- What is the real rate of ice melting on the Northern Sea Route now? Is there an up-to-date forecast as to when the path will be completely ice-free? And will it still freeze in winter?

- Global warming is no longer just scientific assumptions, but a reality that is observed in one way or another in all corners of the planet. In Russia, climate change is especially noticeable in the Arctic part, where it is warming 2-3 times faster than anywhere else on the planet.

In the waters of the Siberian Arctic seas, through which the Northern Sea Route passes, it became especially noticeably warmer in the 2010s. The peak was in 2012. Data from meteorological stations on the coast and islands of the seas show that over the past 50 years, the temperature in the Arctic has increased by an average of 6 ° C in winter, and by 3 ° C in summer.

The average thickness of the ice cover in the polar region of the Arctic has halved since the 1990s. However, we are confident that, contrary to many judgments, by the middle of the XXI century, ice in the Arctic will remain. We do not support the hypothesis of its complete disappearance at the pole in the next 25 years. In 2021, the ice area increased by almost 200 thousand km² in September, and in the next five years its amount in the Arctic will remain at this level. Yes, the general trend towards warming has not disappeared anywhere, but we do not expect sharp jumps, as it was in 2012.

  • Melting glaciers of Mabel Island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • RIA Novosti
  • © Ilya Timin

The AARI previously reported that in most of the seas of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in the second half of this navigation season, ice conditions will be light. What do they depend on?

- Ice conditions will be light on most of the route, but not along its entire length - the ice background will be average in the northeastern part of the Kara, in the eastern part of the East Siberian and in the southwestern part of the Chukchi Sea. At the same time, we do not expect heavy ice on the Northern Sea Route until the end of October.

The formation of ice cover in the Arctic depends on currents, wind, temperature and many other factors. For example, the climate of the Far East is influenced by the warm surface layer of water from the equatorial part of the Pacific Ocean, and the climate of the western part of the Arctic is influenced by the waters of the Atlantic. Warming in the ocean causes a reduction in sea ice and further changes. This is a complex and multifaceted process.

- The AARI still considers navigation along the NSR to be a difficult task for other reasons. Even if the path is free of ice cover, what will be the navigation conditions in this area? Are there difficult currents or a special bottom topography?

- It would seem that warming creates easier conditions for navigation, but a decrease in ice cover does not equal a simplification of navigation. There is indeed less ice, but only in summer, which is only three months a year. In winter, ice conditions remain quite difficult and can form much faster than before - sometimes in just a few weeks. The situation can change from year to year in one direction or the other. One year of ice there is very little or no ice, and the next year in the same period in the same area the ship can meet cohesive ice (floating ice consisting of ice floes, most of which are in contact with each other. - RT). This means that in the future, the number of dangerous ice phenomena in the Arctic seas may increase. Heavy ice and hummocks will continue to appear on the route of ships. Ships can fall into ice captivity and be subjected to strong compression.

  • RIA Novosti
  • © Ilya Timin

Against this background, the relevance of operational hydrometeorological information is growing, because the final cost of cargo delivery largely depends on the timing of the journey. Saving on forecasts means putting the entire transport and logistics operation at risk. Experienced navigators are well aware of this.

- If the navigation is longer, and the ships will be able to pass without icebreaker support, how will this affect the life of the northern territories, will they be able to hope for improved transport accessibility? Moreover, the long-awaited package of laws regulating the process of northern delivery has now been adopted. Or will the negative consequences of the melting of the Arctic exceed the benefits of a more intensive supply of goods?

- Ideas about the possibility of practical use of the NSR were expressed in the XV-XVI centuries. In 1932, the Main Directorate of the Northern Sea Route (Glavsevmorput) was created. The Soviet period, in a sense, was a period of prosperity for the Arctic regions - new settlements were built where people lived and worked.

At the turn of the century, many processes slowed down and settlements were empty. Obviously, with the development of the transport highway, industrial projects will gradually begin to develop, which will entail infrastructure, social, etc.

