The defrost is irreversible, according to the Portuguese Navy Rear Admiral Carlos Ventura Soares, who heads the Hydrographical Institute, but “at this moment nobody can tell how fast it will be”.

An obvious consequence is the impact on the Arctic ecosystem, but also the opening of "two new large areas: the ease of access to natural resources and the opening of new sea routes".

What nations like Norway or the United States already have is the possibility of exploiting natural resources that the thaw exposes and makes accessible in their exclusive economic zones.

The possibility of navigating safely in the Arctic with regular routes “would do to the Suez Canal, in the passage of the transit of goods from Asia to Europe, what the Suez Canal did to the Cape route, which is no longer so used for a lot of traffic from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic”, says the director of the Hydrographical Institute.

Ventura Soares stresses that it may be decades before there are conditions are regularly navigable, which “for the time being has not yet been”, in addition to “limited experimental trips or only to local ports”.

In addition to less ice, these routes would need to have “the ability to search and rescue in the event of an accident, marine piloting, and the ability to limit possible spills. As long as this does not happen, we will hardly be able to talk about a perennial maritime route with the possibility of commercial use, even if it is difficult during the whole year, but during a large part of the year”, he says.

Coscohas made progress in exploring an Arctic route, but with ships with a maximum capacity for three thousand containers, while “the mother ships that make the Asia route all have a capacity of 16 thousand and, in the case of bigger, 23 thousand”.

This is an economic disadvantage, but an incentive is the fact that the crossing time Asia-Europe can be shortened by 14 days or more and in sea transport, “the financial cost of goods retained during transit time sometimes has an impact as big as freight”.

Jorge D'Almeida believes that “it will not be in the next 50 years” that the largest ships in the world will be able to use the Arctic route, not least because on the traditional route that brings cargo from Asia to the ports of northern Europe (Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg) via the Suez Canal, business can be done along the way by passing through important warehouses, such as Singapore.

Even if it is not yet a reality, it is necessary to act now to safeguard the Arctic from the economic greed of the states, the American lawyer Kristina Gjerde, consultant for the Global Marine and Polar Program of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, defended in statements to Lusa.

"In the Arctic it is people, marine life, ice and the entire ecosystem that needs to be protected and where some of the fastest changes on the planet are taking place", she says.

According to the most recent data from the North American National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic ice in February has been decreasing at a rate of 2.9 percent in each decade.

“The challenge is to create governance structures that are legally binding and that inhibit the race for resources or navigable channels that may be opened, as has already happened in the Arctic offshore fisheries agreement, which demonstrates how countries like USA, Russia, China or European states are able to collaborate when it comes to something that is of international interest”, he defends.

Kristina Gjerde points out that, even with no permanent routes to cross the region and limited traffic to local ports, there are already ships powered by heavy fuels to circulate, "which are emitted into the atmosphere and into the ice, accelerating the warming".

"The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has said that we are making war on our planet and we have to think about the total impact of navigation, both now and 20 years from now", said the lawyer.

The total impacts on such a sensitive ecosystem are still unknown and all eight countries with seats on the Arctic Council need to assess them and the five with exclusive economic zones in the region (United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway) need to monitor the impact of resource exploitation.

“We need to decarbonize shipping. Guarantee a quiet ecological footprint, because they are places that are not used to noise. They need to navigate slowly and cannot exacerbate the problem of global climate change. It is necessary to better evaluate the pros and cons”, defends Kristina Gjerde.

The Arctic state and scientific research around the region are at the center of the virtual scientific congress Arctic Science Summit Week, which started last Friday with working meetings, but whose scientific part, organized by Portugal, runs from Wednesday to Friday.