NASA Releases Latest Polar Ice Melt Images as Cruise Ship Heads for Northwest Passage

New data released Friday details "new normal" for sea ice, while a luxury liner will soon carve a once-impassable route through Canada's Arctic.
August 20, 2016, 7:28pm

Nearly ice-free Northwest Passage, August 2016. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz

Polar ice loss picked up in the first two weeks of August, according to NASA's latest images released Friday, making extra room for a new luxury cruise line headed straight through Canada's Arctic.

Earlier this week, Motherboard reported that every month of 2016 has been the hottest in recorded history. Receding sea ice also broke records in January, February, April, May and June of this year.

According to NASA scientists, low atmospheric pressure, clouds and wind slowed polar ice melt in June and July, making it unlikely that sea ice will set a new annual low. However, a strong cyclone moving through the Arctic—similar to the one that devastated ice levels in August 2012—is now causing melting to accelerate again. The ice is expected to continue receding until mid-to-late September.

While an Arctic cyclone doesn't sound like good news for a 1,070-passenger cruise ship now on its way to the Northwest Passage, the new data suggests the area is unlikely to return to impassable ice levels seen even a few years ago.

"A decade ago, this year's sea ice would have set a new record low and by a fair amount," said Walt Meier, a NASA sea ice scientist. "Now we're kind of used to these low levels of sea ice—it's the new normal."

That "new normal" bodes well for the future of the Crystal Serenity, which is planning offer its month-long Arctic cruise next summer as well. The ship launched Tuesday and will also make stops in Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet in Nunavut, charging anywhere from $22,000 to $120,000 for the trip.

In case you had any doubts about the intentions of people aboard this climate-happy voyage, the cruise includes some questionable "cultural" excursions, "featuring bannock, traditional dress displays and throat singing," according to the Globe and Mail.

Whatever Columbus complex makes "discovering" these newly-revealed waters seem like a good idea, science says it's only going to get easier.

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