The First U.S. Deep Water Port for the Arctic


This photo provided by the City of Nome shows the inner harbor of the Port of Nome, Alaska, on Aug. 11, 2017. (Nome Harbormaster Lucas Stotts/City of Nome via AP)

In 2016, a cruise ship Serenity with about 1,000 people on board failed to enter the tiny port of Nome. As a result, its passengers had to transfer to smaller boats to reach the coast.

This happened in 2016. Since then global climate change has made certain adjustments, now it is possible to build the first US deep-water Arctic port.

With the melting of the glaciers, new shipping routes are opening up and more and more tourists are starting to come to Nome, a northwest Alaska city known for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and its 1898 gold rush.

However, there is still a significant problem hindering the development of tourism - the inability to accommodate large cruise ships.

PND’s model rendering for the design of a potential Arctic Deep Draft Port in Nome. (Photo courtesy of the City of Nome)

The situation will be dramatically changed by the port expansion costing more than 600 million dollars. This will make Nome the first city with a deep-water port. The port will be able to accommodate not only large cruise ships with up to 4,000 passengers on board but also cargo ships and military vessels.

City officials as well as business owners are excited about this event. However, the expansion of the port will bring in a large number of tourists, which is a concern for environmentalists.

{The expansion will} “support our local economy and the local artists here, the Indigenous artists having access to the visitors and teaching and sharing our culture and our language and how we how we make our beautiful art,” said Alice Bioff, an Inupiaq resident of Nome.

Climate change helps

Nome, founded in 1898, has seen six of its ten warmest winters on record just in this century.

According to Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Bering Sea ice on average reaches Nome in late November or December, about two or three weeks later than it did 50 years ago. He also said that the ice season is going to get shorter and shorter.

The port expansion is expected to take place in three phases. While now the dock can accommodate three vessels at a time, the expanded dock will accommodate seven to ten vessels.

Workers will dredge a new basin 40 feet (12.2 meters) deep, allowing large cruise ships, cargo vessels, and every U.S. military ship except aircraft carriers to dock, Port Director Joy Baker said.

Nevertheless, the expansion of the port and the subsequent increase in tourist and military ships worries local residents.

“The port’s original construction displaced an area traditionally used for subsistence hunting or fishing, and the expansion won’t help,” says Austin Ahmasuk, an Inupiaq native.



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