As sea ice extent has decreased in the last decades in the Arctic, transport activities have grown, and the risk of unwanted events and marine accidents has increased. Navigation and rescue operations in the High North are unique given harsh weather and ice conditions, remoteness, vulnerable nature, and human activity. Given these factors, it is important to analyze previous ship accidents to develop expertise and ensure awareness of all actors.

Based on experience from international projects devoted to maritime preparedness, we have created a GIS-based online resource summarizing knowledge on handling marine emergencies, using Svalbard as an example location.


In 2018, scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA reported that annual Arctic sea ice maximum extent, recorded in March, was well below the 1981–2010 average and the second lowest in the satellite record; the September seasonal minimum extent was slightly above the long-term trend but was the sixth lowest in the satellite record. Coverage of old ice (greater than four years old) over the Arctic continued to decline and is now only 5% of its 1980s area (NSIDC, 2019). Geospatial researchers, led by Greg Fiske, mapped and analyzed AIS signals from ships from 2009–2016 and found that the mean center of shipping activity in the Arctic moved 300 km north and east---closer to the North Pole---over the 7-year span (Fig. 1). They were particularly surprised to find more small ships, such as fishing boats, traveling further into Arctic waters. The team also plotted the AIS ship tracks against sea ice data from NSIDC and found that ships are encountering ice more often and doing so farther north each year (Carlowicz, 2018).

Arctic shipping increased noticeably in the last years in all regions. The study performed by J. Dawson and co-authors showed that marine traffic in the Canadian Arctic almost tripled between 1990–2015; the annual distance travelled by all vessels grew from around 350,000 km to over 900,000 km, with the majority of growth occurring over the past decade (Dawson et al., 2018). Russian Arctic shipping more than quadrupled in five years, and huge investments are expected to increase traffic on the Northern Sea Route each year (Khon et al., 2010), (CHNL IO, 2019).

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