Where Is the Northwest Passage?
The Northwest Passage (NWP) is a sea route along the north coast of North America between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For centuries, European explorers sought a navigable passage as a possible trade route to Asia. An ice-bound northern route was discovered in 1850 by the Irish explorer Robert McClure; it was through a more southerly opening in an area explored by the Scotsman John Rae in 1854 that Norwegian Roald Amundsen made the first complete passage in 1903–1906 in the 47-ton Gjoa.
The search for the
Passage started in the 15th Century, when Bristol merchants commissioned the
Genoese mariner John Cabot to find a direct sea route between Britain and the
Indies by sailing west. He failed, but discovered the mainland of America on
his voyage. Over the next 350 years, others were to seek the route and many
died in the attempt. These brave pioneers included famous characters such as
Henry Hudson and Sir Humphrey Gilbert.
In 1845, Sir John Franklin made his ill-fated voyage. With 129 officers and men in two ships, the Frebus and Terror, Franklin’s expedition became icebound in the Victoria Strait. Franklin died and the crew abandoned their vessels and eventually perished. It was ironic that out of the Royal Navy’s efforts to find Franklin came the first successful completion of the Northwest Passage (NWP), although much of the journey was made on foot. That was in 1854.
The many succeeding voyages included those of the United States nuclear powered submarine Seadragon, which made the first underwater trip in 1960, and of the 1,005 foot S.S.Manhattan, which in 1969 made a voyage from New York to Alaska and back in a little over two months. But the Northwest Passage (NWP) has never become the great sea route to the East which men dreamed about for so many centuries. Today the Panama Canal provides the only transcontinental sea-link from the West to the East.
Until 2009, the Arctic pack ice prevented regular marine shipping throughout most of the year. Arctic sea ice decline has rendered the waterways more navigable for ice navigation. The eastern route along the Arctic coasts of Norway and Siberia is accordingly called the Northeast Passage (NEP). The various islands of the archipelago are separated from one another and from the Canadian mainland by a series of Arctic waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages.