Northwest Passage
Overview
 
The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean
Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

, along the northern coast of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
Canadian Arctic Archipelago
The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, also known as the Arctic Archipelago, is a Canadian archipelago north of the Canadian mainland in the Arctic...

, connecting the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

s. The various islands of the archipelago
Archipelago
An archipelago , sometimes called an island group, is a chain or cluster of islands. The word archipelago is derived from the Greek ἄρχι- – arkhi- and πέλαγος – pélagos through the Italian arcipelago...

 are separated from one another and the Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 mainland by a series of Arctic
Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages.

Sought by explorers for centuries as a possible trade route, it was first navigated by Roald Amundsen
Roald Amundsen
Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the first Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole between 1910 and 1912 and he was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage....

 in 1903–1906.
Encyclopedia
The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean
Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

, along the northern coast of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
Canadian Arctic Archipelago
The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, also known as the Arctic Archipelago, is a Canadian archipelago north of the Canadian mainland in the Arctic...

, connecting the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

s. The various islands of the archipelago
Archipelago
An archipelago , sometimes called an island group, is a chain or cluster of islands. The word archipelago is derived from the Greek ἄρχι- – arkhi- and πέλαγος – pélagos through the Italian arcipelago...

 are separated from one another and the Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 mainland by a series of Arctic
Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages.

Sought by explorers for centuries as a possible trade route, it was first navigated by Roald Amundsen
Roald Amundsen
Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the first Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole between 1910 and 1912 and he was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage....

 in 1903–1906. Until 2009, the Arctic pack ice
Polar ice packs
Polar ice packs are large areas of pack ice formed from seawater in the Earth's polar regions, known as polar ice caps: the Arctic ice pack of the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic ice pack of the Southern Ocean, fringing the Antarctic ice sheet. Polar packs significantly change their size during...

 prevented regular marine shipping
Ship transport
Ship transport is watercraft carrying people or goods . Sea transport has been the largest carrier of freight throughout recorded history. Although the importance of sea travel for passengers has decreased due to aviation, it is effective for short trips and pleasure cruises...

 throughout most of the year, but climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 has reduced the pack ice, and this Arctic shrinkage
Arctic shrinkage
Ongoing changes in the climate of the Arctic include rising temperatures, loss of sea ice, and melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Projections of sea ice loss suggest that the Arctic ocean will likely be free of summer sea ice sometime between 2060 and 2080, while another estimate puts this date at...

 made the waterways more navigable. However, the contested sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 claims over the waters may complicate future shipping through the region: The Canadian government
Government of Canada
The Government of Canada, formally Her Majesty's Government, is the system whereby the federation of Canada is administered by a common authority; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of institutions or specifically the Queen-in-Council...

 considers the Northwestern Passages part of Canadian Internal Waters
Canadian Internal Waters
Canadian Internal Waters is a Canadian term that refers to "...the waters on the landward side of the baselines of the territorial sea of Canada,..."....

, but the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and various Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an countries maintain they are an international strait
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea , also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea , which took place from 1973 through 1982...

 or transit passage, allowing free and unencumbered passage.

Overview

Before the Little Ice Age
Little Ice Age
The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period . While not a true ice age, the term was introduced into the scientific literature by François E. Matthes in 1939...

, Norwegian Viking
Viking
The term Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to...

s sailed as far north and west as Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Lying within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, it is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, with Cape Columbia being the most northerly point of land in Canada...

, Skraeling Island
Skraeling Island
Skraeling Island lies off the east coast of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut.-History:The Norse referred to the indigenous peoples they encountered in Greenland and the New World as skræling , and the sagas make it clear that the Norse considered the natives...

 and Ruin Island for hunting expeditions and trading with the Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 groups who already inhabited the region. Between the end of the 15th century and the 20th century, colonial powers
Colonialism
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

 from Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 dispatched explorers in an attempt to discover a commercial sea route north and west around North America. The Northwest Passage represented a new route to the established trading nations of Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, as in 1493 to defuse trade disputes, Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI , born Roderic Llançol i Borja was Pope from 1492 until his death on 18 August 1503. He is one of the most controversial of the Renaissance popes, and his Italianized surname—Borgia—became a byword for the debased standards of the Papacy of that era, most notoriously the Banquet...

 split the discovered world in two between Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

; thus France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, and England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 were left without a sea route to Asia, either via Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 or South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

, unless their ships defied the ban and explored such waters regardless (they did, and the ban became unenforceable). England called the hypothetical northern route the "Northwest Passage". The desire to establish such a route motivated much of the European exploration of both coasts of North America. When it became apparent that there was no route through the heart of the continent, attention turned to the possibility of a passage through northern waters. This was driven in some part by scientific naiveté, namely an early belief that seawater
Seawater
Seawater is water from a sea or ocean. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5% . This means that every kilogram of seawater has approximately of dissolved salts . The average density of seawater at the ocean surface is 1.025 g/ml...

 was incapable of freezing (as late as the mid-18th century, Captain James Cook
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

 had reported, for example, that Antarctic iceberg
Iceberg
An iceberg is a large piece of ice from freshwater that has broken off from a snow-formed glacier or ice shelf and is floating in open water. It may subsequently become frozen into pack ice...

s had yielded fresh water, seemingly confirming the hypothesis), and that a route close to the North Pole
North Pole
The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is, subject to the caveats explained below, defined as the point in the northern hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface...

 must therefore exist. The belief that a route lay to the far north persisted for several centuries and led to numerous expeditions into the Arctic, including the attempt by Sir John Franklin
John Franklin
Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin KCH FRGS RN was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer. Franklin also served as governor of Tasmania for several years. In his last expedition, he disappeared while attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic...

 in 1845. In 1906, Roald Amundsen first successfully completed a path from Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 to Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 in the sloop Gjøa
Gjøa
Gjøa was the first vessel to transit the Northwest Passage. With a crew of six, Roald Amundsen traversed the passage in a three year journey, finishing in 1906.- History :- Construction :...

. Since that date, several fortified ships have made the journey.

From west to east the Northwest Passage runs through the Bering Strait
Bering Strait
The Bering Strait , known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N,...

 (separating Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and Alaska), Chukchi Sea
Chukchi Sea
Chukchi Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the De Long Strait, off Wrangel Island, and in the east by Point Barrow, Alaska, beyond which lies the Beaufort Sea. The Bering Strait forms its southernmost limit and connects it to the Bering Sea and the Pacific...

, Beaufort Sea
Beaufort Sea
The Beaufort Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort...

, and then through several waterways that go through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. There are five to seven routes through the archipelago, including the McClure Strait
McClure Strait
The M'Clure Strait is a strait on the edge of the Canadian Northwest Territories. It forms the northwestern end of one of the routes through the Northwest Passage. The strait was named for Robert McClure, an Irish Arctic explorer serving in the Royal Navy...

, Dease Strait
Dease Strait
Dease Strait is an east-west waterway between the mainland's Kent Peninsula and Victoria Island in Nunavut, Canada. At its eastern end, approximately wide, is Cambridge Bay; to the west it widens to approximately and becomes Coronation Gulf. The strait is long.-External links:*...

, and the Prince of Wales Strait
Prince of Wales Strait
The Prince of Wales Strait is a strait in the Northwest Territories of Canada separating Banks Island to the northwest from Victoria Island to the southeast. It extends from Viscount Melville Sound in the northeast to Amundsen Gulf in the southwest. From late winter it is filled by ice that usually...

, but not all of them are suitable for larger ships. The passage then goes through Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay , located between Baffin Island and the southwest coast of Greenland, is a marginal sea of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is connected to the Atlantic via Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea...

 and the Davis Strait
Davis Strait
Davis Strait is a northern arm of the Labrador Sea. It lies between mid-western Greenland and Nunavut, Canada's Baffin Island. The strait was named for the English explorer John Davis , who explored the area while seeking a Northwest Passage....

 into the Atlantic Ocean.

There has been speculation that with the advent of climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 the passage may become clear enough of ice to again permit safe commercial shipping for at least part of the year. On August 21, 2007, the Northwest Passage became open to ships without the need of an icebreaker
Icebreaker
An icebreaker is a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters. Although the term usually refers to ice-breaking ships, it may also refer to smaller vessels .For a ship to be considered an icebreaker, it requires three traits most...

. According to Nalan Koc of the Norwegian Polar Institute
Norwegian Polar Institute
The Norwegian Polar Institute is Norway's national institution for polar research. It is run under the auspices of the Norwegian Ministry of Environment. The institute organizes expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions and runs a research station at Ny-Ålesund...

 this is the first time it has been clear since they began keeping records in 1972. The Northwest Passage opened again on August 25, 2008.

Thawing
Melting
Melting, or fusion, is a physical process that results in the phase change of a substance from a solid to a liquid. The internal energy of a substance is increased, typically by the application of heat or pressure, resulting in a rise of its temperature to the melting point, at which the rigid...

 ocean or melting ice simultaneously opened up the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route
Northern Sea Route
The Northern Sea Route is a shipping lane officially defined by Russian legislation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from Murmansk on the Barents Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait and Far East. The entire route lies in Arctic...

 (Northeast Passage), making it possible to sail around the Arctic ice cap
Polar ice cap
A polar ice cap is a high latitude region of a planet or natural satellite that is covered in ice. There are no requirements with respect to size or composition for a body of ice to be termed a polar ice cap, nor any geological requirement for it to be over land; only that it must be a body of...

. Compared to 1979, the Daily Mail
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail is a British daily middle-market tabloid newspaper owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom's second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. Its sister paper The Mail on Sunday was launched in 1982...

 published "Blocked: The Arctic ice, showing as a pink mass in the 1979 picture, links up with northern Canada and Russia." Awaited by shipping companies, this 'historic event' will cut thousands of miles off their routes. Warning, however, that the NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 satellite images indicated the Arctic may have entered a "death spiral" caused by climate change, Professor Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at National Snow and Ice Data Center
National Snow and Ice Data Center
The National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC, is a United States information and referral center in support of polar and cryospheric research...