In my opinion, the new highway will activate life in the Arctic. After all, there are still a huge number of places where it is extremely difficult to deliver everything you need. People live "from ship to ship", which brings food and food once a year. Residents of large cities who go to the store for fresh products almost every day, it's hard to imagine. Therefore, in my opinion, the Northern Sea Route will be a boon for the people living in those territories.

- Earlier, the Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Russian Federation Mikhail Mishustin approved a plan for the development of the Northern Sea Route until 2035. The document lists more than 150 measures for the development of this transport artery. What is the contribution of scientists to the exploration and development of the path?

- On behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the development of the Northern Sea Route until 2035, it is planned to transport more than 1 billion tons of cargo through the Arctic seas. AARI participates in the project as a scientific institute that has been working at the poles for more than a century. The Institute provides seafarers with forecasts of ice conditions, without which navigation in the Arctic seas is impossible.

Previously, year-round shipping on a regular basis in the Arctic seas was not carried out, so we usually gave forecasts for the summer period - from May to October. But this year, for the first time, navigation for the winter period will not stop - for us this is a serious scientific challenge.

Vessels pass the NSR in one and a half to two weeks, which significantly exceeds the terms of detailed short-term forecasts. At the same time, you can choose the best route only after receiving detailed information about the situation in the water area in advance. Now the accuracy of our short-term forecasts (up to five days) of the distribution and drift of ice is about 93%, long-term (from 15 days to 6 months) - 85%. These are very good indicators, at the world level.

  • Ships in the seaport of Dudinka.
  • RIA Novosti
  • © Vladimir Astapkovich

- An increase in cargo turnover along the NSR will inevitably exacerbate the problem of environmental pollution, primarily marine ecosystems. Are preventive measures being taken?

- Activation of navigation, of course, will increase the load on the natural environment. Therefore, it is important now to provide for measures for the environmental protection of the Arctic region. The Institute monitors the state of the ecosystem of the seas of the Arctic Ocean. But the scale of these works, obviously, needs to be expanded.

For more than a year, specialists from the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, Roshydromet, the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, Rosatom and other organizations have been working together on a strategy that will form the basis of the state program for environmental monitoring of the Northern Sea Route.

Field observations of the natural environment will be made in the summer, since at this time the biota of the Arctic seas is the most saturated and diverse. Abiotic components such as the atmosphere, sea waters and ice, bottom sediments, and biotic components such as plankton, benthos, ichthyofauna, avifauna, and marine mammals should be evaluated. Studies of the ecosystem should be regular, the only way we can get a complete picture of what is happening and record trends for change. Based on the data collected, assessments and forecasts of possible environmental transformations will be made.

Marine expeditions will require large vessels, airborne aircraft and small vessels, a system of specialized hydrometeorological support, as well as experienced scientists. Our institute has all this base. It is important that the primary data collection is carried out under a single scientific and methodological guidance.

  • RIA Novosti
  • © Maxim Deminov

Geographically, it is planned to explore not only the water areas along the shipping routes and the territories adjacent to ports and terminals, but also background areas. Including the water space adjacent to the northern coast of the Russian Federation.

- Several icebreakers were built specifically for the NSR. Will they be in demand given the melting of the Arctic ice sheet?

- The decision to build new icebreakers was not made spontaneously. This is the result of scrupulous calculations, based, among other things, on our forecasts on the development of ice conditions in the Arctic seas. Ice in the Arctic will remain for a long time, and there will be plenty of work for new vessels for their intended purpose. Especially taking into account the growing tasks of cargo transportation and other maritime operations.

There is a lot of skepticism about the economic feasibility of developing this route. Of course, there should be no illusions in this matter, from the first year we will not get an ideal result. However, it is already obvious that the project will be launched, the processes will be polished. Perhaps not immediately, but the mechanism of passage along the highway will be worked out to automatism. We will be able to withstand the required commercial speed of about 10 knots. Over time, the necessary infrastructure will be created, all processes will be debugged, the route will become familiar and will largely change the global supply chain. This is a global and long-term project. This is exactly how it should be treated.