This came out a few days ago. Imagine now being able to say that a North West Passage is possible and you realise just how far things are going. Melting ice opens up Arctic passage September 17, 2007 The McClure Strait in the Canadian Arctic archipelago, which is the most direct route of the Northwest Passage and seen here in a satellite photo, has been fully open since early August 2007. The McClure Strait in the Canadian Arctic archipelago, which is the most direct route of the Northwest Passage and seen here in a satellite photo, has been fully open since early August 2007. Arctic ice has shrunk to the smallest area on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane. The European Space Agency said almost 200 satellite photos taken this month showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its smallest area since such images were first taken in 1978. The waters are exposing unexplored resources, and vessels could trim thousands of kilometres off the sea journey from Europe to Asia by bypassing the Panama Canal. The seasonal ebb and flow of ice levels has already opened up a slim summer window in which some ships can pass through. Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Centre said that Arctic ice has shrunk to some 3 million square kilometres. The previous low was 4 million square kilometres, in 2005. "The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected," Associate Professor Pedersen said in an ESA statement posted on its website on Friday. On average, the ice had retreated by about 100,000 square kilometres per year over the past decade, "so a drop of 1 million square kilometres in just one year is extreme". A UN panel on climate change has predicted that polar regions could be virtually free of ice by the summer of 2070, the European Space Agency noted.