Orbital View: The Increasingly Melting Artic

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This Arctic is not Roald Amundsen’s Arctic:


The ice coating in the Arctic Ocean grows and expands each year, thickening in winter and melting away in summer, when ships can start navigating the freezing waters. But when Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, traversed the Northwest Passage in the early 1900s, it took three years in a tiny ship to make it through all the ice of the fabled sea route. Now, an increased rate of sea-ice melt in recent decades has created, in the warmest months, conditions for nearly smooth sailing.

Such smooth sailing, in fact, that in August, a Crystal cruise ship will coast through the Northwest Passage in 32 days. Plenty of vessels, mostly research expeditions, have sailed through the passage since 2007, when the route first became more navigable. But none carried an open bar, eight restaurants, and a gym.

(See all Orbital Views here)