Warming Arctic waters increase shipping challenges already 'the bane of everyone in the North'

Arctic waters may be drawing more shipping traffic, but ice conditions are growing less certain, causing conflicts to flare up in communities across the North.

Maritime traffic in the Arctic is higher than ever as mining and resource extraction projects increase along with other investments, but shipping conditions are more dangerous than ever as a result of the weather’s greater seasonal variation.

It’s December in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, about 20 degrees below freezing on what is considered a warm day, and for the first winter ever Nicole Maksagak thought she would be driving in the comfort of a Ford F-150 pick-up truck.

Instead, she’s making at least eight runs per day on her Ski-Doo to take her four children, aged six to 13, to school, commute to work and run errands.

Maksagak said she might feel better on her snowmobile if she didn’t owe so much money on the 2018 Ford. Her truck, however, is stranded more than 1,000 kilometres away in Inuvik — along with critical supplies ordered by businesses and the town of Cambridge Bay — after shipping traffic in the western Arctic unexpectedly stopped early this fall due to poor ice conditions.

“I’ve never seen my vehicle in person, I never even test drove it,” she said. “But I’m paying for it, and I paid for the insurance, plus the registration.”

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