Reuters are reporting that Russian shipping in the Arctic is benefiting from winds that are driving the oldest and thickest sea ice towards North America, further opening a remote region that is thawing amid global warming.
The thinning Russian ice could help LNG tankers, due to start exports from Russia's Yamal Peninsula in late 2017, to navigate an icy route east to Asia for more than a planned six months of the year.
Almost all attention on Arctic shipping has focused on how global warming is shrinking the extent of ice around the North Pole, opening a summertime short-cut route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
But little-noticed shifts in the age of the ice, driven by prevailing winds and currents, are also helping Russia.
NOAA maps show that almost all the ice near Russia in winter is now only a year old and typically up to about 2 m thick, with older and more jagged ice concentrated towards North America.
By contrast, in 1985, ice older than five years was found across the Arctic Ocean. Old ice can build up into hull-tearing ridges perhaps 20 m thick.
So far, most traffic on the Russian coast is between Russian Arctic ports or opening exports from Russia of goods such as oil and gas, metals, fertilisers, coal and timber.
In March, the Christophe de Margerie, the first ice-breaking LNG tanker built for Russia's Sovcomflot (SCF), docked at the Arctic port of Sabetta to test its LNG terminal. This month, it took an LNG cargo via the Arctic from Norway to Asia.
SCF says the tanker, which can carve through ice 2.1 m thick, will be able to serve European ports year-round and sail to Asia from July to December when there is least ice. Another 15 ice-class tankers are being built by Daewoo Shipbuilding for the project.
Uncertainties about ice, high insurance rates, hefty fees for Russian ice-breaker escorts and a lack of search and rescue teams still discourage use of the Arctic.
There were just 19 full transits between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans last year, according to the Northern Sea Route Information Office in Murmansk. It says the Arctic route from Yokohama in Japan to the Dutch port of Rotterdam is 7345 nautical miles, which is 3860 shorter than via the Suez Canal.
Aker Arctic Technology, based in Finland and which designs and tests ice-going vessels, says the shrinking, younger ice will tend to open more routes.
Read the article online at: https://www.lngindustry.com/liquid-natural-gas/15082017/thinning-russian-ice-could-help-lng-tankers/