 (NSIDC), USA, said: "The passages are open. It's a historic event. We are going to see this more and more as the years go by." Due to Arctic shrinkage, the Beluga group of Bremen
Bremen
The City Municipality of Bremen is a Hanseatic city in northwestern Germany. A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the river Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area . Bremen is the second most populous city in North Germany and tenth in Germany.Bremen is...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, sent the first Western commercial vessels through the Northern Sea Route (Northeast Passage) in 2009. However, Canada's Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper
Stephen Joseph Harper is the 22nd and current Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Conservative Party. Harper became prime minister when his party formed a minority government after the 2006 federal election...

 announced that "ships entering the North-West passage should first report to his government."

Extent

The International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization
The International Hydrographic Organization is the inter-governmental organisation representing the hydrographic community. It enjoys observer status at the UN and is the recognised competent authority on hydrographic surveying and nautical charting...

 defines the limits of the Northwestern Passages as follows:

On the West. The Eastern limit of Beaufort Sea
Beaufort Sea
The Beaufort Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort...

 [From Lands End through the Southwest coast of Prince Patrick Island
Prince Patrick Island
A member of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Prince Patrick Island is the westernmost of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The area of the island is , making it the 55th largest island in the world and Canada's 14th largest island...

 to Griffiths Point, thence a line to Cape Prince Alfred, the Northwestern extreme of Banks Island
Banks Island
One of the larger members of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Banks Island is situated in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. It is separated from Victoria Island to its east by the Prince of Wales Strait and from the mainland by Amundsen Gulf to its south. The Beaufort Sea lies...

, through its West coast to Cape Kellet, the Southwestern point, and thence a line to Cape Bathurst
Cape Bathurst
Cape Bathurst is a cape and a peninsula located on the northern coast of the Northwest Territories in Canada. Cape Bathurst is the northernmost point of mainland Northwest Territories and one of the few peninsulas in mainland North America protruding above the 70th parallel north...

 on the mainland (70°36′N 127°32′W)].

On the Northwest. The Arctic Ocean

Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

 between Lands End, Prince Patrick Island, and C. Columbia
Cape Columbia
Cape Columbia is the northernmost point of land of Canada, located on Ellesmere Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. It marks the westernmost coastal point of Lincoln Sea in the Arctic Ocean...

, Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Lying within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, it is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, with Cape Columbia being the most northerly point of land in Canada...

.

On the Northeast. The Coast of Ellesmere Island between C. Columbia and C. Sheridan

Cape Sheridan
Cape Sheridan is on the northeastern coast of Ellesmere Island, Canada situated on the Lincoln Sea in the Arctic Ocean, on the mouth of Sheridan River, west bank...

 the Northern limit of Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay , located between Baffin Island and the southwest coast of Greenland, is a marginal sea of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is connected to the Atlantic via Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea...

.

On the East. The East Coast of Ellesmere Island between C. Sheridan and Cape Norton Shaw (76°29′N 78°30′W), thence across to Phillips Point (Coburg Island

Coburg Island
Coburg Island is an uninhabited island in Qikiqtaaluk, Nunavut, Canada. It is one of the members of Queen Elizabeth Islands located in Baffin Bay's Lady Ann Strait...

) through this Island to Marina Peninsula (75°55′N 79°10′W) and across to Cape Fitz Roy (Devon Island
Devon Island
Devon Island , claimed to be the largest uninhabited island on Earth, is located in Baffin Bay, Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is one of the larger members of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the second-largest of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Canada's sixth largest island, and the 27th...

) down the East Coast to Cape Sherard (Cape Osborn) (74°35′N 80°30′W) and across to Cape Liverpool, Bylot Island
Bylot Island
Bylot Island lies off the northern end of Baffin Island in Nunavut Territory, Canada. At it is ranked 71st largest island in the world and Canada's 17th largest island. It is also one of the largest uninhabited islands in the world. While there are no permanent settlements on this Canadian Arctic...

 (73°44′N 77°50′W); down the East coast of this island to Cape Graham Moore, its southeastern point, and thence across to Cape Macculloch (72°29′N 75°08′W) and down the East coast of Baffin Island
Baffin Island
Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is and its population is about 11,000...

 to East Bluff, its Southeastern extremity, and thence the Eastern limit of Hudson Strait
Hudson Strait
Hudson Strait links the Atlantic Ocean to Hudson Bay in Canada. It lies between Baffin Island and the northern coast of Quebec, its eastern entrance marked by Cape Chidley and Resolution Island. It is long...

.

On the South. The mainland coast of Hudson Strait; the Northern limits of Hudson Bay

Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay , sometimes called Hudson's Bay, is a large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada. It drains a very large area, about , that includes parts of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, most of Manitoba, southeastern Nunavut, as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota,...

; the mainland coast from Beach Point to Cape Bathurst
Cape Bathurst
Cape Bathurst is a cape and a peninsula located on the northern coast of the Northwest Territories in Canada. Cape Bathurst is the northernmost point of mainland Northwest Territories and one of the few peninsulas in mainland North America protruding above the 70th parallel north...

.

Historical expeditions

As a result of their westward explorations and their settlement of Greenland, the Vikings sailed as far north and west as Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Lying within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, it is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, with Cape Columbia being the most northerly point of land in Canada...

, Skraeling Island and Ruin Island for hunting expeditions and trading with Inuit groups. The subsequent arrival of the Little Ice Age
Little Ice Age
The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period . While not a true ice age, the term was introduced into the scientific literature by François E. Matthes in 1939...

 is thought to have been one of the reasons that further European seafaring into the Northwest Passage ceased until the late 15th century.

Strait of Anián

In 1539, Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

 commissioned Francisco de Ulloa
Francisco de Ulloa
Francisco de Ulloa was a Spanish explorer who explored the west coast of present-day Mexico under the commission of Hernán Cortés...

 to sail along the peninsula of Baja California
Baja California Peninsula
The Baja California peninsula , is a peninsula in northwestern Mexico. Its land mass separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. The Peninsula extends from Mexicali, Baja California in the north to Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur in the south.The total area of the Baja California...

 on the western coast of America. Ulloa concluded that the Gulf of California
Gulf of California
The Gulf of California is a body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland...

 was the southernmost section of a strait supposedly linking the Pacific with the Gulf of Saint Lawrence
Gulf of Saint Lawrence
The Gulf of Saint Lawrence , the world's largest estuary, is the outlet of North America's Great Lakes via the Saint Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean...

. His voyage perpetuated the notion of the Island of California
Island of California
The Island of California refers to a long-held European misconception, dating from the 16th century, that California was not part of mainland North America but rather a large island separated from the continent by a strait now known instead as the Gulf of California.One of the most famous...

 and saw the beginning of a search for the Strait of Anián.

The strait probably took its name from Ania, a Chinese province mentioned in a 1559 edition of Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler from the Venetian Republic whose travels are recorded in Il Milione, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and apparently...

's book; it first appears on a map issued by Italian
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 cartographer
Cartography
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.The fundamental problems of traditional cartography are to:*Set the map's...

 Giacomo Gastaldi
Giacomo Gastaldi
Giacomo Gastaldi was an Italian cartographer of the 16th century. Gastaldi began his career as an engineer, serving the Venetian Republic in that capacity until the fourth decade of the sixteenth century...

 about 1562. Five years later Bolognini Zaltieri issued a map showing a narrow and crooked Strait of Anian separating Asia from the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

. The strait grew in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an imagination as an easy sea lane
Sea lane
A sea lane or shipping lane is a regularly used route for ocean-going and Great Lakes vessels. In the time of sailing ships they were not only determined by the distribution of land masses but also the prevailing winds, whose discovery was crucial for the success of long voyages...

 linking Europe with the residence of Khagan
Khagan
Khagan or qagan , alternatively spelled kagan, khaghan, qaghan, or chagan, is a title of imperial rank in the Mongolian and Turkic languages equal to the status of emperor and someone who rules a khaganate...

 (the Great Khan) in Cathay
Cathay
Cathay is the Anglicized version of "Catai" and an alternative name for China in English. It originates from the word Khitan, the name of a nomadic people who founded the Liao Dynasty which ruled much of Northern China from 907 to 1125, and who had a state of their own centered around today's...

 (northern China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

). It was originally placed at approximately the latitude of San Diego, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, leading some who live in the region to call it "Anian" or "Aniane".

Cartographers and seamen tried to demonstrate its reality. Sir Francis Drake
Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...

 sought the western entrance in 1579. The Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 pilot Juan de Fuca
Juan de Fuca
Ioánnis Fokás , better known by the Spanish transcription of his name, Juan de Fuca , was a Greek-born maritime pilot in the service of the king of Spain, Philip II...

, sailing under the Portuguese flag, claimed he had sailed the strait from the Pacific to the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 and back in 1592. The Spaniard Bartholomew de Fonte claimed to have sailed from Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay , sometimes called Hudson's Bay, is a large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada. It drains a very large area, about , that includes parts of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, most of Manitoba, southeastern Nunavut, as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota,...

 to the Pacific via the strait in 1640.

Northern Atlantic

The first recorded attempt to discover the Northwest Passage was the east-west voyage of John Cabot
John Cabot
John Cabot was an Italian navigator and explorer whose 1497 discovery of parts of North America is commonly held to have been the first European encounter with the continent of North America since the Norse Vikings in the eleventh century...

 in 1497, sent by Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

 in search of a direct route to the Orient
Orient
The Orient means "the East." It is a traditional designation for anything that belongs to the Eastern world or the Far East, in relation to Europe. In English it is a metonym that means various parts of Asia.- Derivation :...

