From a naval perspective, perhaps the single most significant impact of global warming is the transformation of the Arctic from a forbidding, ice-blocked region usable almost exclusively by nuclear submarines, to a future set of sea routes and an important area of natural resources. The latter applies not only to the sea floor but also to the bordering land, which is nearly empty because the climate has been so brutal for much of the year. Now retreating ice and a warmer Arctic climate make it possible to envision the regular use of the passages around Canada and the Arctic coast of Alaska, and similarly around the northern coast of Russia—for North America, the fabled Northwest Passage sought unsuccessfully by so many explorers in the past.
Warming may also make the lands bordering the Arctic Ocean much more usable. For example, more of Canada’s population may choose to live in the north. For some years the Canadians have been talking about their “third coast” and have recently revived northern land patrols as a way of asserting sovereignty over their northern territories. A warming and more usable Arctic may also improve the status and economics of indigenous peoples such as the Alaskan Aleuts. The U.S. Coast Guard has been discussing the implications of global warming and a more open Arctic for Alaska.