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Changing sea ice conditions and marine transportation activity in Canadian Arctic waters between 1990 and 2012


  • Larissa Pizzolato


  • Stephen Howell
  • Chris Derksen
  • Jackie Dawson
  • Luke Copland


Declining sea ice area in the Canadian Arctic has gained significant attention with respect to the prospect of increased shipping activities. To investigate relationships between recent declines in sea ice area with Arctic maritime activity, trend and correlation analysis was performed on sea ice area data for total, first-year ice (FYI), and multi-year ice (MYI), and on a comprehensive shipping dataset of observed vessel transits through the Vessel Traffic Reporting Arctic Canada Traffic Zone (NORDREG zone) from 1990 to 2012. Links to surface air temperature (SAT) and the satellite derived melt season length were also investigated. Between 1990 and 2012, statistically significant increases in vessel traffic were observed within the NORDREG zone on monthly and annual time-scales coincident with declines in sea ice area (FYI, MYI, and total ice) during the shipping season and on a monthly basis. Similarly, the NORDREG zone is experiencing increased shoulder season shipping activity, alongside an increasing melt season length and warming surface air temperatures (SAT). Despite these trends, only weak correlations between the variables were identified, although a step increase in shipping activity is apparent following the former summer sea ice extent minimum in 2007. Other non-environmental factors have also likely contributed to the observed increase in Arctic shipping activity within the Canadian Arctic, such as tourism demand, community re-supply needs, and resource exploration trends. Copyright Crown Copyright as represented by: Environment Canada 2014

Suggested Citation

  • Larissa Pizzolato & Stephen Howell & Chris Derksen & Jackie Dawson & Luke Copland, 2014. "Changing sea ice conditions and marine transportation activity in Canadian Arctic waters between 1990 and 2012," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 123(2), pages 161-173, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:123:y:2014:i:2:p:161-173
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-013-1038-3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. C. Derksen & S. Smith & M. Sharp & L. Brown & S. Howell & L. Copland & D. Mueller & Y. Gauthier & C. Fletcher & A. Tivy & M. Bernier & J. Bourgeois & R. Brown & C. Burn & C. Duguay & P. Kushner & A. L, 2012. "Variability and change in the Canadian cryosphere," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 115(1), pages 59-88, November.
    2. Scott Stephenson & Laurence Smith & Lawson Brigham & John Agnew, 2013. "Projected 21st-century changes to Arctic marine access," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 118(3), pages 885-899, June.
    3. Julienne Stroeve & Mark Serreze & Marika Holland & Jennifer Kay & James Malanik & Andrew Barrett, 2012. "The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: a research synthesis," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 110(3), pages 1005-1027, February.
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