. The next of several British expeditions was launched in 1576 by Martin Frobisher
Martin Frobisher
Sir Martin Frobisher was an English seaman who made three voyages to the New World to look for the Northwest Passage...

, who took three trips west to what is now the Canadian Arctic
Northern Canada
Northern Canada, colloquially the North, is the vast northernmost region of Canada variously defined by geography and politics. Politically, the term refers to the three territories of Canada: Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut...

 in order to find the passage. Frobisher Bay
Frobisher Bay
Frobisher Bay is a relatively large inlet of the Labrador Sea in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. It is located in the southeastern corner of Baffin Island...

, which he first charted, is named after him. As part of another hunt, in July 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert
Humphrey Gilbert
Sir Humphrey Gilbert of Devon in England was a half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh. Adventurer, explorer, member of parliament, and soldier, he served during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and was a pioneer of English colonization in North America and the Plantations of Ireland.-Early life:Gilbert...

, who had written a treatise on the discovery of the passage and was a backer of Frobisher, claimed the territory of Newfoundland for the English crown. On August 8, 1585, the English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 explorer John Davis
John Davis (English explorer)
John Davis , was one of the chief English navigators and explorers under Elizabeth I, especially in Polar regions and in the Far East.-Early life:...

 entered Cumberland Sound
Cumberland Sound
Cumberland Sound is an Arctic waterway in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is a western arm of the Labrador Sea located between Baffin Island's Hall Peninsula and the Cumberland Peninsula...

, Baffin Island
Baffin Island
Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is and its population is about 11,000...

.

The major rivers on the east coast were also explored in case they could lead to a transcontinental passage. Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier was a French explorer of Breton origin who claimed what is now Canada for France. He was the first European to describe and map the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, which he named "The Country of Canadas", after the Iroquois names for the two big...

's explorations of the Saint Lawrence River
Saint Lawrence River
The Saint Lawrence is a large river flowing approximately from southwest to northeast in the middle latitudes of North America, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. It is the primary drainage conveyor of the Great Lakes Basin...

 were initiated in hope of finding a way through the continent. Indeed, Cartier managed to convince himself that the St. Lawrence was the Passage; when he found the way blocked by rapids at what is now Montreal
Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

, he was so certain that these rapids were all that was keeping him from China (in French, la Chine), that he named the rapids for China. To this day, they are the Lachine Rapids
Lachine Rapids
The Lachine Rapids are a series of rapids on the Saint Lawrence River, between the Island of Montreal and the south shore. They are located near the former city of Lachine....

. In 1609 Henry Hudson
Henry Hudson
Henry Hudson was an English sea explorer and navigator in the early 17th century. Hudson made two attempts on behalf of English merchants to find a prospective Northeast Passage to Cathay via a route above the Arctic Circle...

 sailed up what is now called the Hudson River
Hudson River
The Hudson is a river that flows from north to south through eastern New York. The highest official source is at Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the slopes of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains. The river itself officially begins in Henderson Lake in Newcomb, New York...

 in search of the Passage; encouraged by the saltiness of the water, he reached present-day Albany, New York
Albany, New York
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...

, before giving up. He later explored the Arctic and Hudson Bay. In 1611, while in James Bay, Hudson's crew mutinied. He and his teenage son John, along with seven sick, infirm, or loyal crewmen, were set adrift in a small open boat. He was never seen again. Cree
Cree
The Cree are one of the largest groups of First Nations / Native Americans in North America, with 200,000 members living in Canada. In Canada, the major proportion of Cree live north and west of Lake Superior, in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, although...

 oral legend reports that the survivors lived and traveled with the Cree for more than a year.

On 9 May 1619, under the auspices of King Christian IV, Jens Munk
Jens Munk
Jens Munk was a Danish navigator and explorer who was born in Norway where his father, Erik Munk, had received several fiefs for his achievements in the Northern Seven Years' War. He returned to Denmark at the age of eight...

 set out with 65 men and the king's two ships, the Einhörningen (Unicorn), a small frigate, and Lamprenen (Lamprey), a sloop, which were outfitted under his own supervision. His mission was to discover the Northwest Passage to the Indies and China. Munk penetrated Davis Strait as far north as 69°, found Frobisher Bay, and then spent almost a month fighting his way through Hudson Strait
Hudson Strait
Hudson Strait links the Atlantic Ocean to Hudson Bay in Canada. It lies between Baffin Island and the northern coast of Quebec, its eastern entrance marked by Cape Chidley and Resolution Island. It is long...

. In September 1619 he found the entrance to Hudson Bay and spent the winter near the mouth of the Churchill River. Cold, famine, and scurvy destroyed so many of his men that only two persons besides himself survived. With these men, he sailed for home with the Lamprey on 16 July 1620, reaching Bergen, Norway, on 20 September 1620.

René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the sailing ship
Sailing ship
The term sailing ship is now used to refer to any large wind-powered vessel. In technical terms, a ship was a sailing vessel with a specific rig of at least three masts, square rigged on all of them, making the sailing adjective redundant. In popular usage "ship" became associated with all large...

, Le Griffon
Le Griffon
Le Griffon was a 17th century sailing ship built by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in his quest to find the Northwest Passage to China and Japan....

, in his quest to find the Northwest Passage in the upper Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

. Le Griffon disappeared in 1679 on the return trip of her maiden voyage
Maiden voyage
The maiden voyage of a ship, aircraft or other craft is the first journey made by the craft after shakedown. A number of traditions and superstitions are associated with it....

. In the spring of 1682, La Salle made his famous voyage down the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 to the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

. La Salle led an expedition from France in 1684 to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico. He was murdered by his followers in 1687.

In 1772 Samuel Hearne
Samuel Hearne
Samuel Hearne was a an English explorer, fur-trader, author, and naturalist. He was the first European to make an overland excursion across northern Canada to the Arctic Ocean, actually Coronation Gulf, via the Coppermine River...

 travelled overland northwest from Hudson Bay to the Arctic Ocean, thereby proving that there was no strait connecting Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

Northern Pacific

Although most Northwest Passage expeditions originated in Europe or on the east coast of North America and sought to traverse the Passage in the westbound direction, some progress was made in exploration of its western end as well.

In 1728 Vitus Bering
Vitus Bering
Vitus Jonassen Bering Vitus Jonassen Bering Vitus Jonassen Bering (also, less correNavy]], a captain-komandor known among the Russian sailors as Ivan Ivanovich. He is noted for being the first European to discover Alaska and its Aleutian Islands...

, a Danish Navy
Royal Danish Navy
The Royal Danish Navy is the sea-based branch of the Danish Defence force. The RDN is mainly responsible for maritime defence and maintaining the sovereignty of Danish, Greenlandic and Faroese territorial waters...

 officer in Russian service, used the strait first discovered by Semyon Dezhnyov in 1648 but later accredited to and named after Bering (the Bering Strait), concluding North America and Russia were separate land masses. In 1741 with Lieutenant Aleksei Chirikov
Aleksei Chirikov
Aleksei Ilyich Chirikov was a Russian navigator and captain who along with Bering was the first Russian to reach North-West coast of North America. He discovered and charted some of the Aleutian Islands while he was deputy to Vitus Bering during the Great Northern Expedition.- Life and work :In...

 he went in search of further lands beyond Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. While separated, Chirikov discovered several of the Aleutian Islands while Bering charted the Alaskan region before the scurvy
Scurvy
Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for the synthesis of collagen in humans. The chemical name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is derived from the Latin name of scurvy, scorbutus, which also provides the adjective scorbutic...

-ravaged ship was wrecked off the Kamchatka Peninsula
Kamchatka Peninsula
The Kamchatka Peninsula is a peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of . It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west...

. In 1762, the English trading ship Octavius
Octavius (ship)
The Octavius was a ghost ship, probably legendary and not actual. The story goes that the vessel was found west of Greenland by the whaler Herald on October 11, 1775....

 reportedly hazarded the passage from the west but became trapped in sea ice
Sea ice
Sea ice is largely formed from seawater that freezes. Because the oceans consist of saltwater, this occurs below the freezing point of pure water, at about -1.8 °C ....

. In 1775, the whaler
Whaler
A whaler is a specialized ship, designed for whaling, the catching and/or processing of whales. The former included the whale catcher, a steam or diesel-driven vessel with a harpoon gun mounted at its bows. The latter included such vessels as the sail or steam-driven whaleship of the 16th to early...

 Herald found the Octavius adrift near Greenland with the bodies of her crew frozen below decks. Thus the Octavius may have earned the distinction of being the first Western sailing ship to make the passage, although the fact that it took 13 years and occurred after the crew was dead somewhat tarnishes this achievement. (The veracity of the Octavius story is questionable.)

The Spanish made numerous voyages to the northwest coast of North America during the late 18th century. Determining whether a North West Passage existed was one of the motivations for this effort. Among the voyages that involved careful searches for a Passage include the 1775 and 1779 voyages of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra
Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra
Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was a Spanish naval officer born in Lima, Peru. Assigned to the Pacific coast Spanish Naval Department base at San Blas, in the Viceroyalty of New Spain , this navigator explored the Northwest Coast of North America as far north as present day Alaska.Juan...

. The journal of Francisco Antonio Mourelle
Francisco Antonio Mourelle
Francisco Antonio Mourelle de la Rúa was a Galician naval officer and explorer serving the Spanish crown. He was born in 1750 at San Adrián de Corme , near La Coruña, Galicia.-1775 voyage:...

