Polar Expressed – the sad story of the “Northern Passage” between Europe & Asia

In the nineteenth century, the Arctic, then still largely undiscovered, captured the imagination of the Western world.


Ships, mostly from England, would pursue the

Northwest Passage: a shorter water route between Europe and Asia whose discovery, it was hoped, would dramatically accelerate global trade.

The article narrates horrible stories of shipmen dying in the pursuit of the greatest shortcut and reminds us that

while we continue to venerate the likes of Dickens and Poe and Conan Doyle, we seldom read their Arctic work, or even recollect its existence. […] it’s worth remembering, when we choose Shackleton over Shelley, that, in the long history of Arctic literature, the putative nonfiction has seldom offered the most truthful or most useful account of the poles.


In the Arctic, English chauvinism led to the death of untold numbers of Englishmen.

It also reminds us that it took more than 100 years for humankind to reach the North Pole

“The first Northwest Passage was found by Robert McClure, in 1854 [… and was ] far too dangerous to be commercially viable.

The first person to actually reach the North Pole over land was Ralph Plaisted, an insurance agent from Duluth, who arrived on April 20, 1968. Fifteen months later, Apollo 11 landed on the moon.”

Unfortunately, since 1980, sea ice in the Arctic has declined thirteen per cent each decade. In 2007, for the first time in history, a ship navigated through the Northwest Passage without help from an icebreaker. As a conclusion, the author very rightly states:

“Once the ice disappears, there will be nothing there. At that point, if we reach that point, the Pole will become once again what it was long ago: a place we know only through stories.”

Right after reading this article I was very sad to discover in Kate Stafford’s TED Talk on “How human noise affects ocean habitats” that indeed humankind created that mythical “Northern Passage” between Europe and Asia because of melting ice 😦