En isvak i Arktis
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New Arctic transport routes in sight


Finding new and ice-free sea routes in the Arctic - from space. Can it be done? Ask scientist Céline Heuzé and the answer is yes. In a new research project funded by the Swedish Space Agency, she will monitor large holes in the sea ice - known as polynyas - that could become the future routes for commercial shipping.

Climate change is thinning the Arctic sea ice and the ability to transport ships via northern shipping lanes is something that global economies are starting to use more and more. These include tourism and the transport of goods between the eastern US, Europe and Asia.

Forskaren Céline Heuzé
Céline Heuzé
Photo: Carina Eliasson

- Today, commercial shipping in this area is only possible in Russian territorial waters and requires escort by Russian icebreakers. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and global geopolitics in 2022 show the need for alternative northern routes," says Céline Heuzé, who sees polynyas as a possible solution to the problem.

Polynyas are large areas where sea ice opens up or thins out and remains open in winter. Polynyas are formed by winds and ocean currents, or by warm water rising to the surface.

- The potential of Arctic polynyas are untapped in shipping. By monitoring polynyas from space, we can predict how they will develop months in advance.

The aim is to create the first seasonal forecasting system for Arctic polynyas, thus creating new conditions for commercial shipping to navigate in a more predictable and safe way.  

- Navigating in the Arctic can pose major safety problems. Search and rescue missions are logistically difficult and the effects of any accident or oil spill in the fragile Arctic environment can be devastating. By using polynyas, our hope is that we will not only find more northern routes, but also predictable and safe routes," says Céline Heuzé,

Céline Heuzé, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg,



About the project

Title: Monitoring Arctic Polynyas from Space (MAPS) - from seasonal forecast to near-real-time retrievals

Funder: Swedish Space Agency

Aim: To create the first seasonal sea ice forecasting system specifically adapted to Arctic polynyas, based on remote sensing.