Search for the North-West Passage

Envisat ASAR mosaic of the Arctic Ocean, early September 2007Satellite image showing the North-West Passage open (orange line).
Click to enlarge image. (Image: ESA)
For over 300 years explorers risked their lives to search the Arctic for a North-West Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, hoping to establish a lucrative trading route between Europe and Asia.

Although some did find ways through, as a route for commercial shipping the Passage has remained a pipe-dream – until news in 2007 that a summer thaw had opened up the Passage.

Use these pages to find out more about the fabled North-West Passage, its intrepid discoverers and its debatable future.

HMS 'Discovery' in ice during Sir George Nares' Arctic expedition, 1875 (detail)
Read the incredible stories of the search for the Passage, often dogged by disaster or controversy.
Sir John Franklin
Read one expert perspective on how past explorers' reputations might be revived by the opening of the Passage.
Envisat ASAR mosaic of the Arctic Ocean, early September 2007
Sea ice goes through an annual cycle of melting and freezing. But why has the ice been melting so quickly recently?
Links to other resources about the Arctic – exploration, climate change and disputed ownership.