TIME for Kids misinforms your children

September 26, 2009

An Arctic Passage 2The modern version of the weekly reader, TIME for Kids, published by the same folks who bring you TIME magazine, heralded the news of the very first ships to sail the legendary “Northeast Passage” in an article titled “An Arctic Passage.”   This route links Europe to the Pacific Ocean, while avoiding the much longer route through the Suez canal and Indian Ocean.  But the reality is that this route was travelled on a regular basis by the Russians from the 1930s to the 1990s.  Read on to see how bogus this propaganda, that was spoon fed to your children, really was.


Northeast passage

Northeast passage

Our kids were told very plainly that “It is the first time commercial ships have traveled this route…Shippers have dreamed of a northern shortcut.  right now, ships going from Asia to Europe take a southern route through the Suez Canal, in Egypt.  A northern route would shorten the trip saving time, fuel and money”

This is new, the kids are told, because normally it is “impassable, even in summer, because of packed ice.  But melting ice caps are making it easier for ships to navigate the Arctic.” 

But the real purpose of this article is to keep the drumbeat of global warming fear pounding in the heads of our children.  “Scientists say global warming is responsible for the arctic thaw, which is causing many frozen channels to thaw” they are told.

The Truth about the Northeast Passage from Russia’s  Gubernskaya Academy

As exciting as the above story sounds, it is essentially untrue.  You can read much about the history and exploration of the Northeast Passage as compiled by the Russian Gubernskaya Academy and presented for the International Polar Year.  Here are some of the highlights…

In 1934 the ice-cutter “Litke” made the voyage from Vladivostok to Murmansk without failure by the Northern Sea Route. “Litke” captain was N.M. Nikolaev, research manager V.Yu. Vize. In 1935 four cargo motor ships passed through the Route during a single navigation season.

During the 1930s the Soviets started regular navigated the waters of  the Northeast Passage.  Gubernskaya Academy documents remind us that…

Before the Great Patriotic War [WWII] the Soviet Union gained big experience of carriers navigation in the Arctic. The ports of Dickson, Dudinka, Tiksi, Pevek and Provideniya were under construction. During the war apart from supply of the Arctic construction sites and research stations it was necessary to ensure supply of garrisons and warships and to receive goods delivered from the USA and Canada.


Soviet ships would ply the Northeast passage regularly for the next six decades.  Shipping via the Northeast Passage peaked in 1993, but declined after that – not because of ice, but rather cold economic and political winds for the dissolved Soviet Union.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union followed by social and economic crisis of the post-Soviet space in the early 1990’s had a negative influence upon the condition of the Northern Sea Route. The supply system was destroyed due to dissolution of centralized maintenance supply of the Russian North. Due to price liberalization and credit system reconstruction most enterprises in the framework of the Northern Sea Route operation were in a difficult financial state….By 2003 the volume of freight decreased 5 times (1,7 million tons) in comparison with the golden age of the Soviet era.

The two German ships that TIME for Kids referred to are really just the beginning of what the Russians hope will be a revival of trade between Europe, Siberia and Pacific region of Asia:

At present, practical steps are made in Russia to overcome the crisis and to continue development of the Northern Sea Route. This proves high strategic significance of this unique Arctic itinerary. In the first place this high importance is connected with forthcoming development of immense Arctic offshore oil and gas fields. Transit functions of the Northern Sea Route are also of high importance, mainly for development of regions located in the Extreme North and the Far East. Nowadays, many countries of the world are interested in cargo transportation by the Northern Sea Route. This is mainly due to the growing commodity turnover between Europe and the countries of Asian and Pacific regions. Possibly the XXIst century may become an era of intensive development of the Northern Sea Route as of an important arctic transportation passage of national and international importance.

The last ice-cold hard facts

So, these two German ships simply were not the first to make this trip.  In 2000 the Minister of Transportation of the Russian Federation, Sergey Frank, planning for a revival of the trade route, pointed out…

“In 1993 – 1997 the volume of sea cargo along the Northern Sea Route was already 150 – 200 thousand tons a year. Cargo traffic peaked in 1993, during the Arctic’s summer shipping season. During that period, 15 Russian ships with 210 thousand tons of transit goods passed along the Route. Also, 8 ships carrying metals, fertilizers and timber traveled from ports in Russia, Latvia, Sweden and Finland to China, Japan, and Thailand. 7 ships from China carried oilcake, bauxite, magnetite and other operating supplies to Holland, England, Ireland, Germany, and Spain.”

Oh, by the way, TIME for Kids somehow forgot to mention that the two German cargo ships that made the Northwest Passage trip this year were accompanied by a NUCLEAR POWERED ICE_BREAKER!!!  The UK’s Independent,  like TIME for Kids, somehow overlooked the previous 70 years of shipping along the route.  But in the midst of their panic-stricken, end of the world report on this global warming disaster story, they let slip…

The voyage of the two [German] vessels was certainly no picnic. Although not thoroughbred ice-breakers themselves, both ships were designed to cope with ice-strewn waters and were accompanied by at least one Russian nuclear ice-breaker during the whole of the trip. The two ships encountered snow, fog, ice floes, and treacherous icebergs which showed only about one meter of their huge underwater volume on the sea’s surface.

