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A US Navy sailor looks off the bridge of the Seawolf class submarine USS Connecticut after surfacing through Arctic sea ice north of Prudhoe Bay
Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Not all plain sailing.
MELTING POINT

Climate change has made a sailboat race through the Arctic possible

By Cassie Werber

A sailing race across the icebound Northwest Passage is being planned for 2017, through a route the organizers say has been made possible by climate change.

The Sail the Arctic Race will involve teams setting sail from New York for a 7,700-mile journey to Victoria, British Columbia. They will race for six legs with stopovers in cities in the US, Canada, and Greenland. The route used to be unnavigable because of pack ice, which may well still be problematic for the race participants. But in the years since 1998 there has been less ice, with more below-average than above-average years, and more open water, Environment Canada told CBC News.

Race organizer Robert Molnar told the news organization: “We shouldn’t be able to do it, but because of climate change, we can.”

The race organizers said they want to race to have “net zero impact” on an environment they admit is fragile.

All teams entering will need to pay a $50,000 entrance fee, and will also need a particular boat, the STAR46, which will cost between $800,000 and $1 millionexpensive in comparison with other yachts and other races.

Having “zero net impact” is less of a priority for some states and companies, which are eyeing the melting area for commercial use. Russia and Norway have been vocal in their interest in exploring for Arctic oil. Sailing ships through previously ice-packed waters also offers the possibility of new trade routes (paywall) to China—likely again for oil. Interest has quieted since falling oil prices made expensive shipments through tretcherous routes less profitable, but it’s likely to resurface when oil prices rise again.

Arctic sea ice hit its peak for the year in February—amounting to the lowest coverage on satellite record.