Climatic Change

, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 161–173 | Cite as

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

  • Larissa Pizzolato
  • Stephen E. L. 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.


International Maritime Organization Vessel Count Arctic Council Shipping Season Freeze Onset 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award, and the Network of Expertise in Transportation in Arctic Waters (NEXTAW).


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Copyright information

© Crown Copyright as represented by: Environment Canada 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Larissa Pizzolato
    • 1
  • Stephen E. L. Howell
    • 2
  • Chris Derksen
    • 2
  • Jackie Dawson
    • 1
  • Luke Copland
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Climate Research DivisionEnvironment CanadaTorontoCanada

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