, who served as Quadra's second in command in 1775, fell into English hands and was translated and published in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Captain James Cook made use of the journal during his explorations of the region. In 1791 Alessandro Malaspina
Alessandro Malaspina
Alessandro Malaspina was an Italian nobleman who spent most of his life as a Spanish naval officer and explorer...

 sailed to Yakutat Bay
Yakutat Bay
Yakutat Bay is a 29-km-wide bay in the U.S. state of Alaska, extending southwest from Disenchantment Bay to the Gulf of Alaska. "Yakutat" is a Tlingit name reported as "Jacootat" and "Yacootat" by Yuri Lisianski in 1805....

, Alaska, which was rumoured to be a Passage. In 1790 and 1791 Francisco de Eliza
Francisco de Eliza
Francisco de Eliza y Reventa was a Spanish naval officer, navigator, and explorer. He is remembered mainly for his work in the Pacific Northwest...

 led several exploring voyages into the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Strait of Juan de Fuca
The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a large body of water about long that is the Salish Sea outlet to the Pacific Ocean...

, searching for a possible North West Passage and finding the Strait of Georgia
Strait of Georgia
The Strait of Georgia or the Georgia Strait is a strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia, Canada. It is approximately long and varies in width from...

. To fully explore this new inland sea an expedition under Dionisio Alcalá Galiano
Dionisio Alcalá Galiano
Dionisio Alcalá Galiano was a Spanish naval officer, cartographer, and explorer. He mapped various coastlines in Europe and the Americas with unprecedented accuracy, using new technology such as chronometers...

 was sent in 1792. He was explicitly ordered to explore all channels that might turn out to be a North West Passage.

Cook and Vancouver

In 1776 Captain James Cook was dispatched by the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 in Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 under orders driven by a 1745 act which, when extended in 1775, promised a £20,000 prize for whoever discovered the passage. Initially the Admiralty had wanted Charles Clerke
Charles Clerke
Captain Charles Clerke RN was an officer in the Royal Navy who sailed on four voyages of exploration.Clerke started studying at the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth when he was 13. During the Seven Years' War he served aboard HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Bellona...

 to lead the expedition, with Cook (in retirement following his exploits in the Pacific) acting as a consultant. However Cook had researched Bering's expeditions, and the Admiralty ultimately placed their faith in the veteran explorer to lead with Clerke accompanying him.

After journeying through the Pacific, in another west–east attempt, Cook began at Nootka Sound
Nootka Sound
Nootka Sound is a complex inlet or sound of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Historically also known as King George's Sound, as a strait it separates Vancouver Island and Nootka Island.-History:The inlet is part of the...

 in April 1778, and headed north along the coastline, charting the lands and searching for the regions sailed by the Russians 40 years previously. The Admiralty's orders had commanded the expedition to ignore all inlets and rivers until they reached a latitude
Latitude
In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

 of 65°N
65th parallel north
The 65th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 65 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Asia and North America....

. Cook, however, failed to make any progress in sighting a Northwestern Passage.

Various officers on the expedition, including William Bligh
William Bligh
Vice Admiral William Bligh FRS RN was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. A notorious mutiny occurred during his command of HMAV Bounty in 1789; Bligh and his loyal men made a remarkable voyage to Timor, after being set adrift in the Bounty's launch by the mutineers...

, George Vancouver
George Vancouver
Captain George Vancouver RN was an English officer of the British Royal Navy, best known for his 1791-95 expedition, which explored and charted North America's northwestern Pacific Coast regions, including the coasts of contemporary Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon...

, and John Gore
John Gore (seaman)
Captain John Gore was a British American sailor who circumnavigated the globe four times with the Royal Navy in the 18th century and accompanied Captain James Cook in his discoveries in the Pacific Ocean.-History:...

, thought the existence of a route was 'improbable'. Before reaching 65°N they found the coastline pushing them further south, but Gore convinced Cook to sail on into the Cook Inlet
Cook Inlet
Cook Inlet stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage in south-central Alaska. Cook Inlet branches into the Knik Arm and Turnagain Arm at its northern end, almost surrounding Anchorage....

 in the hope of finding the route. They continued to the limits of the Alaskan peninsula and the start of the 1200 mi (1,931.2 km) chain of Aleutian Islands. Despite reaching 70°N
70th parallel north
The 70th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 70 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane, in the Arctic. It crosses the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Asia and North America, and passes through some of the southern seas of the Arctic Ocean....

 they encountered nothing but icebergs.

From 1792 to 1794, the Vancouver Expedition
Vancouver Expedition
The Vancouver Expedition was a four-and-a-half-year voyage of exploration and diplomacy, commanded by Captain George Vancouver. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, touched five continents and changed the course of history for the indigenous nations and several European empires and their...

 (led by George Vancouver who had accompanied Cook previously) surveyed in detail all the passages from the Northwest Coast
British Columbia Coast
The British Columbia Coast or BC Coast is Canada's western continental coastline on the Pacific Ocean. The usage is synonymous with the term West Coast of Canada....

 and confirmed that there was no such passage south of the Bering Strait. This conclusion was supported by the evidence of Alexander MacKenzie who explored the Arctic and Pacific oceans in 1793.

19th century

In the first half of the 19th century, some parts of the actual Northwest Passage (north of the Bering Strait) were explored separately by many expeditions, including those by John Ross
John Ross (Arctic explorer)
Sir John Ross, CB, was a Scottish rear admiral and Arctic explorer.Ross was the son of the Rev. Andrew Ross, minister of Inch, near Stranraer in Scotland. In 1786, aged only nine, he joined the Royal Navy as an apprentice. He served in the Mediterranean until 1789 and then in the English Channel...

, William Edward Parry
William Edward Parry
Sir William Edward Parry was an English rear-admiral and Arctic explorer, who in 1827 attempted one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole...

, and James Clark Ross
James Clark Ross
Sir James Clark Ross , was a British naval officer and explorer. He explored the Arctic with his uncle Sir John Ross and Sir William Parry, and later led his own expedition to Antarctica.-Arctic explorer:...

; overland expeditions were also led by John Franklin, George Back
George Back
Admiral Sir George Back FRS was a British naval officer, explorer of the Canadian Arctic , naturalist and artist.-Career:...

, Peter Warren Dease
Peter Warren Dease
Peter Warren Dease was a Canadian fur trader and arctic explorer.-Early life:Peter Warren Dease was born at Michilimackinac on January 1, 1788, the fourth son of Dr. John Dease, captain and deputy agent of Indian Affairs, and Jane French, Catholic Mohawk from Caughnawaga...

, Thomas Simpson
Thomas Simpson (explorer)
Thomas Simpson , Hudson's Bay Company agent and personal secretary for Hudson Bay governor Sir George Simpson, and arctic explorer.-Early life:...

, and John Rae
John Rae (explorer)
John Rae was a Scottish doctor who explored Northern Canada, surveyed parts of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition....

. In 1826 Frederick William Beechey
Frederick William Beechey
Frederick William Beechey was an English naval officer and geographer. He was the son of Sir William Beechey, RA., and was born in London.-Career:...

 explored the north coast of Alaska, discovering Point Barrow
Point Barrow
Point Barrow or Nuvuk is a headland on the Arctic coast in the U.S. state of Alaska, northeast of Barrow. It is the northernmost point of all the territory of the United States, at...

.

Sir Robert McClure
Robert McClure
Sir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure was an Irish explorer of the Arctic.In 1854, he was the first to transit the Northwest Passage , as well as the first to circumnavigate the Americas.-Early life and career:He was born at Wexford, in Ireland, the posthumous son of one of Abercrombie's captains,...

 was credited with the discovery of the real Northwest Passage in 1851 when he looked across McClure Strait from Banks Island
Banks Island
One of the larger members of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Banks Island is situated in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. It is separated from Victoria Island to its east by the Prince of Wales Strait and from the mainland by Amundsen Gulf to its south. The Beaufort Sea lies...

 and viewed Melville Island. However, this strait was not navigable to ships at that time, and the only usable route linking the entrances of Lancaster Sound
Lancaster Sound
Lancaster Sound is a body of water in Qikiqtaaluk, Nunavut, Canada. It is located between Devon Island and Baffin Island, forming the eastern portion of the Northwest Passage. East of the sound lies Baffin Bay; to the west lies Viscount Melville Sound...

 and Dolphin and Union Strait
Dolphin and Union Strait
Dolphin and Union Strait lies in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada, between the mainland and Victoria Island. It links Amundsen Gulf, lying to the northwest, with Coronation Gulf, lying to the southeast...

 was discovered by John Rae in 1854.

Franklin expedition

In 1845 a lavishly equipped two-ship expedition led by Sir John Franklin
John Franklin
Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin KCH FRGS RN was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer. Franklin also served as governor of Tasmania for several years. In his last expedition, he disappeared while attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic...

 sailed to the Canadian Arctic to chart the last unknown swaths of the Northwest Passage. Confidence was high, given there was less than 500 km (310.7 mi) of unexplored Arctic mainland coast by then. When the ships failed to return, relief expeditions and search parties explored the Canadian Arctic, which resulted in a thorough charting of the region along with a possible passage. Many artifacts from the expedition were found over the next century and a half, including notes that the ships were ice-locked in 1846 near King William Island
King William Island
King William Island is an island in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut and forms part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. In area it is between and making it the 61st largest island in the world and Canada's 15th largest island...

