Future projections of ship accessibility for the Arctic Ocean based on IPCC CO2 emission scenarios

Jaiho Oh, Sinil Yang, Byong-Lyol Lee


Changes in the extent of Arctic sea ice, which have resulted from climate change, offer new opportunities to use the Northern Sea Route (NSR) for shipping. However, choosing to navigate the Arctic Ocean remains challenging due to the limited accessibility of ships and the balance between economic gain and potential risk. As a result, more detailed information on both weather and sea ice change in the Arctic region are required. In this research, a high-resolution global AGCM was used to provide detailed simulation on the extent and thickness of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, which is the AMIP-type simulation for the present-day climate during 31 years from 1979 to 2009 with prescribed SST and Sea Ice Concentration. For the future climate projection, we have performed the past climate during 1979-2005 and subsequently the future climate projection during 2010-2099 with a mean of four CMIP5 models due to the two Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios (RCP 8.5 and RCP 4.5) respectively. First, the AMIP-type simulation was evaluated by comparison with the Hadley Centre sea-ice and Sea Surface Temperature (HadISST) dataset. The model reflects the maximum (in March) and minimum (in September) sea ice extent and annual cycle. Based on this validation, the future sea ice extents show the decreasing trend for both the maximum and minimum seasons and RCP 8.5 shows more sharply decreasing patterns of sea ice than RCP 4.5. Under both scenarios, ships classified as Polar Class (PC) 3 and Open-Water (OW) were predicted to have the largest and smallest number of ship-accessible days (in any given year) for the NSR, respectively. Based on the RCP 8.5 scenario, the projections suggest that after 2070, PC3 and PC6 vessels will have year-round access across to the Arctic Ocean. In contrast, OW vessels will continue to have a seasonal handicap, inhibiting their ability to pass through the NSR.

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