Saturday, August 20, 2016

Luxury cruise ship sets sail for the Arctic, thanks to climate change - Update

The once forbidding Arctic region, home to polar bears and ice-covered seas, has melted enough that this summer it’s open not only for shipping but high-end tourism. The proof lies in the Crystal Serenity cruise, a luxury tour of the Arctic that promises to carry passengers through the Northwest Passage and across the roof of the world.

The cruise set sail Tuesday from Seward, Alaska, and will dock 32 days later in New York City. Scientists have long predicted this moment, although as recently as last year, a scientific study found the Northwest Passage would remain too unpredictable for regular shipping.
1,700 passengers and crew were expected to be on board the Crystal Serenity, which will transit the Bering Strait and visit Greenland. Tickets for the historic journey started at $22,000.

That price doesn’t include extras that guests can book, such as helicopter rides. Despite the cost, the trip sold out quickly, and the company said a second journey is being planned. The location might be the Arctic, but the Crystal Serenity’s guests aren’t roughing it. The $350 million ship is 820 feet long and has 13 decks and 535 state rooms.
It has a driving range and putting green, a casino, a movie theatre, half a dozen restaurants, multiple pools and a library with thousands of books, games and DVDs. There’s also a spa, fitness centre, hair salon and 24-hour complimentary room service.

More than anything, the cruise is a symbol, a harbinger of the tourism and commercial traffic that is likely to fill the once-isolated waters of the Arctic.
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of the Northwest Passage on August 9, 2016. A path of open water can be traced almost the entire distance from the Amundsen Gulf to Baffin Bay, encountering a scattering of broken ice just east of Victoria Island.

The nearly ice free Northwest Passage snaking through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago illustrates the Arctic’s “new normal” as climate change continues to transform the region.

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