, about half way through the passage, unable to break free. Franklin died in 1847 and Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier
Francis Crozier
Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in Ireland at Banbridge, County Down and was a British naval officer who participated in six exploratory expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic...

 took over command. In 1848 the expedition abandoned ships and tried to escape south across the tundra
Tundra
In physical geography, tundra is a biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра from the Kildin Sami word tūndâr "uplands," "treeless mountain tract." There are three types of tundra: Arctic tundra, alpine...

 by sled
Sled
A sled, sledge, or sleigh is a land vehicle with a smooth underside or possessing a separate body supported by two or more smooth, relatively narrow, longitudinal runners that travels by sliding across a surface. Most sleds are used on surfaces with low friction, such as snow or ice. In some cases,...

ge. Although some of the crew may not have died until the early 1850s, no evidence has ever been found of any survivors. In 1853 John Rae
John Rae (explorer)
John Rae was a Scottish doctor who explored Northern Canada, surveyed parts of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition....

 received information from local Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 about the fate of Franklin's expedition, but his reports were not welcomed.

Starvation
Starvation
Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient and vitamin intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage and eventually, death...

, exposure and scurvy all contributed to the deaths. In 1981 Owen Beattie, an anthropologist from the University of Alberta
University of Alberta
The University of Alberta is a public research university located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Founded in 1908 by Alexander Cameron Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta and Henry Marshall Tory, its first president, it is widely recognized as one of the best universities in Canada...

, examined remains from sites associated with the expedition. This led to further investigations and the examination of tissue and bone from the frozen bodies of three seamen, John Torrington
John Torrington
Petty Officer John Shaw Torrington was an explorer and Royal Navy stoker. He was part of an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, but along with the rest of the crew, including the leader, Sir John Franklin, mysteriously died early in the trip. His preserved body was exhumed in 1984, to try to...

, William Braine and John Hartnell, exhumed from the permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 of Beechey Island
Beechey Island
Beechey Island is an island located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Nunavut, Canada, in Wellington Channel. It is separated from the southwest corner of Devon Island by Barrow Strait...

. Laboratory tests revealed high concentrations of lead
Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems...

 in all three (the expedition carried 8,000 tins of food sealed with a lead-based solder
Solder
Solder is a fusible metal alloy used to join together metal workpieces and having a melting point below that of the workpiece.Soft solder is what is most often thought of when solder or soldering are mentioned and it typically has a melting range of . It is commonly used in electronics and...

). Another researcher has suggested botulism
Botulism
Botulism also known as botulinus intoxication is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by botulinum toxin which is metabolic waste produced under anaerobic conditions by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and affecting a wide range of mammals, birds and fish...

 caused deaths among crew members. New evidence, confirming reports first made by John Rae in 1854 based on Inuit accounts, has shown cannibalism
Cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

 was a last resort for some of the crew.

McClure expedition

During the search for Franklin, Commander Robert McClure and his crew in HMS Investigator
HMS Investigator (1848)
HMS Investigator was a merchant ship purchased in 1848 to search for Sir John Franklin's lost expedition. She made two voyages to the Arctic and had to be abandoned in 1853 after becoming trapped in the ice. Her wreckage was found in July 2010 on Banks Island, in the Beaufort Sea...

 traversed the Northwest Passage from west to east in the years 1850 to 1854, partly by ship and partly by sledge. McClure started out from England in December 1849, sailed the Atlantic Ocean south to Cape Horn
Cape Horn
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island...

 and entered the Pacific Ocean. He sailed the Pacific north and passed through the Bering Strait, turning east at that point and reaching Banks Island.

McClure's ship was trapped in the ice for three winters near Banks Island, at the western end of Viscount Melville Sound
Viscount Melville Sound
Viscount Melville Sound is an arm of the Arctic Ocean in Kitikmeot, Nunavut, Canada. Forming part of the Parry Channel, it separates Victoria Island and Prince of Wales Island from the Queen Elizabeth Islands. East of the sound lies Lancaster Sound, leading into Baffin Bay; westward lies the...

. Finally McClure and his crew—who were by that time dying of starvation—were found by searchers who had travelled by sledge over the ice from a ship of Sir Edward Belcher
Edward Belcher
Admiral Sir Edward Belcher, KCB , was a British naval officer and explorer. He was the great-grandson of Governor Jonathan Belcher. His wife, Diana Jolliffe, was the stepdaughter of Captain Peter Heywood.-Early life:...

's expedition, and returned with them to Belcher's ships, which had entered the sound from the east. On one of Belcher's ships, McClure and his crew returned to England in 1854, becoming the first people to circumnavigate the Americas and to discover and transit the Northwest Passage, albeit by ship and by sledge over the ice. (Both McClure and his ship were found by a party from HMS Resolute, one of Belcher's ships, so his sledge journey was relatively short.) This was an astonishing feat for that day and age, and McClure was knighted and promoted in rank. (He was made rear-admiral in 1867.) Both he and his crew also shared £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

. In July 2010 Canadian archaeologists found HMS "Investigator" fairly intact but sunk about 8m below the surface.

John Rae

The expeditions by Franklin and McClure were in the tradition of British exploration: well-funded ship-borne expeditions using modern technology, and usually including British Naval
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 personnel. By contrast, John Rae was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company , abbreviated HBC, or "The Bay" is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world. A fur trading business for much of its existence, today Hudson's Bay Company owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada...

, which was the major driving force behind exploration of the Canadian North. They adopted a pragmatic approach and tended to be land-based. While Franklin and McClure attempted to explore the passage by sea, Rae explored by land, using dog sleds and employing techniques he learned from the native Inuit. The Franklin and McClure expeditions each employed hundreds of personnel and multiple ships. John Rae's expeditions included fewer than ten people and succeeded. Rae was also the explorer with the best safety record, having lost only one man in years of traversing Arctic lands. In 1854, Rae returned with information about the outcome of the ill-fated Franklin expedition.

Amundsen expedition

The first explorer to conquer the Northwest Passage was the Norwegian
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 explorer Roald Amundsen
Roald Amundsen
Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the first Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole between 1910 and 1912 and he was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage....

. In a three year journey between 1903 and 1906, Amundsen explored the passage with a crew of no more than six. Amundsen, who had sailed just in time to escape creditors seeking to stop the expedition, completed the voyage in the converted 47-ton herring boat Gjøa
Gjøa
Gjøa was the first vessel to transit the Northwest Passage. With a crew of six, Roald Amundsen traversed the passage in a three year journey, finishing in 1906.- History :- Construction :...

. Gjøa was much smaller than vessels used by other Arctic expeditions, but Amundsen intended to live off the limited resources of the land and sea through which he was to travel, and reasoned that the land could sustain only a tiny crew (this had been the cause of the catastrophic failure of John Franklin's expedition fifty years previously). The ship's shallow draught would help her traverse the shoals of the Arctic straits.

Amundsen set out from Oslo
Oslo
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

 in June 1903 and was west of the Boothia Peninsula by late September. The Gjøa was put into a natural harbour on the south shore of King William Island; by October 3 she was iced in. There the expedition remained for nearly two years, with the expedition members learning from the local Inuit people and undertaking measurements to determine the location of the North Magnetic Pole
North Magnetic Pole
The Earth's North Magnetic Pole is the point on the surface of the Northern Hemisphere at which the Earth's magnetic field points vertically downwards . Though geographically in the north, it is, by the direction of the magnetic field lines, physically the south pole of the Earth's magnetic field...

. The harbour, known as Gjoa Haven, has become the only settlement on the island.

After completing of the Northwest Passage portion of this trip and having anchored near Herschel Island
Herschel Island
Herschel Island is an island in the Beaufort Sea , which lies off the coast of the Yukon Territories in Canada, of which it is administratively a part...

, Amundsen skied 800 kilometres to the city of Eagle, Alaska
Eagle, Alaska
Eagle is a city located along the United States-Canada border in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Alaska, United States. It includes Eagle Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The population was 129 at the 2000 census...

, and sent a telegram announcing his success. Amundsen then skied 800 kilometres back to rejoin his companions. Although his chosen east–west route, via the Rae Strait
Rae Strait
Rae Strait, named after Arctic explorer John Rae, is a small strait in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, Canada. It is located between King William Island and the Boothia Peninsula on the mainland to the east.-Source:* at the Atlas of Canada...

, contained young ice and thus was navigable, some of the waterways were extremely shallow (3 feet, or 1 meter, deep) making the route commercially impractical.

Later expeditions

The first traversal of the Northwest Passage via dog sled
Dog sled
A dog sled is a sled pulled by one or more sled dogs used to travel over ice and through snow. Numerous types of sleds are used, depending on their function. They can be used for dog sled racing.-History:...

 was accomplished by Greenlander Knud Rasmussen while on the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–1924). Rasmussen, and two Greenland Inuit
Kalaallit
Kalaallit is the contemporary term in the Kalaallisut language for the indigenous people living in Greenland, also called the Kalaallit Nunaat. The singular term is kalaaleq. The Kalaallit are a part of the Arctic Inuit people. The language spoken by Inuit in Greenland is Kalaallisut.Historically,...

, travelled from the Atlantic to the Pacific over the course of 16 months via dog sled.

In 1940, Canadian RCMP officer Henry Larsen was the second to sail the passage, crossing west to east, from Vancouver
Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

 to Halifax
City of Halifax
Halifax is a city in Canada, which was the capital of the province of Nova Scotia and shire town of Halifax County. It was the largest city in Atlantic Canada until it was amalgamated into Halifax Regional Municipality in 1996...

. More than once on this trip, it was unknown whether the St. Roch a Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police , literally ‘Royal Gendarmerie of Canada’; colloquially known as The Mounties, and internally as ‘The Force’) is the national police force of Canada, and one of the most recognized of its kind in the world. It is unique in the world as a national, federal,...

 "ice-fortified" schooner
Schooner
A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts....

 would survive the ravages of the sea ice. At one point, Larsen wondered "if we had come this far only to be crushed like a nut on a shoal and then buried by the ice." The ship and all but one of her crew survived the winter on Boothia Peninsula
Boothia Peninsula
Boothia Peninsula is a large peninsula in Nunavut's northern Canadian Arctic, south of Somerset Island. The northern part, Murchison Promontory, is the northernmost point of mainland Canada, and thus North America....

