Northern Sea Route

Map of the Arctic region showing the Northern Sea Route, in the context of the Northeast Passage, and Northwest Passage[1]

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) (Russian: Се́верный морско́й путь, Severnyy morskoy put, shortened to Севморпуть, Sevmorput) is a shipping route officially defined by Russian legislation as lying east of Novaya Zemlya and specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait. The entire route lies in Arctic waters and within Russia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Parts are free of ice for only two months per year. The overall route on Russia's side of the Arctic between North Cape and the Bering Strait has been called the Northeast Passage, analogous to the Northwest Passage on the Canada side.

While the Northeast Passage includes all the East Arctic seas and connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Northern Sea Route does not include the Barents Sea, and it therefore does not reach the Atlantic.[1][2][3]

Melting Arctic ice caps are likely to increase traffic in and the commercial viability of the Northern Sea Route.[4][5] One study, for instance, projects "remarkable shifts in trade flows between Asia and Europe, diversion of trade within Europe, heavy shipping traffic in the Arctic and a substantial drop in Suez traffic. Projected shifts in trade also imply substantial pressure on an already threatened Arctic ecosystem."[6]


The route was first conquered by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld's Vega expedition with a single wintering in 1878–79.

The Northern Sea Route is one of several Arctic shipping routes. Since the mid-1930s the Northern Sea Route has been an officially managed and administered shipping route along the northern/Arctic coast of Russia. The administrative entity was sequentially updated, upgraded, and renamed. Its current incarnation was the Federal State Budgetary Institution's establishment of The Northern Sea Route Administration in 2013.[7]

In August 2017, the first ship traversed the Northern Sea Route without the use of icebreakers.[8] According to the New York Times, this forebodes more shipping through the Arctic, as the sea ice melts and makes shipping easier.[8] In 2018 Maersk Line sent the new "ice-class" container ship Venta Maersk through the route to gather data on operational feasibility, though they did not currently see it as commercially attractive.[9][10] Escort assistance was required for three days from the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy.[11][12]

The Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis projected in 2015 that the Northern Sea Route may be ice-free by 2030, earlier than the Northwest Passage or Transpolar Sea Route.[13] A 2016 report by the Copenhagen Business School found that large-scale trans-Arctic shipping may become economically viable by 2040.[8][14]

In 2018 the Russian government transferred the main responsibility for the Northern Sea Route to Rosatom which through its ROSATOMFLOT subsidiary manages the Russian nuclear powered icebreaker fleet based in Murmansk.[10][15]

Economic assessment

Researchers and economists usually compare the Northern Sea Route with the conventional Suez Canal Route. The first route is shorter, which allow to save on fuel, but it is connected with environmental risks and increased operating costs.[16] Some studies recommend the joint usage of the two routes where the Northern Sea Route is used in summer when it is almost ice-free, and the Suez Canal Route is sailed in the rest of the year.[17] The researchers also claim that the economic feasibility of the NSR largely depends on its weather conditions. The study of Sibul et al. proposed a path-finding algorithm for the NSR strategic assessment.[18] It uses real weather as input and find the optimal shipping route.[19]

Economic effects

Number of complete through transits per flag state.[20]

YearTotalRussiaSingaporeFinlandNorwayGermanySpainChinaGreeceHong KongSwedenNetherlandsPortugalOther

