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Canada, Russia Eye 'Bridge' Over Melting Ice Cap

The so-called arctic bridge has won support from the Canadian government and local administrations, as well as the new Russian ambassador to Canada Georgiy Mamedov.
Vancouver BC Canada (AFP) Jan 26, 2005
Global warming may augur future environmental misery for some, but it is good news for entrepreneurs poised to cash in on the melting polar ice cap to forge a new Canada-Russia trade route.

Russian crude oil destined for the gas guzzling United States could soon be shipped through a passage between Churchill, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) north of the US-Canada border and Murmansk in Russia's far north on the Barents Sea.

Churchill, on the western shore of the Hudson Bay, is cut off from Murmansk by a vast tract of ice which blocks off routes between chains of islands for much of the year, but warming temperatures on the roof of the world are allowing ships to navigate for longer periods annually.

Last year, the city's port, an isolated spot braved by only polar bears and about 1,000 residents, and tourists drawn by the haunting beauty of the aurora borealis, was open from July to November.

By mid-century, scientists predict waterways could remain ice-free year round, cutting more than 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) off trips to northern Europe or Russia.

A delegation is currently in Russia to discuss plans for the new trade route, led by Denver, Colorado-based Omnitrax, which owns the port in Churchill, to meet private and public sector officials.

"We're very excited. There is great potential for increasing trade between North America and the Russian sphere," said Mike Ogborn, who is spearheading the port's ambitious expansion plan.

Currently, only a small amount of Canadian grain is shipped through Churchill.

Most traffic goes instead through the ports of Vancouver in western Canada and Montreal in the east, where larger populations wield more clout and shipping routes are clear.

The US group Omnitrax, hoping to welcome ships of over 40,000 tonnes, has dredged the harbor in Churchill and reinforced the connecting rail bed to support heavier loads.

Soon, it hopes to more than double the volume and variety of commodities shipped through the port including phosphates, ores, petroleum products, fertilizer and agricultural machinery.

The first shipment, if negotiations go well, will set sail later his year.

The so-called arctic bridge has won support from the Canadian government and local administrations, as well as the new Russian ambassador to Canada Georgiy Mamedov.

A fleet of 10 Russian icebreakers and ice-resistant cargo ships could be deployed to keep the route open an extra month, the ambassador has suggested.

He even argued, quite seriously, that Russia's massive decommissioned nuclear submarines could be used for polar commerce, transporting goods in compartments that once housed missiles.

"Some of them are quite huge, designed to carry missiles. Instead of turning them into heaps of metal, they could be used to transport nickel or other goods. This is conversion for you," Mamedov told AFP.

But, there is a downside for Canada too. Northern aboriginal populations have reported adverse effects on traditional hunting in an increasingly unfamiliar landscape with unpredictable weather patterns.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Antarctic May Have Iced Over When Atmosphere Changed
West Lafayette IN (SPX) Jan 03, 2005
A longstanding theory that provides much of the basis for our understanding of climate change that the mile-thick ice sheet covering Antarctica developed because of a shift in ocean currents millions of years ago has been challenged by Purdue University scientists.


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