but if you spin a globe and gaze down from an Arctic point of view, the distance doesn’t seem so vast. For any maritime vessel traveling through those frigid waters, ice is the number one problem. The ice that covers the Arctic is volatile; while historically it has always broken off in massive chunks to float freely and dangerously south, climate change has sped up that process, making it more challenging than ever in recent history to predict the appearance of ice flows and icebergs in waterways. Related, but a problem on its own, is that due to the restricted access explorers have had to the Arctic, topographical information is limited in comparison to most other global waterways. S-AIS can’t provide a picture of the landscape and depth of water in a traditional sense, but it can use historical data provided by the vessels that do wander through this path less traveled to create a more thorough picture.
As the ice cover reduces in the Arctic, this area becomes more important as fishing, tourism, mineral exploitation and shipping routes become more accessible.
With these new openings from the receding ice, ship traffic will surely increase. Vessels travelling the Arctic need to follow the best practices and acquire the latest technology to avoid or minimise possible environmental incidents and life-threatening accidents.
But what can be done to ensure these ships and the seafarers aboard remain safe in these harsh waters?
Back in November 2014, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), adopted the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), and related amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to make it mandatory, marking a major milestone in the Organization’s work to protect ships and people aboard them, both seafarers and passengers, in the harsh environment of the waters surrounding the two poles.
What are the Changes?
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently met to shape the Polar Code, a legally binding set of rules for shipping in Polar Regions. The target completion date for this Polar Code was initially 2012, but now has been moved to 2014/15 at the earliest. Although the final Polar Code won’t be adopted this year, recommendations made now will strongly influence the environmental provisions of the final Code.
It’s been an interesting and very busy summer for me. My first visit for a few years to an Esri Worldwide User Conference in the lovely climate of Southern California, and my first ever living in a Mediterranean type climate enjoying a lifestyle of shorts and barbeques (and I now live in Canada!). Best tan I’ve ever had! But there’s a serious side to all this. First it was interesting to me that Esri chose to focus on cloud computing as the big new thing and almost relegated the news of Maps for Office to that of an also-ran. Easy to use maps for everyone in MS Office products seems pretty big news to me! However I appreciate that data sharing is still an important topic but isn’t cloud computing to most people simply a case of having the server somewhere else? Where’s the big news in that? Same old stuff across the internet rather than the intranet. OK, I’m being simplistic but perhaps in my aging years I’m missing the point?
But moving on from the sunny climes of Southern California back to a blazing hot Ontario, I’ve been following with interest this year’s summer melt in the Arctic. It’s quite alarming. There’s been a lot of press as the summer has progressed but here is a pretty good summary now that summer is coming to an end and Autumn approaches (it’s going to take me a while to say ‘Fall’). http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/09/19/arctic-ice-cover-melt.html
As the ice levels lower in the Arctic allowing for increased shipping traffic to pass through, many experts are looking to understand the implications to the ecosystem as well as the importance now placed on being able to track vessels traversing these waters.
One great advantage of the exactAIS® service is its truly global coverage, including the remote Arctic region that had previously proved difficult to monitor. The Arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, allowing for near year round shipping along the Northwest Passage. The alternatives to this Northern sea route are transport arteries half a world away that pass through the Suez and Panama Canals adding significant days to any journey. It is important to also realize though the environmental impact daily shipping will have on this fragile ecological system. The ability to monitor shipping activity throughout the vast Arctic region can help ensure that proper routes are being taken so as not to disrupt the environment.