The Northwest Passage – Sea Route Through the Canadian Arctic


The Northwest Passage is a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic and the Canadian islands. For many centuries the Northwest Passage was looked at as a possible trade route but it has always been blocked by Arctic ice. Recently the ice of the Arctic has been melting at a very strong pace and climate experts think that the waterway might open up for ships in the near future.

Canadian climatologists predict that within the next one or two decades the route could be open during the summer months. One of the main problems to overcome are the permanent ice sheets that do not come and go every year but stay all year long, so-called multi-ice sheets.


On the other side in order to navigate through the Northwest Passage stronger ships will be needed to break ice sheets that float around. Instead of investing a lot of money in such vessels many companies will still use the Panama Canal to get their goods from one side of the American coast to the other.


However, even if ice breakers manage to keep the Northwest Passage open for a longer period of time, it will take normal cargo ships much longer to navigate around the numerous islands in the Canadian Arctic. Another problem for shipping is that many parts of the Arctic Ocean and the northern polar region do not have accurate maps. Most maps date back to the expeditions of the  19th century . 

Experts suggest that there are some alternative passages that could prove to be better than the Northwest Passage. One of them is the so-called Northeast Passage, a waterway along the northern coast of Russia. There are no islands to navigate through and climate conditions are sometimes better than in Canada. The route is already open during two months of the year.


In the long term global warming may cause Arctic ice to disappear completely during the summer months making it possible to navigate a direct route across the North Pole.

Energy experts think that there are oil and gas fields under the vast Arctic ice sheets. If they are right, exploration and exploitation of such fields may begin in the near future, making a new sea route very probable.


Related Topics



  • accurate = exact , correct
  • alternative = other
  • Arctic = the northern polar region of the Earth
  • block =  to be in front of something, so that you cannot pass through
  • cargo ship = a ship that does not carry people but products
  • cause = lead to
  • century = a hundred years
  • climatologist = a person who studies climate and the weather
  • connect = link
  • date back = come from
  • decade = ten years
  • disappear = go away
  • exploitation =  the development and use of minerals , like oil and gas for business and industries
  • exploration = travelling to a place and trying to find out something about it
  • float = swim on water
  • global warming = the increase in the temperature of the atmosphere of the Earth
  • goods = products
  • however = but
  • ice sheet = area of thick ice that covers the North and South Pole
  • instead of = in something's place
  • long-term = in the faraway future
  • manage = to somehow be able to do something
  • map = a drawing of an area, that shows you where mountains, rivers, roads, cities  etc are
  • melt = when ice turns to water
  • navigate = to find your way along a sea route
  • near future = sometime soon
  • numerous = every many
  • pace = speed
  • passage = path, route
  • permanent = existing for a long time
  • possible = likely
  • predict = to say that something will happen in the future
  • probable = likely
  • recently= a short time ago
  • suggest = advise; to tell someone what you should do
  • trade = to buy and sell things
  • vast= very big
  • vessel = ship