. Each of the men on the trip was awarded a medal by Canada's sovereign, King George VI
George VI of the United Kingdom
George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death...

, in recognition of this notable feat of Arctic navigation.

Later in 1944, Larsen's return trip was far more swift than his first; the 28 months he took on his first trip was significantly reduced, and he took 86 days to sail back from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia, setting the mark for having traversed it in a single season. The ship followed a more northerly partially uncharted route, and it also had extensive upgrades.

On July 1, 1957, the United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

 Cutter Storis
USCGC Storis (WMEC-38)
For the computer software company, see STORIS Management Systems.The USCG medium endurance cutter Storis was the oldest vessel in commission with the United States Coast Guard fleet at 64 years and 5 months. She was the first American vessel to circumnavigate North America.-World War II:The keel...

 departed in company with USCGC Bramble
USCGC Bramble (WLB-392)
USCGC Bramble is one of the 39 original seagoing buoy tenders built between 1942-1944 for the United States Coast Guard. Bramble is currently a museum ship, part of Port Huron Museum, located in Port Huron, Michigan. She will be closed to the public effective August 14, 2011, owing to a lack of...

 and USCGC Spar
USCGC Spar (WLB-403)
The USCGC Spar was a sea going buoy tender. An Iris class vessel, she was built by Marine Ironworks and Shipbuilding Corporation in Duluth, Minnesota. Spar's preliminary design was completed by the United States Lighthouse Service and the final design was produced by Marine Iron and Shipbuilding...

 to search for a deep draft channel through the Arctic Ocean and to collect hydrographic
Hydrography
Hydrography is the measurement of the depths, the tides and currents of a body of water and establishment of the sea, river or lake bed topography and morphology. Normally and historically for the purpose of charting a body of water for the safe navigation of shipping...

 information. Upon her return to Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 waters, the Storis became the first U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

-registered vessel to circumnavigate North America. Shortly after her return in late 1957, she was reassigned to her new home port of Kodiak, Alaska
Kodiak, Alaska
Kodiak is one of 7 communities and the main city on Kodiak Island, Kodiak Island Borough, in the U.S. state of Alaska. All commercial transportation between the entire island and the outside world goes through this city either via ferryboat or airline...

.

In 1969, the made the passage, accompanied by the Canadian icebreakers CCGS John A. Macdonald
CCGS John A. Macdonald
CCGS John A. Macdonald was a Canadian Coast Guard heavy icebreaker. She was named after The Right Honourable, Sir John Alexander Macdonald, GCB, KCMG, PC, PC , the First Prime Minister of Canada....

 and CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent
CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent
CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is a Canadian Coast Guard Heavy Arctic Icebreaker.Named after the twelfth Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable Louis St. Laurent, PC CC QC LLD DCL LLL BA. The vessel is classed a "Heavy Arctic Icebreaker" and is the largest icebreaker and flagship of the CCG. It...

. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers Northwind and Staten Island
USCGC Staten Island (WAGB-278)
USCGC Staten Island was a United States Coast Guard . Laid down on 9 June 1942 and launched on 28 December 1942, the ship was commissioned on 26 February 1944, and almost immediately afterward transferred to the Soviet Union, under the Lend Lease program, under the name Severny Veter, which...

 also sailed in support of the expedition.
The Manhattan was a specially reinforced
Ice class
Ships with an Ice Class have a strengthened hull to enable them to navigate through sea ice.-History:The first requirements for merchant ships to be escorted by icebreakers were set in Finland in 1890, after winter traffic to the port of Hanko was started. In the past, different classification...

 supertanker
Oil tanker
An oil tanker, also known as a petroleum tanker, is a merchant ship designed for the bulk transport of oil. There are two basic types of oil tankers: the crude tanker and the product tanker. Crude tankers move large quantities of unrefined crude oil from its point of extraction to refineries...

 sent to test the viability of the passage for the transport of oil. While the Manhattan succeeded, the route was deemed not to be cost effective, and the Alaska Pipeline
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
The Trans Alaska Pipeline System , includes the Trans Alaska Pipeline, 11 pump stations, several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, and the Valdez Marine Terminal. TAPS is one of the world's largest pipeline systems...

 was built instead.

In June 1977, sailor Willy de Roos left Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 to attempt the Northwest Passage in his 13.8 m (45.3 ft) steel yacht Williwaw. He reached the Bering Strait
Bering Strait
The Bering Strait , known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N,...

 in September and after a stopover in Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, Canada and is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada's Pacific coast. The city has a population of about 78,000 within the metropolitan area of Greater Victoria, which has a population of 360,063, the 15th most populous Canadian...

, went on to round Cape Horn
Cape Horn
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island...

 and sail back to Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, thus being the first sailor to circumnavigate the Americas entirely by ship.

In 1981 as part of the Transglobe Expedition
Transglobe Expedition
In 1979, adventurers Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Charles R. Burton set out to make the first circumpolar navigation, traveling the world "vertically" traversing both of the poles. Starting from Greenwich in the United Kingdom, they went south, arriving at the South Pole on December 17, 1980. Over the...

 Ranulph Fiennes
Ranulph Fiennes
Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE , better known as Ranulph Fiennes, is a British adventurer and holder of several endurance records. He is also a prolific writer. Fiennes served in the British Army for eight years including a period on counter-insurgency service while...

 and Charles R. Burton
Charles R. Burton
Charles Robert Burton was a British explorer. He took part in the Transglobe Expedition, the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole.Burton was born in Cape Town, South Africa...

 completed the Northwest Passage. They left Tuktoyaktuk on 26 July 1981, in the 18 ft open Boston Whaler and reached Tanquary Fjord on 31 August 1981. Their journey was the first open boat transit from West to East and covered around 3,000 miles (2,600 nautical miles or 4,800 km) taking a route through Dolphin and Union Strait following the South coast of Victoria and King William Islands, North to Resolute Bay via Franklin Strait and Peel Sound, around the South and East coasts of Devon Island, through Hell Gate and across Norwegian Bay to Eureka, Greely Bay and the head of Tanquary Fijord. It is also worth pointing out that, once they reached Tanquary Fijord, they had to trek 150 miles via Lake Hazen to Alert before setting up their winter base camp.

In 1984, the commercial passenger vessel MS Explorer
MS Explorer
The MS Explorer was a Liberian-registered cruise ship designed for Arctic and Antarctic service, originally commissioned and operated by the Swedish explorer Lars-Eric Lindblad...

 (which sank in the Antarctic Ocean
Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean comprises the southernmost waters of the World Ocean, generally taken to be south of 60°S latitude and encircling Antarctica. It is usually regarded as the fourth-largest of the five principal oceanic divisions...

 in 2007) became the first cruise ship
Cruise ship
A cruise ship or cruise liner is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are part of the experience, as well as the different destinations along the way...

 to navigate the Northwest Passage.

In July 1986, Jeff MacInnis and Mike Beedell set out on an 18-foot catamaran called Perception on a 100-day sail, west to east, across the Northwest Passage. link CBC panel discussion. This pair is the first to sail the passage, although they had the benefit of doing so over a couple of summers.

In July 1986, David Scott Cowper
David Scott Cowper
David Scott Cowper is a British yachtsman, and was the first man to sail solo round the world in both directions and was also the first to successfully sail around the world via the Northwest Passage single-handed.-Biography:...

 set out from England in a 12.8 m (42 ft) lifeboat
Lifeboat (rescue)
A rescue lifeboat is a boat rescue craft which is used to attend a vessel in distress, or its survivors, to rescue crewmen and passengers. It can be hand pulled, sail powered or powered by an engine...

, the Mabel El Holland, and survived three Arctic winters in the Northwest Passage before reaching the Bering Strait in August 1989. He then continued around the world via the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

 to arrive back on 24 September 1990, becoming the first vessel to circumnavigate the world via the Northwest Passage.

On July 1, 2000, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol vessel Nadon, having assumed the name St Roch II, departed Vancouver on a "Voyage of Rediscovery". Nadon's mission was to circumnavigate North America via the Northwest Passage and the Panama Canal, recreating the epic voyage of her predecessor, St. Roch. The 22,000-mile Voyage of Rediscovery was intended to raise awareness concerning St. Roch and kick off the fund-raising efforts necessary to ensure St. Roch's continued preservation. The voyage was organized by the Vancouver Maritime Museum
Vancouver Maritime Museum
The Vancouver Maritime Museum is a Maritime museum devoted to presenting the maritime history of Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Canadian Arctic. Opened in 1959 as a Vancouver centennial project, it is located within Vanier Park just west of False Creek on the Vancouver waterfront. The main...

 and supported by a variety of corporate sponsors and agencies of the Canadian government. Nadon is an aluminum, catamaran-hulled, high-speed patrol vessel. To make the voyage possible, she was escorted and supported by the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Simon Fraser. The Coast Guard vessel was chartered by the Voyage of Rediscovery and crewed by volunteers. Throughout the voyage, she provided a variety of necessary services, including provisions and spares, fuel and water, helicopter facilities, and ice escort; she also conducted oceanographic research during the voyage. The Voyage of Rediscovery was completed in five and a half months, with Nadon arriving back at Vancouver on December 16, 2000.

