CAN - Melting Sea Ice Makes Canada More, Not Less Dependent on Icebreakers

Icebreakers play many important roles both above and below the Arctic Circle.

With their double hulls, rounded bows made of high strength steel and sloping stems for maneuverability, icebreakers are capable of breaking through ice as thick as three metres. With 90 percent of global consumer goods transported by ships, and with a vast amount of Canada’s waters impeded by ice up to ten months of the year, the country’s icebreaker fleet guides the movement of marine traffic through ice. They ensure that most Canadian ports are open for business year-round and enable “an otherwise ice-choked economy.” Icebreakers also provide search and rescue services such as assisting distressed vessels, contribute to safeguarding Arctic sovereignty through ferry services, resupply communities in the North, support natural resource and infrastructure development in the Arctic, and conduct research necessary to understand climate change and inform climate adaptation.

Canada’s icebreaking capacity

Given their myriad of capabilities, icebreaking vessels are important national assets, historically and today. Canada has been building and using icebreakers since the early 1900s, when ice-capable vessels were sent to meet a variety of needs including the re-supply of goods to isolated communities. By 1904, they were being used to support Canada’s claims to sovereignty over the Arctic Archipelago, and in 1916, the country built its first icebreaker to serve the Port of Montreal. These activities continue to be important facets of Canada’s icebreaking program to this day, directly supporting the country’s economy by ensuring ports remain unimpeded by ice and extending the navigation season for sustained maritime trade.

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