See also



  1. ^ a b Brigham, L.; McCalla, R.; Cunningham, E.; Barr, W.; VanderZwaag, D.; Chircop, A.; Santos-Pedro, V.M.; MacDonald, R.; Harder, S.; Ellis, B.; Snyder, J.; Huntington, H.; Skjoldal, H.; Gold, M.; Williams, M.; Wojhan, T.; Williams, M.; Falkingham, J. (2009). Brigham, Lawson; Santos-Pedro, V.M.; Juurmaa, K. (eds.). Arctic marine shipping assessment (AMSA) (PDF). Norway: Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), Arctic Council. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 1, 2014.
  2. ^ Østreng, Willy; Eger, Karl Magnus; Fløistad, Brit; Jørgensen-Dahl, Arnfinn; Lothe, Lars; Mejlænder-Larsen, Morten; Wergeland, Tor (2013). Shipping in Arctic Waters: A Comparison of the Northeast, Northwest and Trans Polar Passages. Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-16790-4. ISBN 978-3642167898. S2CID 41481012.
  3. ^ Buixadé Farré, Albert; Stephenson, Scott R.; Chen, Linling; Czub, Michael; Dai, Ying; Demchev, Denis; Efimov, Yaroslav; Graczyk, Piotr; Grythe, Henrik; Keil, Kathrin; Kivekäs, Niku; Kumar, Naresh; Liu, Nengye; Matelenok, Igor; Myksvoll, Mari; O'Leary, Derek; Olsen, Julia; Pavithran .A.P., Sachin; Petersen, Edward; Raspotnik, Andreas; Ryzhov, Ivan; Solski, Jan; Suo, Lingling; Troein, Caroline; Valeeva, Vilena; van Rijckevorsel, Jaap; Wighting, Jonathan (October 16, 2014). "Commercial Arctic shipping through the Northeast Passage: Routes, resources, governance, technology, and infrastructure". Polar Geography. 37 (4): 298–324. doi:10.1080/1088937X.2014.965769.
  4. ^ Fountain, Henry (2017-07-23). "With More Ships in the Arctic, Fears of Disaster Rise". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  5. ^ McGrath, Matt (2017-08-24). "First tanker crosses northern sea route without ice breaker". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
  6. ^ Bekkers, Eddy; Francois, Joseph F.; Rojas-Romagosa, Hugo (2016-12-01). "Melting Ice Caps and the Economic Impact of Opening the Northern Sea Route" (PDF). The Economic Journal. 128 (610): 1095–1127. doi:10.1111/ecoj.12460. ISSN 1468-0297. S2CID 55162828.
  7. ^ "Object of activity and functions of NSRA". Northern Sea Route Administration.
  8. ^ a b c Goldman, Russell (2017-08-25). "Russian Tanker Completes Arctic Passage Without Aid of Icebreakers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  9. ^ "Container ship to break the ice on Russian Arctic route". BBC News. 23 August 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  10. ^ a b Henderson, Isaiah (July 18, 2019). "Cold Ambition: The New Geopolitical Faultline". The California Review. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  11. ^ Embury-Dennis, Tom (2017-09-18). "Container ship crosses Arctic route for first time in history due to melting sea ice". The Independent. ISSN 0951-9467. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  12. ^ Humpert, Malte (2017-09-14). "Maersk Container Ship Transits Arctic Ocean With Icebreaker Escort". High North News. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  13. ^ Dams, Ties; van Schaik, Louise; Stoetman, Adája (2020). Presence before power: why China became a near-Arctic state (Report). Clingendael Institute. pp. 6–19. JSTOR resrep24677.5.
  14. ^ Arctic shipping - Commercial opportunities and challenges (PDF). Copenhangen Business School Maritime. January 2016. ISBN 978-87-93262-03-4.
  15. ^ Nilsen, Thomas (2018-07-18). "Vyacheslav Ruksha will lead the newly established Northern Sea Route Directorate". The Barents Observer.
  16. ^ THE NORTHERN SEA ROUTE COST CALCULATION [EN/RUS/CH], archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2021-05-14
  17. ^ Sibul, Gleb; Jin, Jian Gang (May 2021). "Evaluating the feasibility of combined use of the Northern Sea Route and the Suez Canal Route considering ice parameters". Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 147: 350–369. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2021.03.024. ISSN 0965-8564. S2CID 233567189.
  18. ^ Sibul, Gleb; Yang, Peihao; Muravev, Dmitri; Jin, Jian Gang; Kong, Linghe (2022-04-14). "Revealing the true navigability of the Northern Sea Route from ice conditions and weather observations". Maritime Policy & Management: 1–17. doi:10.1080/03088839.2022.2059717. ISSN 0308-8839. S2CID 248211083.
  19. ^ THE NORTHERN SEA ROUTE NAVIGABILITY [EN/RUS/CH], retrieved 2022-05-05
  20. ^ "NSR transit statistics". Centre for high north logistics. Retrieved 2020-12-14.
  • Belton, Catherine (23 June 2020). Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ISBN 978-0374238711.
  • Golden, Daniel (10 October 2017). Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-1627796354.

Further reading

External links

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