On September 1, 2001, Northabout, an 14.3 m (46.9 ft) aluminium sailboat
Sailboat
A sailboat or sailing boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails. The term covers a variety of boats, larger than small vessels such as sailboards and smaller than sailing ships, but distinctions in the size are not strictly defined and what constitutes a sailing ship, sailboat, or a...

 with diesel engine, built and captained by Jarlath Cunnane, completed the Northwest Passage east-to-west from Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 to the Bering Strait. The voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific was completed in 24 days. The Northabout then cruised in Canada for two years before it returned to Ireland in 2005 via the Northeast Passage, thereby completing the first east-to-west circumnavigation
Circumnavigation
Circumnavigation – literally, "navigation of a circumference" – refers to travelling all the way around an island, a continent, or the entire planet Earth.- Global circumnavigation :...

 of the pole by a single sailboat. The Northeast Passage return along the coast of Russia was slower, starting in 2004, with an ice stop and winter over in Khatanga, Siberia—hence the return to Ireland via the Norwegian coast in October 2005. On January 18, 2006, the Cruising Club of America
Cruising Club of America
-History:It was launched in the winter of 1921-1922 by a handful of experienced offshore sailors interested in cruising and the development of the cruising type of yacht....

 awarded Jarlath Cunnane their Blue Water Medal, an award for "meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities."

On July 18, 2003, a father and son team, Richard and Andrew Wood, with Zoe Birchenough, sailed the yacht Norwegian Blue into the Bering Strait. Two months later she sailed into the Davis Strait
Davis Strait
Davis Strait is a northern arm of the Labrador Sea. It lies between mid-western Greenland and Nunavut, Canada's Baffin Island. The strait was named for the English explorer John Davis , who explored the area while seeking a Northwest Passage....

 to become the first British yacht to transit the Northwest Passage from west to east. She also became the only British vessel to complete the Northwest Passage in one season, as well as the only British sailing yacht to return from there to British waters.

In 2006 a scheduled cruise liner (the MS Bremen
MS Bremen
MS Bremen, is a cruise ship operated by Hapag Lloyd since 1993. She was built as Frontier Spirit at the Mitsubishi Shipyard, Kobe in 1990....

) successfully ran the Northwest Passage, helped by satellite images telling where sea ice was.

On May 19, 2007, a French sailor, Sébastien Roubinet, and one other crew member left Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the southcentral part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the northernmost major city in the United States...

, in Babouche, a 7.5 m (24.6 ft) ice catamaran
Catamaran
A catamaran is a type of multihulled boat or ship consisting of two hulls, or vakas, joined by some structure, the most basic being a frame, formed of akas...

 designed to sail on water and slide over ice. The goal was to navigate west to east through the Northwest Passage by sail only. Following a journey of more than 7200 km (4,474 mi), Roubinet reached Greenland on September 9, 2007, thereby completing the first Northwest Passage voyage made without engine in one season.
In April 2009, planetary scientist Pascal Lee
Pascal Lee
Pascal Lee is co-founder and chairman of the Mars Institute, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute, and the Principal Investigator of the Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California...

 and a team of 4 on the "Northwest Passage Drive Expedition" drove the "Moon-1" Humvee Rover a record-setting 494 km on sea-ice from Kugluktuk to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Nunavut
Nunavut is the largest and newest federal territory of Canada; it was separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, though the actual boundaries had been established in 1993...

, the longest distance driven on sea-ice in a road vehicle. The Moon-1 was being ferried to the Haughton-Mars Project
Haughton-Mars Project
The Haughton–Mars Project is an international interdisciplinary field research project being carried out near the Haughton impact crater on Canada's northern Devon Island. human-centered computing studies are aimed at determining how human explorers might live and work on other planetary...

 Research Station on Devon Island
Devon Island
Devon Island , claimed to be the largest uninhabited island on Earth, is located in Baffin Bay, Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is one of the larger members of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the second-largest of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Canada's sixth largest island, and the 27th...

 where it now serves as a simulator of future pressurized rovers to be used by astronauts on the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 and Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

. The Moon-1 was flown from Cambridge Bay to Resolute Bay
Resolute Bay
Resolute Bay is an Arctic waterway in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is located in Parry Channel on the southern side of Cornwallis Island. The hamlet of Resolute is located on the northern shore of the bay and Resolute Bay Airport to the northwest...

 in May 2009, and then driven again on sea-ice by Lee and a team of 5 from Resolute Bay
Resolute Bay
Resolute Bay is an Arctic waterway in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is located in Parry Channel on the southern side of Cornwallis Island. The hamlet of Resolute is located on the northern shore of the bay and Resolute Bay Airport to the northwest...

 to Devon Island
Devon Island
Devon Island , claimed to be the largest uninhabited island on Earth, is located in Baffin Bay, Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is one of the larger members of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the second-largest of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Canada's sixth largest island, and the 27th...

 in May 2010.

In 2009 sea ice conditions were such that at least nine small vessels and two cruise ships completed the transit of the Northwest Passage. These trips included one by Capt. Eric Forsyth onboard the 42 foot Westsail sailboat Fiona, a boat he built himself in the 1980s. Self financed, Forsyth, a retired engineer from the Brookhaven National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory , is a United States national laboratory located in Upton, New York on Long Island, and was formally established in 1947 at the site of Camp Upton, a former U.S. Army base...

, and winner of the Cruising Club of America
Cruising Club of America
-History:It was launched in the winter of 1921-1922 by a handful of experienced offshore sailors interested in cruising and the development of the cruising type of yacht....

's Blue Water Medal, sailed the Canadian archipelago with sailor Joey Waits, airline captain Russ Roberts and carpenter David Wilson. After successfully sailing the Passage, the 77 year old Forsyth completed the circumnavigation of North America, returning to his home port on Long Island.

On 28 August 2010, Bear Grylls
Bear Grylls
Edward Michael "Bear" Grylls is an English adventurer, writer and television presenter. He is best known for his television series Man vs. Wild, known as Born Survivor in the United Kingdom...

 and a team of 5 were the first rigid inflatable boat (RIB) to complete the North West Passage.

International waters dispute

The Canadian government claims that some of the waters of the Northwest Passage, particularly those in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago
Canadian Arctic Archipelago
The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, also known as the Arctic Archipelago, is a Canadian archipelago north of the Canadian mainland in the Arctic...

, are internal to Canada, giving Canada the right to bar transit through these waters. Most maritime nation
Maritime nation
A maritime nation is any nation which borders the sea and uses it for any of the following: commerce and transport, war, to define a territorial boundary, or for any maritime activity ....

s, including the United States and the nations of the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

, consider them to be an international strait, where foreign vessels have the right of "transit passage". In such a régime, Canada would have the right to enact fishing and environmental regulation, and fiscal and smuggling laws, as well as laws intended for the safety of shipping, but not the right to close the passage. If the passage’s deep waters become completely ice-free in summer months, they would be particularly enticing for massive supertankers that are too big to pass through the Panama Canal and must navigate around the tip of South America. In 1985, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea passed through from Greenland to Alaska; the ship submitted to inspection by the Canadian Coast Guard
Canadian Coast Guard
The Canadian Coast Guard is the coast guard of Canada. It is a federal agency responsible for providing maritime search and rescue , aids to navigation, marine pollution response, marine radio, and icebreaking...

 before passing through, but the event infuriated the Canadian public and resulted in a diplomatic incident
1985 Polar Sea controversy
The 1985 Polar Sea controversy was a diplomatic event triggered by plans for the navigation of through the Northwest passage from Greenland to Alaska without formal authorization from the Canadian government...

. The United States government, when asked by a Canadian reporter, indicated that they did not ask for permission as they were not legally required to. The Canadian government issued a declaration in 1986 reaffirming Canadian rights to the waters. However, the United States refused to recognize the Canadian claim. In 1988 the governments of Canada and the U.S. signed an agreement, "Arctic Cooperation", that resolved the practical issue without solving the sovereignty questions. Under the law of the sea, ships engaged in transit passage are not permitted to engage in research. The agreement states that all US Coast Guard vessels are engaged in research, and so would require permission from the Government of Canada to pass through.

In late 2005, it was alleged that U.S. nuclear submarine
Nuclear submarine
A nuclear submarine is a submarine powered by a nuclear reactor . The performance advantages of nuclear submarines over "conventional" submarines are considerable: nuclear propulsion, being completely independent of air, frees the submarine from the need to surface frequently, as is necessary for...

s had travelled unannounced through Canadian Arctic waters, sparking outrage in Canada. In his first news conference after the 2006 federal election
Canadian federal election, 2006
The 2006 Canadian federal election was held on January 23, 2006, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 39th Parliament of Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada won the greatest number of seats: 40.3% of seats, or 124 out of 308, up from 99 seats in 2004, and 36.3% of votes:...

, Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper contested an earlier statement made by the U.S. ambassador that Arctic waters were international, stating the Canadian government's intention to enforce its sovereignty there. The allegations arose after the U.S. Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 released photographs of the USS Charlotte
USS Charlotte (SSN-766)
USS Charlotte , a , is the fourth ship of the United States Navy to be named for Charlotte, North Carolina. The contract to build her was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia on 6 February 1987 and her keel was laid down on 17 August 1990. She was...

 surfaced at the North Pole.

On April 9, 2006, Canada's Joint Task Force North
Canada Command
Canada Command is one of the seven commands of the Canadian Forces. Stood up on February 1, 2006, it is responsible for all domestic operations and national security missions; as an operational command, it works closely with the environment commands Canada Command (CANADACOM) (in French :...

 declared that the Canadian military
Canadian Forces
The Canadian Forces , officially the Canadian Armed Forces , are the unified armed forces of Canada, as constituted by the National Defence Act, which states: "The Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada and consist of one Service called the Canadian Armed Forces."...

 will no longer refer to the region as the Northwest Passage, but as the Canadian Internal Waters. The declaration came after the successful completion of Operation Nunalivut (Inuktitut
Inuktitut
Inuktitut or Eastern Canadian Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian Inuit language is the name of some of the Inuit languages spoken in Canada...

 for "the land is ours"), which was an expedition into the region by five military patrols.

