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MELTDOWN Ships Will Soon Cross North Pole Artic's Northwest Passage. (NASA, via AP)

Ships Will Soon Cross North Pole

As soon as 2050, ships will be able to sail directly across what is known as the “northern route,” cutting through what used to be solid ice as late-summer Arctic sea ice disappears. Russian icebreakers and other fortified ships have already been taking the shortcut: a total of 46 ships took the northern route in 2012, mostly escorted by icebreakers. But in less than 40 years, according to a study published this week, regular ships will be able to make the trip easily, and slightly fortified ships will be able to take a super-fast route directly across. The shortcut will enormously cut the costs of trade between Europe and China, which will open the floodgates for even more potentially devastating economic activity.

March 5, 2013 7:15 AM