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Michael A. Goldstein
Amanda H. Lynch
Ruitian Yan
Siri Veland
, and
William Talleri


As Arctic open water increases, shipping activity to and from mid- and western Russian Arctic ports to points south has notably increased. A number of Arctic municipalities hope increased vessel traffic will create opportunities to become a major transshipment hub. However, even with more traffic passing these ports, it might still be economically cheaper to offload cargo at a more southern port, which may also result in lower emissions. Ultimately, the question of whether to use a transshipment in the Arctic versus an established major European port is determined by the relative costs (or emissions) of sea versus land travel. This study calculates the relative competitiveness of six Norwegian coastal cities as multimodal hubs for shipments. We quantify the relative prices and CO2 emissions for sea and land travel for routes starting at the Norwegian–Russian sea border with an ultimate destination in central Europe and find that all existing routes are not competitive with routes using the major existing Port of Rotterdam (Netherlands); even with investments in port expansion and modernization, they would be underutilized regardless of an increase in vessel traffic destined for central Europe. We then examine under what relative prices (emissions) these routes become economically viable or result in lower emissions than using existing southern ports. Notably, the cheapest routes generally produce the lowest emissions, and the most expensive routes tend to have the largest emissions. Communities should consider relative competitiveness prior to making large infrastructure investments. While some choices are physically possible, they may not be economically viable.

Significance Statement

Climate change, while disruptive, can also create new opportunities. Many Arctic cities hope to become a major transshipping hub as declining sea ice opens new shipping routes from western and mid-Russian Arctic ports to European ports. This paper quantifies the relative competitiveness of six Norwegian coastal cities as multimodal transportation hubs and finds that they are uncompetitive with the more southern port in Rotterdam (Netherlands). We also show that the most economically competitive routes have lower direct emissions. Thus, while Arctic ports provide critical services in support of local and regional economic activity, even with year-round Arctic navigation Arctic ports’ development into major transshipment hubs for cargo destined for more distant locations may be neither economically viable nor desirable.

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