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    Melting ice opens up Arctic passage
    From: Peter Fogg
    Date: 2007 Sep 17, 12:51 +1000

    Arctic ice has shrunk to the smallest area on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.

    The European Space Agency said almost 200 satellite photos taken this month showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its smallest area since such images were first taken in 1978.

    The waters are exposing unexplored resources, and vessels could trim thousands of kilometres off the sea journey from Europe to Asia by bypassing the Panama Canal. The seasonal ebb and flow of ice levels has already opened up a slim summer window in which some ships can pass through.

    Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Centre said that Arctic ice has shrunk to some 3 million square kilometres. The previous low was 4 million square kilometres, in 2005.

    "The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected," Associate Professor Pedersen said in an ESA statement posted on its website on Friday.

    On average, the ice had retreated by about 100,000 square kilometres per year over the past decade, "so a drop of 1 million square kilometres in just one year is extreme".

    A UN panel on climate change has predicted that polar regions could be virtually free of ice by the summer of 2070, the European Space Agency noted.

    Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States are some of the countries involved in a race to secure rights to the Arctic. A US study has suggested as much as 25 per cent of the world's untapped oil and gas could be hidden in the area.

    Associated Press

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