In 2006 a report prepared by the staff of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service of Canada suggested that because of the September 11 attacks the United States might be less interested in pursuing the international waterways claim in the interests of having a more secure North American perimeter. This report was based on an earlier paper, The Northwest Passage Shipping Channel: Is Canada’s Sovereignty Really Floating Away? by Andrea Charron, given to the 2004 Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute
Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute
The Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute was incorporated as a charitable organization in 2001. CDFAI is an independent “research institute/think tank” based in Calgary. It pursues new ideas to focus the national debate and understanding of Canada’s international policies with the ultimate...

 Symposium. Later in 2006 former United States Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci
Paul Cellucci
Argeo Paul Cellucci is an American politician and diplomat who served as the 69th Governor of Massachusetts and US Ambassador to Canada.-Early life and career:...

 agreed with this position; however, the succeeding ambassador, David Wilkins
David Wilkins
David Horton Wilkins is an American attorney and a former U. S. Ambassador to Canada during the administration of President George W. Bush. Prior to the appointment, he practiced law for 30 years while serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives for 25 of those years. He was speaker of...

, stated that the Northwest Passage was in international waters.

On July 9, 2007, Prime Minister Harper announced the establishment of a deep-water port in the far North. In the government press release the Prime Minister is quoted as saying, “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this Government intends to use it. Because Canada’s Arctic is central to our national identity as a northern nation. It is part of our history. And it represents the tremendous potential of our future."

On July 10, 2007, Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

 Timothy McGee
Timothy McGee (USN)
Timothy McGee is a retired officer of the United States Navy.-Most recent appointment:McGee is notable for his former command of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command-Arctic patrols:...

 of the United States Navy, and Rear Admiral Brian Salerno of the United States Coast Guard announced that the United States would also be increasing its ability to patrol the Arctic.

Effects of climate change

In the summer of 2000, two Canadian ships took advantage of thinning summer ice cover on the Arctic Ocean to make the crossing. It is thought that climate change is likely to open the passage for increasing periods of time, making it attractive as a major shipping route. However the passage through the Arctic Ocean would require significant investment in escort vessels and staging ports. Therefore the Canadian commercial marine transport industry does not anticipate the route as a viable alternative to the Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

 even within the next 10 to 20 years.

On September 14, 2007, the European Space Agency
European Space Agency
The European Space Agency , established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 18 member states...

 stated that, based on satellite images, ice loss had opened up the passage "for the first time since records began in 1978". According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment is a study describing the ongoing climate change in the Arctic and its consequences: rising temperatures, loss of sea ice, unprecedented melting of the Greenland ice sheet, and many impacts on ecosystems, animals, and people...

, the latter part of the 20th century and the start of the 21st had seen marked shrinkage of ice cover. The extreme loss in 2007 rendered the passage "fully navigable". However, the ESA study was based only on analysis of satellite images and could in practice not confirm anything about the actual navigation of the waters of the passage. The ESA suggested the passage would be navigable "during reduced ice cover by multi-year ice pack" (namely sea ice surviving one or more summers) where previously any traverse of the route had to be undertaken during favourable seasonable climatic conditions or by specialist vessels or expeditions. The agency's report speculated that the conditions prevalent in 2007 had shown the passage may "open" sooner than expected. An expedition in May 2008 reported that the passage was not yet continuously navigable even by an icebreaker and not yet ice-free.

Scientists at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union
American Geophysical Union
The American Geophysical Union is a nonprofit organization of geophysicists, consisting of over 50,000 members from over 135 countries. AGU's activities are focused on the organization and dissemination of scientific information in the interdisciplinary and international field of geophysics...

 on December 13, 2007, revealed that NASA satellites observing the western Arctic. showed a 16% decrease in cloud coverage during the summer of 2007 compared to 2006. This would have the effect of allowing more sunlight to penetrate Earth's atmosphere and warm the Arctic Ocean waters, thus melting sea ice and contributing to the opening the Northwest Passage.

In recent years at least one scheduled cruise liner (the MS Bremen
MS Bremen
MS Bremen, is a cruise ship operated by Hapag Lloyd since 1993. She was built as Frontier Spirit at the Mitsubishi Shipyard, Kobe in 1990....

 in 2006) has successfully run the Northwest Passage, helped by satellite images telling where sea ice was. In January 2010, the ongoing reduction in the Arctic Sea ice led telecoms cable specialist Kodiak-Kenai Cable to propose the laying of a fibre-optic cable connecting London and Tokyo, by way of the Northwest Passage, saying the proposed system would nearly cut in half the time it takes to send messages from the United Kingdom to Japan.

2008 sealift

On November 28, 2008, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, commonly known as CBC and officially as CBC/Radio-Canada, is a Canadian crown corporation that serves as the national public radio and television broadcaster...

 reported that the Canadian Coast Guard confirmed the first commercial ship sailed through the Northwest Passage. In September 2008, the MV Camilla Desgagnés
MV Camilla Desgagnés
The MV Camilla Desgagnés is a Canadian cargo vessel that has operated since 1982 in the waters of eastern and Arctic Canada.Prior to 2003 she was known simply as MV Camilla.-2003 salvage:...

, owned by Desgagnés Transarctik Inc. and, along with the Arctic Cooperative
Arctic Cooperative
Arctic Co-operatives Limited is a cooperative federation owned and controlled by 32 community-based cooperative business enterprises located in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and northern Manitoba, Canada...

, is part of Nunavut Sealift and Supply Incorporated (NSSI), transported cargo from Montreal
Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

 to the hamlets of Cambridge Bay
Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Cambridge Bay, named for Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, is a hamlet located in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, Canada...

, Kugluktuk
Kugluktuk, Nunavut
Kugluktuk is a hamlet located at the mouth of the Coppermine River in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, Canada, on Coronation Gulf, southwest of Victoria Island...

, Gjoa Haven
Gjoa Haven, Nunavut
Gjoa Haven is a hamlet in Nunavut, above the Arctic Circle, located in the Kitikmeot Region, northeast of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It is the only settlement on King William Island...

 and Taloyoak
Taloyoak, Nunavut
Taloyoak or Talurjuaq is located on the Boothia Peninsula, Kitikmeot, in Canada's Nunavut Territory. The community is served only by air and by annual supply sealift. Taloyoak may mean "large blind", referring to a stone caribou blind or a screen used for caribou hunting...

. A member of the crew is reported to have claimed that "there was no ice whatsoever". Shipping from the east is to resume in the fall of 2009. Although sealift
Sealift
Sealift is a term used predominantly in military logistics and refers to the use of cargo ships for the deployment of military assets, such as weaponry, vehicles, military personnel, and supplies...

 is an annual feature of the Canadian Arctic this is the first time that the western communities have been serviced from the east. The western portion of the Canadian Arctic is normally supplied by Northern Transportation Company Limited
Northern Transportation Company Limited
Northern Transportation Company Limited is a marine transportation company in the Canadian and American Arctic owned by Norterra, a holding company jointly owned by the Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories and the Inuit of Nunavut...

 (NTCL) from Hay River
Hay River, Northwest Territories
Hay River , known as "the Hub of the North," is a town in the Northwest Territories, Canada, located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, at the mouth of the Hay River. The town is separated into two sections, a new town and an old town with the Hay River Airport between them...

. The eastern portion by NNSI and NTCL from Churchill
Churchill, Manitoba
Churchill is a town on the shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. It is most famous for the many polar bears that move toward the shore from inland in the autumn, leading to the nickname "Polar Bear Capital of the World" that has helped its growing tourism industry.-History:A variety of nomadic...

 and Montreal.

Transfer of Pacific species to North Atlantic

Scientists believe that reduced sea ice the Northwest Passage has permitted some new species to migrate across the Arctic Ocean. The gray whale
Gray Whale
The gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus, is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of about , a weight of , and lives 50–70 years. The common name of the whale comes from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin. Gray whales were...

 Eschrichtius robustus has not been seen in the Atlantic since it was hunted to extinction there in the 18th century, but in May 2010, one such what whale turned up in the Mediterranean. Scientists speculated the whale had followed its food sources through the Northwest Passage and simply kept on going.

The plankton
Plankton
Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. That is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification...

 species Neodenticula seminae had not been seen in the Atlantic for 800,000 years. Over the past few years, however, it has become increasingly prevalent there. Again, scientists believe the transfer was made through the reopened Northwest Passage.

In August 2010, two bowhead whales from West Greenland and Alaska entered the Northwest Passage from opposite directions and spent approximately 10 days in the same area, documenting overlap between the two populations.

See also

  • Territorial claims in the Arctic
    Territorial claims in the Arctic
    Under international law, no country currently owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. The five surrounding Arctic states, Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark , are limited to an exclusive economic zone of adjacent to their coasts.Upon ratification...

  • Northern Sea Route
    Northern Sea Route
    The Northern Sea Route is a shipping lane officially defined by Russian legislation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from Murmansk on the Barents Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait and Far East. The entire route lies in Arctic...

  • Northwest Passage Territorial Park
  • Arctic Bridge
    Arctic bridge
    The Arctic Bridge or Arctic Sea Bridge is a seasonal sea route linking Russia to Canada, specifically the Russian port of Murmansk to the Hudson Bay port of Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill is the principal seaport on Canada's northern coast and has rail and air connections to the rest of Canada...

  • List of Arctic expeditions
  • Arctic exploration
    Arctic exploration
    Arctic exploration is the physical exploration of the Arctic region of the Earth. The region that surrounds the North Pole. It refers to the historical period during which mankind has explored the region north of the Arctic Circle...

  • Panama Canal
    Panama Canal
    The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

  • Discovery of North-West Passage Act 1744
    Discovery of North-West Passage Act 1744
    The Discovery of North-West Passage Act 1744 was an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of Great Britain passed in 1745 and repealed in 1818...


External links

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