The most challenging stretch of the voyage came at its northernmost point, the Vilkizi Strait on the tip of Siberia. Half of the sea’s surface was covered with pack ice and the captains of both vessels had to call Russian ice pilots on board to shepherd them through. Vlarey Durov, captain of the Beluga Foresight spoke of the stress he experienced from having to keep a constant lookout for ice and the time spent waiting for the seas to clear. (emphasis added)


  1. Historical illiteracy is one of the most important tools of the AGW promotion industry.

  2. While the northern sea route was explored and used from the 1930s through the 1980s, that was a period of central planning and subsidization. With protection of the north viewed as a matter of national security, the Soviets were not averse to subsidizing the northern sea route and paying heavy costs for transit and for maintaining port facilities along the arctic coast. With a couple of exceptions, the ships that made the passage were soviet ones that would not have been there without the subsidies. In the post-soviet period, most of the use of the NSR has been on the eastern and western segments, particularly in the west where the profits from transporting the nickel, cobalt, copper, platinum and palladium from the Norilsk mine across the Kara and Barents Seas eschew the need for subsidies.

    What was notable about the recent passage of two german ships is that is was a transit of the NSR by _foreign_ ships on a _commercial_ voyage (even paying for the ice breaker escort). With or without the ice breaker escort, that is a notable accomplishment.

    In looking at satellite records and reviewing observations of people who live and work in the russian arctic, it is clear that there has been a decade long trend to reduced arctic ice – 30% decline at the summer minimum and 10% at the winter maximum. The fact that state-owned and subsidized vessels made passage in the past does not mean that the conditions of the north have been untouched by climate change in recent years. The fact that the german commercial vessels found it worthwhile to make the trip, not just for this one voyage but to demonstrate that they can make the voyage in the future under commercial terms, is the takeaway lesson.

    In such a short article, it isn’t surprising that Time for Kids didn’t report on the soviet-era subsidized use of the NSR, and, while it would have been nice for the editors to acknowledge that big black and red russian icebreaker in the forefront of the accompanying photograph, the photo did present the waters as generally open with threats of loose ice, a new condition at the northernmost point of the NSR.

    Of course, there is some reason that the ice cover has shown this trend of reduction. You may not acknowledge global climate change as a reason, but if that is the case then you would be part of a declining minority. In a case of choosing between observations of reduced ice cover with increased accessibility by ship and an ideological position that says there is no climate change, I have to go with the observations that there is, in fact, measurable reduction in arctic ice that is tied to the changing climatic patterns in the atmosphere and oceans of the arctic.

    • Dear CaitlynA,

      Thank you for your comments. The TIME for Kids article was factually incorrect. We both agree that the Soviet shipping did take place, for a long time, which is plainly contridicted by TIME for Kids article.

      It would have been interesting if TIME for Kids had another paragraph making the argument that you just made, specifically: “Sure, the Soviets did it. But these German trips were significant because they happened under a different economic system. The Soviets used an inefficient, highly subsidized program. But because of global warming it can now be done under a more efficient non-subsidized system.” But you are not likely to see such and arguement coming from the left (i.e. TIME for Kids) – because the left clearly supports inefficient, highly subsidized programs.

      It might be informative for you to check one of my previous posts: Arctic sea ice gone by 2015? A challenge to David Barber, where I point out the 30 year decline in Arctic ice. It is perhaps somewhat disingenuous of you to mention “a decade long trend to reduced arctic ice – 30% decline in summer minimum,” when, in fact, over the last decade almost the entire drop in the minimum took place in a single year, 2007. The last decade has not seen a “trend” in minimums, but rather that single abrupt change in 2007. This large change in Arctic sea ice minimum was followed up by two significant increases in 2008 and 2009. It is easy to see these last two large increases in the DMI, Nansen and AMSR-E data. You can see them all by clicking on my “Quick links for sea ice extent and temperature” link in my sidebar and then following the appropriate links from there.

      It is also interesting that the Antarctic sea ice extent has seen a very real increase in maxima during that same period. With the maximum occurring the same year that the Arctic’s minimum occurred. You can see this increase through the same link I mentioned above.

      If the Arctic sees the same kind of increases for the next year or two that have occured for the past two years, then the drop for the last decade that you speak of will be entirely gone.

      Finally, you mentioned “I have to go with the observations that there is, in fact, measurable reduction in arctic ice that is tied to the changing climatic patterns in the atmosphere and oceans of the arctic.” That is certainly true. But “changing climatic patterns in the atmosphere and oceans” have been happening for as long as the Earth has had an atmosphere. That does not mean the changes of the last few years are the result of man-made global warming. See all the evidence that the Arctic was warmer 5000 years ago than it is today, for example.

      It will be very interesting to see what happens over the next few years. I suspect that there will be more ice in the Arctic at the end of next summer than there was at the end of this summer.

      Best Regards,

  3. […] Read more about this controversy at Climate Sanity. […]

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  5. […] a great point. If you have kids in school in the U.S., like I do, then you know that they are being indoctrinated with global warming alarmism.  Teachers, who are often poorly informed or even scientifically illiterate themselves, assign […]

  6. Global warming may make food more expensive not cheaper and it will be real problem taking into the consideration raising food consumption of China and India.

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  8. Please help them

  9. What’s up, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this blog post.
    It was practical. Keep on posting!

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