The Melting Arctic and Speculation on Changes in Transport Infrastructure

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 5:15 PM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Marjorie McGuirk, CASE Consultants International, LLC, Asheville, NC

This paper postulates that climate change will lead to historic shifts in population centers that are employed in the shipment of goods. Recent evidence suggests that global warming will result in substantial melting of the Arctic Ocean, the ice cap that covers the North Pole. At the end of summer's light in September 2012, record-breaking melting at the ice cap's fringes was measured by scientists with the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This historic measurement has as one consequence the potential to open two water bridges that connect East to West: the fabled North West passage bordering Canada and Alaska on the one side, and the Northern Sea Route bordering Russia on the other. These routes bridge the hemispheres, and save over 3,000 miles of travel over the southern sea routes through the Panama and Suez Canals. Ice-free, navigable open water on the northern routes will make for routing shipping during the long days of the northern summer months. Eying the savings the shorter routes would bring, container vessel companies are sizing up the possibilities. Obviously, the transport industry brings its own needs; supply depots, fueling stations, navigation charts, radio facilities, and emergency services, among others. Supplying these needs brings economic opportunity. We know from history that economic opportunity grows human settlements. Transport itself drives the patterns of human settlements. Cities develop at ports and along navigable rivers. Cities grow, extend, and connect to other cities, stretching inland along highways and railways. Major cities grow at the intersection of trade routes just as new cities erupt at major intersections, like Crystal City at the Washington Metro subway station. And cities fade when trade goes away. When one trade route opens, another one often closes, as people migrate into areas with economic opportunity. Shifts from present-day trade centers to new will result as global warming opens new pathways for trade. But how is it that climate effects trade centers and cities in the first place?