Ships, as early as 2050, can sail over the North Pole without the need of specialized equipment.

Melting sea ice is expected to open up a new route for ships via the Arctic Ocean, according to a new study. The route will allow the passage of ships to places that are currently inaccessible without the help of icebreakers. The opening of the new shipping routes is expected to happen around 2050 and although the route is good for the economy, its impact on the environment may be huge.

"The development is both exciting from an economic development point of view and worrisome in terms of safety, both for the Arctic environment and for the ships themselves," said Laurence C. Smith, a professor of geography at UCLA and the lead author of the study.

Researchers say that the rise in temperature will allow a trans-arctic ship route and based on current data, this might happen around 2040-2050. The new route is about 20 percent shorter than the route that's currently being used, called "the Northern Sea Route". This route is already 40 percent shorter for ships travelling between Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Yokohama, Japan, than the Suez Canal.

"Nobody's ever talked about shipping over the top of the North Pole," Smith said in a news release from UCLA. "This is an entirely unexpected possibility."

The new route is expected to make the dreadful Northwest Passage more navigable. The passage is now used only one out of seven years (on an average), which is not feasible for commercial shippers. The Northwest Passage is the most direct route from Asia to eastern Canada and the northeastern-most part of the U.S.

In 2007, National Geographic had reported that the Arctic route had become viable for the first time since satellite records starting from 1978.

The present article is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus