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Saturday, June 04, 2005

State backs Adak in study of an Arctic route to Iceland

The Northwest Passage, at last: "Marine transportation in the Arctic Ocean could become a reality in the next few decades as climate change thins Arctic sea ice, allowing icebreaker ships to plow through, scientists say.

Now Adak, a fishing town of about 120 on the far eastern tip of the Aleutian Islands, is set to begin plowing through the political and logistical waters of establishing the route.

This year's state capital budget, which awaits the governor's signature, sends $50,000 to Adak to study the social and economic returns of an Arctic Ocean cargo shuttle to Iceland. The route would compete with the Panama Canal.

"The question that needs to be addressed is what are the economics that would drive an arctic shuttle concept," said Ben Ellis of the Anchorage-based research group Institute of the North.

The group has worked closely with Adak officials to study the shuttle concept. Ellis said it likely would be at least a couple of decades before the ice melts enough to open the Arctic passages, but other countries such as Russia, Canada, Iceland and Greenland already are working toward using the routes once available.

"Experts from Alaska and Iceland will work with Finnish icebreaker technologists, Russian administrators of the Northern Sea Route and other appropriate sources of information in completing the study," the budget proposal states. "The study will determine what further public and private investment might initiate service this decade."

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