Fancy an Arctic cruise? With climate change melting the planet's sea ice faster than ever, the globe's northern-most points could become a check on the well-traveled tourist's bucket list. That possibility is giving goose bumps to maritime experts who say safety measures are lacking. "It's what keeps us up at night," NOAA's Amy Merten tells the New York Times. Any ship that sails through Arctic waters undergoes a safety inspection. But that may not be enough, and experts say there are few possibilities for a quick rescue. That is of particular concern as the number of ships in the Bering Strait has doubled since 1998, per E&T. Evacuation by long-range helicopters would be difficult, and it could be days before another ship is within range. The US has only two working icebreakers, though President Trump has promised to build "many" more; Russia has several dozen.
One big threat is a grounding in poorly charted waters. While incidents are rare, the cruise ship Explorer sank in 2007 after hitting an iceberg (that one in the Antarctic), though the 150 passengers and crew were rescued. The prospect of commercial traffic raises another worry: a catastrophic oil spill. In September, Russia will begin shipping liquefied natural gas from Siberia aboard massive tankers that can break thick ice. For now, ice presents a natural impediment. "It only takes a little bit of ice to ruin your day," a shipping company rep told the Times. But if scientists are right, sea ice may soon be less of a factor, with the minimum level that's reached at the end of every summer dwindling 13% per decade (compared to the 1981 to 2010 average). They predict there could be no more Arctic summer ice as early as 2030. (As sea ice disappears, polar bear attacks rise.)