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The Russian tanker cuts a previously impossible road through the warming Arctic



Moscow – A Russian natural gas tanker has completed an experimental two-way voyage on the Northern Sea Route – for the first time the Arctic route was forged at this time of year. The journey of the tanker Christophe de Margerie through the ice is the latest visual indicator of climate change in the delicate region.

The tanker, operated by the shipping company Sovcomflot, returned to Russia’s remote gas terminal in Sabeta on February 19, bringing Russia closer to its goal of year-round commercial shipping through the warming Arctic.


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The liquefied natural gas tanker (liquefied natural gas) left the Chinese port of Jiangsu on January 27 after delivering its cargo. He entered the Northern Sea Route, which crosses the northern coast of Russia, a few days later near Cape Dezhnev, where he was met by the Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy (50 years of victory). Together, they completed the 2,500-nautical-mile ice voyage in 11 days and 10 hours.

The ship managed to complete the first stage of the voyage from Russia to China without an icebreaker. Both voyages broke records for winter navigation due to the changing climate in the Arctic, allowing passage through the thinner ice. Using the Northern Sea Route allows freight forwarders in Russia and other countries to avoid much longer southern voyages across Europe, the Middle East and all of South Asia, saving millions of dollars.

The deepest ice the ships encountered was about 5 feet thick. However, the vessels did not encounter many years of accumulation of old ice on the route, and meteorologist and journalist Eric Holtaus called it a clear indicator of a “climate emergency”.

In May last year, the Christophe de Margerie became the first high-capacity cargo ship to complete transit on the Northern Sea Route to the east, two months earlier in the year than usual.

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The Russian tanker Christophe de Margerie was spotted crossing the Northern Sea Route in February 2021.

Sovcomflot


“As a result of the early voyage on the Northern Sea Route (NSR), completed by Christophe de Margerie in May 2020, as well as the current voyage of the NSR, navigation in the eastern Arctic has virtually doubled,” said the CEO of Sovcomflot. “Igor Tonkovidov. earlier this month. He noted that for decades, the transit route through this segment of the NSR usually remained closed by ice from November to July.

“The Arctic is ours”

Novatek, the company that operates the Sabeta liquefied natural gas plant, plans to continue experimental voyages east along the Northern Sea Route, with the next one scheduled for this spring, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant quoted the chief as saying. of the company.

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An illustration from the European University in St. Petersburg shows the North Sea shipping route that a Russian tanker first crossed in the winter of February 2021, and the route along the Southern Suez Canal.

European University of St. Petersburg


Last year, Russia moved nearly 33 million tons of cargo on the Northern Sea Route, including more than 18 million tons of LNG. In the last five years alone, freight traffic on the NSR has increased almost fivefold.

“The route can take much more than that,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev told a government meeting last week. He said that according to a decree issued by President Vladimir Putin, freight traffic on the NSR should increase to 80 million tons per year by 2024.

“One of the ways the goal can be achieved is by extending the period of Arctic navigation,” Trutnev said.

To help it achieve its lucrative ambitions in the Arctic, Russia is upgrading its unique civilian fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers. Russia last year introduced the new flagship of this fleet, the Arctic, is said to be the largest and most powerful in the world.

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The Arktika nuclear icebreaker returns to St. Petersburg on December 14, 2019 after tests.

OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP / Getty


“The Russian Arctic attracts many people who are interested in its resources,” St. Petersburg Governor Georgi Poltavchenko said during the launch ceremony. “But the Arctic is ours and we’ve proven it.”

By the end of 2022, Russia plans to launch two more ships of the same series.

Environmentalists have expressed concern about the growing presence of nuclear energy in the sensitive Arctic region, which is already tormented by climate change issues.

According to some estimates, the Arctic has oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.


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