First Arctic Shipping Status Report from PAME Working Group highlights increase in Arctic shipping traffic

14 April 2020
Ship traffic is increasing in the Arctic. The exploration and extraction of resources and increasing marine tourism combined with changing environmental, societal and economic patterns is leading to more shipping activity in the region and have brought a complex set of users to the maritime Arctic.

Changes to the marine environment itself including sea ice thinning and reduction has significant implications for longer seasons of navigation and new access to previously difficult to reach coastal regions. To fill a critical knowledge gap in shipping trends in the Arctic, the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group released its first Arctic Shipping Status Report using its newly established shipping database.

Filling the Arctic ship data knowledge gap

In response to a growing need for accurate, reliable and up-to-date information on Arctic shipping activities, the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group developed the Arctic Ship Traffic Data (ASTD) project. PAME uses data from the ASTD System to conduct analyses and reports related to Arctic shipping.

PAME’s first Arctic Shipping Status Report was developed from ASTD data to illustrate interesting topics and emerging trends related to Arctic shipping. The first report provides information on general Arctic shipping trends between 2013 and 2019.

Major findings in the first Arctic Shipping Status Report

There is not one simple definition of the Arctic. Therefore, for the purpose of the first Arctic Shipping Status Report, the Arctic is referred to as the area definied by the Polar Code.

Notably, during the six year period between 2013 and 2019, the number of ships entering the Arctic Polar Code area grew by 25 percent. The total distance sailed by ships in this area grew by 75 percent, from 6.51 million nautical miles in 2013 to 9.5 million nautical miles in 2019.

The majority (41 percent) of ships entering the Polar Code Area are fishing vessels. Some of the other most common ships to navigate the region include icebreakers and research vessels. In line with the increase in Arctic marine tourism, 73 cruise ships sailed in the Arctic Polar Code area in 2019.

The distance sailed by bulk carriers in the Arctic Polar Code area has risen 160 percent between 2013 and 2019.

The use of Arctic shipping data today and beyond

Following the release of its first report, PAME will continue to monitor trends through its ASTD and will issue similar reports on a regular basis to facilitate awareness of and to share information about Arctic shipping activities. Over time, this data can help support the development of recommendations to enhance Arctic marine safety and support the protection of people and the environment.

To view the Arctic Shipping Status Report, in an interactive story map or pdf form, click here.