The Northwest Passage

The satellite data showing Arctic ice at record low levels is pretty striking but, as I mentioned, unlikely to change many minds at this stage. One point that can reasonably be made is that satellites have only been around for thirty years – maybe there was less ice further back in history. There is one sort of evidence that goes back many centuries – the repeated failure to find the fabled Northwest Passage, by voyagers going back at least as far as John Cabot in 1497, and arguably as far back as the Vikings in the 11th century. Roald Amundsen managed it in three years in 1903-06 and the voyage was managed with the aid of icebreakers in the middle of the 20th century. in 1984, a specially designed cruise ship managed the voyage, but now it’s become almost routine. “ In 2011 16 private yachts made their way successfully through the once-dreaded passage. ” Here’s an example of the kind of boat that can now manage, within a season, a voyage that defeated the well-equipped expedition of Sir John Franklin, with the loss of the entire crew.

Of course, in a parallel universe, the feat was accomplished by a Chinese fleet in 1421.

22 thoughts on “The Northwest Passage

  1. I can recall when the Gavin Menzies mythology first emerged (not only in print but via allegedly authoritative TV programs). At the time, plenty of otherwise educated and, indeed, sane-looking people were crediting Zheng He and his fellow Chinese not only with discovering America but, as far as one could tell, with writing Shakespeare’s plays, composing Beethoven’s symphonies, and painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Wonder what Gavin’s Groupies are doing now. Getting up close and personal with the Loch Ness Monster, perhaps?

    “An entire generation of historians has been forced into debt from the dental bills brought on by endless nights of teeth-gnashing at the very thought that Menzies’ work might be considered by anyone to be historically accurate. “ LOL.

  2. I hope this will not generate another group of climate change deniers because of the vested interest in using that maritime route.

  3. Well technically Franklin’s expedition made it but the survivors died at a place called Fugitives Cove but then they were using wooden sailing ships

  4. You mean the Chinese didn’t achieve it in this universe too? Haven’t followed sufficiently to know who Menzies is, assume he wrote some market validate d books on the topic (that’s to say, bestsellers).

  5. It is interesting to me that global scepticism towards climate change – particularly in the US – is inconsistent with the national competition over new mineral exploration rights and fishing rights in an ice free Arctic. China, Russia, Canadian and US commentators also seem to be very focused on the increasing security issues associated with use of this new “resource”.

    On the one hand it seems nations are very happy to recognise the reality of climate change when the possibility of making new profits from it arises but at the same time they are reluctant to recognise the associated costs.

  6. @hc

    You simply don’t understand!

    All these “opportunities” arose without the climate changing one iota. When you pray to the Republican’s god all sorts of miracles happen.

  7. the well-equipped expedition of Sir John Franklin, with the loss of the entire crew.

    My understanding is that Franklin’s expedition was felled by an early example of corrupt outsourcing to a mate when the tinned food provided at the lowest quote poisoned the expedition.

    So has Bolt run with the Arctic Ice graph lately? He used to like it there for a while when we weren’t below the 2007 line.

  8. If only they had thought ahead they would have ensured a medicine chest full of transferable vouchers for any life saving treatment their trip may have required. As Saint Milton taught before his ascension, markets augmented by vouchers (and governed with compassionate libertarianism) will solve all world problems.

  9. It’s unfortunate that the melting of the actic ice is being viewed only as another opportunity to both push the boundaries and create more sporting heroes. When interviewed multiple circumnavigator sailor/adventurer/philosopher Henk de Velde thought that climate change and sea rise wasn’t happening – I guess that from his perspective seas only rise when your boat sinks.

  10. When Florida goes under
    The Orators will thunder,
    “Why did no-one tell us of the rising of the sea?
    Capitol’s step now reaches
    To Washington’s new beaches;
    How could this happen to the land of the free?”

    “We thought that we were special,
    Outstandingly exceptional;
    Our destiny was manifestly best.
    How could our luck desert us?
    And Mother Nature hurt us?
    Now we are submerging with the rest.”

  11. @Andrew Elder
    Err what’s this ‘Khe Sanh’ thing?

    It’s not really one of Stan’s best songs, I’d recommend perhaps Barrett’s Privateers or Fogarty’s Cove but it is good and Franklin is one of the iconic stories here.

    BTW, the Canadian government has a major expedition going at the moment looking for the wreaks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. It is not clear why now and why such resources but I cynically expect the Conservatives see it as much a photo op for the PM as science or historical research. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/08/03/f-franklin-search.html.

    The expedition will likely come back with some valuable knowledge but an all-out search for a couple of wreaks might not have been the most cost-effective way to do it. 🙂

    Actually, most Conservative MP’s wouldn’t recognize scientific research if it bit them–and come to think of it, it has. Nothing like getting trashed in Nature http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/03/02/nature-science-canada.html

  12. Apparently not good for the Polar bears, they needed all the ice to move about, hunt and avoid finishing up permanently in the drink.

  13. @paul walter

    Nor for Northern people. No ice = bad hunting, heavy (dangerous) seas plus if bad hunting for the polar bears, they may move into town and dine on the natives. I have heard that The Pas used to lose one or two people every year to bear muggings. A half-ton or so of bear is no joke.

  14. Greg Tangney

    No – not (this time) outsourcing. They did not know that tin solders turn to a powder at very low temperatures. Same thing happened to Scott.

  15. Arctic ice at record low levels is pretty striking but, as I mentioned, unlikely to change many minds at this stage.

    It will probably be the same when someone sails a boat to the North pole in the not too distant future. Change “North-west passage” to “North pole”. No need to change the name “Roald Amundsen”.

  16. when someone sails a boat to the North pole in the not too distant future

    An ordinary boat, not an ice-breaker.

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