Arctic Ocean Transits

Arctic shipping routes

A transit of the Arctic Ocean is the movement of a marine vessel across the Arctic waters between the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Nearly every transit navigates along either the Northeast Passage or the Northwest Passage, which includes the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic coast. However, the determination of which voyages are full or partial transits depends on the documenting authority.

  • A full transit is often defined as a voyage through the Arctic between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, entering one side and exiting the other ocean corridor. Some sources consider a voyage across a majority of the NWP to be a full transit.
  • A Partial Transit is one that traverses part way through one of the passages, normally returning to the originating corridor.
  • A Destination Transit originates or terminates in an Arctic port and voyaging to or from ports outside of the region.
  • Local Transits represent vessels that travel exclusively within the passage without exiting to either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.

Transit Traffic
Traffic along the Northern Sea Route peeked in 2013, after the record low ice extent of 2012. Since then, NSR transits have dropped significantly, possibly due to lower fuel prices making traditional shipping routes less risky and more profitable. U.S. sanctions against Russia likely affected the decline as well.

Arctic transit traffic

Northwest Passage transits increased from 5 in 2005 to 16 in 2016 with the receding summer ice extents. Voyages along the NWP are predominately made in smaller vessels able to navigate in the shallow waters and tight passages. But increasingly, larger ice capable passenger ships have been making the journey.

For more information about Arctic transits see About Arctic Transits and Data

For available transits data:

updated 10-Apr-2017