For the first time in history, a ship was able to traverse the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic without the help of an accompanying icebreaker thanks to new tanker technology—and climate change. The New York Times reports the Christophe de Margerie, carrying liquefied natural gas from Norway to South Korea, traversed the Northern Sea Route in a record 6.5 days—part of a 19-day trip from Europe to Asia that would have normally taken 30% longer going through the Suez Canal. The Christophe de Margerie was built with a reinforced steel hull that allows it to get through ice up to 4-feet thick. “It’s very exciting that a ship can go along this route all year round,” the Guardian quotes a spokesperson for the Russian tanker's owner as saying.
But fancy internal icebreaker or no, the Christophe de Margerie wouldn't have been able to make the trip just a few years ago. The Telegraph reports Arctic ice hit an all-time low earlier this year due to "polar heatwaves." In the past, the Northern Sea Route was only usable for four months of the year, and then with the help of an icebreaker. In the busiest year, there was still only 15 crossings of the route, and fewer than 500 crossings have ever been made. Due to climate change and new tankers, Russia expects there will be 150 annual crossings by 2020. Vladimir Putin calls the Christophe de Margerie's voyage "a big event in the opening up of the Arctic." But environmentalists are worried what increased traffic will mean for the future of the Arctic.