Antarctica and the Arctic are the focus of global hunger for untapped resources – and global warming has helped drive the polar rush.
Australian Antarctic Division/REUTERS
Just after noon on Sept. 4, 2010, a squat, yellow-black cargo ship lumbered out of the Norwegian port of Kirkenes. Naked ridges of glacially scarred granite slid by on either side as the Nordic Barents motored toward the open sea with 41,000 tons of iron ore locked in her belly. It might have resembled a routine voyage to Western Europe. But the sense of normalcy vanished as the ship reached the mouth of the fiord, a geographic and economic crossroads at the extreme northern edge of Scandinavia.
Rather than proceeding forward toward Europe, the Barents swung slowly to the right – to the east. The ore in its hold was destined for smelters in China. To get there, the ship would do what few others have attempted: take a shortcut over the top of Asia, through 3,000 miles of Arctic seas haunted by drifting ice. It would be escorted by a nuclear-powered icebreaker from Russia.
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