La fonte des glaces du toit du monde

POTSDAM - En 1845, le capitaine Sir John Franklin de la Royal Navy britannique a embarqué 128 hommes sur deux bateaux à vapeur renforcés de plaques de fer, l’Erebus et le Terror, dans l'Arctique, où ils ont finalement disparu. La traversée était l'aboutissement de quatre siècles de tentatives infructueuses pour naviguer dans le Passage du Nord-Ouest – une route directe entre l'Europe et l'Asie à travers l'océan Arctique – et demeure l'une des plus grandes tragédies de l'histoire de l'exploration polaire.

Aujourd'hui, une tragédie bien plus grave se déroule en Arctique : la calotte glaciaire de l’océan Arctique est en train de fondre. Le mois dernier, elle a atteint son nouveau niveau le plus bas sans précédent après des décennies de déclin. En effet, la zone de la calotte glaciaire a diminué de moitié depuis les années 1980, quand la glace estivale s’étendait encore sur près de sept millions de kilomètres carrés, contre moins de quatre millions aujourd'hui. Il est probable qu’elle est à présent plus petite qu’elle ne l’a été pendant au moins un millénaire et demi.

En 2007, le passage du Nord-Ouest était vide de glace pour la première fois de mémoire d'homme. Des bateaux de toutes les tailles – y compris des navires de croisière – ont emprunté facilement ce passage en été depuis lors.

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