Beginning in 1497, explorers sought a route from Europe to the Orient that would spare seafarers an arduous trip around Africa. The frozen north, however, proved far more difficult, and the five-century quest for the Northwest Passage ended mostly in failure. In the early twentieth century, Roald Amundsen succeeded, but only by taking a route south of Victoria Island in a trip lasting over two years. In the summer of 2007, the fabled passage saw enough ice melt to make navigation feasible. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Arctic Sea Ice News Fall 2007, the passage was nearly ice-free for several weeks.
On September 15, 2007, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured a largely cloud-free image of the Northwest Passage. Although the sea route had been characterized as nearly open weeks earlier, persistent cloud cover prevented a MODIS true-color image of the open route.
Clouds do obscure parts of this image, but they remain confined to areas north and south of McClure Strait. As white as the clouds is the snow cover on some of the islands, especially around Parry Channel. Clear ocean water appears navy blue, but some sea ice still appears. In the east, along Ellesmere Island, faint white swirls indicate new sea ice forming at the end of summer melt season. McClure Strait also sports sea ice, and those blocky, broken-up shapes suggest old sea ice undergoing melt. The generally dark color of McClure Strait could be concealing a thin layer of sea ice throughout the strait, possibly centimeters thick.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Thanks to Walt Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Center, for image interpretation.
- Terra - MODIS