After 24 days at sea and a journey spanning more than 6,214 miles, the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica has set a new record for the earliest transit of the fabled Northwest Passage. The once-forbidding route through the Arctic, linking the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, has been opening up sooner and for a longer period each summer due to climate change. Sea ice that foiled famous explorers and blocked the passage to all but the hardiest ships has slowly been melting away in one of the most visible effects of global warming. Records kept by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans show that the previous earliest passage of the season happened in 2008, when the Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis L. St-Laurent left St. John's in Newfoundland on July 5 and arrived in the Beaufort Sea off Point Barrow on July 30.
The Nordica, with a team of researchers and AP journalists on board, completed a longer transit in less time—albeit in the opposite direction—setting off from Vancouver on July 5 and reaching Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on July 29. While the icebreaker encountered Chinese cargo vessels, Alaskan fishing boats, and a German cruise ship in the Pacific, upon entering the Canadian Archipelago, the Nordica traveled alone. For the most part, the ship's only companions were Arctic sea birds, seals, and the occasional whale, until two-thirds of the way through the voyage, as Nordica was plowing through sea ice in Victoria Strait, a crew member sighted a polar bear. (This is what the Northwest Passage looks like at midnight.)